Veto override of debt report bill falls short in Assembly

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie’s more than five-year record of never having any veto overturned by the Democratic-controlled Legislature remained intact Monday, as an attempt to override his veto of a bill to expand an annual debt report failed to garner enough support.

The Assembly voted 45-5, with 23 abstentions, to override Christie’s veto of Assembly Bill 961, falling nine votes shy of the three-quarters majority required.

Few Republicans supported the override, although nearly all of them voted for the bill when it was passed earlier this year.

The bill sought to require the annual debt report, prepared by the Treasury Department for the state Commission on Capital Budgeting and Planning, to include an affordability analysis that provides projections of the state’s revenues and debt capacity over the next 10 years.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, was approved by a 77-0 vote in the Assembly and a 40-0 vote in the Senate. However, Christie vetoed the bill, arguing in his veto message that the proposed analysis would rely on “highly speculative” data and factors and would be of little value.

Some lawmakers said the administration also informed them Friday and Monday that having the state create the proposed financial report could result in litigation from state bondholders or the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That issue was never raised in Christie’s veto message.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-21st of Westfield, and other Republican lawmakers said they supported the concept of an expanded debt report, but urged the majority to delay the override vote until that legal issue could be reviewed.

“I think it’s a great idea. I just don’t want to run afoul of the SEC,” Bramnick said on the Assembly floor. “I’m asking for more time to have all the information.”

Singleton said 11 other states issue similar debt affordability reports and have not faced any legal issues, and that the administration never voiced its concerns as the bill advanced through the Legislature or in the governor’s veto message.

“We have an obligation to the 9 million residents to represent them, so I was disappointed with the result,” he said. “I don’t like to prescribe motives, but to me it doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Singleton said he plans to reintroduce the bill soon, hopefully with the same Republican supporters.

The annual debt report released earlier this year by the Treasury Department showed that the state’s long-term debt increased to a record $78.4 billion last year, up $6.6 billion from the previous year.

Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-26th of Morris Plains, was among the Republicans who broke with Christie and supported the override. He said he learned of the potential legal problems about two hours before the vote.

“That’s not the way it’s supposed to happen,” Webber said.

Original article