Corzine vetoes $10 million from budget and responds angrily to Republicans’ “political demagoguery,” grand jury testimony in Sharpe James probe, Booker warns of potential layoff of hundreds of Newark city employees, Department of corrections whistleblower says she was harassed.
TRENTON STILL PEACEFUL
“Gov. Corzine vetoed $10 million worth of spending – most of it added by lawmakers – before putting his signature to a $33.47 billion state budget yesterday.
Corzine's cuts include $2.5 million in legislative pet projects that the governor said affected too small an area or population; $1.1 million for arts and cultural centers; and $2.65 million for cancer centers.
Projects in Gloucester, Camden and Burlington Counties got cut by just more than $1.5 million, combined.
"Things that don't have regional or state significance tended to get line-itemed," Corzine said yesterday.” (Ung and Moroz, Philadelphia Inquirer)
“One lawmaker who was clearly displeased was Sen. Nia Gill (D- Essex). Last week, Gill was the only Senate member to vote against Corzine's nomination of former Attorney General Stuart Rabner to become chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Rabner's confirmation was held up several days because of Gill's concerns about his experience.
Corzine's elimination of $1 million for the Minority Student Achievement Network in Mont clair, Gill's hometown, was his single largest reduction of any project.
Yesterday, Gill said the minority program is nationally acclaimed for its educational success and was a model for others in the state.
"The governor says that he is committed to diversity," Gill said. "In Montclair, we're committed to diversity. This undermines the issue of diversity as it is practiced in a positive, creative way." (Donohue and Howlett, Star-Ledger)
Republicans said Corzine should have done more to reduce government spending and warned that they don't believe the larger rebates will last beyond the election.
"This budget represents a continuation of the runaway spending policies of the past six years that are driving New Jersey to the brink of fiscal disaster," Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon, said, "The property tax credit program is not sustainable in year two and beyond and the public should be concerned."
EXCEPT FOR ONE THING
“It was supposed to be an orchestrated victory lap on Thursday afternoon as Democratic legislators attended a signing ceremony for New Jersey’s $33.5 billion election-year budget, which will not require a tax increase and will offer $1,000 rebate checks for most homeowners.
But that was before Gov. Jon S. Corzine, taking even the legislators standing beside him by surprise, offered his most expansive and fiery comments yet on one of the more controversial topics in New Jersey these days: the possible leasing of the New Jersey Turnpike and other assets.
Flourishing a flier from Republican legislative candidates urging voters to “Stop Trenton Politicians From Selling Off Our Roads,” Mr. Corzine lashed out at critics of an idea that he calls asset monetization, but has yet to formally introduce.
“It isn’t political courage when somebody says politicians in Trenton are planning to sell the turnpike to foreign corporations — ‘for sale, act now,’ ” Mr. Corzine said, his voice rising. “This is the stuff that’s going out. That is not political courage. It’s political demagoguery, and the fact is, we need a solid debate on a solid program that gives us the ability to invest in our future, and I’m going to fight for it.” (Chen, New York Times)
Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (R., Hunterdon) was less than impressed with Corzine's list, saying it was still too vague. "The people of New Jersey need to know, before the election, exactly what he means by the 'monetization' of state assets," Lance said. "We need to know what the plan really is, not just secrets."
And Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R., Bergen) said that Corzine's plan may not be a sale or a lease, but it still is "99 years of guaranteed toll increases for New Jersey's middle-class families." (Ung and Moroz, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Corzine remained vague about his plan, saying it still needs legal review, but he issued his clearest assurance that it will not involve selling or leasing the state's toll roads to a foreign or for-profit organization.
"We're not going to privatize," Corzine said. "We're developing a new vehicle — completely out-of-the-box — that will get the benefits of monetization without the costs and compromises that other states have gotten."
WHILE JAMES’S CONSTITUENTS WERE SUFFERING
“As a 10-month criminal investigation into former Newark Mayor Sharpe James continues, the city's former redevelopment director and the owner of a travel agency who arranged many of the ex-mayor's publicly funded trips appeared yesterday before a federal grand jury conducting the probe.
Basil Franklin, who as housing and economic development director was influential in guiding the sale of discounted city-owned land to private developers, was seen entering the grand jury chambers in Newark and spent about an hour testifying yesterday morning.
Earlier in the day, Christina Malanga, owner of Gateway Travel, testified before the panel, which has been meeting since last summer. City Hall records show Gateway was paid by the city to arrange most of James' trips.
Several sources who have been briefed on the investigation say the government is examining whether James used his office to pay for lavish vacations, and is probing the sale of city real estate to the former mayor's friends and associates. The sources declined to be identified because the investigation is confidential and continuing……….
In a two-page letter written on stationary from his state Senate office, James made no blanket claim of innocence but implied any blame for the land deals rests with the City Council, which had the authority to approve or deny the sales.
"Only the Council set prices, only the Council meet and interview developers, only the Council can convey land to developers," James wrote.” (Shearn, Star-Ledger)
THIS WILL NOT GO OVER WELL
“Between 500 and 1,000 city employees could be laid off if Newark does not save enough money through voluntary buyouts, Mayor Cory Booker is expected to announce today, during a speech about his first year in office.
Booker is expected to discuss efforts his administration has made in closing a $180 million budget deficit and to explain why layoffs may be necessary, said a high-ranking administration official. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the address and asked not to be named.
This would be the first time Booker publicly set a target number of layoffs needed to stabilize the city's budget. The estimate represents 10 percent to 20 percent of the city's work force…………..
Earlier this month, the city notified employees about a voluntary "separation" plan that would pay between 30 percent and 60 percent of their annual salary in a lump sum if they agreed to resign. About 3,000 of the city's 5,000 employees with an average salary of about $72,000 are eligible. Uniformed police and firefighters are not being offered buyouts.
So far, only about 125 employees have applied for the program, well below the number necessary to prevent massive layoffs, city officials said…………
"I'm not surprised many people haven't taken the buyouts," said Rahaman Muhammad, president of Service Employees International Union Local 617, which represents 600 city sanitation workers, crossing guards and operators of 911 lines. "I would rather get laid off and enjoy the state benefits, including job training, and be on a civil service list to possibly be called back to work. Why would I sign away my rights?"” (Mays, Star-Ledger)
COVER FOR ME
“A state analyst has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections claiming high-ranking officials in the state prison system retaliated against her for reporting her boss did political work on the taxpayer's dime.
Lydia Bitcover was working in the Office of Accreditation in the summer of 2005 when Director Maggie Aguero said she "would be out of the office frequently working on political campaigns during state time," according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Superior Court. Aguero asked Bitcover to "cover for her," according to the suit.
Bitcover, an administrative analyst at Corrections who has been a state employee for 35 years, contends in the lawsuit she reported the conversation to higher-ups, including the chief of staff for then- Commissioner Devon Brown.
But instead of reprimanding Aguero, the lawsuit alleges, department supervisors waged a campaign of harassment and discrimination against Bitcover for blowing the whistle in the first place.” (Hepp, Star-Ledger)
BLAME ALL AROUND
“State Police detectives investigating the crash that nearly killed Gov. Jon Corzine found it was triggered by the motorcade's "unauthorized" use of emergency lights to clear traffic as it sped north on the Garden State Parkway.
In a report released yesterday, the investigators said the use of emergency lights by trooper Robert Rasinski, who was driving the governor's SUV, was not the cause of the April 12 accident but "did contribute by initiating the chain of events that resulted in this crash.
Seeing the emergency lights, the driver of a red pickup truck moved onto the right shoulder as the motorcade approached, then suddenly veered back onto the roadway, the report said. That prompted a sport-utility vehicle to swerve and collide with the governor's vehicle, sending it careening into a guardrail along a grassy divider." (Hepp, Star-Ledger)
The New Jersey State Police yesterday released the finalized reports on the April 12 accident, which also revealed that witnesses gave widely varying estimates of Rasinski's speed.
Two troopers in the "follow car," traveling behind the governor's SUV, both said they were driving "with the flow of traffic" at 65 to 70 m.p.h. Samantha Gordon, a governor's aide riding in the backseat of the Suburban, also described their speed as 65 m.p.h.
But, the SUV's "black box," which records speed and other data, found that Rasinski was driving 91 m.p.h. just before the crash.
Several other witnesses to the crash estimated Rasinski's speed at anywhere from 80 to 95 m.p.h. One driver said the governor's SUV was "flying up the road," according to the reports.
Rasinski told investigators he didn't know how fast he was driving, and he couldn't remember whether the emergency lights were activated.” (Graham, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Among the new details in the report released on Thursday was an account of the state police interview with Mr. Corzine.
The governor said that he had been working on a memo shortly before the crash and was “deeply involved when the car started sliding.”
“His attention was diverted from his memo to ‘the sliding and a popping noise’ immediately prior to finding himself ‘struggling in the back of the vehicle,’ ” the report read. “It was then he heard a commotion and Samantha screaming ‘fire.’ ” (Jones, New York Times)
NO CO-PAY, BUT “WELLNESS PROGRAMS”
“Gov. Jon Corzine yesterday signed a bill that will cancel new health care payments that were scheduled to be imposed on retiring government workers next month.
The measure, which sped through the Legislature during their last week of work this month, also sets up a generous health insurance package for teachers. It was among 16 bills Corzine signed into law along with the state's $33.5 billion state budget yesterday……
Instead, under the new provisions, retirees with more than 25 years experience will continue to receive free health insurance if they enroll in a "wellness program" that includes regular physical exams and lifestyle guidance.
The co-payments, which Cor zine estimates would have generated about $2 million over the four years of the contract, were a key element of contention among the leaders of two CWA locals op posed to the contract settlement.
Among those most opposed to the insurance co-payments for new retirees was Carla Katz, the president of CWA Local 1034 and Cor zine's former girlfriend.” (McNichol, Star-Ledger)
IMMIGRATION BILL DEFEAT ROCKS NEW JERSEY
“The move toward immigration reform collapsed Thursday after the Senate defeated a bill that would have paved the way for a final vote on sweeping changes in immigration law.
New Jersey's political and community leaders on both sides of the immigration issue expressed certainty that no more attempts at a broad immigration reform would occur before 2009, when the United States will have a new president. They said that the fall season and 2008 will focus attention on next year's presidential election, making many political leaders reluctant to deal with the emotionally charged issue of immigration.
"It's too polarizing; no one will want to touch this," said Cid Wilson, a Leonia resident and past president of the Dominican American National Roundtable…………
"It's unfortunate that this bill died," said Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello, who has waged a high-profile battle against the increasing number of illegal immigrants who have settled in his city over the years. "The country needs to know what is going to be done about illegal aliens. Illegal aliens need to know what is going to happen to them. It's unconscionable that the Senate did not come to an agreement."
In a floor speech Thursday afternoon, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., lamented the way the immigration debate had gone.
"Unfortunately today, the voices that appealed to fear and the lowest common denominator won out," he said.” (Llorente, Bergen Record)
BYRON BAER WOULD NOT BE HAPPY
“When John Carlton learned yesterday that the Supreme Court had banned the use of race in assigning students to schools, the president of the Montclair school board said he worried it could hurt a township magnet-school system that for years had brought a racial balance to the classroom.
So he started reading the opinion for something definitive. And reading.
"In a 185-page opinion, I'm not sure there is anyone who can say, 'Gee, that makes it clear,'" he said. "It's obviously a momentous decision, but how it will affect us, to be honest, we don't know yet."
Carlton was in good company yesterday as school officials and others in New Jersey pored over the U.S. justices' words and grappled with how the ruling would affect desegregation efforts — as few as there are — in place in the state's schools……..
"It's a sad day in America," said James Harris, president of the state's NAACP. "We know that this country is resegregating racially, and the Supreme Court is telling us we can have integration but just can't use race to get there."” (Mooney, Star-Ledger)
WE’RE NUMBER ONE
“Road conditions have improved in the United States over the last 20 years or so, but not in New Jersey.
New Jersey's roads ranked last in the nation for traffic congestion in a study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte……..
The study ranked highway systems in each state according to their cost-effectiveness, which was determined with several factors including traffic fatalities, congestion, pavement condition, bridge condition, highway maintenance and administrative costs. Evaluations were done on highways and all state-owned roads.
The five states with the most cost-effective roads, according to the study, are North Dakota, South Carolina, Kansas, New Mexico and Montana. The bottom five states are New Jersey, Alaska, New York, Rhode Island and Hawaii. Pennsylvania ranked 36th.” (Jalonick, AP)
PAY TO PLAY
“A Monmouth County Board of Freeholders subcommittee withdrew its pay-to-play reforms Thursday when Republicans on the board forced a delay by giving support to their own proposal, which they say has wider reforms.
No action will be taken until a future meeting, which has yet to be scheduled. But GOP leaders apparently shut most subcommittee participants out of having a say in the new proposal, which combines restrictions against pay-to-play and campaign financing and includes rules on contributions from organized labor.” (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)
NOT THE HIGHEST ETHICAL STANDARDS
“Lawyers met behind closed doors Thursday to try to resolve the overpayment of nearly $7,000 to a Morris County assistant prosecutor who, in violation of county policy, was allowed to work from home at her full salary for three months after giving birth.
Assistant Prosecutor Erin Smith Wisloff did not have to use accrued sick time or go on disability, as required under county policy, after giving birth to a daughter on Jan. 31. Instead, against parental leave policy that pertains to all 3,000 county employees, she was permitted by former Morris County Prosecutor Michael M. Rubbinaccio and former First Assistant Prosecutor George Schneider to work from home at full pay and use a county-owned Chevy Impala.
Wisloff is one of at least 10 prosecutor's office employees who gave birth in the last 15 months, but she was the only employee permitted to work from home and get full pay.” (Wright, Daily Record)
GOOD THING LINDSAY LOHAN IS NOT FROM NEW JERSEY
“A state appeals court yesterday ruled drivers who are hung over from using cocaine can be considered impaired even if the drug is no longer in their systems.
In a 3-0 ruling that expands the legal meaning of "under the influence," the judges ruled a Cape May County driver, who had taken cocaine but was not intoxicated when police stopped him, was still a danger to other drivers. While the cocaine was no longer active it was the "proximate cause of his impaired behavior," the judges found.”
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE GO AWAY
“CLAYTON Already mourning the loss of their son, the family of U.S. Army Pfc. David J. Bentz III is concerned that his funeral may turn into a circus today because of unwanted guests.
Three members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a controversial religious extremist group, plan to demonstrate during Bentz's viewing. The organization, which has no affiliations with other Baptist associations, pickets mourners across the country to mark what it describes as God's revenge on the U.S. for tolerating homosexuality.
On the eve of his funeral, the family said Bentz who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country should be the focus of the day.
"We just want it to be peaceful for our son," said Bentz's stepmother, Kimberly Geonnotti, of Clayton. "I'm appalled that (the picketers) would be there, but my son died a hero and anyone who is true American knows that.” (Brown, Gloucester County Times)
EVEN THE PTA IS CORRUPT
“The former treasurer of the Bayville School Parent-Teacher Association has been indicted by an Ocean County grand jury on a charge of stealing approximately $60,000 from the PTA.
Beverly Coulson, 49, of Nathalie Drive has made restitution of that amount, Assistant Prosecutor Martin Anton said Thursday.
However, Superintendent of Schools Joseph H. Vicari said he hopes that she also will be ordered to pay for the cost of the audit that had to be conducted following the suspected thefts. He said he believes the audit cost about $10,000.
"I'm glad the grand jury handed up the indictment because it sends a message that no one should take money away from the 450 students who attend pre-school through fourth grade at the Bayville School," Vicari said……..
The indictment, handed up Wednesday by a grand jury in Toms River, charged Coulson with one count of third-degree theft, carrying a maximum prison term of five years upon a conviction. At the time of her arrest, however, the prosecutor's office said that because there are no prior crimes charged against Coulson, there would be a presumption of a sentence with no jail time, if convicted.” (Delaney, Asbury Park Press)
IN CUMBERLAND COUNTY
“Cumberland County Freeholder Director Doug Rainear said during the monthly meeting of the Board of Chosen Freeholders on Thursday that he met June 11 with George W. Hayman, commissioner of the state Department of Corrections about the department's possible plans for the county.
Despite having no prior contact with the department, the board publicly has denounced the commissioner for rumored plans to bring to the county more than 1,100 prisoners from Riverfront Prison in Camden and more than 350 civilly committed sexual predators to South Woods State Prison.
Rainear classified the 75-minute meeting as "cordial, but intense," as county officials explained the negative impact those plans would bring.” (Landau, Daily Journal)
IN OCEAN COUNTY
“Marlene Lynch Ford passed up what she thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity 15 years ago, choosing instead to become a Superior Court judge.
As it turns out, Ford got a second shot at becoming Ocean County's prosecutor.
This time, she took it. The former jurist and state assemblywoman stepped down from the bench earlier this week to become the county's first female prosecutor.” (Spoto, Star-Ledger)
“The developer that wants to build an entertainment district across from the Sovereign Bank Arena is among the hundreds of property owners in the city whose unpaid taxes have put them on this year's tax sale list.
Performa Trenton LLC owes $16,800 in taxes for properties on Hamilton Avenue and South Broad Street. The properties are part of the Capital Square Project, the residential portion of the development; The Foundry is the commercial portion of the project.” (Loayza, Trenton Times)
“A former school board member told the city council's special investigative committee yesterday that one of the faults of former city schools Superintendent James Lytle was his profound commitment to some of his employees.
"I think one of his faults was his overly strong commitment and loyalty to some of his staff," Bernard McMullan told the committee………..
The committee moved yesterday to subpoena Lytle and former board President Robert Revelle. It also invited former board members Geraldine Eure and Garry Feltus, as well school administrators Priscilla Dawson and Maria Azzaro to appear before the committee.” (Loayza, Trenton Times)
“Newark police promoted 13 officers yesterday to the rank of sergeant, an early summer move that Mayor Cory Booker compared to battlefield promotions by wartime presidents.
"Our city is not safe. It's not what it should be, it's not what it could be," Booker told a room packed with the newly minted ser geants, their commanders and their families. "We want more men and women willing to stand up to the challenge." (Schuppe, Star-Ledger)
IN ESSEX COUNTY
“When Essex County clerks were collecting old records last year as part of a preservation project, they found the original handwritten papers that officially created the county in 1682, sitting in a basement vault in the Hall of Records in Newark.
The documents were well preserved but hidden from public view, said Frank J. DelGaudio, the county risk manager in charge of the records' modernization. ……….
Those finds are part of an effort by county and local governments statewide to locate, organize and computerize public records.
The work is being funded by so-called PARIS (Public Archives and Records Infrastructure Support) grants from the state. In the past three years, the Secretary of State and the State Archives have handed out $73 million to help improve government records management.” (Hester, Star-Ledger)
”With the Council chambers packed with cheering police officers, the Camden City Council last night nullified a proposed ordinance that would have created the position of civilian police director to head Camden's embattled police department.
Instead of tabling the ordinance or defeating it, Council members simply took no action, effectively allowing the controversial measure to die.” (Ott, Philadelphia Inquirer)
IN OCEAN TOWNSHIP
“OCEAN TOWNSHIP — The new township manager, whose appointment is effective today, will earn almost as much as the governor and have a municipal car for personal use.
A memorandum of understanding between Andrew G. Brannen and the Township Council was made public at a special meeting of the council Thursday, after it was approved 4-0.” (Larsen, Asbury Park Press)
“Despite the possibility it may be missing a third of its members, the Board of Education remains effective and united, said President Linda Mitchell.
Mitchell admits the resignation of Kenneth Thomas at a public meeting Wednesday took her by surprise, but says residents should know the controversies surrounding the board have no effect on its ability to run the 2,200-student district.
"We remain fully focused and committed to the education of the children," she said. "We are united and we'll get things done." (Paid, Asbury Park Press)
“The Board of Education member who announced his resignation suddenly at Wednesday's meeting is following up with a request that the state investigate the board and district administration.
Ken Thomas said he resigned Thursday to prevent his family from being the target of personal attacks and harassment, as recently resigned board member Scott Sarno says his has been………..
Thomas sent a letter Thursday to the state Office of the Attorney General voicing his support for board member Robert Houser's request that the board and administration be investigated.” (Pharo, Press of Atlantic City)