The New Jersey Assembly tried and failed again yesterday to reach a quorum needed for lawmakers to act on a $2.8 billion tax repeal proposal, as state Republicans continued their boycott of the proceedings.
The latest failure, the third over the last several weeks, means the repeal movement will have to wait at least until Jan. 6, the next time the Assembly is scheduled to meet, before the plan can advance. The new Republican-dominated Legislature takes control just eight days later, calling into question whether Democrats can succeed in their highly publicized tax-repeal effort before their terms expire.
Forty-one members of the 80-seat chamber are needed for a quorum, but only 40 showed up yesterday following a call by Speaker Joseph V. Doria Jr., D-Hudson.
All 37 Republicans ignored the quorum call to protest the repeal movement, which they have called political gimmickry.
Two Democrats -- D. Bennet Mazur of Bergen County and George Hudak of Union County -- were in the hospital. Another, Robert G. Smith, D-Middlesex, is traveling in Europe.
Speaker Doria last week warned Republicans they could be arrested for willfully ignoring a quorum call, but Thomas Vincz, a spokesman for the speaker, said he does not intend to take such drastic action.
"[Speaker Doria] feels they have a constitutional obligation to meet the call of the speaker and this is the third time they have refused to meet that responsibility," Mr. Vincz said. He added that the boycott is not only blocking action on the repeal initiative, but has also stymied progress on other important legislative measures, including proposals to fund AIDS tests for rape victims.
Mr. Vincz said the Jan. 6 quorum attempt is expected to succeed, because Assemblyman Smith will be back from his vacation in Europe and Assemblyman Hudak is expected to be out of the hospital. Assemblyman Hudak is suffering complications from a stroke last year, and Assemblyman Mazur is recuperating from surgery.
A few tax repeal measures were introduced in the Assembly several months ago, and the Assembly Appropriations Committee has scheduled a session on Friday to discuss them. But yesterday's failed quorum attempt means the committee will not be able to release any bills to the Assembly.
The Senate yesterday wqas expected to vote on its own tax repeal bills, but legislative sources said late yesterday that the vote would probably be delayed at least until Friday while the upper chamber considers amendments to the plan.
The ongoing Republican boycott is threatening the entire slate of lame-duck proposals Democrats have offered, including a $420 million financing plan for the Sports and Exposition Authority that would feature bonds backed by a state guarantee. The money would be used to refinance old debt, fund construction of a new convention center for Atlantic City, and refurbish sports facilities at Rutgers University.