2012 To-Do List, Revisited

Trenton made key gains, but punted on three pressing issues.

In January, I offered a “to-do list” of key issues the legislature, along with Governor Christie, should tackle in 2012. Alas, there was more punting than tackling.

First and foremost, I called for Democrats and Republicans to show a greater willingness to compromise on important matters. So far there has been little movement in that direction. In fact, on fiscal matters, legislative Democrats and our YouTube-friendly governor seemed further apart than ever, often trading barbs in the media and engaging in pithy name-calling.

On the positive side, there was meaningful bipartisan cooperation and agreement on reforming teacher tenure in 2012. It wasn’t just Democrats and Republicans—led by Governor Chris Christie—who compromised on this issue, but also the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), which represents teachers. It was a huge accomplishment to get all parties to agree on changes in the decades-old practice of giving job security to teachers with no regard for performance.

There was also bipartisan cooperation and compromise on the effort to increase higher-education funding—another item on my to-do list. In fact, Democrats and Republicans agreed to place a much-needed $750 million higher-education bond issue before the voters. The legislators’ bipartisan efforts on behalf of the bond issue culminated in a press conference at William Paterson University, where Senate president Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, and Senate minority leader Tom Kean Jr., a Republican, implored voters to pass the bond issue. (The vote took place after deadline.)

Now for the bad news. I said 2012 was the best shot we had to increase the gas tax, which would help fix our crumbling roads and bridges. But with gas prices rising through the roof for most of the year, and everyone in Trenton scared to death to even suggest a tax increase, the idea of raising money at the pump was never on the table. That’s a shame, because it doesn’t take a transportation genius to realize we are playing Russian roulette with motorists’ lives on our highways and bridges.

I also felt the time was right for a law mandating that tiny New Jersey towns merge, consolidate or share services. I was especially hopeful after voters in Princeton Township and Princeton Borough came together in November 2011 to approve a municipal merger. Unfortunately, our policy makers in Trenton punted once again on changing New Jersey’s home-rule tradition, a major contributor to our sky-high property taxes.

Then there is the issue of marriage equality. I argued that if New York could pass a bill establishing same-sex marriage, so could we. Wrong! While the Legislature passed a bill approving same-sex marriage early in the year, it was vetoed by Governor Christie—as he had promised. Unfortunately, the Democrats, who control both houses, made no effort to overturn the veto. True, they didn’t have the votes to do so, but it would have been meaningful to see them try.

Finally, in a noteworthy success, the state Department of Health issued a permit to Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair to operate as an Alternative Treatment Center (ATC) and dispense medicinal marijuana—almost two years after passage of the state’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. Five additional ATCs are in various stages of finalizing their locations, but the process should not take this long or involve so many obstacles.

Will we see more progress on key issues next year from Trenton? With gubernatorial and legislative elections on the agenda, I can sum up our hopes with one word: Fuhgetaboutit!

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