Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald said he hopes a package of jobs bills unveiled last week helps ensure a long-term recovery far beyond the expected temporary bump associated with Hurricane Sandy reconstruction.
But Greenwald (D-Voorhees) said he wants to maximize the recovery's impact on New Jersey's economy by making sure Garden State workers are leading the charge.
"We have one of the most educated work forces in the country," he said. "We are very strong in the areas of engineering and architecture. When other states have faced crisis, some of our residents have gone to deal with Katrina, we have gone to Florida, and we've gone during the Gulf (oil) spill."
Thus, even though the state has hired two out-of-state contractors to oversee debris removal and advise on the reconstruction, Greenwald said he expects those companies to use local workers to actually draw up the plans and do the work.
"They don't need to import their workers with them on a temporary basis," he said. "They should be working with one of the most talented and well-educated work forces in the country."
Asked if the Legislature can actually do anything to ensure that that happens, Greenwald said, "That's what we're working on."
"We welcome (contractors') input," he said, "but we want them to also recognize that just as New Jersey was there to help other states … we have a talent pool here that they should not ignore."
Losses from lottery would go beyond ticket sales, shops say
The speakers at last week's Assembly Budget Committee hearing on a plan to private the New Jersey Lottery's marketing and sales functions were familiar faces to those tracking the issue — the Communications Workers of America, which represents about 130 lottery workers; the Asian-American Retailers Association; and the New Jersey Gasoline, C-Store and Automotive Association.
The retailers' broader point was that a contractor might get tired of servicing more than 6,000 lottery retailers, and thus might favor big-box stores to the local convenience stores that make up the AARA and NJGCA. But while the groups expressed concern about the current privatization push, the NJGCA seemed even more concerned about the possible next fight: Internet lottery sales.
"If it is privatized, I believe that the footsteps that I have been hearing to bring in Internet lottery … are going to get louder," said Sal Risalvato, NJGCA's executive director.
Risalvato said lottery retailers only make a 5 percent profit on the sale of tickets, but the impulse buys people make while picking up lottery tickets have much bigger margins. For instance, he said, convenience stores typically make about $5 for every $6 of coffee they sell, even after sugar, creamer and supplies. A push for Internet sales could keep people away from convenience stores and profitable impulse buys.
One cliffhanger resolved, but a larger one still looms
November's election answered one big question for seniors, as President Barack Obama's re-election guaranteed his health care reform legislation would stick around. But a month later, AARP New Jersey is bracing itself for what could be an equally consequential development: the negotiations to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff."
Jeff Abramo, deputy state director for communications, said his group fears a rushed effort to reach a deal could end up causing long-term harm to programs like Social Security and Medicare, which he said are critically important.
Though lawmakers have been discussing entitlement reform for months, Abramo said details have been scarce. As in the health care exchange issue, Abramo said his group's primary strategy has been to survey members on such issues and forward the results to the state's Congressional delegation in Washington.
AARP isn't the only group hoping for a fiscal cliff solution.
David Brogan, first vice president at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said he's looked at the tax picture that would kick in if Congress doesn't act by Jan. 1. He doesn't like what he sees.
"I think that the uncertainty regarding the fiscal cliff is very detrimental to employers and to New Jersey as a whole," he said. "The overall impact could be substantial when you see components of the tax structure that could go up significantly."
Advocates cheer Guadagno's return to the Christie ticket
Christie's decision to keep Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno as his running mate when he seeks re-election next year won praise on State Street, where the former Monmouth County sheriff has become a familiar face.
"She's knowledgeable, and she really cares about employers in New Jersey," said Arthur J. Maurice, president at Tonio Burgos & Associates and a longtime staffer at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. "She's been a tremendous asset."
Maurice said Guadagno has been highly accessible to the business community, something he said is important for companies doing business here or considering doing business here.
"It makes all the difference in the world, because for too many years, New Jersey's government has been a black hole for business," he said.
Barbara DeMarco, vice president at Porzio Governmental Affairs, said Christie's choice of Guadagno affirms that he has an inclusive administration.
"As a woman, it's very important that women are an active and integral part of any administration," DeMarco said. "It's just important that they're included."
DeMarco said Christie has a number of smart, competent women in addition to Guadagno, such as Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd, Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez, and newly minted Economic Development Authority CEO Michele Brown.
Of course, if Christie wins re-election, runs for president and wins, New Jersey could have only its second female governor.
Maurice said he'd be fine with that.
"I don't want to jinx her, but I think she'd be a great governor," he said.