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Coughlin not ready to push constitutional amendment

Speaker supports the policy but worries about the vehicle

By Nikita Biryukov, August 03 2018 10:06 am

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin isn’t ready to move a constitutional amendment stripping New Jersey’s governor of the power to unilaterally certify revenues.

Though he said he think’s there’s merit to the idea of joint revenue forecasting, which the amendment pushed by Senate President Steve Sweeney provides, Coughlin was unsure that enacting the policy via constitutional amendment was the best way to proceed.

“I have not yet been convinced that doing this by constitutional amendment is the best way, so for now, the Assembly has not scheduled to take that up,” Coughlin said Friday morning on a monthly radio call-in show on WCTC. “We’re looking at – there are legislative options. There are ways to work through this, and so for now, I’m comfortable that we’re not prepared to move the amendment.”

There’s little time remaining for the amendment to be moved if it’s to be on this year’s ballot. While the amendment has already passed through the Senate with votes exceeding the 60% threshold needed to get on the ballot this year, it’s not made its way through the Assembly.

To make it onto the ballot, the amendment will have to go through a public hearing and a vote before the Assembly, an unlikely prospect given Coughlin’s stance ahead of the Aug. 7 deadline. At time of writing, the Assembly has no legislative activity scheduled in the month of August.

Gov. Phil Murphy has opposed the measure, as it would strip him of the power to unilaterally certify revenues and weaken his position, as well as that of any future governor, in a budget fight like the one seen in June.

Similar joint revenue forecasting measures that did not include provisions about joint revenue certification have made their way through the legislature in the past but have usually stopped short after reaching the governor’s desk.

Coughlin, who often played to a more moderate tone than either Sweeney or Murphy during budget negotiations, may be reluctant to push the measure, which has broad support among both Democrats and Republicans on the basis of policy, in a way that would deny the governor a say in the process.

“Personally, I am always a little concerned about amending the constitution,” Coughlin said. “I think that’s something we should do sometimes. There are times to do that, but I think that that’s a weighty decision, and I’m not ready to do that.”

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