Sen. Pres. Sweeney on the 2016 Presidential Race, the Train Tunnel and the State of the State House

It will take more than toll hikes to generate the cash necessary for a new transit tunnel under the Hudson River and tax hikes are currently out of the question. Gov. Chris Christie has just become the latest Republican presidential candidate to sign the “Read my lips, no new taxes” pledge. State Senate president Steve Sweeney sat down with Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron to talk about top priorities like that… and the pace of government in August.

When asked about how things are going in Trenton and if it feels like there is a void now that Gov. Christie is out campaigning for his Presidential run, Sweeney said that things have felt slower than usual around the State House. 

“It seems slower than normal,” said Sweeney. “You know, with the governor around, obviously when he’s around we’re meeting more often, we’re discussing more issues and right now he’s not around a lot, as we know and it’s been documented. So things do slow down.” 

Sweeney said that he heard some comments recently made by Asm. Jon Bramnick on how bipartisanship at the State House came to an end because of Bridgegate. Sweeney said that he doesn’t agree with Bramnick’s comments. 

“That was complete nonsense,” he said. “You need a partner to talk to in order to get things done. And electronic media is fine and we…communications is fine and we’ve done that. We’ll email and text and call but sometimes you have to sit down with somebody face to face and talk about issues. And obviously New Jersey’s got a lot of pending issues that are of enormous importance.” 

Although Christie is out campaigning, he addressed about 100 bills that were on his desk during the week. Sweeney said that Christie addressed those bills not because he wanted to but because he had to. According to Sweeney, Christie had about 45 days to take action from when the bills were passed by a Senate quorum. Sweeney said that Christie had no other option because whether he didn’t sign the bills, see them or veto them, they would have become law. 

As for the 2016 Presidential race and Christie’s candidacy, Sweeney said that the governor has had a hard time due to the fact that there are 17 presidential candidates in the Republican party. 

“He’s had his ups and downs,” Sweeney said. “I think he’s a very brilliant politician. I think he’s a good debater and I…who knows where it’s going to go.”

When asked if he is rooting for Christie, Sweeney said, “Listen, I’m rooting for Hillary Clinton. I’m a Democrat and no matter what the Republicans are doing right now, the circus that they have created is going to make it, give the democrats a better chance at winning.”

Sweeney said that the Republicans will have the money on their side and that they have big funders. With Donald Trump leading the polls on the Republican side, Sweeney said that Trump’s candidacy is hurting Christie in the polls. He also said that Trump is making statements that come of as outrageous but that every time Trump makes a statement, he goes up further in the polls. 

On what his agenda will consist of for the upcoming months, Sweeney said that his priority is the Gateway tunnel for trains going in and out of New York City from New Jersey. 

“Right now we had Amtrak come to our meeting, to a Legislative Oversight Committee hearing and they put one hell of a deal on the table,” Sweeney said. “You know if they can execute the deal, we have to accept it. They’re talking about a 80-20 match. Everyone’s got to stop playing games with us.”

When asked how the money for the Gateway Project would be gathered, Sweeney said that the Port Authority would have to be a partner in the project. 

“The Port Authority should be part of this,” he said. “The Port Authority should be the share for New York and New Jersey, but you saw what happened when the trains stopped. When we had a problem it was complete chaos. New Jersey’s economy receives $50 billion, not million, in income annually out of New York city. If we lose those tunnels we are in major trouble. So I’m not talking about Arc, we’re talking about Gateway. You can’t change what was, but we can focus on what is and we need the project to get started now.”

According to Sweeney, “If we don’t address this now, we’re going to strangle the economy of the state of New Jersey.”