TrueNorth – Back to School Edition

NorthStar Strategies TrueNorth Insights

Election Update

We’re six weeks from midterm elections that could reshape majorities in Congress and a number of races in New Jersey and New York could play a pivotal role.

Incumbent New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez is battling to keep his seat against an aggressive challenge from former pharma executive Bob Hugin. The race has tightened and according to some polls, Hugin has pulled to within single digits. Hugin is up on television, bombarding Menendez on the air, which has something to do with the closing gap. Menendez continues to attack Hugin for his past support of President Trump as well as for his record at Celgene, alleging artificial inflation of cancer-fighting drugs. The big question is whether Hugin’s checkbook can overcome Democrats’ huge voter registration advantage and Menendez’s incumbency.

New Jersey House Race Highlights

A Stockton University poll has State Senator Jeff Van Drew up by 23 points over former Atlantic City Councilman Seth Grossman in the open seat race to replace retiring Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2). Considering some of the viewpoints Grossman has expressed on his Facebook page, we’re shocked (not shocked) that he’s having trouble connecting with voters.

Incumbent Tom MacArthur is in a horse race against former Obama staffer Andy Kim and currently leads by 2 points in the Republican-leaning 3rd District.

Freshman Democrat Josh Gottheimer is defending his 5th District seat and racking up endorsements. Prior to Gottheimer’s election the district was held by Republicans for decades but the Congressman has worked hard to connect with his constituents and carve an independent path; he is also a prodigious fundraiser which adds to his advantage.

A recent Monmouth poll gives challenger Tom Malinowski a slight edge over incumbent Leonard Lance (NJ-7) in a race that the Cook Political Report lists as a toss-up. An audio clip has surfaced of Lance seeming to defend SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh. On Friday, just hours after Arizona Senator Jeff Flake announced a deal to delay the full Senate’s vote so an FBI inquiry into allegations against the nominee could be conducted, Lance indicated his support for the inquiry, working to limit potential damage from his previous comments.

Mikie Sherrill and Jay Webber are involved in a donnybrook to replace retiring Rodney Frelinghuysen in the 11th District. It may be the race that delivers the House to the Democrats. Sherrill has built a huge warchest. Webber has embraced President Trump. It’s likely to be one of the most closely watched races in the nation on Election Night.

New York Statewide & Congressional

Two-term Governor Andrew Cuomo won his primary against actress-turned-activist Cynthia Nixon a few weeks back. He now turns to the general election contest against Duchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. Cuomo has a strong campaign operation that appears poised to secure a third term.

New York City Public Advocate Tish James – a Cuomo ally – won a four-way Primary for Attorney General. If she wins in November, she will be New York State’s first African-American woman elected to statewide office. Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul fended off a challenge from New York City Councilman and Cynthia Nixon running mate Jumaane Williams.

State Senator Jeff Klein – leader of the breakaway “Independent Democratic Conference” which collaborated with Senate Republicans, effectively guaranteeing GOP control of the chamber – lost to former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer Alessandra Biaggi. In fact, six of the eight members of the IDC (which disbanded in April) lost on Primary Day, increasing – though not guaranteeing – chances that Democrats will retake control of the upper chamber.

Several congressional GOP seats are considered toss-ups this Fall. Chief among these is Hudson Valley Republican Rep. John Faso. Independent money is flowing into this district by the truckload as the GOP tries to hold serve and Democrats look to crest a Blue Wave. Other potentially vulnerable Republican incumbents include Pro-Trump incumbent Claudia Tenney (NY-22). She recently hosted the President in her Utica/Binghamton district in hopes of rallying support but this one is a genuine toss-up. Chris Collins (NY-27) represents Buffalo and was the first Member of Congress to endorse then-candidate Trump. But he’s been indicted for insider trading and could be in trouble.

New Jersey Legislature Fall Outlook

While many legislatures around the country have concluded their work for the year, New Jersey’s Statehouse will be bustling with activity this Fall, with several high-profile issues on the agenda.

Marijuana Legalization

The Big Three – Governor Murphy, Assembly Speaker Coughlin and Senate President Sweeney – support legalization of cannabis for recreational use. They continue to debate key provisions of a tax and regulatory structure. TBD is the final tax rate – the Murphy Administration prefers 25% but key players in the Legislature reportedly prefer a 10% rate. Also remaining open for debate is the framework for issuing permits and determining locations for dispensaries and cultivation facilities.

Likely to be packaged with the legalization bill is legislation to expunge the criminal records of individuals with marijuana-related convictions.

Debate on these outstanding items will likely push floor consideration to late Fall. A lengthy regulatory process would ensue after any bill is signed into law. We don’t anticipate Main Street turning into Shakedown Street in 2019.

Minimum Wage

Governor Murphy and Speaker Coughlin reaffirmed their commitment to increasing New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15/hour at a recent press conference. Their sales pitch is part of the push by Democratic leaders to pass the measure this Fall. Murphy has cast the increase as necessary to create the “stronger & fairer” economy he discussed so often during the campaign. Expect debate to center on possible industry carve-outs and for discussions to intensify in the coming weeks.

Murphy recently rallied with airport workers at Newark Liberty International Airport in support of a minimum wage increase for workers at airports controlled by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. On Thursday, the Port Authority’s Board voted to enact such an increase, effective November 1st, to $19/hour by 2023. Labor unions including SEIU’s 32BJ and UNITE HERE! – politically influential with both Murphy and Cuomo – loomed large in passage of this measure.

Expanded Paid Family Leave

The Senate Labor Committee this Spring advanced legislation to expand New Jersey’s paid family leave program.

The legislation would expand eligibility under the program by expanding the definition of “family”; allocate funding for awareness; include anti-retaliation protections for employees; grant eligibility to victims of domestic violence or sexual assault; among other changes.

Following approval by the Labor Committee, the bill was 2nd referenced to the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee where it will likely be considered this Fall. Legislative leadership and Governor Murphy have expressed support for the measure and will look to work toward passage. Advocacy and labor groups are lined up in support while business and industry interests have expressed their concerns.

NJ TRANSIT Makes PTC Progress

The Murphy Administration recently announced that NJ TRANSIT would begin testing Positive Train Control (PTC) on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, some welcome news regarding the transit operator.

NJ TRANSIT – along with every other rail operator in the nation – is subject to a federal deadline for implementing PTC, a train protection system required by the Federal government and intended to prevent train-to-train collisions and derailments.

Amtrak declared earlier this year that it would prohibit all non-compliant railroads from its tracks after December 31, 2018. Little PTC work had been done by NJT before Murphy took office, and the agency has been working overtime to meet the implementation deadline.

The recent announcement about testing means that NJT may make enough progress by the end of the year to qualify for a time extension and not receive the boot from Amtrak. Eviction would directly impact some 200,000 trips each day, making this a big deal.

NJT Executive Director Kevin Corbett and his senior leadership are working closely with Amtrak on PTC. However progress has not come without sacrifices; NJT recently announced the temporary suspension of 18 daily trains along five lines. It is offering riders a discount and has committed to resuming these services once PTC is in place.

ACECNJ Fall Conference

The American Council of Engineering Companies of New Jersey (ACECNJ) held its annual Fall Conference in Atlantic City last week. The results are in and the two-day event was a huge success. Over 200 engineers, contractors, industry leaders and agency heads gathered for meetings, panel discussions, education sessions and networking opportunities. The conference is ACECNJ’s signature annual event.

NorthStar Strategies manages the association and CEO Joe Fiordaliso serves as ACECNJ’s President. Jody Herkloz and Gabrielle Liguori round out the ACECNJ team. NorthStar has helped turn ACECNJ into a major player in the region, advocating for the business interests of consulting engineering firms.