As a vintage Roseanne marathon and a pre-owned Cadillac infomercial battled for my attention at the gym during an Arctic weekend, reality hit.
Like the upcoming prime-time return of Roseanne, or a new but used luxury car, or even those festive ShopRite “Can Can Sale” ads that remind us it’s January (as if reminders were necessary), the Garden State’s new year already looks a bit … retro.
Nuclear power plants are an issue again, as is that evil weed/revenue generator otherwise known as recreational marijuana. Portions of South Jersey are getting a new “overlay” area code. Could it be that land lines and fax machines, like turntables and vinyl records, are enjoying a revival?
It really does seem as if the 1970s, ’80s, and more recent decades are back. Not just on obscure cable networks, either.
In Trenton, the lively conservative Republican governor, Chris Christie, will be replaced by the low-key liberal Democrat Phil Murphy, who calls to mind the low-key liberal Democrat Jon Corzine, whom Christie replaced in 2010.
Murphy will be inaugurated Jan. 16 at the Statehouse, portions of which date to the 18th century. The premises are undergoing a controversial $300 million renovation, but the politics in the place are chronically dominated by a fractious corps of Democrats with big ambitions and smaller loyalties.
This status quo is inspired, if that’s the word, mainly by New Jersey’s ancient north-south division. The frustrating but familiar chasm nevertheless can be bridged by the occasional bromance or odd alliance — such as the coalitions sparring over whether utility ratepayers should subsidize (or bail out, opponents say) South Jersey’s three nuclear power plants.
A bill enabling this was unexpectedly killed in the lame duck legislative session last week, with much bad feeling all around. But the measure may rise from the dead after Murphy’s inauguration, NJ Spotlight reported.
The new year in New Jersey also began with the second successive, if minuscule, cut in the state sales tax, from 6.875 to 6.625 percent.
Part of a deal for the 2016 gas tax hike, a measure ostensibly inflicted to “fix” highways and mass transit, the sales tax reduction could cost cash-hungry Trenton $500 million. It may well be reversed by Murphy, who also has vowed to raise other taxes.
Speaking of mass transit, North Jersey’s “Gateway” railroad improvement and trans-Hudson tunnel construction project, killed by Christie in 2010, appeared to be gaining fresh traction recently — only to be derailed by the Trump administration just before New Year’s.
Worse, on Jan. 4 the president announced that offshore oil drilling is on again in the Atlantic and elsewhere. The announcement threw cold water on environmentalists, otherwise in a good mood due to the prospect of Murphy restoring at least some sanity to Christie’s pipeline-mad Pinelands Commission.
Yet another Trump administration decree with Garden State ramifications was issued last week as well. Aimed at further expunging evidence of Barack Obama’s presidency, it ostensibly had to do with enforcement of federal marijuana laws.
Millennial entrepreneurs eager to grow weed-related businesses in Jersey, and Trenton politicos cultivating dreams of a tax revenue bonanza, had been under the impression that permission to open, say, artisanal hemp boutiques at the mall was pretty much a done deal.
Happily, another fantasy — the perennial one about lifting New Jersey’s 1949 prohibition on self-serve gas — got no boost from a New Year’s Day move in Oregon partially lifting a similar ban there.
As my colleague Stephanie Farr reported, the social media reaction among some Oregonians was rather provincial, even pathetic.
There was lamentably little of the sass one associates with “Jersey girls don’t pump gas” T-shirts and other in-yo-face defenses of this classic, even classy amenity of Garden State civilization.
As a New Jerseyan who’s been to Portland (it’s just like the TV show!) and is perfectly capable of pumping my own gas, I’m grateful I don’t have to. Particularly in the winter.
I’m also heartened by N.J. Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s statement to the New York Times.
“It’s something that makes New Jersey a little more unique and the people of New Jersey like it that way,” said the West Deptford Democrat, whom the paper described as “immovable” on the subject.
Speaking of Jersey uniqueness, this new year also marks the start of a process to re-designate the weird mashup of I-295 and I-95 in Mercer County.
You know, that magical place where 295 north morphs into 95 south, and 95 north becomes 295 south?
The confusing configuration stems from federal regulations and local controversies dating back to the 1950s.
But the re-designation will only mean that signage and some exit numbers will change.
The expressway will still be its speeding, weaving, tailgating, quintessentially New Jersey self.
Happy New Year!