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Morning News Digest: February 6, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: Week of January 30
Democrats and Republicans both donned blue this week as they wrapped themselves in the finery of the Giants’ march toward Super Bowl Sunday.
Gov. Chris Christie predicted a G win victory at his town hall events. In Passaic County, Democrats nursed a special pride in Victor Cruz of Paterson.
But there are still other yardage gains and losses out there on the political terrain… (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Party balance likely to be largest hurdle in Supreme Court confirmations
As tensions grow over Gov. Chris Christie’s Supreme Court nominees, Democrats behind the scenes say the battle is likely to unfold as much over the make-up of the court as it is over the qualifications of the two men nominated last month.
On January 23, Christie unveiled Phil Kwon and Bruce Harris as his nominees to take over one vacant and one soon to be vacant seat on the state High Court. Harris is a registered Republican, while Kwon is unaffiliated, putting what Republicans say would be three Republicans, two Democrats and two independents on the court and maintaining the traditional balance. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
This weekend, at least, the governor is a Giants fan
Imagine free luxury-box seats at every game. Imagine unfettered access to team ownership and talking trades as a cohost on sports radio.
Imagine being the most powerful sports fan in New Jersey.
Gov. Christie, a Mets fan so hard-core he carries his midday meal to the Statehouse in a beat-up Mets giveaway lunch box, relishes his role as Jersey fan-in-chief.
But politics brings complications. Despite the governor’s predicting a 27-21 win by the New Jersey-based New York Giants over the New England Patriots in Sunday’s Super Bowl, Christie confidant Bill Palatucci reveals: “The only team he hates more than the Giants is the Yankees.” (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
N.J. Senate Dems to request Supreme Court nominee’s tax documents
Senate Democrats will ask state Supreme Court nominee Phillip Kwon to turn over tax documents from his family’s New York wine and liquor store, which recently forfeited nearly $160,000 to settle federal civil charges over more than $2 million in illegal bank deposits, sources said Friday.
Three Democratic sources with knowledge of the request said the information is important for lawmakers to be able to verify claims made by the attorney for the business that all of the deposits came from sales, and that the appropriate taxes were paid. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
As new N.J. legislative session dawns, lawmakers push old bills
In 1966, Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, gas cost 32 cents a gallon and Americans competed to be the first on their block with a color TV. And in Trenton, lawmakers introduced a bill to make Red Mascara’s “I’m From New Jersey” the official state song.
The world is a different place 46 years later, but in the New Jersey Legislature, time can stand still. (DeMarco, The Star-Ledger)
Gay marriage support in N.J. Assembly to be measured with head count
The leader of the New Jersey Assembly is planning a head count to gauge how many Democrats would support legislation allowing gay couples to marry.
Speaker Sheila Oliver tells The Associated Press that today’s count will be the first time Assembly Democrats have been polled on marriage equality, even though both houses of the Legislature have made it their top priority.
Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. (Associated Press)
Trenton’s dueling plans for tax relief
Governor Christie wants an across-the-board income tax cut, but Democrats say the priority should be middle-class property-tax relief.
There’s only one problem: New Jersey may not be able to afford either one.
The 10 percent income tax cut Christie wants to enact over three years beginning in 2013 — along with a restoration of the earned-income tax credit for low-wage workers he’s also proposed — would cost the state more than $1 billion, according to an analysis discussed last week by the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
Changes to anti-bullying bill delayed
Gov. Chris Christie and legislative sponsors of the anti-bullying law deemed unconstitutional for imposing costs on schools without providing funds expressed willingness last week to make the changes needed to keep the law on the books.
Resolution for the law’s uncertain future appears unlikely until the spring at the earliest, however. Christie said it’s not possible to determine how to proceed until reading the state Council on Local Mandates’ written opinion, and the council doesn’t plan on issuing that until March 27. (Symons, Gannett)
NJ bill would raise age of compulsory education to 18
Even before President Obama pressed the idea in his State of the Union message, New Jersey and other states were looking to address the dropout crisis by keeping kids in school until they’re 18.
Seven states have upped the age in the past decade; 11 others — including New Jersey — have introduced legislation in the past five years.
In all, 21 states require students to stay in school until 18 or their graduation.
But as to raise the age from 16 to 18 gets new life, including a hearing today in the state Senate, it is becoming apparent that just upping the age is no quick fix — or even a slow one. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Throughout New Jersey, police officer retirements lead to leaner forces
Jersey City Police Chief Tom Comey can claim something few people in his position in New Jersey can: He has led a big-city department through the economic downturn without laying off one police officer.
Instead of pink slips, Comey has been besieged by a historic surge in retirements that has touched all corners of the state. As a result, he has lost 103 officers, or about 12 percent of his overall force, forcing him to disband the community affairs department and the police academy, and transfer officers out of the traffic unit to keep up with neighborhood patrols. (Renshaw and Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
Remaking Rutgers: Camden campus to become part of Rowan University
Gov. Chris Christie says the plan to break up the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and merge Rutgers-Camden with Rowan University is “going to happen.”
The proposal may be a done deal for Christie, but it has sparked off a firestorm of criticism and controversy — particularly where the merger is concerned.
Some faculty members at Rutgers-Camden said they were blindsided by the wholesale merger, which they believed would only affect the medical school. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Rowan happy to be in the spotlight
Standing in a dense crowd of students and faculty in the lobby of Rowan University’s Wilson Hall on Friday, marketing professor Berhe Habte-Giorgis was ecstatic.
After a week of listening to the university – his home for more than 20 years – dismissed by some at Rutgers-Camden as a second-rate institution, Giorgis was pleased to see interim president Ali Houshmand bring the campus together to remind it of what a merger with Rutgers could mean. (Osborne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Teacher tenure reform headed for runway
Public school teachers would no longer enjoy tenure as lifetime job security and principals would have more power over personnel decisions under major legislation expected to be introduced today.
The bill would allow for currently tenured teachers to lose their job protections, expose ineffective teachers to layoffs and give greater latitude to school districts in firing.
State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, who heads the state Senate Education Committee, will sponsor the legislation. Gov. Chris Christie, who has now made education reform his top priority, has praised Ruiz for taking a “laboring role” in the tenure reform work. (Method, Gannett)
NJ eyes hand-held gambling devices inside casinos
Gamblers at Atlantic City casinos may someday be able to place bets while standing in line for dinner, in a lounge, or beside a swimming pool.
A proposal by state Sen. Jim Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor, would let the casinos offer hand-held gambling devices to customers on casino property. A Senate committee was scheduled to consider the bill Monday.
Whelan says the devices would give casinos another tool to engage younger gamblers who have grown up with smart phones and tablet computers. (Parry, Associated Press)
Districts quick to move elections
When Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation Jan. 17 allowing school districts to move their annual elections to November, Bellmawr couldn’t move fast enough.
The small Camden County district has suffered 33 straight school budget losses. Last year, voters defeated the proposed 2011-12 tax levy by 78 votes even though it was at the state-mandated 2 percent cap. The proposed levy would have raised taxes $29.35 annually for the average homeowner. That’s less than the annual cost for one soft pretzel a week or the tab for seven hoagies from Carmen’s Deli, the district tried to tell voters in a failed public information campaign. (Rothschild, Gannett)
NJ Transit officials say rail ‘bill of rights’ is unnecessary
New York transit agencies unveiled a passenger “bill of rights” for rail commuters last week, but NJ Transit officials said they’re not planning to launch a similar pledge on this side of the Hudson because the agency’s Scorecard initiative is already covering the same issues.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North, which includes commuter rail service in Connecticut, unveiled their own versions of a rail passenger bill of rights or “pledge to customers” last week, which will be posted in stations and on the agency website. (Higgs, Gannett)
Data: Riders distracting to teen drivers
Earlier this month, Gov. Chris Christie pocket vetoed a bill that would increase the permit period of driver licensing from six to 12 months.
Bill 3309’s Assembly sponsor, Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski, plans to reintroduce the legislation in the current session. And he will have more alarming statistics to make his case.
A recent pair of studies by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded the distraction of a teen passenger plays a prominent role in crashes involving young drivers. (Mitchell, Gannett)
Cami Anderson’s plan to close Newark schools opposed by parents
Opposition to school closings and consolidations reflects “the desperation of a few,” according to Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson.
Speaking after an abbreviated presentation to a raucous, overflow crowd at Rutgers-Newark on Friday night, Anderson said that despite the chilly reception, a “silent majority” of residents backs her proposals.
Anderson outlined plans to allow some lower-performing students into programs at the district’s well-regarded magnet schools; eliminate single-classroom pre-kindergartens and shut several schools and annexes. (Tyrrell, New Jersey Newsroom)
N.J. district to sue educator
A northern New Jersey school district plans to sue its superintendent in a bid to recover almost $38,000 in alleged salary overpayments he received under a contract the state forced it to rescind.
The Daily Record of Parsippany reports the Parsippany-Troy Hills school district recently informed state officials of their intentions, saying they had no other legal alternative to recoup the funds.
“Asserting a legal claim in furtherance of your order is the only viable corrective action available,” interim district Business Administrator Mark Resnick said in a letter sent Monday, a day before a state-imposed deadline to resolve the matter. (Associated Press)
Bill to boost earned income tax credit reintroduced
A bill to beef up the state earned income tax credit has been reintroduced.
A2209 – an earlier version of this was vetoed by the governor last year – would restore the benefit under the state earned income credit program to 25 percent of the federal credit beginning in tax year 2012. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Superintendent lauds state aid court ruling
The superintendent of the school district that won an appellate court decision today over state aid being withheld said the ruling is a step in the right direction of an ongoing process.
James Sarruda said this afternoon that while the decision is a “very positive thing,’’ the state Education commissioner must review it. Further appeals by the state are still possible, according to Sarruda. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Rice says reports of his candidacy are premature
Despite reports that he’s officially in as a CD 10 challenger, West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice told PolitickerNJ.com today that he is still raising money and won’t make a final decision about a congressional run until later this month.
“Our goal is to raise $90,000 in 30 days,” said Rice, who remains in the exploratory phase as he mulls a bid against veteran U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-10). (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
What we learned from Nevada
As I write this – more than 12 hours after the final caucus concluded – over one quarter of Nevada’s votes remain to be tallied. I’m guessing that Chumlee of “Pawn Stars” fame has been put in charge of the Clark County vote count operation.
Even so, we know the basic results from Saturday. And they have raised some new talking points among pundits. Are strong conservatives becoming more comfortable with Mitt Romney? And can we glean anything from these results about how he would fare in a general election? (Murray for PolitickerNJ)
Tax cuts, tax fairness and tax nonsense
Governor Christie wants to reduce the state income tax by 10 percent, a cut that would benefit all taxpayers, especially upper income individuals and households who pay the bulk of income taxes in the state because New Jersey has a steep progressive income tax. That is, as an individual’s income increases, the tax rate increases on the additional income he or she earns. In other words, under a progressive income tax the government punishes high income earners just because they earn more money than their fellow citizens. (Sabrin for PolitickerNJ)
Power 100: The 100 most powerful people in business
In our annual list of the most influential people in business, Chris Christie again rules the ranking, but there are plenty of surprises in store, including 50 faces new to the lineup.
Click here to see the list. (NJBIZ)
Chris Christie’s judge nominee Phillip Kwon an N.J. resident-come-lately
If there are any questions about the short length of time Phillip Kwon, recently nominated by Gov. Chris Christie to the state Supreme Court, has lived in New Jersey — about a year-and-a-half — his résumé didn’t exactly smooth things over.
The cell phone number that Kwon supplied doesn’t start with 201, the typical area code in Bergen County, where he lives. Nor is it 973, 609, 856 or 908. It’s 917, an area code for New York City, where he had lived since at least 1997 before buying his house in Closter in 2010. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Gov. Chris Christie risks reputation on ethics by standing by Joe DiVincenzo
Today, Joe DiVincenzo and his crew from Essex County will watch the Super Bowl in style at the El San Juan resort in Puerto Rico.
The resort is breathtaking, with spacious blue pools, a coral reef just off the beach and a luxury casino.
But the real beauty is that DiVincenzo, the county executive, won’t pay for any of it. His campaign donors will.
And remember that Essex is not burdened by pesky rules on clean campaigns. DiVincenzo is free to grant a public contract to a lawyer, say, and then ask that same lawyer for a campaign donation. Bingo, he’s covered another trip to Puerto Rico, airfare included. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Fund raising fuels latest barrage in 9th District
In a recent blog post about the 9th Congressional District preprimary-primary battle — candidates have until April 2 to file their nomination petitions with the state Division of Elections — the Daily Kos’ handicapper, David Nir, lambasted Democrat Rep. Bill Pascrell’s going negative on Steve Rothman, the 9th’s incumbent.
Nir took issue with what is emerging as a favorite Pascrell line of attack, that Rothman chickened out of a matchup with conservative Republican incumbent Scott Garrett of the 5th District. (Stile, The Record)
Women are collateral damage in health care war
It’s not a good time to be a woman in America. Or at least a woman without means. In New Jersey, women’s health funding took a $7.5 million hit last year when the Christie administration decided low-income women had so many options for affordable health services that the state was subsidizing unneeded clinics. It really didn’t matter where the places were or whether it put an additional burden on poor women looking for such radical, liberal services like cancer screenings. The money was gone. (Doblin, The Record)
Time for a detour on road to merging Rowan, Rutgers-Camden
Gov. Christie’s proposal to merge Rutgers-Camden into Rowan University reminds me of . . . Admiral Wilson Boulevard.
Consider: A dozen years ago, a Republican governor named Christine Todd Whitman sought to transform South Jersey’s notorious strip from sleazy to scenic.
You may remember that Whitman didn’t want the boulevard’s panorama of go-go joints and hot-sheet motels greeting her fellow Republicans on their way to the GOP’s 2000 convention in Philly. (Riordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer)