View Full Version : N.J. Republicans revive voter initiative proposal

10-08-2007, 06:37 PM

N.J. Republicans revive voter initiative proposal
Monday, October 1, 2007
Associated Press
Colorado voters boosted the minimum wage. Arizona voters decided against a lottery to award a voter $1 million. Massachusetts citizens decided against letting food stores sell wine. South Dakotans increased the cigarette tax.
Those were just some of the questions placed on 2006 election ballots after citizens collected enough petition signatures to propose a new law. New Jersey voters weren't among them, however, since the state doesn't allow voter initiatives.
But with all 120 New Jersey legislative seats up for election this year, Republicans who failed 15 years ago to give voters more say in proposing and approving new laws and government spending limits are trying again.
"We're not talking about governing differently," said Tom Wilson, the state Republican Party chairman. "We're talking about a different kind of government altogether."
Unlike the last time they promised to give more power to the people, Republicans don't control the Legislature. And Democrats, who control the Assembly 50-30 and the Senate 22-18, are scoffing at the plan.
"The sudden and hasty Republican embrace of initiative and referendum shows how bankrupt their party really is," Assembly Democratic campaign spokesman Derek Roseman said. "By their own admission, they are saying they won't even be able to govern effectively if they get elected." (As opposed to what the democrats are doing now?)
In all, voters collected enough petition signatures last year to put 79 questions on ballots across the country. They approved 32, wielding the power given to them by Legislatures in 27 states to propose and decide new laws.
But no state has created laws giving voters such power since Illinois in 1970, according to the Initiative & Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. Most states created their laws giving voters such authority in the early 1900s.
The New Jersey Senate voted 30-3 in 1981 and 32-4 in 1983 to approve voter initiative legislation, but it never received Assembly consideration. A 1986 bill passed the Assembly, but not the Senate.
Assembly Republicans made the referendum a leading campaign issue when they rallied against Democratic Gov. Jim Florio's tax increases in 1991, but two versions of the bill were defeated in the Assembly on the same day in July 1992.
The two Republican legislative leaders who have revived the plan -- Sen. Leonard Lance and Assemblyman Alex DeCroce -- favored voter initiatives back then and are now making the plan a centerpiece of their bid to retake the Legislature.
Lance, R-Hunterdon, speculates that ethics reforms long sought by Republicans but blocked by Democrats would have been approved if voters had a say.
"The people would have demanded it and would have accomplished it through initiative and referendum," he said.
Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris, has long proposed giving citizens the right to propose and approve state spending limits similar to ones approved by Colorado voters in 1992. Colorado's were considered the most restrictive tax and spending limits in the country and required the state to return surplus budget money to taxpayers.
"This is a terrific opportunity for the people of New Jersey to reclaim the power they have lost," Merkt said.
Democrats doubt they mean it.
"Talk is cheap and Republican campaign rhetoric is as cheap as a discarded penny," said Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, the state Democratic Party chairman.
Cryan, D-Union, deemed the plan "nothing more than recycled rhetoric." (Whatís this guy afraid of?)