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The feud between Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. escalated Monday following Sweeney’s decision last week to yank Republican bills off Monday’s committee agendas.
The two sides held back-to-back press conferences Monday, with each side accusing the other of playing politics.
The feud reportedly stems from Kean’s decision to target Sweeney’s district in this fall’s general election. Most recently, Kean blocked a vote on a Sweeney-backed bill related to background checks for gun purchases.
Kean (R-Westfield) said he blocked the vote because the matter wasn’t an emergency and thus didn’t require emergency action.
Kean said a number of important GOP-sponsored bills will be delayed as a result of what he called Sweeney’s “fit of pique.” He said the Legislature needs bipartisan cooperation to tackle issues like job-creation, property tax reduction and the budget.
“My anticipation is that we shouldn’t let politics get in the way of finding the solutions for the citizens of the State of New Jersey,” said Kean, who was joined by Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield).
Among the bills slated for a hearing Monday was a bill to close the Fenimore Landfill in Morris County. Kean said the delay puts residents’ health and safety at risk.
Bramnick, meanwhile, noted that Gov. Chris Christie’s latest tax cut proposal, which would give residents an income tax credit based on the property taxes they pay, has yet to receive a vote in the Assembly.
Bramnick pointed out that Monday’s Assembly voting agenda includes a handful of bills that would cost the state money, including a loan forgiveness program and a prescription donation program.
“If you look at the agenda today in the Assembly, these are the same folks who told you they don’t have money for tax relief,” he said. “…How do you argue that you don’t have the money when you post five bills before the Legislature that cost money?”
Sweeney (D-West Deptford) responded to Kean and Bramnick’s press conference by holding a press availability of his own an hour later.
Sweeney said the spat with Kean wasn’t tied to any specific incident, but rather is a result of hyper-partisanship on Kean’s part.
“He’s desperate to get control of the senate,” Sweeney said, adding that there’s “zero chance” of that happening.
Sweeney said he’s more than happy to work with colleagues across the aisle, “but at this point I’m the Senate President. I set the agenda and I’m not going to be posting any Republican bills. His colleagues can go talk to him about why this is this way.”
Sweeney said he’s already talked to a number of GOP senators upset with Kean’s actions.
Going forward, Kean expressed hope Sweeney would see that his actions “are wrong” and reverse course.
“Do I anticipate that Republican bills will be on the agenda going forward?” he asked. “I think that would be the responsible thing to do.”
Sweeney, however, gave no sign of letting up. Asked how long the blockade of GOP bills might last, Sweeney’s response was concise.
“As long as I see fit,” he said.