By BRUCE SHIPKOWSKITRENTON, N.J. (AP) â¿¿ Assembly Democrats are turning their focus to legislation they say will aid job creation. Speaking Tuesday at a Statehouse news conference, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said the state needs a multipronged approach to reinvigorating the economy and getting people back to work as the state jobless rate remains nearly 2 points above the national level. "New Jersey faces great challenges in the months â¿¿ even years â¿¿ ahead when it comes to rebuilding after Sandy, but we cannot forget that New Jersey's unemployment rate was hovering near 10 percent even before the storm hit," Oliver said while flanked by Majority Leader Lou Greenwald and Budget Committee Chairman Vincent Prieto. "We already faced a need to focus on job creation and economic growth, and that need is now exacerbated." The Democrat-controlled chamber's leaders say their legislative efforts will feature a package of bills including new proposals as well as measures they have brought up before. Most will be introduced or debated during the Assembly's Dec. 17 session. Michael Drewniak, Gov. Chris Christie's chief spokesman, said the administration would review the package but noted that "any such bills package should be a true bipartisan effort, not part of a partisan campaign, and be realistic in terms of cost, funding and effectiveness." Noting the new fiscal demands the state faces in Sandy's aftermath, Drewniak said most state residents "are acutely aware of the need to be fiscally prudent and non-partisan on these (legislative) matters." Oliver estimated Tuesday that the bills would cost the state about $20 million. "There is not a bill in this package that should not see bipartisan support, there is nothing here that the governor can't sign," Greenwald said. One measure Oliver focused on was a revised version of a jobs training bill that Christie has twice vetoed, citing cost concerns. The measure would allow residents to temporarily receive training from employers while collecting unemployment benefits.
Oliver said the program's cost to the state is now estimated at $1.5 million, down from the $3 million price tag the last time it was proposed.Other items in the package include a measure that would create a tax credit for small businesses that increase their workforces by hiring unemployed workers and another authorizing a new corporate structure for employer/employee co-managed manufacturing companies. Others proposals include tax credits for investing in biotechnology and a measure to encourage training in fields with a workforce shortage.