Morning News Digest: Thursday, August 11, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Monmouth Poll: Obama job approval at 54-37% in NJ
President Barack Obama’s job approval rating in New Jersey has declined from the “bin Laden bounce” observed in May, according to this morning’s Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll, but the public reserves more scorn for both parties in Congress than the president over the debt deal.
In New Jersey, Obama’s job rating now stands at 54% approve to 37% disapprove among all residents and 52% to 39% among registered voters, according to the poll – a 6-point drop in approval among all adults and an 8-point drop among registered voters when compared to a state poll taken shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Monmouth Poll: Menendez approval rating 37%
This morning’s Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll shows U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) with a 37% approval rating compared to 32% who disapprove among all New Jersey voters.
The poll shows Menendez rating 38% to 33% among registered voters, down slightly from the 46% to 28% rating the senator received in May, but consistent with the rating he received a year ago.
Menendez is up for re-election in 2012.
According to the same poll, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) garners a 41% approve to 30% disapprove rating among all New Jersey adults and a 41% to 32% rating among registered voters. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
In LD25, Carroll and Bucco pounce on conflicted Stafford
Not content to watch Democrats squabble among themselves, the Republican incumbents in LD 25 hammered challenger George Stafford for comments he made in an email blast in which he questioned whether or not he should attend a Morris County Democratic Committee picnic.
Stafford’s worry was the scheduled presence of Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, (D-34), East Orange, who earlier this summer ponied up the lower house votes for pension and benefits reform and in so doing was denied endorsements by the AFL-CIO and NJEA.
Assemblyman Tony Bucco, (R-25), Boonton, and Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, (R-25), Morris Plains, seized on Stafford’s soul-searching to ram home a Republican message. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Gov: Judges out of order on pension pay protest
Gov. Chris Christie doesn’t think much of the lawsuit seeking to exempt judges from the new pension and benefit reform law.
The argument, when the case is heard by Mercer County Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg on Sept. 16, will center on whether the law violates the state constitution by making the judges pay more into the pension plan.
“This lawsuit by the judges is absurd. They should be ashamed of themselves,’’ Christie said at a news conference in Burlington City this week. “These are the highest-paid people in state government, $165,000 a year, and after 10 years they’re entitled to a full pension. The average judge in New Jersey puts $50,000 into the pension fund and in their first year they get paid $107,000. In the first six months into their retirement they exhaust what they put in and the rest is on the back of the taxpayers. And they’re suing over this?” (Jordan, Gannett)
Christie says toll increases news to him
The uproar over a proposal to raise tolls for traveling between New Jersey and New York reached new levels Wednesday, with Gov. Christie dismissing claims that he knew about the hikes in advance and the regional transit agency saying security projects would be threatened if the increases aren’t implemented.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced plans Friday to increase fares by $4 on the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the George Washington Bridge, and on three other bridges, as much as doubling the cost of travel. The same day, Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a joint statement saying they realized what was at stake if the transit system was underfunded but were concerned about what the increases would do to commuters and businesses. (Lederman, The Associated Press)
Gov. Chris Christie won’t rule out toll hikes on Port Authority bridges and tunnels
Gov. Chris Christie today would not rule out a toll increase for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s bridges and tunnels, saying he would first listen to the public and confer with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo before making a decision.
“Gov. Cuomo and I want to do it in concert with each other to make sure that (a toll increase) has the power and authority of both governors who have supervision over the Port Authority,” Christie said. “There are going to be public hearings next week. We’re waiting to see the results of those, get some reaction, some formal reaction from the public.”
A spokesman for Cuomo did not return calls tonight.
The two governors have veto power over all Port Authority actions. (Strunsky and Spoto, The Star-Ledger)
Gov takes a beach day on Belmar boardwalk
While his summer Shore tour kickoff appearance in Ocean City was canceled because of weather Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie was met Wednesday with picture-perfect, 84-degree, sunny weather — and more than 100 dignitaries, residents and beachgoers at the borough’s Taylor Pavilion at the end of Sixth Avenue.
Dressed down in a deep blue polo shirt and khakis, he launched his series of stops along the coast to illustrate what he termed his “commitment to protecting New Jersey’s coastal treasures and the shore economy.”
“Our Shore is one of the things that makes New Jersey a special place,” Christie said, before highlighting recently signed legislation aimed at improving and maintaining water quality. (Gladden, Gannett)
Legislators: National Health Center Week a time for celebration, but also concern
Make no mistake, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said: While National Health Center Week is a time to celebrate the facilities whose mission is to provide quality health care to residents who otherwise might not be able to afford it, this year it’s also a time to get ready to defend them.
The Democratic legislator during a Monday afternoon appearance at the Neighborhood Health Services Corporation headquarters in Plainfield said Republican calls for deep cuts to domestic spending on social aid programs could have a devastating effect on health centers in New Jersey and nationwide — the prospects of which he called “unconscionable” in light of many congressional leaders’ refusal to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations or to seek to close the nation’s many tax loopholes. (Spivey, Gannett)
Start of new prescription drug plan delayed in N.J.
The new labor-management committee charged with creating new health benefit plans for teachers and educators this week delayed implementation of a new prescription drug plan designed to save New Jersey $49 million.
Representatives of the state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, requested extra time to study the matter. Union members want about half of the savings to be used to lower drug co-pays for retirees.
The move came days after union members of another committee, charged with creating health plans for most rank-and-file state and local government workers, also delayed action on the drug plan, which was recommended by the state’s consultant firm, Aon Hewitt. (Method, Gannett)
Debt deal could hurt college students
The recent debt crisis is likely to make it even more difficult for college students to pay for their education, according to officials at several New Jersey universities.
For instance, as of next July the government is eliminating subsidies to graduate and professional students as one way of cutting spending. That savings will be used to help preserve the Pell grant program, which provides help for low-income students.
Even so, those subsidized federal loans keep the cost of borrowing in check, because the government doesn’t charge interest while students are in school. That can have a big impact on how much is owed upon graduation.
“Some students are going to be scrambling to finance their education,” said John McAuliffe, the dean of enrollment management at Georgian Court University in Lakewood. He added that it will be a challenge for colleges and universities to find ways to stem drops in graduate school enrollment. (Delaney, Gannett)
Statewide school survey indicated increasing class size is the norm
Always an important number for parents, class size is also often a barometer of the fiscal condition of a school system: the tighter the dollars, the fewer the staff, the more students in each classroom. A new survey of New Jersey schools over the past two years proves that this state is no exception — although the results also present some interesting twists.
The New Jersey School Boards Association contacted all 575 districts in June to quiz them on how class size has been affected by two budgets: last year’s (2010-2011), which saw steep cuts in state aid, and this year’s (2011-2012), which saw a slight increase.
A total of 186 districts responded. Not surprisingly, about a third of all participants again said class size climbed last year, largely due to shrinking state aid. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
An unhappy anniversary for the New Jersey Highlands
It wasn’t a happy anniversary yesterday for some who care about the New Jersey Highlands.
Seven years after a bill was signed into law protecting more than 860,000 acres of forest, grasslands and farmland, environmentalists and lawmakers lamented the state of the region and efforts to preserve it from harmful development.
“The Highlands Act had such tremendous promise,” said Julia Somers, executive director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, a conservation group promoting protection of the region. “I don’t think it has lived up to its promise.”
The 1,343-square-mile region in the northwest part of the state provides drinking water to more than 5 million of the state’s residents. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Christie gets ‘F’ on Highlands
Environmentalists say attempts are being made to undermine the Highlands Act, which requires municipalities in an 800,000-acre region, including all of Morris County, to draft plans intended to control development and protect drinking water.
The New Jersey Sierra Club marked the seventh anniversary of the law’s enactment by issuing a report card Wednesday that gave Gov. Chris Christie’s administration a grade of ‘F’ for its Highlands policies. The administration also flunked on the report card a year ago.
But supporters of the law aren’t the only ones unhappy.
Chester Township farm owner Deborah Post said the Highlands Act has robbed landholders because of the region’s reduced development value. (Jordan, Gannett)
States fail to raise bar in reading, math tests
Eight states have raised their standards for passing elementary-school math and reading tests in recent years, but these states and most others still fall below national benchmarks, according to a federal report released Wednesday.
The data help explain the disconnect between the relatively high pass rates on many state tests and the low scores on the national exams, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
In fourth-grade reading, for example, 35 states set passing bars that are below the “basic” level on the national NAEP exam. “Basic” means students have a satisfactory understanding of material, as opposed to “proficient,” which means they have a solid grasp of it. Massachusetts is the only state to set its bar at “proficient”—and that was only in fourth- and eighth-grade math. (Banchero, The Wall Street Journal)
NJ Transit derailment renews calls for second tunnel under Hudson River to Manhattan
The area between New York Penn Station and the Hudson River train tunnel resembles a big bowl of spaghetti, with wires and tracks and trains veering in every direction.
Even on a normal day, it is a delicate dance to make the system work for the 1,300 trains that pass through the tunnel each day.
But throw in what NJ Transit calls a “minor derailment” and you have two mornings of hellish commutes, overheated train riders and news releases with I-told-you-so’s from advocates of an additional commuter rail tunnel from Secaucus to midtown Manhattan.
Twenty eight hours after two train cars derailed outside the Hudson River train tunnel, rail operations resumed without interruptions at around noon today. (Frassinelli, The Star-Ledger)
Democrats protest psychiatric hospital closing
The Democratic candidates for state Senate and Assembly from the 24th Legislative District on Wednesday objected to Gov. Chris Christie’s decision earlier this year to close the Sen. Garrett W. Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital later this year.
“Hagedorn has a proud history of providing top quality, highly specialized care to our state’s most vulnerable citizens, the majority of whom are elderly,” said Leslie Huhn, one of the two Democrats running for Assembly.
A registered nurse, Huhn said the transfer process of moving patients to new surroundings “will be painful for every single patient” and many “will experience regression” after being separated from friends, caregivers and familiar surroundings. (Scruton, New Jersey Herald)
Assemblywoman does not want post office to close
Assemblywoman Connie Wagner has reached out to Congressman Steve Rothman regarding the possible closing of the Hasbrouck Heights post office saying the elimination of the branch will be a disservice to the citizens of Hasbrouck Heights.
The U.S. Postal Service announced July 26 that it will conduct studies on 3,700 offices including Hasbrouck Heights and 12 other branches in Northern New Jersey, to determine customer needs. The study, which will take place over the next several months, will determine the fate of the branches.
Wagner said she was concerned because of the number of post offices on the list that were located in the same area. (Cattafi, Community News)
NJ health care provider gets $816K federal grant
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will provide more than $816,000 to a New Jersey health care provider to open a facility in Hackettstown to serve low-income community members.
U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez announced the grant to Dover-based Zufall Health Center on Wednesday.
Zufall provides primary care medical, dental, mental health and substance abuse services.
The Warren County facility will provide free or low-cost health care services to needy families and individuals. Zufall estimates it will serve more than 3,400 patients in its first year of operation. (The Associated Press)
Utility’s energy efficiency program means cash for customers
More than 10,000 customers of New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) have taken advantage of the utility’s SaveGreen project, a program that has awarded more than $9 million in rebates to customers.
The Wall Township utility provides residential customers information and incentives to help them save energy and money, including an enhanced $900 rebate for qualified high-efficiency heating equipment. When combined with state incentives from its Clean Energy program, customers receive up to $1,200 in total rebates.
The state is considering an overhaul of its programs to encourage residents to undertake energy efficiency projects. A new draft Energy Master Plan envisions “several innovative alternatives to the existing energy efficiency programs that should be evaluated.” (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Battleship museum officials call for restoration of funding
The Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial has issued a financial distress call.
Officials of the floating museum and memorial are urging military veterans, supporters and area legislators to appeal to Gov. Chris Christie for restoration of $1.7 million in state aid that was providing 43 percent of the income for the ship’s already pared-down operation.
The Legislature included the aid as a separate line item in the state budget proposal sent to the governor, but he vetoed it along with appropriations for the Old Barracks in Trenton and the Newark Museum.
Battleship museum President and CEO Jim Schuck vows to keep the historic ship open to visitors while deciding what steps to take on state aid. (Comegno, Gannett)
Newly hired Camden police director resigns
Camden Police Director Lanuel J. Ferguson resigned Wednesday, only a month after his appointment by Mayor Dana L. Redd.
The city had not employed a civilian police director since 2009, and the addition of the $100,000-per-year salary to the city’s cash-strapped bureaucracy drew immediate criticism.
Ferguson, a former major in the New Jersey State Police, could not be reached for comment. Law enforcement sources said that in recent weeks, he had grown frustrated by the political fight over his appointment.
It was unclear whether his resignation was voluntary. (Osborne and Simon, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Atlantic City’s casino slump reaches 35 months after revenue falls in July
Atlantic City staged one of the country’s biggest fireworks displays during a Fourth of July weekend that saw the beaches, hotels and Boardwalk crowded with vacationers. But the casino action was something of a dud.
Gaming revenue in Atlantic City fell 6.5 percent in July when compared with the same month a year ago, continuing a slump in the nation’s second-largest casino market. Altogether, the 11 casino hotels took in $340.3 million from the slot machines and table games, down from $363.9 million in July 2010, figures released Wednesday by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement show.
Atlantic City gaming revenue has declined on the monthly year-over-year basis since September 2008, or 35 straight months. (Wittkowski, Press of Atlantic City)
Many tax bills exceed 2 percent cap
When Peter Triolo of Millstone received his third-quarter tax bill for this year, he was more than a little startled to see the amount owed.
“My tax bill this quarter was $591 higher than the one I got in May,’’ said Triolo, 66, a retired educator. “What happened to that 2 percent cap ?’’
For the last two quarters of 2011, Triolo will pay more than $5,500 for his local tax debt.
Overall, his property tax increase amounts to 7 percent when compared with last year’s bill.
Many homeowners throughout the state can relate to Triolo’s exasperation. And at town council and school board meetings they are asking the same questions.
With much fanfare in July 2010 , Gov. Chris Christie signed into law legislation that effectively capped, or limited, at 2 percent the increase in tax levies for municipalities, school districts and county governments. (Ruscitti, Gannett)
Endorsement deepens Republican rift GOP faction backing a veteran Democrat
The unprecedented GOP endorsement of longtime Democrat Dominick DiDomenico in the Woodland Park mayoral race has broken new ground in the bitter feud between two countywide Republican factions that has roiled the party for years.
Borough Republican leaders loyal to Passaic County GOP Chairman Scott Rumana announced their support for DiDomenico two months ago, after their candidate, Gary Colletti, lost the June primary to Patrick Murray, who is backed by Rumana’s political nemesis, Peter Murphy. DiDomenico, a staunch Democrat for more than a decade, filed as an independent for the general election the day of the primary. (Patberg, The Record)
MUA, public works merger examined
Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher said Wednesday that for the past eight months his administration has been discreetly evaluating whether to dissolve the local Municipal Utilities Authority.
Kelaher said such a move would make sense from a public perception standpoint and would be consistent with Gov. Chris Christie’s agenda to downsize government and reduce bureaucratic waste in New Jersey.
The question for Toms River going forward now is whether the move makes sense from an economic perspective.
The mayor said he expects to be in a position to make a recommendation to the Township Council when the in-house study is complete, though no date has been announced. (Larsen, Gannett)
S.J. job losses reflect trend
In a span of only a few months, three large manufacturers in South Jersey announced they would shut down, shedding more than 500 jobs and leaving almost 1 million square feet of factory space idle.
It is, in part, a reflection of a sharp decline in consumer spending.
But the closures also are part of a trend toward companies growing still leaner and meaner, jettisoning property and personnel to cut costs.
“People are buying less, so manufacturers are not producing as much,” says Philip Kirschner, CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, a Trenton-based trade group representing 22,000 state businesses. “We also know that companies are looking for cheaper places to operate and in New Jersey real estate and labor are more expensive.” (Smith, Gannett)
Latest from State Street Wire
RWJ Hamilton creating pediatric emergency department
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton is in the midst of a $5 million expansion of its emergency room to create a pediatric emergency department, scheduled to open in early fall. According to the hospital, it sees more than 8,000 pediatric patients per year in its emergency room. The expansion will add an additional 10,000 square feet to the existing emergency room, and will feature eight treatment rooms to be staffed with board certified pediatricians. (Isherwood, State Street Wire)
Governor touts beach improvements in Belmar
Dressed in his summer clothes, Gov. Chris Christie spoke about his administration’s efforts to protect the state beaches as he started his shore tour in Belmar after weather interrupted his planned trip to Ocean City Tuesday.
“Our shore is one of the things that makes New Jersey a really special place,” he said. “We have to make sure that all of us…take responsibility for making sure we’re protecting it.” (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Economist fear sluggish job growth in N.J.
With the overall economy remaining sluggish following the passage of the debt-ceiling legislation, experts believe job growth will also be stagnant if not worse.
“The era of easy economic growth and job growth has long since passed,” said economist James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. Hughes was among several individuals who participated in a business roundtable discussion today hosted by Assemblyman Scott Rumana, (R-40), of Wayne. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
N.J. Dept. of Education may seek waiver from No Child Left Behind
The state Department of Education reported it is considering seeking a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act in accordance with the Obama administration’s announcement this week that it would use such waivers to provide regulatory relief to states.
“While we await further clarification of the criteria from the Secretary, we are actively considering a waiver on the basis of these refinements,” acting state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said in a release. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Now is not a good time to link with Tea Party
John Driscoll, the Republican state Senate candidate from Paramus, is hitting the hustings Friday with “my congressman,” Scott Garrett, politely pestering voters hovering over their eggs and coffee in diners.
The duo had better hope that some voter doesn’t pour a pot of tea over their heads.
The Driscoll-Garrett campaign tandem comes amid the first wave of debt ceiling–S&P downgrade reviews panning Congress’s performance — especially the conduct of Republican congressmen. And especially Republican congressmen closely allied with the Tea Party zealots whose intransigence brought the United States to the brink of default. (Stile, The Record)
Christie talks tolls
Governor Christie answered some questions about the Port Authority’s proposed toll hike during a visit to Belmar’s boardwalk this afternoon.
The upshot: wouldn’t rule out any toll hike, but said he and NY Gov. Cuomo are still reviewing the increase the authority released on Friday.
A short story is here and some video excerpts are below. (Jackson, The Record)
Lautenberg still in the dark
There have been delays for Amtrak and the Northeast corridor NJ Transit trains because of a derailment outside Penn Station in New York. Sen. Frank Lautenberg chose the occasion to prove once again he isn’t aware of his surroundings. “Unfortunately, these delays are only going to become more commonplace in the future as a result of Governor Christie’s cancellation of the ARC tunnel project, which would have included another two tracks under the Hudson River to relieve congestion and prevent disruptions for New Jersey commuters.” (Ingle, Gannett)
Ferguson’s departure was never in doubt
It was only going to be a short time before Camden’s new police director bowed out.
Lanuel Ferguson, who quit Wednesday after less than a month on the job, was viewed by some police officers and residents as Mayor Dana Redd’s $100,000 symbol of a county force planned to police the city.
In her goodbye-to-Ferguson press release, Redd said the retired state trooper would have been a valuable asset to the administration during regionalization planning.
But as city sources have told this newspaper, it made no sense for Ferguson to stay on until October, the deadline for Redd to obtain city council’s approval of the hiring. (Rosen, Gannett)