By David Cruz
On the final scheduled voting session of the year, lawmakers were scrambling to get all their work done before embarking on another extended period of legislative inactivity. More than a hundred bills on the docket, with even more added to the agenda this morning, had lawmakers huddling to keep track on what bills were up and what their votes would be.
“What happens is we’re getting through what is known as “lame duck” with a lot of bills [coming up] because obviously we do not have the luxury of time on our side, so we’re trying to get it in this voting session,” explained Speaker Vincent Prieto.
For Atlantic City, it was to be another fateful day, in a year full of fateful days. The Assembly revisited the so-called PILOT bills aimed at providing a measure of financial stability for the ailing resorts. Lawmakers were set to incorporate the governor’s veto recommendation that the payments in lieu of taxes be held by the state until the city comes up with an acceptable financial reform package.
“The revenue would have gone through the casino’s association, but the governor thinks it will be better served going through the local finance board, which is fine with me,” said Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo. “It’s a small detail and I think that most people will agree to it and I’m fine with it.”
But Assemblyman Chris Brown says these are baby steps that won’t get Atlantic City — or Atlantic County — back on solid ground. “I had much higher hopes that we would be able to work together and really put forward a long-term solution,” he said. “When you look at what’s being proposed right now, these few bills in and of themselves, in my mind, while they do stabilize taxes for a handful of casinos, they do it off the backs of the hard-working men and women of Atlantic County, and in many ways, I view this as corporate welfare.”
“Listen, everyone has their opinion,” countered Prieto. “We need to help Atlantic City. That is something I’ve been saying all along and that includes even when we do gaming in the north, that a substantial amount needs to go to Atlantic City to help them, and make sure they flourish.”
Prieto said the chamber was in a festive mood, but there were testy exchanges between lawmakers as another vote to override the governor’s veto of a gun measure came up, despite Republican attempts at a compromise.
“There have been suggestions for new bills and amendments, clearly we could have acted as a body in conjunction with the governor and we could have passed some common sense legislation,” Assemblyman Jon Bramnick complained. “It is my position, and the position of many members, that the repeated calls for an override is just that, a repeated call for an override.”
Democrats again fell short, as they did on another gun bill override effort today, keeping the governor’s veto record intact and leaving Democrats with a lump of coal where they thought their small, but symbolic victory, would be.
Today is officially the final scheduled day of the voting session, but in the great New Jersey tradition, lawmakers will very likely need more time to finish their work, so you can expect them to be back here again in early January.