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N.J.’s post-Sandy bipartisanship slipping away

TRENTON - Gov. Christie and Democrats may be putting aside partisanship in Washington to fight for federal money to rebuild the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy.

TRENTON - Gov. Christie and Democrats may be putting aside partisanship in Washington to fight for federal money to rebuild the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy.

But back in Trenton, the Republican governor and the Democratic Legislature have used the storm to resurrect arguments and shove them in each other's faces.

All in the name of bipartisanship.

On Tuesday, Assembly leaders announced a $20 million package of job-creation bills, some of which Christie previously vetoed.

"We evolved into an environment of bipartisan cooperation based on the devastation that has happened in this state," Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) said at a news conference. "We are today throwing out a hand of bipartisan participation and cooperation to the administration to sit down with the General Assembly, and let us revisit many of those bills that we know will lead to growing and expanding and creating jobs immediately in this state."

But Democrats didn't consult Republicans in their own chamber in drafting the bills.

"I know they used the word bipartisan, but I didn't get any calls," said Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R., Union).

"I think what I'm reading between the lines is that the governor's [approval] numbers are too high and . . . this is the opening salvo to go back to partisanship," he added.

Christie's approval ratings reached a historical high of 72 percent in a recent Quinnipiac poll, with other polls putting him in the high 60s. Residents applauded the governor's willingness to look beyond party politics and work alongside President Obama after the storm, the polls showed.

Christie hasn't made similar bipartisan overtures to Democratic legislative leaders. He scolded lawmakers last week for delaying a 10 percent income-tax credit that he advocated earlier this year.

"They should have passed the middle-class tax cut, which is what we wanted to do and what I still want to do," Christie said at a news conference Wednesday in Trenton. "But they seem to just like to talk about doing something for the middle class rather than cutting taxes for the middle class."

Lawmakers set aside $183 million to pay for the first year of a tax cut but said they would authorize the cut only if the state brought in enough money to pay for it. So far, it hasn't. Revenues have come up short every month since the governor signed the budget July 1, and lawmakers were preparing for possible midyear budget cuts.

Sandy has offered the governor political cover; now, he can attribute revenue shortfalls to the storm.

"If I need to make spending cuts, I'll make them," he said at the news conference. "It's a painful process, but if I have to do it, I'll do it, and I think the public will understand it now, because it's related to the storm."

Christie also has chastised lawmakers as not "negotiating" with him on a plan to raise the state's minimum wage, a bill that reached his desk Monday.

But Democratic leaders say they met with Christie about the bill, which would increase the rate to $8.50 from $7.25 and provide automatic cost-of-living increases. Christie opposed the automatic increases, they said.

In anticipation of an expected gubernatorial veto of the bill, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) is pushing a constitutional amendment through the Legislature that would bypass the governor and put the question to the voters in November 2013, when Christie is up for reelection.

So much for bipartisanship.

As for Christie's take on the Assembly's plans for job creation, the governor will "take a look at it," but the bills had better be bipartisan, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said.

"Any such bills package should be a true bipartisan effort, not part of a partisan campaign, and be realistic in terms of cost, funding, and effectiveness," Drewniak said. "Given our shared experience and new demands posed by Hurricane Sandy, most New Jersey residents are acutely aware of the need to be fiscally prudent and nonpartisan on these matters."