An ongoing tiff between partisan leaders in the New Jersey Senate showed no sign of abating Monday as the Democrat chopped $142,000 from a Republican spending account, and the two leaders showed how a political feud can lead to fiscal payback.
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. said some staff members would lose their jobs as a result of the cut by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat. He did not say that he himself recommended reducing the accounts of fellow Republicans who crossed him during a recent minority leadership fight.
Sen. Kip Bateman of Somerset, who supported Kean rival Kevin O’Toole as Republican leader, told The Star Ledger of Newark he was “not happy” to learn that Kean recommended cutting his share of the account by $15,000. He said the money is used for salaries and would hurt lower-level district office staffers. Sweeney overruled the cut and bumped up Bateman’s account by $5,000 to $30,000.
The discretionary fund called the Republican Leadership Account is controlled by Sweeney, who cut it to $188,000 for the coming year, a 43 percent drop from its current $330,000. He also ignored Kean’s recommendations on how to distribute the money.
The leadership account is divided unequally among the 16 Republican senators based on district size and other factors.
Sweeney’s distribution rewards senators who backed O’Toole, as he did, by increasing their accounts. Sweeney also reduced the allocations of Kean and his allies.
Kean accused Sweeney of abusing his power, and said Sweeney’s action is unprecedented. Sweeney declined to comment on the matter.
Lawmakers receive a separate annual staff stipend of $110,000, which has not been reduced.
Kean, who prevailed in last month’s leadership fight, recommended the opposite of what Sweeney did: He wanted to reward his loyalists while reducing the accounts of O’Toole and his supporters.
The result is a swing of several thousand dollars for some lawmakers, according to Sweeney’s and Kean’s lists, which were obtained by The Associated Press.
O’Toole, the Essex County senator who had Gov. Chris Christie’s backing as he sought the Legislature’s top Republican spot, will see his allocation grow from $25,000 to $35,000. Kean recommended O’Toole’s expenditure be cut to $10,000.
In all, Sweeney increased the amounts for six senators who supported O’Toole, decreased the allocation for Kean and six allies, and kept three the same.
The biggest loser is Kean, who will see his funding drop from $73,000 to $20,000.
The bad blood between Kean, an Ivy League-educated aristocrat, and Sweeney, a high school-educated iron worker, has been escalating. Sweeney withheld Republican bills from consideration for a couple months earlier this year, and Kean poured money into the campaign of Sweeney’s opponent in this year’s Senate race. Sweeney publicly backed O’Toole in the leadership fight after mocking Kane for failing to pick up any Republican seats in the Senate and declaring that he could not work with Kean.