New Jersey Transportation Funding- key elements of Senate bill.

The New Jersey state Senate adjourned on Monday before considering any proposals related to renewing transportation funding or cutting taxes. But the Senate is back in session tomorrow, setting the stage for what is expected to be another long day of negotiations.

At the heart of a new bill that was  passed by the state Assembly early Tuesday morning  is a proposed 1 percent reduction of New Jersey’s 7 percent sales tax.The cut would be phased in, starting at 0.5 percent next year and reaching the full 1 percent in 2018. It would come as part of a broader deal to renew the state Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) for another 8 years with a 23-cent gas tax hike.

The proposal featuring the sales-tax cut that has emerged this week actually is an alternative to another bipartisan plan that came out of the state Senate earlier this month.

That plan, sponsored by Sens. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) and Steve Oroho (R-Sussex), also features a 23-cent gas-tax hike, but instead of a sales-tax cut it calls for phasing out New Jersey’s estate tax and making a series of other tax cuts. They include lifting state income-tax exemptions on pensions, 401(k) plans, and other sources of retirement income over the course of several years. The Sarlo-Oroho plan would cost an estimated $870 million once all the cuts were fully implemented.

The new proposal, backed by Governor Christie and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-Hudson), scraps most of the tax cuts that are included in the Sarlo-Oroho plan in exchange for the sales-tax reduction. It does, however, keep changes to retirement-income exemptions that the two senators proposed, adding another $200 million to the potential cost of the Christie-Prieto plan.

The Senate has yet to consider the proposal, but if it were to be enacted, the sales-tax cut would represent New Jersey’s first reduction of a broad-based tax since 1994. It would also come at a time when the state has been experiencing revenue problems, including a $600 million budget hole that had to be closed with a series of cuts and other adjustments just last month.

The budget impact of the proposed sales-tax cut would start out modestly at $376 million during the 2017 fiscal year. And because it is part of a broader plan that involves the gas-tax increase to shore up the TTF, the cut would initially free up roughly $350 million in sales-tax revenue that’s currently being used to prop up the deeply indebted trust fund.

Going forward, the impact of the sales-tax cut on the budget would rise to an estimated $1.6 billion once fully phased in during the 2019 fiscal year, according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. Because all of the more than $1 billion in annual revenue that would come in from the 23-cent gas-tax hike would be constitutionally dedicated to funding transportation projects,  the sales tax cut  would not be offset, leaving a gap on the state budget.

Supporters predict that gap would be closed by economic growth, but if that growth doesn’t materialize, the hole would have to be filled with spending cuts or other tax hikes since the state constitution requires a balanced budget.

Complicating the issue even further is a planned constitutional amendment, backed by Democratic legislative leaders and public-worker unions, that call’s for revenue growth to help fund a series of ramped-up state contributions to the presently underfunded public-employee pension system. If voters approve the amendment this fall, it would mandate spending on the pension payments to increase from $1.3 billion this fiscal year to over $3 billion just as the full impact of the sales tax-cut would take effect.

New Jersey’s sales tax is rooted in a 1966 law that established a 3 percent rate. That was increased to 5 percent in 1970, and to 6 percent in 1983. The rate was lifted to 7 percent in 1990 under then-Democratic Gov. Jim Florio, only to be reversed in a backlash in 1992.

Another increase restored the rate to 7 percent in 2006 under then-Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, but only after a six-day shutdown of state government. At the same time, the range of services that are subject to the sales tax was expanded, though New Jersey still offers exemptions for clothing, groceries and necessities.

Unlike many other states, New Jersey does not allow sales taxes to be levied at the local level. In fact, specially designated Urban Enterprise Zones allow many struggling urban areas to charge a lesser rate of 3.5 percent.

Notably, sales tax collections have been on the rise; while income tax is subject to significant volatility, the sales tax has been a steady performer for the state budget over the last several years. It generated $7.5 billion in revenue during the 2010 fiscal year, and $7.8 billion during the 2011 fiscal year. Sales tax collections then steadily improved from $8 billion during the 2012 fiscal year to $8.8 billion through the 2015 fiscal year. The latest projection for the current fiscal year, which ends at midnight tomorrow, is for $9.3 billion, and Christie’s administration is forecasting a $9.6 billion haul during the 2017 fiscal year.

N.J. Supreme Court upholds freeze on pension cost-of-living adjustments

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled 6-to-1 Thursday that the state can continue to freeze cost-of-living adjustment payments to those collecting public pensions.

The decision upholds a 201l reform law to suspend the payments that was supported by Democrats and signed by Christie. According to the Associated Press, the ruling will save the state approximately $17.5 billion in added pension liabilities.

Thursday’s ruling received cautious optimism from Moody’s Investors Service, which said it “eliminates a major threat to the state’s fiscal stability, which is already challenged by narrow reserves and large, rapidly growing pension costs.”

“New Jersey’s finances have been more stable in recent years, and the state projects that 2016 reserves will remain on target and above prior years at $550 million,” Moody’s said. “However, reserves at this level will provide limited cushion against further budget volatility.”

Earlier this week, the Assembly Judiciary Committee advanced a measure that seeks to task voters with deciding on a constitutional amendment to require regular pension payments.

New Jersey Officials Close Out May with a Flourish

 

Atlantic City Bailout Bills Pass Both NJ Houses

New Jersey legislation that aims to help Atlantic City financially recover from poor gaming revenue and successful tax appeals now awaits Gov. Chris Christie’s signature, after passing both houses of the state Legislature on Thursday.

During their regular voting sessions, the New Jersey Senate and Assembly approved a pair of bills that would give city officials 150 days come up with a financial plan to avoid bankruptcy and would create a tax deferral arrangement for casinos.

The two Senate bills evolved from Senate and Assembly proposals that had been merged and advanced Monday by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, giving rise to new bailout legislation that leaves collective bargaining agreements intact and gives officials of the struggling resort town more time to hash out its budget before state officials intervene.

The two points of contention had sparked showdowns between Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Bergen, and Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, but lawmakers hailed the latest versions of the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act, or S1711, and the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan, memorialized in S1715.

The two sides had worked on a series of amendments to the Senate versions to bring them in line with the Assembly’s vision. For example, casinos are not allowed to opt out of the PILOT program, and the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act — formerly known as the “state takeover” bill, before Prieto and unions decried the stripping of the city’s autonomy — now extends early retirement incentives to all full-time employees to save money.

The Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act won 32-5 approval in the Senate and 60-12 passage in the Assembly. The PILOT bill got 33-4 approval in the Senate and 61-12 passage in the Assembly.

Twelve casinos had made up 70 percent of annual property taxes in Atlantic City as of 2013. But competition from surrounding states and other factors have left the city with eight operating casinos, after four closed in 2014, and a tax base that dropped from $20.5 billion in 2010 to $7.3 billion in 2015.

The dire situation prompted Christie in January 2015 to tap an emergency manager for the resort town, after which Moody’s Investors Service slashed the municipality’s bond rating.

The pressure to come up with a plan to avoid insolvency reached fever pitch in recent months as city officials braced for a shutdown and battled legal wars.

Previously, the state Department of Education sued the town to ensure its school district got its share of taxes, although a state court judge last month declined to freeze the city’s assets. Compounding the fiscal woes are $240 million the city allegedly owes to bondholders and $150 million for successful tax appeal, including $88 million allegedly owed to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

Prieto and Sweeney locked horns again earlier this month, when Prieto said the Assembly was not going to consider the Senate’s state takeover, which was the only plan Christie had said he would endorse to fix the resort town.

NJ Assembly Passes $15 Minimum Wage Bill

The New Jersey Assembly on Thursday advanced legislation that would gradually boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour in phased increases over the next five years, an initiative touted by the chamber’s Democratic leaders as a tool to help reverse the trend of poverty in the state.

Unveiled in February, the bill previously passed the Assembly Labor Committee and now sits before the Senate after its 42-30-1 passage Thursday. The legislation heeds the call of the nationwide Fight for $15 movement and its advancement comes a month after New York and California signed the initiative into law.

Assembly Bill 15 would increase the state’s current base hourly rate of $8.38 to $10.10 at the start of next year and make incremental boosts annually from 2018 to 2021 until the minimum wage is $15

Stating their case for the proposal’s importance in the Garden State, the bill’s primary sponsors cited Legal Services of New Jersey’s estimates that the state is home to 2.8 million adults and 800,000 children living in poverty as of 2014, marking a 40 percent increase in the poor population since the recession of 2008, according to LSNJ estimates.

The take-home pay for a full-time minimum wage worker is less than $18,000 a year in a state that has among the highest costs of living in the country, the sponsors said.

The bill’s primary backers also include Assembly Budget Chairman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic/Bergen, and Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, D-Essex.

An identical Senate version of the legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, was advanced by that chamber’s Labor Committee last week.

Republican leaders have expressed opposition to the legislation. In statements issued when the Senate proposal was announced, Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove said seniors and small businesses would be hit particularly hard while Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean said the minimum wage increase — along with pushes to mandate paid sick leave and add more flexible leave and benefit options — would make life more unaffordable for all New Jerseyans.

The Ailing Transportation Trust Fund

With a crisis in Atlantic City apparently averted, Trenton’s attention will turn — after the Memorial Day weekend — to the virtually exhausted Transportation Trust Fund.

With competing schemes to revive the fund being floated, there will be plenty to argue about. And just to keep things interesting, lawmakers will also be pushing to wrap up a new state budget by the June 30 deadline.

The trust fund pays for more than $3 billion in annual road, bridge, and rail-network improvements, with money that comes from federal matching funds and New Jersey’s 10.5-cent per-gallon tax on gasoline and the its 4-cent per-gallon tax on the gross receipts of petroleum products. Revenue from the sales tax and highway tolls also help subsidize annual state spending of about $1.6 billion under a five-year financing plan that Christie put forward in 2011.

But money from the gas tax will be enough to service only the fund’s extensive debt starting July 1.

Up for debate: whether to create a new “tax-fairness package” that makes cut in the general budget to offset a gas-tax hike that is set aside of for transportation projects.

The alternative? A pay-as-you go system that trims existing budget lines but primarily relies on an expectation of tax revenue to grow each year.

The pay-as-you-go folks, led by Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) dug in launching a petition drive that’s intended to push back against the bipartisan tax-fairness package, which has gained momentum in the State House in recent weeks.

Gov. Chris Christie will also have a say, and over the next month the issue will likely put to a test two of his longest-standing records. He’s yet to approve a major tax increase since he took office early in 2010, and he’s yet to be overridden by a Legislature that’s controlled by Democrats, but not with veto-proof majorities.

Many in Trenton expect the issue will eventually be resolved with a bipartisan deal that will involve hiking either the 10.5-cent tax on gasoline, the 4-cent tax on petroleum products, or some combination of increases that will affect both levies. New Jersey has the second-lowest gas tax in the nation, which was last raised in 1988.

Democrats have been working diligently behind the scenes to secure votes for a gas-tax increase – which they’ve yet to define publicly – by offering up a series of tax cuts to entice Republicans into endorsing what’s being described as a broader “tax fairness” deal. They include proposals to phase out the estate tax over five years; increase current state income tax exemptions for retirement income like pensions and annuities; create a state income tax deduction for charitable contributions; and increase the state version of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

For his part, Christie hasn’t ruled out a gas-tax increase, but he also hasn’t clearly defined what he would like to see in any deal that could win his support. When asked about the issue by a woman calling into his monthly radio show on NJ 101.5 FM radio earlier this week, Christie said he expects to hear more from lawmakers now that they’ve resolved their differences on the Atlantic City rescue.

But Beck, the Monmouth County senator, has been clear in her opposition to a gas-tax increase. She’s launched an online petition to rally opposition that a recent Quinnipiac University poll measured to be 54 percent of New Jersey’s registered voters.

As part of a trust fund renewal plan that she’s put forward, Beck introduced two bills yesterday that are designed to help free up cash in the annual budget to pay for $1.6 billion in transportation upgrades each year through the 2023 fiscal year.

One bill seeks to save about $50 million annually by consolidating several state transportation agencies like New Jersey Transit and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. But the bulk of the new revenue would come from another, more controversial measure that would reduce healthcare benefits for public workers at all levels and then repurpose most of the savings for transportation projects.

Beck’s plan is also relying on some new borrowing and at least 3 percent growth in annual revenues. She would also raise additional funds by increasing motor-vehicle fines and diverting more money from the state’s Clean Energy Fund.

Her efforts drew support from the New Jersey chapter of the conservative Americans for Prosperity organization, which has been making phone calls to stoke grassroots opposition to a gas-tax hike.

But transportation advocates and public-worker unions criticized Beck’s proposal yesterday, questioning whether her revenue sources and forecasts are realistic.

Projections for 3 percent annual growth over seven years comes as the Christie administration was just forced to scale back its own tax-collection forecasts by a combined $1 billion for the current budget and the fiscal year that will begin on July 1. Growth has also been slow over the last decade, with revenues up just over 6 percent, from $31.2 billion during the 2007 fiscal year to a projected $33.2 billion for the current fiscal year.

Hospitals avoid new local-tax burden-Energy and Environment Bills Signed Into Law

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bipartisan proposal that would have required nonprofit hospitals to pay new fees to municipal governments to help cover the cost of police, fire, and other local services in exchange for maintaining the property-tax exemption they have long enjoyed. The bill was prompted by a landmark state tax-court ruling in 2014 that successfully challenged the property-tax exemption enjoyed by nonprofit Morristown Medical Center, given that it also operates several for-profit services at the same Morris County site.

The pocket veto encourages uncertainty where the bill could have secured the legal future of hospitals. Legislators intended their efforts to avoid similar lawsuits around the state, but with the veto the state may see an untimely increase in litigation.

The move was more of a disappointment than a surprise, legislators said.

Energy and Environment Bills Signed Into Law

S-2617/A-3944 (Cardinale/Garcia, McKeon, Auth, Eustace, Pinkin) – Requires DEP to adopt regulations to allow cultivation of commercial shellfish species in certain coastal and inner harbor waters for research, educational, or restoration purposes; requires community engagement process for revision thereof

S-2880/A-4704 (Lesniak, T. Kean/Diegnan, Wisniewski) – Provides up to $25 million in tax credits under Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant Program for certain infrastructure at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

S-3321/A-4927 (Smith, Van Drew, Bateman/Spencer, Rumana) – Authorizes DEP to require public access to waterfront and adjacent shoreline as condition of waterfront development approvals and CAFRA permits

A-1726wGR/S-308 (Eustace, Lagana, Mosquera, Vainieri Huttle, Wimberly/Gordon) – Amends “Flood Hazard Area Control Act” to require DEP to take certain actions concerning delineations of flood hazard areas and floodplains

A-1812/S-2717 (Mosquera, Mazzeo, Andrzejczak/Cruz-Perez, Oroho, Jones) – Extends protections of the new vehicle “lemon law” to new farm tractors purchased or leased in New Jersey

A-1958/S-1848 (Allen, Van Drew) – Concerns exemptions from permits for certain agricultural activities under “Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act”

A-2839/S-2620 (Burzichelli, Space, Phoebus/Oroho, Turner) – “New Jersey Rural Microenterprise Act”

A-3257wGR/S-2125 (Andrzejczak, Mazzeo, Burzichelli/Van Drew) – Provides that determination by county agriculture development board or State Agriculture Development Committee as to what qualifies as farm-based recreational activity in pinelands protection area is binding on Pinelands Commission

A-3850/S-2467 (DeAngelo, Eustace, Mazzeo, Pintor Marin, Benson/Turner, Singer) – Requires BPU to establish procedures allowing electric power and gas supplier customers to switch energy suppliers

Energy and Environment Bills  pocket vetoed

S-564/A-4186 (Smith, Bateman/Eustace, McKeon, Spencer, Benson) – Establishes “Solar Roof Installation Warranty Program” in EDA and transfers $2 million from societal benefits charge to initially fund program

S-1414/A-2405 (Smith, Bateman/Eustace, Benson, Johnson) – Concerns low emission and zero emission vehicles; establishes Clean Vehicle Task Force

SCS for S-1420/ACS for A-1603 (Beach, Whelan, Smith, Sweeney, Bateman, Thompson/Spencer, Eustace, Quijano, Wimberly) – Requires paint producers to implement or participate in paint stewardship program

S-2491/A-4069 (Smith/Danielsen, Pinkin, Benson) – Establishes position of State Oceanographer

S-2711/A-4128 (Smith, Whelan/Mazzeo, DeAngelo, Spencer, Singleton, McKeon, Danielsen, Johnson) –Permits BPU to approve qualified wind energy project; requires BPU to provide application periods for those projects

S-2769/AS for ACS for A-4197, 4206 (Smith, Bateman/Andrzejczak, McKeon, Spencer, Pintor Marin, Dancer, Vainieri Huttle) – Implements 2014 constitutional dedication of CBT revenues for certain environmental purposes; revises State’s open space, farmland, and historic preservation programs

S-3416/A-4808 (Lesniak, Sarlo/Eustace, Gusciora) – Prohibits possession, transport, import, export, processing, sale, or shipment of parts and products of certain animal species threatened with extinction

A-2586/S-1796 (DeAngelo, Quijano, Benson/Greenstein) – Establishes “Energy Infrastructure Study Commission”

A-4384/S-3145 (DeAngelo, Pintor Marin, Danielsen, Schaer, Johnson/Whelan) – Requires BPU to render decision on case within 12 months of final public hearing or hold another public hearing prior to deciding case

A-4763/SS for SCS for S-2973 (McKeon, Spencer, Pinkin/Smith, Bateman, Greenstein, Codey) – Revises “Electronic Waste Management Act”

A-4773/S-3146 (Eustace, Garcia, Gusciora/Lesniak) – Prohibits possession and transport of parts and products of certain animals at PANYNJ airports and port facilities

 

Atlantic City Rescue Bills Move Closer To Law

Amended versions of three New Jersey bills aiming to stabilize Atlantic City’s faltering economy received final Senate approval Thursday, sealing their passage in both houses of the Legislature. The anchor of the proposal, A3981, calls for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan to stabilize the town’s fiscal health. A3984 would reallocate a casino tax that’s being used for redevelopment projects to help the city pay debt service on municipal bonds, and A3985 would drop a five-year obligation to use casino revenue for marketing purposes so those funds can be redirected to the city coffers.

Lawmakers called the legislation a step toward fiscal recovery for the shore town, which lost four of its 12 casinos to bankruptcies or closures in the past two years and faces a spate of tax appeals settled in casinos’ favor. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, called on Gov. Chris Christie, who conditionally vetoed the bills in November, to sign the modified versions into law immediately.

Gov. Chris Christie had conditionally vetoed the bills in November, commending the Legislature for its efforts to stabilize the city but warning that certain provisions simply shifted resources to the city without demanding accountability on the part of those who would receive the funds or benefit from the “unique tax payment arrangements.”

The governor amended the 3981 bill to eliminate the creation of a PILOT council comprised of casino owners and stipulated that the Local Finance Board, in conjunction with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, would determine the amount of the PILOT payments. A provision requiring casino owners to sign agreements with the city to make the payments was also added. Under the conditional veto, the other two bills would only go into effect upon the passage of A3981.

The legislation was part of a five-bill package introduced in December 2014. In November, Christie signed into law another part of the package, A3983, that would provide additional state money to the city’s struggling public schools, but gave absolute veto to A3982, which would have required casinos to provide proof they are providing “suitable” health care and retirement benefits to employees.

The Senate gave 329-6 passage to A3981, 32-4 passage to A3984 and 36-1 approval to A3985. Each bill was sponsored by Mazzeo, Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, D-Cumberland.

The legislation’s other supporters included Assemblyman Paul D. Moriarty, D-Gloucester, who co-sponsored d A3981 and A3984; Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May County, who sponsored A3985 and A3981; and Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, D-Passaic, who sponsored A3984 and A3985.

Atlantic City’s financial situation has been dire for some time. Twelve casinos made up 70 percent of annual property taxes in Atlantic City as of 2013, but competition from surrounding states and other factors have left the city with eight operating casinos and a tax base that dropped from $20.5 billion in 2010 to $7.3 billion. Christie in January 2015 tapped an emergency manager for the city, after which Moody’s Investors Service slashed the municipality’s bond rating.

New Jersey Legislation & Regulation Watch For 2016

New Jersey’s weakened gaming industry, workforce pressures and vulnerable environment have driven legislative developments in recent months, giving interested folks plenty of pending bills to watch in 2016.

Atlantic City, the state’s only constitutionally-allowed gaming revenue resource, has suffered  from casino bankruptcies, closures and competition, driving lawmakers to consider tax incentives that would boost the resort town, along with a proposal to geographically expand the market share of casinos.

Casino employees, some of whom have gone on strike in the past year, represent just one industry characterized by a labor pool that wants a better work-life balance. Lawmakers have heeded their calls with legislation that has drawn objections from a recession weary business sector still struggling to cope with ongoing economic uncertainty.

On the natural resources front, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed changes to rules governing the state’s flood hazard areas have riled conservationists who fear the updates lessen protections and pander to developers.

Here’s a summary of critical legislation and regulation that could affect significant  New Jersey State changes in 2016:

Atlantic City Fiscal Recovery Package

Pinning their hopes on reviving Atlantic City, lawmakers are continuing to push a financial incentive package spearheaded by Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Sen. Jim Whalen, D-Atlantic.

Three of the bills have passed both houses of the Legislature as of the Assembly’s Dec. 17 voting session and are awaiting Gov. Chris Christie’s signature. The anchor of the proposal, A3981, calls for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan to stabilize the town’s fiscal health.  A3984 would reallocate a casino tax that’s being used for redevelopment projects to help the city pay debt service on municipal bonds, and A3985 would drop a five-year obligation to use casino revenue for marketing purposes so those funds can be redirected to the city.

In November, Christie signed into law another part of the package, A3983, that would provide additional state money to the city’s struggling public schools, but implemented an  absolute veto to A3982, that would have required casinos to provide proof they are providing “suitable” health care and retirement benefits to employees.

Constitutional Amendment to Expand Gambling

Looking beyond Atlantic City, lawmakers are considering  advisiability of  casinos in the Meadowlands and the Monmouth Park racetrack.  Legislation would reverse the state’s constitutional restriction, and the topic could be left up to voters.

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Dec. 17 approved Sweeney’s SCR185, that would pose the question of non-Atlantic City gaming in a public referendum next November, while the Assembly passed a twin version of the bill on to that house’s Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee.

The legislation would make for a “potentially huge” expansion of the New Jersey’s gaming industry, although the passage of a constitutional amendment is difficult to predict given the expected high turnout due to the presidential election.

Supporting New Jersey Families Act

Casino employees and the state’s labor force in general also stand to get a boost from pending legislation aiming to improve work-life balance and increase paid time off. Along with legislation that would help displaced casino workers prepare to re-enter the workplace, lawmakers are also considering a family-geared legislation package that was unveiled in May by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen. The Supporting New Jersey Families Act, which has yet to undergo committee review, would require employers in all industries to provide shift workers with predictable schedules and time off to attend school activities, expand state employee family leave privileges and establish a commission to do a gender pay disparity study. The bills have twin legislation in the Assembly.

The first prong of Weinberg’s package, the Schedules that Work Act, S2933, provides a private right of action for employees seeking to change their work schedules.

Paid Sick Leave

Among the most controversial legislatative actions are those advocating for employees is the proposed Paid Sick Leave Law, S785 and A2354, under which workers would get the better of five to nine sick days or more generous packages provided under local laws.

The Senate bill, also sponsored by Weinberg, got full approval in Dec. 17, while the Assembly version is poised for a second reading by the chamber. That bill counts Assembly members Pamela R. Lampitt, D-Camden, Shavonda E. Sumter, D-Passaic, Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, Jerry Green, D-Passaic, and Benjie E. Wimberly, D-Bergen-Passaic as primary sponsors.

During a Senate committee hearing in June, the legislation was hailed by unions, think tanks and groups such as the New Jersey Working Families Alliance. Business-centered organizations, such as the New Jersey Farm Bureau and the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, criticized  the administrative and expense ramifications.

Given New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s previous opposition to mandated sick leave, the future of the legislation remains uncertain, since in the aggregate, the  legislative proposals would create new administrative burdens on employers, including smaller businesses and start-ups, and increase the risk of litigation as traditional employer prerogatives are legislatively  prescribed.

Flood Hazard Area Rules

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s planned changes to flood hazard area rules, announced in June drew not only a backlash from environmentalists but twin bills proposed explicitly to overturn the changes. They are presently pending public comment.

Among the biggest changes in store is the increase in the amount of vegetation in riparian zones — where regulated water meets land — that can be disturbed for construction, and the extension of that allowed disturbance to building projects that would normally require a hardship exemption.

Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, served as a primary sponsor of SCR180 that received full Senate approval in October and is pending before the Assembly. Identical legislation, ACR249, was introduced in November by Assemblyman John F. McKeon, D-Morris, and Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, D-Essex. Both bills have been advanced by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.

These rules affect virtually all development in all sectors across the state, and also serve as one of the state’s few points of leverage over federally authorized projects, like pipelines and utility facilitiesThese rules also dictate rebuilding and resiliency policy in and near flood prone areas. The impact would reach beyond the shore to industrial sites, many in low-lying areas along New Jersey Rivers.

Where the state goes on these issue affects not only environmental quality but also the value of properties, and the costs and likelihood of future business expansion.

Christie budget statement and charity care for hospitals

The charity care funds that hospitals use to defray the cost of caring for indigent and uninsured patients are being reduced by $148 million, to $502 million, in Gov. Chris Christie’s fiscal 2016 budget. However, the administration said it expects New Jersey’s successful Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act to ease the demand for hospitals to provide uncompensated care.

In its budget statement, the Christie administration said 390,000 low-income New Jersey residents have enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program, known as NJ Family Care, since the ACA-funded nationwide Medicaid expansion began Jan. 1, 2014. According to state figures, there are now 1.67 million New Jerseyans enrolled in NJ FamilyCare, which is funded by both state and federal tax dollars.

The Christie Administration budget statement said: “As widely anticipated, Gov. Christie’s decision to expand NJ FamilyCare under the ACA has led to a dramatic increase in federally supported NJ FamilyCare enrollment, as well as a steep reduction in New Jersey hospitals’ documented claims for uncompensated care.”

Betsy Ryan, chief executive of the New Jersey Hospital Association, said the hospitals are now assessing the impact of the 22.8 percent charity care funding cut.

Ryan applauded Christie for increasing funds to the state’s teaching hospitals to train physician residents: Christie’s 2016 budget increases funding for graduate medical education from $100 million this year to $127.3 million in fiscal 2016, which begins July 1, 2015.

More details on the impact of the charity care cuts will be forthcoming once the state Department of Health announces how much charity care individual hospitals will receive in 2016.