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N.J. Dems vow strong lame-duck agenda

In this photo, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, surrounded by Senator Linda Greenstein, Senate President Steve Sweeney, and Senator Nia Gill, unveils a report card for Governor Chris Christie

By Steve Sweeney and Loretta Weinberg

While most of the analysts and pundits have been speculating about what the results of our elections mean for Gov. Chris Christie’s national political ambitions, the more important question is what the results mean for the people of New Jersey.

The governor won decisively, but Democratic legislative candidates gained triumphant victories as well and we did it despite the historic margins at the top of the ticket for Republicans. We reversed the tidal wave by winning every contested Senate race, re-electing all our incumbents, capturing the one open seat and holding the same 24-seat Assembly majority we had before Election Day.

This is meaningful, not just for the Legislature, but for the state. And the significance extends into the lame-duck session of the Legislature for the next few months and for the next legislative session starting in mid-January.

We believe that New Jersey appreciates our willingness to work with the governor in a bipartisan way to get things done when he is right, but challenge him when he is wrong.

The governor refused our plan to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $8.25, tying future increases to the rate of inflation. So we found another way to get it done by going to the voters with a constitutional amendment that was approved overwhelmingly.

We worked with the governor on our top priority of creating jobs by establishing the Economic Opportunity Act, a far-reaching plan to spur economic growth in all regions of the state with incentives to create well paying jobs.

When the governor proposed an income tax cut for the wealthy, we rejected his idea and developed a plan to provide property tax savings for the middle class. Once the state can afford it, we will do it in a responsible way.

We will work with the governor to get things done when he is right, but challenge him when he is wrong.

We have other priorities for the lame-duck session. We must continue to push for legislation that will promote shared services among municipal governments. We achieved some success on this, but we can do more by promoting shared services more aggressively.

We also plan to do more for college affordability and educational excellence. We already moved higher education forward by restructuring some of the state’s colleges and universities, and we enacted a higher education bond act to provide the resources to build and expand education facilities.

We are working on ideas to make college more affordable by creating a “College Affordability Study Commission” — and to combine degree programs between county colleges and state universities. The “affordable degree” pilot program would provide a low-cost higher education to students to attend their first two years at a county college and complete their education at a four-year institution. We recently announced a partnership between Gloucester County College and Rowan University that accomplishes these goals and we will seek to do this throughout the state.

We also plan to approve and send to the governor the DREAM Act, which will allow undocumented immigrants in New Jersey to qualify for in-state tuition rates and college loans. This is the fair thing to do and the right thing to do.

And we will continue to monitor the Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts to determine what should be done to get federal aid to the storm’s victims who need it and to help in any other way to facilitate rebuilding and recovery.

Senate Democrats will be forceful in pursuing our agenda during the remaining months of the current legislative session and will be just as aggressive for the next session. As the election demonstrated, we are acting with the support of the people of New Jersey.

Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) is Senate president of New Jersey. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) is Senate majority leader.

Read Senate President Sweeney and Senate Majority Leader Weinberg’s editorial in the Star Ledger here.