By John Celock
A New Jersey legislative committee has advanced a bill and a constitutional amendment that would assign actual duties to the state’s lieutenant governor.
The Assembly State and Local Government Committee voted Monday to advance a bill that would assign the lieutenant governor to two state boards, along with setting a salary and budget for the office. The committee also advanced a constitutional amendment that would give the lieutenant governor the ability to break tie votes in the state Senate and change filling vacancies in the office.
The legislation would clarify duties of an office that currently is constitutionally responsible for taking over in the event of a vacancy in the governor’s office or if the governor leaves the state. The governor determines the rest of the lieutenant governor’s role.
The legislation would place the lieutenant governor on the Rutgers University board of governors and assign the officeholder the chairmanship of the state Economic Development Authority. The bill would also require the lieutenant governor to receive an annual salary tied to 85 percent of the governor’s annual salary and set an annual office budget. Much of the discussion focused on tweaking the legislation with regards to placing the lieutenant governor on the Rutgers board, with the original language assigning the state’s second highest official the chairmanship of the board.
Rutgers lobbyist Pete McDonough told the committee that an amendment to permit the board of governors and the board of trustees at Rutgers to approve the membership of the lieutenant governor, along with reducing the amount of gubernatorial appointees to the board of governors from seven to six was needed to comply with the contract between the state and Rutgers. McDonough noted that the contract was part of the state’s Rutgers Act and any changes would need to be made in a way not to void the contract.
“This is a move in the right direction,” McDonough said.
State and Local Government Committee Chairman Troy Singleton (D), the bill’s sponsor, told the committee that he wants to continue to talk to Rutgers about the final language of the bill and that he had “no intention” of getting the bill to the Assembly floor until the “substantial dialogue” with Rutgers was completed.
“This makes sense to address it in this way,” Singleton said.
The committee passed the amendment allowing Rutgers to consent to the lieutenant governor’s membership, along with an amendment to have the lieutenant governor serve as a board member but not as the board chairman.
The legislation passed unanimously, with both Republican committee members abstaining.
“I am not sure the office is broken and needs to be fixed,” Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R) said.
The committee – with no discussion – approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the lieutenant governor the ability to break tie votes in the 40 member state Senate and switch the ability to fill mid term vacancies in the office from gubernatorial appointment to vote of the political party of the previous lieutenant governor. The change would bring the vacancy law in line with procedures to fill vacancies in the state Legislature. Outside the tie-breaking vote, the proposal would not give the lieutenant governor other duties in the Senate.
The constitutional amendment – which would need to go before state voters if approved by lawmakers – was dissented to by Republicans without explanation.
New Jersey created the lieutenant governor’s office in 2006 replacing a previous provision where the president of the state Senate served as acting governor in the event of a midterm vacancy in the governor’s office. The change followed former Gov. Donald DiFrancesco (R), holding the governorship and the Senate presidency for a year after the 2001 resignation of former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) and former Gov. Dick Codey (D), serving as governor and Senate president for 14 months after the 2004 resignation of former Gov. Jim McGreevey (D).
Under the provisions of the law, the lieutenant governor fills in for vacancies in the office and can be assigned duties by the governor, along with being appointed to any cabinet post except for state attorney general. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R), the first person to hold the office, has been named by Gov. Chris Christie (R) to serve as secretary of state, along with working on economic development policy. As secretary of state, Guadagno is in charge of elections, tourism and the arts. Guadagno has also served as acting governor during Christie’s absences from the state during his presidential campaign.
The duties of the nation’s lieutenant governors vary from state to state. In Texas, the lieutenant governor is considered more powerful than the state’s governor, with wide latitude in running the state Senate. In Indiana, the lieutenant governor is automatically the state agriculture secretary and controls several state agencies overseeing agriculture, rural affairs, economic development, tourism, housing and counterterrorism. In Louisiana, the lieutenant governor automatically serves as culture, recreation and tourism commissioner, while in New York the lieutenant governor’s official duty is to preside over the state Senate, while taking on other gubernatorial provided duties. Several lieutenant governors have limited assigned duties like Guadagno and are placed in charge of state agencies or gubernatorial initiatives, including Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (R), who runs the state Department of Insurance, and Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne (D), who was assigned duties as the state’s chief operating officer.
The proposed law would take effect in January 2018 when the lieutenant governor elected in the 2017 election takes office.