Senate Leaders In A Feud Over Financial Cuts

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

For about eight months now, Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, a Republican, have been locked in a serious feud. Now it looks like Sweeney is trying to punish Kean by withholding some funding for staff, and that Kean is doing the same thing to Republicans who didn’t support him in a recent leadership fight.

Every legislator receives $110,000 a year for district office expenses and staff. On top of that, we learned this week, the leaders of each house dole out small supplements from something called “leadership accounts.”

In 2013, Republican leader Tom Kean received $73,000 in leadership funds. Senate President Sweeney is cutting that back to $20,000 in 2014.

Overall, Sweeney is cutting the allocation for the Republican caucus from $330,000 to $188,000.

But Sweeney, who declined to comment for this story, is not the only one apparently using leadership money to express political sentiments.

Last month Kean withstood a challenge to his leadership position by Republican senator Kevin O’Toole.

In his proposed recommendations to Sweeney, Kean cut O’Toole’s allocation from $25,000 this year to $10,000 next. Kean proposed the same cut for Senator Kip Bateman, who supported O’Toole in the leadership fight.

We reached Bateman by phone in Florida.

“I think Tom was wrong. I wish he’d been a gracious winner, ’cause he’s not hurting me, he’s hurting my staff, people who have set salaries and depend on those salaries, and he was cutting that back. In my eyes it was retribution for me not voting for him,” said Bateman.

Kean also withheld comment for this story, but that’s hardly the end of the story.

Kean beat O’Toole in the caucus last month by 10 votes to 6.

Sweeney has overruled Kean’s recommendations and has granted substantial increases to those six Republicans.

For example, O’Toole himself, instead of being but to $10,000 is being raised to $35,000. Bateman, instead of being cut to $10,000, is being raised to $30,000. and the other four, Kyrillos, Oroho, Doherty, and Addiego also get substantial increases, while Republicans like Bob Singer, who supported Kean, gets cut from $40,000 to $5,000.

Kean has complained that this is unprecedented meddling in the other party’s caucus by Sweeney.

Bateman worries what it means for the Senate going forward.

“There’s no question that there’s bad blood between the Senate President and Senator Kean and one of the reasons I voted for Senator O’Toole was because I want to be relevant in dealing with New Jersey’s issues, and if the Senate president is gonna be upset with the minority leader and take it out on members, on bills, on leadership account, then maybe it was time for a change,” said Bateman.

The only certainty here is that the Senate President gets the last word in any disagreement, and some wonder if he’ll go so far as to reconfigure Republican committee assignments.