Assembly line: Lawmakers advance four proposed changes to NJ Constitution

A dealer counts chips during a game of roulette at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City. (Wayne Parry/AP Photo)

A dealer counts chips during a game of roulette at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City. (Wayne Parry/AP Photo)

The Judiciary Committee in the New Jersey Assembly has voted to advance four separate constitutional amendments.

One of the proposals would allow two casinos in North Jersey.

Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown of Atlantic County opposes the idea. He recommends doing a study on the impact of new casinos before voters are asked to decide whether to allow them.

“You’re just going to throw it up to the people. Wouldn’t you agree that we have an obligation as representative to at least do the study at least do the homework?” he said Thursday.

But Democrat Ralph Caputo of Essex County says Atlantic City has lost customers to casinos in neighboring states, and it’s time to act.

“I believe that the only way we’re going to be able to save the gaming business in the state is allowing the voters — as they did in 1976 — to make a decision about where they want to have gaming in the state,” Caputo said.

Joe Kelly, the president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, said Atlantic City casinos are doing better now but that allowing new ones would threaten any stability.

“If we have casinos in other parts of the state, we potentially could lose an additional 14,000 jobs,” he said.

The amendment calls for 63 percent of state tax revenue from the new casinos to dedicated to programs for seniors and the disabled, while 35 percent would go to Atlantic City.

Without action to improve the state’s gaming business, Caputo said he worries more casinos in Atlantic City could close.

Another of the constitutional amendments would require all revenue from the state’s tax on motor fuels to be dedicated to the Transportation Trust Fund.

That would ensure all gas tax revenue would be used for transportation improvements, said Tracy Noble with AAA clubs of New Jersey.

“This is a critical first step in putting the trust back into the Transportation Trust Fund,” said Noble. “Motorists need to know that the money they are paying into the system is actually going to our roads and our deteriorating infrastructure.”

The other proposed amendments would mandate state pension payments and change the makeup of the commission that determines legislative district boundaries.

Flurry of proposals rankles some

Judiciary Committee chairman Democrat John McKeon doesn’t believe proposing so many constitutional changes usurps the traditional process of enacting laws.

“No, just the opposite,” he said. “I think it’s putting the power in the voters and the people.”

Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi had a different view.

“It makes us almost irrelevant,” she said. “The last time I checked we are not California, we are not a body that just governs by referendum.”

Democrats are pushing the constitutional amendments to circumvent Gov. Chris Christie because he’s running for president, said Schepisi, adding that is “politics at its absolute worst.”

John Tomicki, the executive director of the League of American Families, told lawmakers it’s the wrong thing to do without holding more hearings on the proposals.

“You’re going to confuse, you’re going to create problems, and it’s all about a little of too much politics,” he said.

If the amendments get enough support in the legislature in the final weeks of the current legislative session and again in the new one, they could be on next year’s ballot.

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