NJ voters are likely to be barraged soon with advertising surrounding pensions, casinos and the fund for road and bridge work.
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) Gov. Chris Christie's endorsement of Donald Trump for president has grabbed most of the political attention in New Jersey recently, but voters are likely to be barraged soon with advertising surrounding pensions, casinos and the fund for road and bridge work.
The Democrat-led Legislature has set the stage for what experts say could be a record-setting season of political spending, with up to $100 million from so-called independent expenditure groups, in a year that has the president and all of the state's 12 congressional seats on the ballot, plus hot-button ballot questions.
If those predictions prove true, that would best the previous record of $42 million in outside spending set in 2013, when Christie topped the ballot, winning re-election.
“It's just going to be a really heavy-duty year,” said Jeff Brindle, executive director of the Election Law Enforcement Commission. “It's going to go through the roof.”
Lawmakers have already approved two ballot questions. One asks them to weigh in on expanding casinos beyond the borders of Atlantic City to two locations in northern New Jersey. The idea has broad support — except for in the southern part of the state, where Atlantic City's future weighs heavily — including from Christie and legislative leaders.
They've also approved a question that would require all state fuel tax revenue to be used for transportation purposes. The proposal passed with nearly unanimous support in the Legislature and has support from business and labor groups.
But Democratic leaders also say they plan to move forward with another proposed question to require the state to make quarterly payments to the debt-laden public pension fund, an idea that has generated intense resistance from Christie, as well as the state's business groups.
Two of the state's biggest business groups, the Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, along with other allies, this year established an interest group called Opportunity N.J. One of the group's objectives is to defeat the pension-payment requirement.
Their concern, which Christie has highlighted in speeches before lawmakers, is that constitutionally requiring a pension payment would put pensioners' interests above all other budgetary priorities.
“You're either going to cut some other service that's important to me in order to create a priority for funding the pension, or you're going to charge me more in some way in order to raise the revenue to do that,” said Michele Siekerka, president of the business and industry association.
But labor groups, including the state's largest teachers union, are prepared to push hard to see that voters approve it. They argue the payment puts the pension fund on the path to solvency.
The New Jersey Education Association has called the proposal a top priority. The union has a reputation for spending big to influence elections. In 2015, it was the largest contributor to the biggest outside spender in November's election, the super political action committee called General Majority PAC. The group backed Democrats, who picked up four new seats in the Assembly.
“This is going to be a top priority issue for us in the months to come,” said NJEA spokesman Steve Baker. “We are going to be doing whatever we believe is necessary to educate and inform members.”
Ballot questions in New Jersey generally succeed. Since 1980, voters have defeated ballot questions only five times.
The last time one was defeated was 2007, when voters rejected a question that called for dedicating a portion of the state sales tax to property tax reform. Before that, the last time a question failed at the ballot was 1990, when voters defeated a proposal for $135 million in bonds for affordable housing.