Overtime in sports can be exciting and exhilarating, in politics not so much.
The year was 2006 and Governor Corzine was trying to find his political footing as he grappled with the legislature, a co-equal branch of government, as both sides struggled to decide how to best spend the proposed penny increase in the sales tax.
To the state, this seemingly unprecedented shutdown was a shock, paralyzed the economy, and polarized our politics. Those of us on the Senate and Assembly Budget Committees had the joy of spending up to 20 hours a day negotiating and trying to move the ball forward. Most of these efforts were in vain—save one. Before we get to the proverbial straw that broke this shutdown wide open, I will confess that I never spent more time in a Governor’s office trying to help avert a disaster. Joe Malone, the ranking minority member of the Assembly Budget Committee, and I rotated in and out of the front office with such frequency that the state troopers and staff, upon seeing us open the front glass doors, mechanically ushered us in without comment or inquiry.
Several days into the shutdown an odd collection of politicos were eating at a local restaurant when it dawned upon some of us that something dramatic had to be done. When I say odd, it was a renegade state senator from District 2 (William Gormley), several Republicans from the Budget Committee and several Labor leaders, including Carla Katz. Up until this moment, the Labor leaders and GOP leaders weren’t exactly pen pals, but that would soon change.
To fully appreciate the highly charged and kinetic atmosphere, it needs to be understood that along with the state government shutdown, the all-important cash cows, the casinos, were closed and great political pressure was being brought to bear on the South Jersey Democrats, all of whom were aligned with Speaker Joe Roberts, as he openly warred with Governor Corzine. With all state employees furloughed, the unrest was starting to grow. The tension was palpable and everyone was being defined as Pro Corzine or Pro Speaker Roberts.
Let’s go to the video tape –
The Assembly Budget Committee convenes later in the day with the singular purpose that the Budget Chair, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (who beside being the best dressed legislator is one of the single smartest legislators, with an unmatched command of all things budget related) was putting forth a bill to declare casino workers as emergency workers so they would be exempt from the shutdown and allowed to carry on, even during the shutdown. A motion is made to move the bill by a Pro Speaker Assembly Member to move the bill.
This is where it gets strange, yet cool.
This bill is amended by Pro Corzine forces to include ALL state employees as emergency workers. Four of eight Democrats on the Committee voted along with the four Republicans to corkscrew the political ploy by the forces loyal to the Speaker and we successfully amended the bill—what just happened.
The coalition of 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans effectively took control of the Committee — chaos breaks out, the gavel is quickly hammered down, and oddly enough peace talks follow and a budget is soon given birth.
I will leave for another time the unspoken plot to unseat the Speaker that was operating in secret and in high gear contemporaneously as these theatrics played out in open view.
Happy Father’s Day to the Dads out there and a special wish to my Dad, who is the person who is my role model and mentor.
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman Kevin O’Toole is a former 40th District State Senator.