Two Democratic assemblymen this week stepped up their efforts to draw a contrast between themselves and Gov. Chris Christie, fueling party back-chatter that they look like gubernatorial candidates in-the-making.
In a party jeered at internally oftentimes for failing to assemble contrasting points to Gov. Chris Christie, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) and Assemblyman John Wisneiwski (D-19) sharpened their attack: the former with a budget proposal the governor panned as DOA, and the latter with a bill calling for an investigation of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Fed up publicly with Christie’s budgets failing to result in property tax relief, Greenwald unveiled the proposal of a property tax credit combined with an income tax on those New Jerseyans earning more than $1 million annually.
“I’m not going to give up my beliefs and values,’’ Greenwald told State Street Wire, and renewed a call on Republicans “to not blindly follow the governor.’’
The proposal arrived as a more pronounced juxtaposition to Christie’s no-new-taxes stance than that of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).
Sweeney’s plan would cut taxes for those income earners making less than $250,000.
“We have a ballgame,” said the governor, referring to the Senate president’s proposal. “We’re going to negotiate together and come to an appropriate conclusion. There’s no need to raise taxes on anyone.”
Christie said he doubted Greenwald’s plan could even survive the legislative process, let alone his veto pen, but Greenwald was adamant.
“There’s no question attention has turned toward the upcoming elections,” said Patrick Murray, pollster and political scientist for Monmouth University. “Lawmakers will look for issues important to them but which will also get them notoriety. Wisnieski has been out front on transportation issues in the past, but you can’t overlook the political implications. As soon as the calendar turns to 2012 everyone’s looking to 2013, so you try to make your mark in a state where it’s hard to do that.”
Working in conjunction with other Democratic lawmakers, notably Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, (D-37), Wisniewski’s legislation targets the Port Authority, an agency that paid its employees $1.5 billion in overtime costs while calling for commuter toll hikes.
Wisniewski rejected the notion that his decision to drive the legislation is a political calculation.
“When I have unanswered FOIA requests dating back to 2010, enough is enough,” said the chairman of the powerful Assembly Transportation Committee and chairman of the State Democratic Party.
“They just don’t respond,” Wisniewski added. “The only step we have left is subpoena power.”
In opposing the legislation Thursday in committee, GOP Assemblyman David Wolfe of Ocean County denounced the Democrats’ calls for an investigation into the Port Authority’s finances as pure politics.
“I take umbrage at those comments,” said Wisniewski, chairman of his committee for ten years.
By virtue of the gut-level nature of the tax issue, Murray said Greenwald superficially appears to have the edge over Wisniewski in grabbing hold of a piece of the bully pulpit.
“Property tax issues give the politician more of a chance to make a mark because it taps into the underlying angst,” said the political scientist. “But Greenwald’s proposal doesn’t go anywhere, as Sweeney has kind of stolen his thunder.
“At the end of the day Wisniewski may have better potential, if he can hold hearings, particularly if he gets subpoena power,” Murray added.