New Jersey’s lawmakers and leaders are talking about bipartisan cooperation to help the state recover from Hurricane Sandy. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that those in government are committed to coming together for the recovery process, which will take time. She said she is worried about the state’s tourism industry which took a big hit from Sandy.
Oliver said Gov. Chris Christie has briefed legislative leaders about his experiences surveying the damage. “He knows that we’re getting ready to enter a gubernatorial election cycle, and it was his hope that we would not allow the politics of 2013 to get in the way of the job that we have to do on behalf of the residents of this state,” she said.
According to Oliver, leaders like Senate President Steve Sweeney, herself and minority leaders Jon Bramnick and Tom Kean want to come together for recovery and put politics aside. “This is not a time to engage in partisanship,” Oliver said. “We have thousands and thousands of residents in this state who have had their lives devastated, who have lost property, who are going through emotional trauma, who have suffered economic loss and all hands need to be on deck to make sure that we support the residents of this state.”
Oliver said she was proud that Gov. Christie and President Barack Obama were able to focus on the human element of the storm instead of their political differences shortly before the general election. She said she reminded Christie of his mother’s words. “He always says that his mother said it’s better to be respected than loved,” she said. “And I told him the people of New Jersey respect what he did in his relationship with the president.”
As the legislature returns to normalcy, one of the bills that will be up for a vote will be one to raise minimum wage. Oliver is one of the sponsors of the bill and believes there will be enough votes to make it to the governor’s desk, but she’s not sure Christie will sign it. “I believe that the governor potentially will send back to the legislature a conditional veto,” she said. “And we will have to examine what the terms of his veto are and if it is not acceptable to the Democratic majority, then we will entertain another path to get to where we want to be.” She added that if necessary, she would support a constitutional amendment on the issue.
Christie has said that now might not be the right time for a tax cut since Hurricane Sandy hit the state so hard. Oliver said, “I think that that is very idealistic at this point. As a legislative leader, I had reservations all along, even when the governor proposed it, because I knew that we had some tough challenges economically in this state and we have a lot of obligations in terms of paying into the pension fund. We’ve got a lot of school funding challenges and I just did not see where the money was going to come from. The governor’s budget projected close to 8 percent revenue growth and I just did not see where that would happen.”
Oliver said she is concerned about the future after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. “I am worried,” she said. “We are a $38 billion tourist industry in New Jersey and we have had that industry gutted. So I am worried. Atlantic City was challenging before the storm and I am concerned.”