TRENTON The leaders of the Democratic-controlled Legislature laid out in broad terms Tuesday their priorities for the new session, pledging to slow the rise of property taxes and renew fights with Gov. Christie on issues such as funding for women's health.
Republicans, too, placed an emphasis on reducing the property-tax burden. But neither party proposed specific changes Tuesday, though Christie addressed the issue at greater length in his State of the State address.
Democrats retained the same majorities in each chamber of the Legislature - 24-16 in the Senate, 48-32 in the Assembly - that they had heading into the November elections.
At the reorganization meeting, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) vowed not to let the George Washington Bridge scandal interrupt the Legislature's work.
Lawmakers are investigating an apparent plot by top Christie aides and appointees to cause huge traffic jams in Fort Lee in September as retribution against the borough's Democratic mayor for not endorsing the governor's reelection.
On Thursday, the Assembly is expected to create a special committee with subpoena power that would focus on the investigation.
"The headlines in the recent press cannot become a distraction," Sweeney said Tuesday. "We have things we have to get done here."
Inside the theater of the War Memorial in Trenton, with performances from a high school band from Secaucus, Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson) was sworn in as Assembly speaker, replacing Sheila Oliver (D., Essex).
Prieto said his priorities would include reducing poverty, enacting mandatory paid sick leave, expanding vocational education, and making college more affordable.
Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald (D., Camden) said lawmakers' "single most important mission" would be to reduce the property-tax burden "that is smothering our middle class."
New Jersey residents paid $2,819 per capita in property taxes in 2010, the highest in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based tax research group.
Sweeney said Democrats would work to restore the earned-income tax credit, which provides a subsidy to low-income families. Christie, a Republican, reduced the credit in 2010 and has thwarted Democratic attempts to restore it.
Sweeney's agenda also includes pay equity between men and women who do the same work; funding women's health and family planning centers; and a Hurricane Sandy "bill of rights" to increase transparency in how the state distributes aid, among other things.
"What's going on in this state is not acceptable," he said.
Minority Leader Thomas H. Kean Jr. (R., Union) said that in addition to property-tax relief, he would focus on job growth and education reform.
The minority leader in the Assembly, Jon Bramnick (R., Union), opened his remarks by saying New Jersey "had it all," including arts, culture, "and the most interesting politics in the history of the modern world."
He went on to say he would push for a tax cut for "all New Jerseyans."