After years of Senate presidents filling in as acting governor in New Jersey, residents moved to change the line of succession by choosing their first lieutenant governor last year.

But with both Gov. Christie and Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno away on family vacations this week, the Senate president once again is playing chief executive.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) is running the state through Thursday evening, making such decisions as declaring a state of emergency Sunday after New Jersey was hit by a blizzard. He previously had filled in as governor in January, days before Christie was sworn into office.

"I never dreamed that there would ever be a Senate president as acting governor ever again," said Sweeney, who split Monday between his offices at the Ironworkers Union Local 399 and the Gloucester County Board of Freeholders, where he is director.

He said the Governor's Office informed him of the need for him to fill in late last week and suggested that there had been some confusion between Christie and Guadagno on how long each would be going away.

Sweeney said he's been talking with the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the State Police, and Christie advisers on how to proceed during the storm, which has stranded motorists and dumped more than two feet of snow in some parts of the state.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the governor has been in touch with his senior staff while on a Disney vacation in Florida with his family. He did not say where Guadagno was but noted that both officials would be returning by Thursday evening.

"I honestly don't understand what the big issue is," Drewniak said.

He added: "The snow plows are out working, and all the decisions that need to be made are being made . . .. Yes, it's a big storm, but nothing has changed as far as the functions of government."

But around the state, some commentators and critics were questioning the executive office's vacation planning.

In Atlantic City, which got nearly 20 inches of snow, a Press editorial asked why the state bothered to change the constitution to add an lieutenant governor if both executives were going to travel out of the state at the same time.

And, while praising Sweeney's performance, Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union) told the Star-Ledger in Newark that the state had "wasted money" if the lieutenant governor wasn't going to be in town while the governor was away.

Drewniak, however, noted that Guadagno's salary of $141,000 is for her additional post as secretary of state, not lieutenant governor.

New Jersey residents voted in 2005 to create the position of lieutenant governor, effective in the 2009 election, after the state once had five governors in about a week. There also was fill-in confusion following the scandal and resignation of Gov. Jim McGreevey.

Sweeney "has been terrific to work with," Drewniak said.

Sweeney vowed not to use his expanded powers this week to take significant actions unrelated to the weather.

"We're not going to play games with the office," he said. "I'm not going to nominate people to judgeships and boards, and I'm not going to sign legislation. I respect the office too much to do that. My job is to make sure we do everything possible to keep the roads safe until he gets back."

Contact staff writer Maya Rao at 856-779-3220 or mrao@phillynews.com