As legislators launch their re-election campaigns, a range of business-related issues that did not pass before the summer recess will remain unaddressed, likely until the lame-duck session in the fall.
Bills to overhaul telecommunications regulations, eliminate the state Council on Affordable Housing and limit the state’s ability to exceed federal regulations are among those trapped in legislative limbo for the time being. Yet while business issues haven’t been the focus of most political wrangling this summer, the state of the economy is likely to keep job creation a central message of campaigns, business leaders said.
Gov. Chris Christie said the biannual move to put campaigning ahead of legislating isn’t singling out business issues.
“Everything is pushed to the back burner during election season,” Christie said. “I mean, I don’t think you’re going to see these folks in town much — a blessing for me, but not good for getting work done.”
Christie said the nature of the lame-duck session will be shaped by the election results.
“We’re going to continue to govern consistently with the mandate that we’ve gotten from the people of this state, which is to make government smaller and more efficient; spend less; tax less; and have private-sector jobs grow again in this state, so that people can get back to work,” he said.
Some business groups are hoping for action on specific items well before November. For instance, a proposed extension of the Permit Extension Act, which forestalls the end of development approvals, is set to expire Dec. 31.
George Kearns, economic development chairman for the business group Strengthening the Mid-Atlantic Region for Tomorrow, said multiple industries are affected by continuing uncertainty about the extension.
Taking a vote sooner “would provide more certainty — not only for the real estate developers, but for the banks” that depend on the value of the approved projects, he said.
New Jersey Commerce & Industry Association President John Galandak said it’s essential that the Legislature prioritize “making a more business-friendly climate and to creat(ing) jobs.”
New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Thomas A. Bracken said while the Legislature isn’t meeting as a group, individual lawmakers are still holding private meetings with business leaders regarding pending legislation.
“A lot has happened in the first 18 months of the Christie administration,” Bracken said. “If there’s a lull, I don’t think that’s a signal to anybody that the business focus will not be maintained.”
And while lines are being drawn during the campaign, there is a sense in Trenton that both parties can find common ground on business-related issues, according to Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.
“On the critical issue of jobs and the economy, you’ll see that done in a bipartisan way,” he said.
Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Wayne) said he would like to see the Legislature act on bills like the Permit Extension Act before the election.
“They want to have certainty, they want to have stability in the process,” said Rumana, one of three Republican legislators who hosted a roundtable discussion with business leaders Aug. 10.
In response to the Republican meeting, Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-East Orange) issued a statement criticizing the actions of Christie and the Assembly Republicans.
Oliver pointed to a package of jobs bills her party passed last December, which she said Christie gutted. Among its original provisions were new funding for economic development loans and business incentives.
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