Morning News Digest: Friday, October 07, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Despite tactical differences on messaging, SJ-EC leadership deal will hold, say sources
Usually their underlings try to avoid getting that all-too-familiar phone call from upstairs, but this time, New Jersey’s two most powerful Democratic Party chieftains must themselves negotiate a discomfiting wrinkle in their ongoing power hug that basically spans the state.
At a North Ward Center breakfast event two weeks ago – right in the organizational wheelhouse of fellow boss Steve Adubato – George Norcross surprised political operatives in casual conversation when he openly mentioned his continuing disapproval of Speaker Sheila Oliver, (D-34), East Orange, somewhat amplifying past public comments. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Assembly candidate files suit against state ethics commission
A candidate for Assembly in the 40th Legislative District has filed a lawsuit against a state ethics commission over what he says was the mishandling of a complaint he filed against Assemblyman Scott Rumana.
In a complaint filed in Superior Court, Democrat Bill Brennan said Alan Rosenthal, chairman of the Joint Legislative Commission on Ethical Standards, should have been removed from the committee while a separate allegation by Brennan that Rosenthal was biased was heard by the committee and voted on. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Tinton Falls resident to challenge Menendez in primary
The only Republican challenger that has yet emerged for the 2012 Senate race has already dropped his bid, but today U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez got himself a primary challenge.
Tinton Falls resident Gwen Diakos, a civilian defense contractor who is making her first run for public office, announced her primary candidacy Thursday. Diakos said she believes that having been on the “inside” of government and having seen where the money is spent, she can help to eliminate wasteful spending. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie ‘never got off of that no’ on joining presidential race
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, speaking publicly for the first time since closing the door on a run for president in 2012, said that while he may have wavered, he never reversed course from earlier denials.
“I never changed my mind,” Christie, a 49-year-old Republican, said yesterday on his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio show from WKXW-FM studios in Ewing. “I listened to a lot of people. I thought about it, but I never got off of that no.” (Dopp, Bloomberg)
U.S. Sens. Lautenberg, Menendez slam Gov. Chris Christie for slow progress in $29M weatherization program
New Jersey’s U.S. senators are targeting the Christie administration for slow progress in the state’s weatherization program, saying a state agency has done little with $29 million in federal money.
The program is part of a nationwide effort, funded through President Obama’s stimulus plan, to put unemployed people back to work making homes more energy efficient. But the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency has finished a fraction of the nearly 3,900 homes it is responsible for as the March 31 deadline approaches. (Megerian, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. public employees, paying more for benefits, offered wider health care options
Public employees – from state workers to local school teachers – may now choose from a wider range of health plans that include low-cost options and some with narrower coverage as they start paying more for their benefits.
The signature benefit reform enacted by Governor Christie calls for cheaper plans while demanding higher contributions from workers. The state hopes to save $10 million this year through those changes alone.
That future savings will grow because as workers pay a greater share of their health plan costs they may select cheaper options, lowering the expense to the state, officials said. (Fletcher, The Record)
New supers, new approaches, new ideas – at least that’s the theory
The Christie administration’s controversial caps on school superintendent salaries last year helped create an exodus of district leaders out of state, as well as a few legal challenges.
But drawing less attention has been the changing face of superintendent searches and hires.
The state’s School Boards Association is reporting that its work in assisting districts with superintendent searches is seeing the expected drop in experience in those seeking to fill the vacated positions. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Personal injury policy debated at insurance hearing
Doctors, lawyers and insurance executives accused one another of fleecing New Jersey drivers at a hearing Thursday in Trenton, and debated a controversial proposal the Christie administration says would control the rising cost of accident-related medical treatment.
The state’s banking and insurance commissioner, Thomas Considine, will have the final say over how the rules governing the personal injury portion of every auto insurance policy should change. (Livio, The Star-Ledger)
Legislative District 14
Without a doubt, the legislature’s vote to reduce pension and healthcare benefits for state workers is going to be a marquee campaign issue in districts around New Jersey.
Nowhere is it likely to be more of a factor in the outcome than in the 14th District, where Linda Greenstein, the incumbent Democratic senator, is facing a stiff challenge from Richard Kanka, who is a member of the Hamilton Board of Education but better known as the father of the girl for whom Megan’s Law is named. (McMahon, NJ Spotlight)
Legislative District 19
District 19 pits a pair of Democratic powerhouses against Republican newcomers and a Tea Party candidate.
Joseph Vitale is the long-time Democratic Senator (since 1998), known for his leadership in healthcare legislation. He created what is now known as NJ FamilyCare, among many other healthcare programs. Vitale also held the post of interim mayor of Woodbridge in 2006. (Kassel, NJ Spotlight)
Administration moves to make it tougher to keep sprawl in check
The Christie administration is moving to repeal an anti-sprawl measure that sought to discourage growth in undeveloped areas by imposing the cost of extending utility services on the developer or customers served by the extension.
In a draft rule unveiled by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU), the agency would now allow those costs to be potentially spread over the entire ratepayer base. Under the current rule, developers can spread the costs among all ratepayers only when building in designated growth areas with an existing infrastructure, such as towns and suburbs. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
New Jersey considers new taxes on alternative tobacco products
Little cigars, which are taking increasing space on area tobacco-shop shelves, are shaped and smoked just like cigarettes. But because New Jersey taxes them differently, they cost nearly one-third the price.
Over the past several years, increased state and federal taxes have helped turn some smokers on to less-taxed tobacco products, local shop owners and anti-smoking groups say. (Ianieri, Press of Atlantic City)
PJM pulls plug on proposed transmission line
The regional operator of the power grid yesterday canceled another high-voltage power line in New Jersey, a decision coming just a day after a federal agency fast-tracked a more controversial transmission line through the New Jersey Highlands.
PJM Interconnection, the region’s electric grid operator, recently completed an analysis of the Atlantic City Electric transmission system and has determined that construction of the proposed Minotola-to-Lincoln 138-kilovolt transmission line is no longer needed to maintain the reliability of the system. As a result, Atlantic City Electric is cancelling plans for the line. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Permit for mayor probed
State officials are investigating construction and zoning permits Monroe officials granted to township Mayor Michael Gabbianelli and his son.
A week after the Courier-Post reported apparent ethics violations, state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) officials said they’ll determine whether Monroe officials breached the state Uniform Construction Code (UCC) with various approvals for Michael Gabbianelli Jr.’s new house and a cellphone tower planned for land owned by the mayor. Gabbianelli Jr. is a township police officer. (Rosen, Gannett)
Firebrand is escorted from Wayne meeting by cops
William Brennan, a state Assembly candidate, was escorted out of a Wayne Township Council by police after he attempted to address a councilman during a meeting Wednesday night.
Brennan routinely attends council sessions, often speaking out about what he contends are conflicts of interest on the part of municipal staff and elected officials.
On Wednesday, Brennan twice tried to address Councilman Joseph Scuralli, who gave a monologue on Brennan’s previous remarks about the resignation of the township environmental commission chairman. Scuralli at one point had admonished Brennan, “pay attention to me when I am speaking to you.” Brennan ran to a podium in the center of the room to respond, but Councilman Joseph Schweighardt gaveled him down. (McGrath, The Record)
At East Hanover forum: Bullies ‘can leave a bruise on your soul’
Every day, Tina Giuliano makes it a point to speak with her children about bullying.
“We talk about this all the time at home. We talk this through together,” said Giuliano, of her son Michael, 9, and daughter, Christina, 6. “People don’t realize how hurtful they can be sometimes. Words can really hurt. They can leave a bruise on your soul and sometimes you don’t even realize it.”
The school district held its first Community Night of Respect at East Hanover Middle School on Wednesday evening. More than 300 parents were in the school’s auditorium where Sen. Anthony Bucco, Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi and state Attorney General Paula Dow all spoke. (Ruse, Gannett)
Gaming executives surveyed at casino expo upbeat about industry’s future
As the world’s largest gaming conference wrapped up Thursday, a survey showed most casino officials are optimistic about the industry’s future, despite the sluggish economy.
More than 1,150 casino professionals were surveyed by the organizers of the Global Gaming Expo and 77 percent said they feel positive about where the industry is headed in 2012. Of those surveyed, 80 percent believe that the gaming company they work for will be stronger in 2012. More than 75 percent of them say they are not concerned about their future employment. (Wittkowski, Press of Atlantic City)
Protests take to road, it’s Occupy Trenton
About 50 protesters staged a rally across the street from the Statehouse in support of the three-week-old Occupy Wall Street demonstration, one of many across the country Thursday.
In downtown Jersey City, about 75 people linked arms in front of the Goldman Sachs building as workers in suits and ties peered down at protesters who were chanting; “This is what democracy looks like!’’ and “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Goldman Sachs has got to go!” (Jordan, Gannett)
Bergen Regional could be up for sale
The Bergen County Improvement Authority is considering selling Bergen Regional Medical Center, the 1,000-bed behemoth, because it treats too many patients from outside the county and could need $13.2 million in upgrades this year, the authority’s executive director said this week.
Robert S. Garrison requested a litany of financial and operational information from the for-profit company that manages the Paramus hospital to determine if the county should continue to own the hospital, established to serve as the safety net hospital for the county’s neediest residents. Bergen Regional provides acute services, behavioral health care and has the largest nursing home in the state. (Layton and Ensslin, The Record)
Romney, Perry try to recruit Christie, Palin fans
Rivals Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are furiously scurrying to recruit heartbroken holdouts who had hoped GOP celebrities Chris Christie or Sarah Palin would join the Republican presidential contest.
With a slew of donors and activists now up for grabs, the leading two Republican candidates redoubled their efforts — and made personal appeals — this week to win over unaligned high-dollar and high-power GOP players in what’s become largely a two-man nomination fight. (The Associated Press)
Christie files appointments to boards, commissions
Gov. Chris Christie filed the following direct appointments with the Secretary of State’s Office today. (Staff, State Street Wire)
$70M in health benefits savings anticipated, governor’s office says
In the wake of the pension and benefits reform enacted over the summer, the Christie administration reported today that local and state governments will see an estimated $70 million in savings regarding health benefits. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Child-care programs, school districts draw Comptroller’s eye for FY12
The Comptroller’s office has issued its Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2011 that lists its accomplishments for the year as well as offering a glimpse into upcoming audits for Fiscal Year 2012. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Three charter school bills on Senate committee docket next week
There won’t be any vote taken, but three controversial charter school bills will be heard by the Senate Education Committee next Thursday.
The first bill, S2243, requires local voter (or proxy) approval before any charter schools are established in a district. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Christie demurs but isn’t going away
Gov. Christie can get back to devoting more time to New Jersey’s problems but don’t expect to see him leave the national stage. He is in demand as a speaker and is the best fund-raiser the Republicans have. Look for him in a major role when the GOP convenes in Tampa in August.
Christie said he wasn’t ready for a White House run but adoring fans and news media in search of a good story wouldn’t let it go. Christie has experienced it both ways. He has gotten into races when the time was wrong and lost and he has timed it better and won. (Ingle, Gannett)
Chris Christie’s regional handicap
When former Gov. George E. Pataki announced in August, to the consternation of almost no one, that he would not run for president, I wrote about the backwater that New York had become in national politics.
Not that this state is short of estimable men and women who have gazed longingly at the White House. But none have succeeded since Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose first election was nearly 80 years ago. (Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon were both in New York when they won, but they were essentially passing through.) (Haberman, The New York Times)
Jeff Jones: Go ahead, make my overtime
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Taken literally, that makes Paterson Mayor Jeffery Jones the Clint Eastwood of New Jersey. Things got tough and Jones got going right out of City Hall.
Amid the growing Otscam scandal over inappropriate overtime payments to several city officials, including Jones, the mayor went on vacation. He didn’t notify the City Council. I’ve checked my voice mail. He hasn’t called me either. (Doblin, The Record)
A politician’s primer
Politics is not an ego-free business. And why should it be?
I got a taste of that this week as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin took themselves out of presidential consideration. I saw the other piece of that formula when I interviewed Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt at the Washington Ideas Forum.
It took Christie 51 minutes of free-wheeling questions and answers to reconfirm what so many refused to believe. To his credit, he has only been governor of the Garden State for 20 months, and has spent a lot of that time saying no. But nervous Republicans and reporters, anxious for a new story line, never stopped calling. (Ifill, National Journal)