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Senate President Steve Sweeney. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe.

Sweeney doesn’t fear retaliation over confirmations

Senate president doubts delays will affect nuclear subsidy bill

By Nikita Biryukov, April 12 2018 4:37 pm

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he wasn’t afraid of Gov. Phil Murphy retaliating for Sweeney’s delaying the confirmations of two Murphy nominees by vetoing a bill that would provide subsidies for two nuclear power plants that employ roughly 1,600 people in his district.

Sweeney, on Wednesday, pulled votes to confirm Murphy nominees Lamont Repollet, for Commissioner of Education, and Zakiya Smith Ellis, for Secretary of Higher Education, that were due to take place during Thursday’s legislative session.

Sweeney said he pulled Repollet’s nomination because the administration had not provided answers on questions Sweeney had about school funding.

“I have a great concern over school funding. We’ve had it over the last 18-20 months,” Sweeney said. “The way I feel about it, the Senate is entitled to assure that priorities get addressed. I’m excited that our staffs are going to meet tomorrow to discuss education funding, so that’s a positive”

The change in confirmation dates wasn’t an attempt at obstruction, Sweeney said. Instead, it was an attempt to push the administration to work with legislators on the education budget.

“There’s issues that we in the Senate, and I’m sure in the Assembly, care about, and education’s one of them,” Sweeney said. “It’s not waiting six to eight months. It needs to be fixed in this budget, that’s all.”

The Senate President’s issues with Ellis took a different tack. The nominee, he said, still had some questions to answer.

“I gave a list of questions, and the questions weren’t answered, in my mind, sufficiently,” Sweeney said. “So, I wanted the questions answered. I’m entitled to that, just like any other senator is.”

Sweeney voted to confirm both nominees while he was subbing on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The spat is the latest between Democrats’ top legislator and the freshman governor, who have feuded since before Murphy took office.

One of their earliest feud, a battle over a bill to provide subsidies to nuclear power plants in the state and other energy measures that Murphy had then-Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto pull because it lacked clean energy provisions that Murphy campaigned on, could soon be rekindled.

The new versions of the measure, which lawmakers have split into multiple bills to more easily move them through the legislative process, are headed to Murphy’s desk after being approved by both chambers of New Jersey’s legislature on Thursday.

Once the bill reaches his desk, Murphy could veto or delay signing it to exert pressure on Sweeney, but the Senate session takes place on June 7, almost two months from today.

The bill, which would provide nuclear power plants serving New Jersey with a roughly $300 million subsidy funded by a surcharge on ratepayers. The measure is important to Sweeney, in whose district are the Salem and Hope Creek Reactors, which PSEG says employ roughly 1,600 people.

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