Morning News Digest: April 2, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: Week of March 26th
West New York Mayor Felix Roque’s stunning reversal occurred late Friday afternoon to cap a week in which the Pascrell v. Rothman clash deepened, and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg targeted Norcross/Sweeney/Christie with criticism of the Rowan/Rutgers merger that coincided with a damning state comptroller’s report outlining waste and abuse at the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA). (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Baraka and Sharif throw their support behind Rice in CD 10 Primary
Newark South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka and Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif this evening announced their endorsement of Ron Rice for Congress.
“We are formally endorsing Ron Rice to represent us in Congress. We believe he is the only candidate in this race with a true vision for the future of Newark and the 10th district as a whole,” said Baraka and Sharif in a statement. “We are supporting his candidacy in every way we can to send him to Washington to strengthen Congress and continue the fight for Democratic ideals, and to be a vanguard in support of our President, Barack Obama.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Elections for unexpired term in 10th District to occur on same days as scheduled elections
Gov. Chris Christie Wednesday formally issued a writ of elections for the 10th Congressional District.
As expected, Christie directed that an election be held to fill the unexpired term for the House seat at the Nov. 6, 2012, General Election.
The nomination of political party candidates to fill the vacancy will be made during the June 5 Primary Election. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Roque backs Menendez for U.S. Senate
Mayor Felix Roque today endorsed U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), reversing his earlier backing of state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-13).
“I’m a military man,” said the mayor. “My community wants Menendez, I will do what is in the best interest of my community. I am endorsing the great Sen. Menendez.”
A renegade victor last year in local elections, Roque was subdued in the beige-colored interior of the West New York Democratic Committee headquarters. He said he wasn’t feeling well. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Gov. Christie’s visit to Israel is off to busy start
Gov. Chris Christie and his family touched down at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv this morning and immediately hit ‘go’ on an aggressive four-day agenda that mixes finance, faith and foreign affairs.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to see these things first hand,” he said in a Statehouse interview Wednesday. “I’ve read about them for a long time.” (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Christie gives diplomacy a test run with trade talks on Middle East trip
Governor Christie and his family travel to the Middle East this week, a trip funded by a business advocacy group with strong ties to his administration and a Jewish organization dedicated to supporting Republican politicians.
The trip’s goals mirror its financial supporters: Christie is looking to strengthen the state’s economic ties to Israel and to
bolster his political résumé with a taste of foreign policy. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
N.J. Treasurer says low earners pay less than neighbors
New Jersey residents earning less than $150,000 pay lower income taxes than people in nearby states, including New York and Connecticut, while top earners pay a higher rate, Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said.
The state’s revenue is “volatile” because of its progressive income tax, which is more dependent on the highest earners, Sidamon-Eristoff said. That means New Jersey suffers more than other states during an economic slowdown and outperforms during a recovery, he said during a breakfast with business owners in Monroe. (Dopp, Bloomberg)
Some of Christie’s biggest bills match model legislation from D.C. group called ALEC
Let’s say you’re a state lawmaker, passionate about charter schools, and you want to turn this passion into laws that create social change. What you need are bills. And you want them fast — ready-made, just add water, written in language that can withstand partisan debate and legal scrutiny.
There is a place that has just what you want.
It’s called the American Legislative Exchange Council, a little-known conservative group headquartered in Washington, D.C., and funded by some of the biggest corporations in the United States — most with a business interest in state legislation. (Rizzo, The Star-Ledger)
Despite similarities, officials say they did not use model ALEC bills for Christie’s education legislation
Even the shortest, simplest bills in New Jersey are products of a long, convoluted process.
Lawmakers usually take the first step by drawing up a wish list of what they’d like to see. Inspiration can come from anywhere: an advocacy group, a lobbyist, a news article, a constituent — or from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national group bankrolled by corporations that writes pro-business model bills.
Less often, legislators agree to sponsor bills from the governor’s office, where policy advisers do their own research and writing. (Rizzo, The Star-Ledger)
Fine Print: OLS questions, DOE answers on FY 2012 budget
What is it: The state’s non-partisan Office of Legislative Services each year conducts separate internal reviews of every department’s and agency’s budgets for the coming year. Some of it is boilerplate, but the OLS also asks specific questions to a department that raise larger issues of public policy and practice. The state Department of Education was the first agency to go before the legislature last week, and in turn, the first to face the OLS questioning. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Tax-cut plans stay despite low outlook
Even though caution flags were being waved last week warning that state revenues might not meet Gov. Chris Christie’s projections, there was no talk about throttling back plans to cut taxes.
Democrats have advanced tax-credit counterproposals to Christie’s goal of cutting income taxes by 10 percent, so a shortfall could dent their plans as much as Christie’s. As a result, the conversation remains how, not whether, to build a tax cut. (Symons, Gannett)
Gaming hearings have racing officials optimistic
A pact by Gov. Chris Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney to protect Atlantic City’s casinos from in-state competition will undergo a test by Assembly Democrats, who plan to hold public hearings later this year to discuss the merits of bringing casino gaming to the Meadowlands.
The sign that some Trenton policy-makers may start advocating for upstate gaming could produce a windfall for the horse racing industry, said Bob Marks, sp
okesman for Perretti Farms in Upper Freehold. (Jordan, Gannett)
Rowan points to aid figures
Rowan University’s top official on Friday said a financial-aid imbalance exists between his school and Rutgers-Camden, but asserted that would be addressed after a planned merger between the two institutions.
Ali Houshmand, Rowan’s interim president, raised the issue in a letter to U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, who has requested a federal review of the proposed merger. Houshmand said Lautenberg had “left many people confused” by comparing “the price of attending” each school. (Walsh, Gannett)
Vote was perhaps easiest piece of merging the Princetons
In some ways, getting voters in Princeton borough and township to agree last year to merge may have been the easiest part of the process.
Since January 31, the Transition Task Force working to implement the consolidation has held 38 full or subcommittee meetings. That’s an average of four meetings a week.
In just nine months, the two communities will become one. There is a lot that needs to be done by January 1 and virtually no model to follow — New Jersey’s last municipal merger, in 1997, was of Hardwick and Pahaquarry, which had a population of just seven in a township comprised largely of land in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Smaller deals having outsized impact on N.J. office market, report finds
Driven by a series of small and midsized transactions, first-quarter leasing velocity in the northern and central New Jersey office market reached its highest mark in five quarters, according to a new report by Colliers International.
The brokerage firm’s New Jersey office found that leasing velocity — the total number of leases completed — grew about 20 percent from last quarter, said Matt Dolly, senior managing director at the Parsippany-based branch. The number of first-quarter deals also grew nearly 50 percent from the first quarter of 2011. (Burd, NJBIZ)
N.J. towns have easier budget time
After a mad scramble in 2011 to find ways to pay bills without increasing taxes, some New Jersey municipalities are drafting this year’s budget with relative ease. A few are even rehiring police and other staff they had to let go over residents’ noisy objections.
Some found lifelines in one-time revenue sources, others made significant cuts, and still others got surprise assistance. (Hefler, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Financial carrots dangled to spur supermarket development
A green grocer will break ground in Vineland as part of financing efforts to attract supermarkets to “food deserts” – the New Jersey cities scare in options for fresh fruits, vegetables and healthier food choices.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is providing $12 million to help bring affordable fresh food to an estimated 1 million New Jerseyans living in cities where this grocery gap is believed to play a major role in high rates of obesity among children, and preventable diseases like hypertension and diabetes among their parents. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
New ‘Tru-ID’ licenses to make N.J. debut
New Jersey’s 6 million drivers will have to begin digging up more and perhaps better proof of who they are to meet requirements of a new national security standard for driver’s licenses.
New Jersey on May 7 will become the 10th state to start issuing federa
lly compliant driver’s licenses under the Real ID Act. More than 20 other states are dragging their feet. Some have taken formal action protesting the law or have indicated refusal to comply, citing privacy concerns and cost issues, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. (Jordan, Gannett)
Court setbacks put damper on NJ corruption busts
Louis Manzo was preparing to do a radio interview from his family’s shore home on the morning of July 23, 2009, when the FBI called. Hours later, he was being led in handcuffs before TV cameras with dozens of other suspects in New Jersey’s largest political corruption and money laundering sting.
One problem: He was charged with crimes he couldn’t have committed, a federal judge would later rule in two separate opinions. (Porter, Associated Press)
Springsteen’s left-leaning songs win fans on the right
“Banker man grows fatter, the working man grows thin.” “Send the robber barons straight to |hell.” The message of Bruce Springsteen’s bare-knuckle recession broadside, “Wrecking Ball,” couldn’t be clearer.
So what happens now? Do the Izod Center in East Rutherford (Tuesday and Wednesday), Madison Square Garden in New York (Friday and April 9) and Prudential Center in Newark (May 2) become seething cauldrons of revolutionary activity, as 20,000 Bruce fans prepare to man the barricades to save America from the Wall Street hyenas? Do right-wingers loudly demand to see Springsteen’s birth certificate? (Beckerman, The Record)
Shore township cool with medical-pot center
Down a back street off Delilah Road, near the Fed Ex shipping center, not far from the local airport, Leo Schoffer will show you the building.
A former Trump casino warehouse, it’s overgrown and deserted. But Schoffer sees its future clearly: a lushly landscaped, peaceful, welcoming place where people in need can fill prescriptions for medical marijuana. (Rosenberg, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Code green: NJ hospitals reducing their carbon footprints
For most of the past decade, hospital executives at Newark’s Beth Israel Medical Center recognized the more than 100-year-old facility badly needed to fix its aging energy infrastructure.
But they didn’t have the capital, until their local utility Public Service Electric & Gas came along and found a way to help the hospital address its needs — a $7.5 million overhaul that included replacing air conditioning chillers, replacing windows with high efficiency models, and upgrading to high efficiency lighting. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. wants OK to stop compiling Adequate Yearly Progress data
Education officials are asking the federal government for permission to stop compiling data it’s no longer responsible to report to them.
The state’s Department of Education announced it intends to request a waiver of its requirement
to calculate Adequate Yearly Progress of each of its schools. (Arco, State Street Wire)
Rutgers-Camden forces cheer Lautenberg interest
A coalition of faculty, alumni, and staff opposed to the Rutgers University-Camden takeover by Rowan University cheered the news this week that a federal lawmaker also wants questions answered before it becomes a done deal.
A group of about 13 Rutgers personnel issued a release calling the governor’s proposal to merge the two schools poorly researched, and said a plan of this scale demands the kind of intense scrutiny proposed by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, (D-NJ). (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Diversity expected to be a side issue during Assembly budget hearings
State commissioners who fail to surround themselves with a diverse staff are on notice.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, (D-15), Trenton, says she will likely call out other state officials who do not employ a staff that represents New Jersey’s diverse population. The Assembly Budget Committee member says women and minorities should not be underrepresented in state departments, particularly at levels where public policy is crafted. (Arco, State Street Wire)
Sweeney declares war on Frank Lautenberg
It’s war. South Jersey politicians led by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, have fired upon Democratic U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, with a March 28 email that began: “LAUTENBERG’S BIZARRE & UNINFORMED COMMENTS.”
Sweeney and crew wrote that “Lautenberg’s uninformed and vengeful remarks concerning the proposed Rutgers-Rowan merger have done a serious disservice to students and parents across South Jersey.” As far as I can surmise, the remarks refer to a March 26 letter Lautenberg sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Lautenberg questioned the wisdom of eliminating Rutgers-Camden and moving its schools into Rowan University. (Doblin, The Record)
Why the political tiff over Frank Lautenberg’s letter on the Rutgers-Rowan merger matters
Frank Lautenberg is 88 years old now, ripe enough to finally admit he doesn’t do push-ups anymore.
But the U.S. senator found himself in full combat mode last week as the bullets came flying from every direction.
Gov. Chris Christie called him a “hack” and said he should resign from politics. Senate President Steve Sweeney called him “bizarre” and “vengeful.” (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Lautenberg, even at 88, not too old to brawl
You can say what you want about U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, but the man knows how to deliver a punch. And, even at age 88, he’s lost none of his zest for political street brawls.
Lautenberg, a Democrat who first won election to the Senate in 1982, will be 90 if he chooses to run in 2014, and he’s giving the impression that he’s not in any mood to ride off into the sunset. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
Seeking some sense on Christie’s budget projections
Chris Christie’s budget projections are so wildly optimistic that abuse of antidepressants must have been involved in crafting the numbers.
We were hardly the first to point this out when the governor released his budget plan in February, but last week’s report from the Office of Legislative Services puts the expected shortfall for the next 15 months at more than half a billion dollars, and brings to the forefront serious questions about his tax-cutting goals going forward. (NJBIZ)
Interesting donations by Rowan University trustees
If anyone missed the blast e-mail of Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s broadside against U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) for criticizing the takeover of Rutgers-Camden by Rowan University, they may well have seen the ad on PolitickerNJ.com — paid for by the Leaders Fund, a South Jersey PAC.
The Auditor has discovered several Rowan trustees helped pay for the ad. Martin McKernan and Nick Petroni have given $6,000 and $4,000, respectively, to the PAC since 2009. Plumbers and Pipefitters 322, whose business manager, James Kehoe, is another trustee, has donated $13,200 over the same period. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Patronage among the power brokers
New Jersey’s scathing audit of the Delaware River Port Authority unearthed a way of doing business retro enough for a Mad Men episode stripped of its wit, style, and cigarettes.
There’s precious little glamour in the audit’s depressing depiction of pals and pols burning through millions in public money behind closed doors. (Riordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Why N.J. should not hike tax on millionaires
Bank robber Willie Sutton said that he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.” And, like Sutton, governments – both the federal and the state – are attempting to go where the money is in their efforts to bolster government coffers depleted by the recent recession.
Both President Obama and the Democratic-controlled New Jersey state Legislature would each like to see a millionaire’s tax imposed, and though the iterations vary, both want to see the wealthy paying their “fair share.” But while increasing federal income taxes on the wealthy may be a good idea, it makes little sense in New Jersey. (Harrison, The Record)