For state legislators, it can be a challenge to sponsor bills that make it through the gauntlet of the Statehouse to become laws.
But in his first year in the Assembly, Troy Singleton (D-Mount Laurel) has been a sponsor of some of the most significant economic development measures this year, including bills providing funding for the Transportation Trust Fund, authorizing a $750 million higher education facilities ballot question and extending the deadline for state colleges to form public-private partnerships.
While Singleton is new to the Legislature, he may be having more success than other new legislators because he isn't new to Trenton. While he serves as an official with the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, he previously was chief of staff to then-Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr.
"It is unique, once you know how the process works already, to be able to move bills along, to be able to have some relationships already when you walk in, so folks aren't trying to figure out who you are and what you're about," Singleton said.
The 39-year-old resident of the Palmyra section of Alexandria Township, describes his biggest goal as job creation.
"Without a business, there is no labor, so if you're a proponent of organized labor and working people, invariably, you should be a proponent of business," Singleton said, because you want there to be economic opportunity to grow, so that people have a chance to go to work.
This focus has allowed him to develop some partnerships across the aisle. He is the only Democratic sponsor of a bill put forth by Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (R-Whippany) that would require some permits and approvals for critical infrastructure projects to be acted upon within 45 days.
"Working in the construction industry, recognizing all of our infrastructure needs as they are, it makes sense," Singleton said of the bill. "Regardless of who's the name on the marquee, whether it's a Democrat or a Republican, we try to associate ourselves with ideas that make New Jersey better."
DeCroce said Singleton understands the importance of acting timely on infrastructure projects due to his work with the carpenters union. She added that both she and Singleton know they need to build bipartisan alliances.
"You need to work on both sides of the aisle to accomplish what you believe," DeCroce said.
Both Singleton and DeCroce said they hope the infrastructure permit bill moves forward in the fall.
Anthony Mongeluzo, president and CEO of Evesham-based Pro Computer Service, praised Singleton's efforts to reach out to business owners. The 31-employee IT company provides support to Singleton's union, and Mongeluzo has advised Singleton on business issues.
"He gets a real bipartisan view — he doesn't just try to jam his point of view," Mongeluzo said. "He's a listener."
Mongeluzo credited Singleton with being clear with business owners and other constituents about what he can accomplish as a legislator and what is out of his hands.
"He's real, he's genuine, he's bipartisan and he's honest — and that's a rare breed in politics," Mongeluzo said.
Feedback from business owners has informed Singleton's approach since taking office in January, he said. "If we're going to find out how to create jobs and how to move our state forward economically, it makes sense to reach out to the folks who are actually doing it on a day-to-day basis," he said.
For instance, conversations with retailers led him to sponsor a bill that would have expanded the basis for applying the sales tax to online retailers. While the bill didn't advance in the Senate, the state government reached an agreement with Amazon.com for it to start collecting sales taxes next year.
Singleton also has sponsored heavily debated bills that were vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie, including the New Jersey Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act, which would have made it easier to convert foreclosed homes into affordable housing, and the New Jersey Health Benefit Exchange Act.
Singleton also has backed fellow Democratic legislators on tax issues where they differed from the governor.
"When the governor is right, I think we have to support him in an effort to move our state forward. But when he's wrong, I think it's incumbent upon us to point that out," Singleton said. "And I think that is the true nature of a bipartisan relationship."
Michael P. Affuso, senior vice president of the New Jersey Bankers Association, said Singleton's first half-year of work is a sign of things to come.
"He's going to be a player," Affuso said. "He not only understands because of his pedigree and resume, he also comes in here understanding the politics and the policy."
Affuso, a lawyer and the bankers association's top lobbyist, worked with Singleton when Affuso was a counsel for the Assembly Democrats from 2003 to 2006.
"He clearly has a head start" over other first-year legislators, Affuso said. "At the end of the day, he's likable, he's collegial and he knows where to push and where not to push."
Looking forward to the fall, Singleton is hopeful that the Legislature and the administration can reach agreement on bills that would more heavily weigh the interests of small businesses when new regulations are issued, as well as a measure that would shift the unemployment insurance taxes burden toward employers with more layoffs. He also is eager to see voters approve the higher education bond and to see transportation projects move forward.
"It's the quickest way to put folks to work — not only directly, but also in support industry that go along with construction," he said.
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