Bramnick acknowledged that the process of defining competitive districts would be complicated in a state like New Jersey, where the disparity in Democratic and Republican voter registration figures belies the fact that larger numbers of independents may vote Republican consistently in state elections.
In addition, while New Jerseyans have turned in some of the largest Democratic percentages of any state in the past five presidential elections going back to 1996, state voters have gone for Republicans for governor in four out of six elections since 1993.
Bramnick said redistricting reform is critical to making the New Jersey Legislature more responsive to the desire of voters for a truly representative body that will “govern from the middle,” but he said he wanted to jumpstart the process by urging Democratic legislative leaders to join him in creating four bipartisan committees made up of equal numbers of Democratic and Republican Senate and Assembly members to work on long-term solutions to major issues.
Bramnick’s choice of issues reflected standard Assembly Republican talking points. The first committee he wants to establish would be tasked with changing the school-funding formula – presumably by cutting aid to urban school districts.
A second would study ways to cut the cost of the state’s pension and retiree health benefits program, which currently have a combined unfunded liability topping $90 billion. Bramnick’s suggestion is to shift public employees from the current defined-contribution pension system to a hybrid system that moves workers increasingly into 401K plans, along the line of the Rhode Island plan praised by Christie’s treasurer, Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff.
The third panel would study ways to cut the state’s inheritance tax, estate tax, and income taxes on the wealthy to keep retirees and the rich from leaving the state. The fourth would seek to build a bipartisan consensus in favor of the state’s business-tax incentive programs, whose $4 billion in tax subsidies to companies have been criticized not only by Democrats, but by conservative Republicans, as tax giveaways, Bramnick acknowledged.
Notably absent from Bramnick’s list of proposed bipartisan committees were panels to study how to cut New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes -- which Democrats have argued should be the first priority for any tax cut -- and how to refinance the state’s Transportation Trust Fund that pays for highway, bridge, and mass-transit construction projects. The TTF will run out of funding months early because of overborrowing by the Christie administration, and Democrats have suggested the fund cannot be replenished without an increase in the gas tax, which Christie opposes.