Lautenberg downplays spat with Corzine, Dems pressure Gov to tone down fiscal restructuring plan, Republican congressional delegation joins anti-toll hike chorus, Andrews and LoBiondo differ on Iraq.
A LOVERS’ QUARREL
Sen. Frank Lautenberg said yesterday he knows Jon Corzine will remain his friend and political supporter despite his public opposition to the governor's most important initiative — the plan to raise tolls and pay down state debt.
Lautenberg (D-N.J.) downplayed the dispute with his fellow Democrat, saying he fully expects Corzine to be in his corner as he seeks re-election to the Senate this year.
"We don't go to war over these things. We aren't schoolboys here," said Lautenberg. "We are in our own careers and we have obligations to use our judgment to do things we think are right. Most of the time we agree. Sometimes we disagree. That's the political world."
Corzine was caught off guard when Lautenberg announced last week that he would not support the steep toll increases called for in the governor's plan to restructure state finances. Aides to the governor responded with displeasure, saying Lautenberg's position was not helpful and might deter Cor zine from raising money for the senator's re-election.
Lautenberg acknowledged he had not given Corzine a heads-up, and as of yesterday afternoon had not been able to connect with him by telephone. But he said he felt sure there was no rift between the two men and that things will work out.
"Our relationship goes way be yond this single incident. I'm not worried about anything," said Lautenberg. "Any suggestion of repercussions are not valid." (Cohen, Star-Ledger)
While Gov. Corzine’s reaction to Frank Lautenberg’s opposition to his toll road plan was unusually strong, don’t count on a primary challenger emerging for Lautenberg.
At least not Rep. Rob Andrews, who recently endorsed the Governor’s monetization plan along with Rep. Rush Holt and has long been considered one of the prime contenders for the seat if Lautenberg decides not to run or leaves part way through his term.
“We’re all for Sen. Lautenberg, and I don’t want to contribute to anything that’s divisive in the Democratic Party,” said Andrews.
When Andrews endorsed the plan two and a half weeks ago, many insiders saw it as jockeying for position in the group of four Congressmen who hope to some day succeed Lautenberg. But Andrews said today that senatorial aspirations played no part in the decision. (Friedman, PoliickerNJ.com)
DEMS: SCALE IT BACK
Senate Democrats are looking for ways to pare down the toll increases proposed by Gov. Corzine, with two options gaining favor: raising the gasoline tax and cutting state spending.
It's unclear exactly what cuts will be proposed and which can gain enough traction, but key lawmakers say Corzine will have to compromise on his call for roughly 800 percent toll increases by 2022 in order to pay down state debt and fund transportation projects.
"There has to be changes to it if there's any chance of passing," said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, who said the state must also cut the cost of government.
Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, questioned how much of Corzine's goal — halving state debt and funding 75 years of transportation projects — can be accomplished at once. (Tamari, Gannett)
WHAT TOOK THEM SO LONG?
New Jersey's Republican congressional delegation came out against Gov. Jon S. Corzine's toll-hike plan Wednesday, calling on him to seek alternatives that instead focus on "containing the explosion of state spending."
In a letter to Corzine, the six congressmen — including Reps. Mike Ferguson and Scott Garrett — said they believe the proposal to hike tolls up to 800 percent by 2022 to pay off state debt would hurt the state's tourism-based economy, hamper job creation and increase the cost of goods and services in the state during shaky economic times.
"Corzine's reckless scheme would require some commuters to pay thousands of dollars every year," Ferguson, R-Hunterdon, said in a statement. "This burden would be on top of the skyrocketing property taxes that New Jersey residents already pay, and that is simply unacceptable."
The congressmen also expressed concern that toll increases on the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway would divert truck traffic onto local roads, increasing congestion and compromising public safety. (Graber, Gloucester County Times)
Increasing the gas tax, hiking fees for driver's licenses and car registrations, applying the sales tax to gas, and boosting a tax on expensive vehicles would help New Jersey solve fiscal woes, a new study has found.
The study by New Jersey Policy Perspective said the moves could raise $2.8 billion annually.
That would help lower Democratic Gov. Corzine's proposed toll increases, which are designed to pay state debt and fund transportation work but have been criticized by legislators, including Republicans who yesterday questioned whether Corzine's plan was constitutional.
New Jersey has the nation's third-lowest gas tax, at 14.5 cents per gallon, and it hasn't been increased since 1988, but Democratic senators have been considering increasing the gas tax to ease Corzine's proposed toll increases. (Hester, AP)
NO END TO MONETIZATION IMPACT STORIES
DAYTON, N.J. — Up and down the New Jersey Turnpike, warehouse managers like Ray O’Brien are bracing for the worst.
The turnpike is his lifeline, a cheap, reliable and convenient conduit to the ports, airports and railheads around Newark, through which billions of dollars of goods pass each year, and a thoroughfare to deliver those goods along the East Coast.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s plan for steep toll increases on the turnpike, as well as the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway, was the last thing Mr. O’Brien, a warehouse manager for the furniture wholesaler Coaster Company of America, wanted to hear. With the economy souring and gasoline prices soaring, business prospects are becoming increasingly uncertain.
If transportation costs continue to swell, the exodus of businesses to counties north of New York City and eastern Pennsylvania is likely to quicken, businessmen and transportation experts say, undermining New Jersey’s warehouse and distribution industry, the state’s largest single employer. (Belson, New York Times)
THERE’S STILL A WAR OVER THERE?
A year after a surge of U.S. troops was ordered in Iraq, the two congressmen who represent Gloucester County offered very differing opinions of the move's success.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo a Republican from Ventnor continued his support of the country's efforts in Iraq.
"I found dramatic changes on the ground when I was there last," LoBiondo said of his trip to Fallujah in August. "I had to keep reminding myself that six months before, it was an area that could never be deemed safe. The results of the change in direction were nothing short of dramatic."
LoBiondo said it was due to the great leadership of top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus, and the men and women serving overseas.
Meanwhile, Democrat Congressman Robert Andrews, of Haddon Heights, called the move a "dismal failure" in terms of giving the Iraqi government a chance to develop. To Andrews, what is happening is a civil war between two groups in Iraq, and the U.S. should not be a part of it.
"Let me be clear," Andrews said Wednesday. "The American troops have succeeded somewhat in reducing the level of violence in Iraq, and I'm proud of them. But, the purpose of the surge was to … give the Iraqi politicians an opportunity to reach a political settlement, and they have not done so." (McCarthy, Gloucester County Times)
BREAKING: ALITO CALLS HAMILTON “PLEASANT PLACE TO GROW UP”
NEW BRUNSWICK — When Samuel Alito Sr. graduated from the former Trenton State Teacher's College he faced difficulty obtaining a job in the Trenton schools due to his low social status and background as an Italian immigrant.
He probably never imagined his son would one day become the second Italian-American U.S. Supreme Court justice.
Justice Samuel Alito Jr. recalled for an audience at Rutgers University yesterday the struggles his parents and grandparents faced as Italian immigrants, and the ethnic stereotypes that exist to this day.
Alito, a graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, and the fifth justice from New Jersey, spoke in honor of the fifth anniversary of Rutgers' Italian Studies program. He said his talk, "Reflections on Growing up as an Italian-American in New Jersey," was intended as less of a scholarly lecture and more of his own personal reflections.
Alito was born in Chambersburg, the Italian neighborhood of Trenton. After he was born, his parents bought a house in Hamilton where he grew up and eventually attended Steinert High School. "It was a very pleasant place to grow up," he said. (DeMarco, Trenton Times)
IN MERCER AND MIDDLESEX COUNTIES
Next month, two major Democratic county strongholds will see important internal party contests.
Mercer County is set to see a significant turnover during its March 15th county committee convention. Its Democratic Chairman, Richard McClellan, plans to step down shortly. Meanwhile, Freeholder Elizabeth Muoio will resign on March 1st, giving a number of Democratic hopefuls a chance to take over her seat. Failing to win Muoio’s seat, some of those candidates may challenge Democratic incumbents Tony Mack and Lucy Walter, whose terms expire this year.
In neighboring Middlesex County, Freeholder John Pulomena has resigned so that the board can appoint him to a position as county administrator, while Freeholder Camille Fernicola has said that she will not seek another term. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
WHAT POOR SAP HAS TO FILTER THESE?
Any ideas on how to slice the state budget? Gov. Corzine wants to hear them.
The governor's office yesterday launched on its Web site a section that allows the public to suggest spending cuts. Corzine has vowed not to increase spending in the budget due July 1.
He wants to restructure state finances, partly through toll increases. He said his plan would lead to about $2.5 billion in budget cuts.
Citizens can submit ideas by going to www.nj.gov/governor and clicking on "Direct Citizen Input on Reducing Spending." (AP)
Parsippany's planning board attorney pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday to aiding a local builder in exchange for discounted real estate buys and other benefits for himself and family members.
John J. Montefusco Sr., 67, of Morris Plains, admitted that the arrangement personally netted him $26,000.
Standing before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson at the 11 a.m. hearing, Montefusco admitted maintaining "a close relationship with a certain developer," who partially owned and operated several property development companies with interests before the planning board. The relationship began around October 2001 and lasted at least through October 2006. (Jennings, Daily Record)
“THE FIRST THING WE DO, LET’S KILL ALL THE LAWYERS”
How many attorneys does the city need in a battle over a residency requirement for the city's top law enforcement officer?
So far, the answer is six.
The city plans to pay four lawyers to provide representation in the dispute over whether Police Di rector Joseph Santiago should be required to live in the city, in addi tion to two lawyers for the city who have already provided advice. After a sometimes fiery debate over the rule — which has been applied to other city workers but waived for Santiago — nine residents sued the city in a bid to force Santiago to move to Trenton or quit.
The city's staff attorney and top special counsel advised officials be fore the lawsuit, while the city hired separate lawyers for Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, Santiago, the city it self and the city council after the lawsuit was filed.
Renee Haynes, the mayor's chief of staff, said the city is hiring so many lawyers because each defendant who is named in the suit needs his own attorney and is entitled to have the city cover the costs. Palmer referred questions to Haynes. (Kitchenman, Trenton Times)
IT’S STILL CALLED THE ROBERT A. ROE HIGHWAY, BUT NOBODY WILL NOTICE
It's not likely signs will ever sprout up on Route 23 proclaiming it the Robert A. Roe Memorial Highway, according to a legislator who sponsored the bill to honor the former congressman.
Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Essex) said he was unaware Roe was involved in a drunken- driving accident near Route 23 some 15 years ago, seriously injuring two Rockaway Township residents, and making the road naming inappropriate.
Giblin said he has asked the state Department of Transportation not to erect the signs, and also has reached out to the 83-year-old Roe to seek a diplomatic end to the naming issue.
"The signs are not going up," Giblin said last night. "And I'm reaching out to Bob Roe to see if he might want to decline the honor." (Ragonese, Star-Ledger)
LONEGAN LONEGAN LONEGAN
As part of an effort to drum up new members for his activist group Americans For Prosperity, former Bogota Mayor Steven Lonegan called Gov. Jon S. Corzine's toll hike plan reckless and compared the state's current philosophy on government to communism.
Lonegan's comments came during a speech he gave to a group of about 20 taxpayers who came to the Stafford Township Branch of the Ocean County Library on Wednesday night to hear him speak because, they said, they were concerned about the direction the state was going.
"I'm opposed to the toll plan and I'm opposed to any new taxes, but unfortunately I think there is a complacency in this state that is going to allow the bigwigs in Trenton to keep doing whatever they want. That's why I'm here," said Mike DeFortuna, 30, of Barnegat Township, who is registered to vote as a Democrat but regularly votes for members of the opposite party.
Lonegan referenced this complacency as a reason the state went from being in the top three in all of the nation's economic categories in 1966 to having the worst income, sales and property taxes in the nation. (Spahr, Press of Atlantic City)
ALWAYS WITH THESE REASONABLE, UNCONTROVERSIAL IDEAS. GIVE US SOME RED MEET, HOLT!
U.S. Rep. Rush Holt wants the federal government to establish a grant fund to help schools become energy efficient.
In a hearing yesterday before the House Committee on Education and Labor in Washington, D.C., Holt said that helping schools become energy efficient could result in $2 billion in energy savings nationwide.
Rather than waste that much money on buildings that are energy inefficient, schools could use that money to hire new teachers or buy new textbooks, Holt said.
Holt, a member of the committee on education and labor, testified at a hearing examining the condition of the nation's public school buildings.
He urged support for his "School Building Enhancement Act." That legislation would provide schools with federal grants to invest in energy efficient upgrades. (Trenton Times)
IN MONMOUTH COUNTY
Monmouth County's suspended emergency management coordinator has been indicted by a state grand jury on two counts of official misconduct and one count of tampering with public records — all third-degree crimes — for putting approximately 7.8 gallons of gas from the county motor pool into a privately owned vehicle.
Harry J. Conover Jr., a county employee since approximately 1988, could face three to five years of jail time if convicted on any of the counts, though probationary terms are common for first-time offenders.
Alton D. Kenney, Conover's attorney, said his client "is an honorably discharged Vietnam veteran, a longtime county employee, and the recipient of honors and awards from many groups and organizations. We look forward to acquittal on all charges." (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)
Government work would be off limits to relatives of high-ranking borough officials under an ordinance that council members say is prompted by past abuses.
The draft anti-nepotism ordinance, which is scheduled for a Tuesday public hearing and vote, would bar relatives of council members or borough department heads from working as camp counselors, public works employees or in any other government job in Dumont. It also would ban relatives from receiving government contracts.
"We're doing this law now to continue reforming the borough to ensure the public trust remains intact," Mayor Matt McHale said. "There have been practices in the past where it was not uncommon for high-ranking borough officials' children to be employed by the borough." (Tumgoren, Bergen Record)
IN SEA ISLE
"We're preparing for the hearing, and when it's all said and done, we're confident he will be terminated after the hearing," Mayor Leonard Desiderio said Wednesday.
Desiderio said the city has evidence Kennedy was using his cell phone and a city-issued computer for personal use, although he wouldn't say what evidence the city has.
Desiderio also asked City Council to adopt a policy forbidding employees to use city computers for personal use, a change suggested by Francis Cook, the city's independent investigator, which came from the investigation into Kennedy. (Ianieri, Press of Atlantic City)