Ashcroft will testify about no-bid federal monitor contracts, but not Christie; Trenton braces for budget preview; war of wards heats up between Bergen and Essex officials over arenas; Lance, Pennacchio win Hunterdon convention.
ASHCROFT RELENTS, BUT NOT CHRISTIE
Facing the threat of a subpoena, former Attorney General John Ashcroft agreed yesterday to testify before a congressional committee that has questioned a lucrative assignment he received from U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie to serve as a corporate monitor in a New Jersey case.
Congressional Democrats announced the development last night, on the eve of a scheduled vote on whether to authorize House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers to issue a subpoena demanding Ashcroft's appearance.
That vote was canceled last night after Ashcroft agreed to testify at a yet-to-be scheduled hearing in the next few weeks, said Michael Torra, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.). Sanchez is the chair of the subcommittee that will hold the hearing.
"It does seem he does want to be cooperative," Torra said.
Mark Corrallo, a spokesman for Ashcroft, has previously said Ashcroft was willing to testify but wanted to resolve issues over the timing and scope of his testimony. He could not be reached for comment last night.
The committee has also requested that Christie testify, but Torra said discussions with the Justice Department continue on that matter. (Whelan, Star-Ledger)
Christie apparently will not have to testify.
Judiciary Committee spokeswoman Melanie Roussell said the Justice Department would send a U.S. attorney from Georgia to testify rather than Christie.
"I would like to see both Ashcroft and Christie testify," said (Rep. Frank) Pallone, a Democrat from Long Branch who has proposed legislation tightening oversight on deferred prosecution agreements. "I think you need to have input not only from Ashcroft, the appointed monitor, but from Christie, because we need to know the processes involved in selecting these monitors, the basis and substance of these agreements." (Delli Santi, AP)
Gov. Jon Corzine will propose a budget today that recommends an unprecedented $1.7 billion in "real cuts," including slicing the operations of state government by about $350 million, the acting state treasurer said yesterday.
The budget the Democratic governor will present would cut spending to every one of the 16 state departments — something that has not happened in at least 35 years, acting Treasurer David Rousseau said. He said the $350 million would be cut from the state's "operating budget" of $4.3 billion, which includes state departments, the Legislature and the Judiciary.
The current full state budget is $33.5 billion, and also includes billions for aid to towns, schools, colleges and property tax rebate checks. Rousseau said the budget definitely will be lower than that, but would not reveal the exact number. However, two administration officials said it will be about $33.2 billion. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the full budget won't be presented until today.
Rousseau said the $1.7 billion in cuts must be made to offset areas of the budget that will increase because of contracts, inflation and court-mandated spending.
He confirmed the cuts will be broad-ranging, leading to "targeted layoffs," less money for colleges, hospitals, taxpayer rebates, the pet projects of legislators and municipalities.
"There will be a reduction in municipal aid," Rousseau said. "Municipalities will have to look at doing the same things we're doing. They are going to have to look at tightening their belts, doing things smarter, doing things better." (Donohue and McNichol, Star-Ledger)
Gov. Jon S. Corzine will present a budget today that puts some state government employees out of work and forces local governments to function with less state aid.
The bleak budget proposal outlined by state Department of Treasury officials Monday includes cuts to just about every section of the fiscal plan.
Treasury officials said it could result in no property-tax rebates for households earning more than $150,000 annually. The rebates averaged slightly more than $1,000 last year.
Treasury officials provided no exact numbers or details regarding the cuts, or the total budget amount, saying the fiscal year 2009 spending plan is still being developed. More information will be available today when Corzine presents the budget to a joint session of the Legislature at 11:30 a.m.
"Clearly, there are some areas that will be hit harder," acting state Treasurer David Rousseau said. (Barlas, Press of Atlantic City)
State employees and their allies said yesterday Gov. Corzine's plan to cut as many as 3,500 jobs from the state workforce would ravage state services and the economy.
"If, in fact, the knife is used, state services would be totally gutted," said Sherryl Gordon, executive director of Council 1 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents workers in state mental hospitals. "Those places already are overpopulated. They're already operating at minimum staffing levels to the point where a person or two calling off sick endangers the operation."
While it was not clear yesterday which departments would be hit hardest, Bob Master, spokesman for the Communications Workers of America, said a massive workforce reduction would be "devastating to the quality of public services."
"I think people are living in a fantasy world about how this budget actually works and how it's possible to change it," said Master, whose union represents about 40,000 state workers. (Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Property tax rebates will be cut back, state workers laid off and offered retirement incentives and funding cut for hospitals, municipalities and state colleges under Gov. Jon S. Corzine's state budget proposal to be unveiled Tuesday.
Acting Treasurer David Rousseau said the spending plan will include $3.2 billion in spending cuts as Corzine looks to revamp troubled state finances beginning with the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Corzine had promised to freeze spending at this fiscal year's level of $33.5 billion, but Rousseau said worries about sagging tax revenues led Corzine to go further. Just a freeze would have meant $2.5 billion in spending cuts to offset rising costs.
"This budget will be lower," Rousseau said, although he declined to provide specifics pending Corzine's Tuesday speech to legislators. (Hester, AP)
ARENA WAR: BERGEN VS. ESSEX
A prominent Bergen County official went on the offensive yesterday, accusing Newark of making a "sweetheart deal" with the Prudential Center developers and asking to review the venue's lease and financial records.
The jab came soon after Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo called for the Meadowlands arena to close so Newark's venue will have a better shot at succeeding. DiVincenzo has called together a coalition of Essex County politicians to fight for "The Rock." The group is set to meet tomorrow to form a game plan, he said.
Located within 10 miles of each other, the recently opened Prudential Center in Newark and the 27-year-old Izod Center in the Meadowlands are in hot competition to attract ticket buyers and entertainment acts.
Yesterday, state Sen. Paul Sarlo wrote to the city of Newark and its housing authority, demanding copies of the Prudential Center's records.
"I'm not going to stand by and destroy a successful state asset to benefit a wealthy private investor," Sarlo said, in a reference to Devils team owner Jeff Vanderbeek. "He already has a sweetheart deal in place." (McDermott, Star-Ledger)
DID CORZINE PREDICT IT OR PRAY IT?
Gov. Jon Corzine predicted Sunday that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would win crucial contests in Ohio and Texas on March 4.
Corzine, who strongly supports Clinton, also rejected calls for the New York senator to step down even if she loses to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in those two states or fails to win them by large margins.
The New Jersey governor, who has campaigned for Clinton in the Garden State and elsewhere, served with her when he was in the U.S. Senate.
After losing 11 contests in the past three weeks, the Clinton campaign has focused on winning Texas and Ohio.
Analysts say she needs to beat Obama by as much as 20 percentage points in each state or risk falling so far behind in the number of delegates needed to win the nomination that she would effectively be out of the race.
"She hasn't been doing well in the last three weeks," Corzine said. "But this has been a very volatile primary and caucus season. And I think she and those of us who stand with her believe that she can and will do very well in Texas and Ohio." (Chebium, Gannett)
NO SURPRISE HERE
FLEMINGTON – State Sen. Leonard Lance flattened the other 7th Congressional district primary candidates in his home county tonight ata meeting of theHunterdon County Republicans, and specifically targeted Kate Whitman in his speech to the county committee.
In his most animated remarks so far on the campaign trail, the former minority leader vowed to fight the terrorists and fight the Taliban, and quoted Lincoln’s "America is still the world’s last best hope on earth."
But he also took careful aim in returning fire at Whitman, who had boasted in her speech that she was raising more money than the other candidates.
"With all due respect," Whitman, a Somerset County resident, told her Hunterdon neighbors, "loyalty will not be enough to hold onto that seat." Then she urged then to "abandon that tradition" of voting for the resident county stalwart, in this case Lance.
Making his own case to the room packed with Republicans, Lance said a poll shows him with a double digit advantage over likely Democratic Party nominee Linda Stender, compared to Whitman’s single digit lead. That drew some applause.
"I’m the strongest fiscal conservative in the race," said Lance. "I voted against the pension bod issue, the school pension bond issue. I’m opposed to borrowing in order to monetize. I have a proven record of voting my conscience." (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
YOU HATE ME, YOU REALLY HATE ME
Republican congressional candidate Jack Kelly is featured in an Oscar winning documentary.
But it may not be the kind of attention he wants.
The movie, Freeheld, follows the struggle of Laurel Hester, a former Point Pleasant police officer who was dying of cancer, to leave her pension benefits to her same sex life partner, Stacie Andree.
But the couple faced obstacles from the Ocean County Board of Freeholders, and from Kelly in particular. In the movie, Kelly is shown saying that giving the benefits would violate the sanctity of marriage. Towards the end of the film — after the rest of the board reconsiders and grants pension benefits to same-sex couples — the camera focuses on the empty seat of Kelly, who did not attend the meeting.
Kelly, however, said that he’s not scared that the movie could drum up donations to Democratic candidate John Adler from the gay community should he be the nominee, or adversely affect his race for the Republican nomination against Chris Myers.
“I do not fear that. If it happens, so be it,” said Kelly, who has not seen the movie. “That base is not a traditional Republican base anyway.” (Friedman, PolitckerNJ.com)
FLEMINGTON – U.S. Senate candidate Murray Sabrin stuck to his Ron Paul roots tonight on the issue of Congress’ reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act FISA).
Unlike his fellow Republican primary contestants, Anne Evans Estabrook and State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Morris), Sabrin dug in against FISA, saying, "Government always claims it has special needs. What they need to do to protect us is to get a warrant from a judge."
"I follow the Constitution," added Sabrin, who claims FISA’s allowance of warrant-less wiretapping violates the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
James McCormick insists he didn't know the $3,500 he had wired to a friend's bank account was a bribe – until he suspected that it was.
But when his suspicions were raised was a point of contention during his cross-examination Monday.
McCormick, 50, is on trial for allegedly accepting money in exchange for his vote while on the Pleasantville Board of Education. He is one of five former members arrested in an FBI sting that stretched to the Statehouse. The other four have all pleaded guilty; three have testified against Mc-Cormick in his federal corruption trial that began last week.
On Sept. 12, 2006, McCormick voted in favor of two resolutions: one to oust district insurance broker Curtis Lackland; the other to give the contract to John D'Angelo, who – according to testimony from the convicted board members – was paying them for their support. Unbeknownst to them, D'Angelo was working with the FBI.
After McCormick changed his vote at the meeting Oct. 24, 2006 – reversing both decisions – he says he began receiving threats. One, he testified, was a voicemail he received Nov. 7, 2006, in which the word "bribe" was mentioned. (Cohen, Press of Atlantic City)
WHERE’S THE LINE?
Recent job jumping by veteran Statehouse newspaper staff raises uncomfortable questions about ethics, full disclosure, and the fate of news sources who suddenly find themselves politically vulnerable in the reporter’s afterlife. Over the next week, we’ll pull back the curtain on a century-old conundrum by asking media industry experts where the line should be drawn.
Consider this scenario: A state senator interviews for a job at PSE&G. Between the interview and the offer, the legislator votes on a utility industry-related issue. How would the press treat the story when it’s later learned the senator was resigning to take a fulltime position with the energy company?
To be certain, reporters would scurry to check the legislative code of ethics for an actual or perceived conflict of interest.
But what's the reaction when a reporter goes from covering the Governor to covering for the Governor as his communications director? Since media organizations are not public entities, the do’s and don’ts of reporters’ post-employment codes of conflict are largely unknown. (Holtz, PolitickerNJ.com)
IN MONMOUTH COUNTY
Monmouth County Republican Party Chairman Adam Puharic said Monday night that he has decided to leave it up to convention delegates next month to pick from two candidates — Red Bank Councilman John Curley and Holmdel Mayor Serena DiMaso — for an open county freeholder seat on the party-endorsed ticket in this year's elections.
Either Curley or DiMaso will become incumbent Freeholder Lillian G. Burry's running mate in the June primaries. The party holds a 3-2 edge on the freeholder board and needs to sweep victories in contests for both seats in the November general election to retain control. Republican Freeholder William C. Barham is not seeking re-election.
Puharic's decision, which he announced to about 400 party loyalists at the 45th annual Lincoln Day reception fundraiser at the South Gate Manor restaurant, knocked former Freehold Township Zoning Board member Steven Walsh out of the race. (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)
IN PASSAIC COUNTY
Passaic County Freeholder Terry Duffy said he felt pressured to support a $10 million budget fix because of the county counsel's warning in December of possible criminal charges and a government shutdown.
But exactly what County Counsel William Pascrell III said at the Dec. 11 closed-door meeting is disputed among the freeholders. Meanwhile, Pascrell won't release transcripts and recordings of the meeting, citing attorney-client privilege.
County taxpayers will have to pay back the $10 million, plus interest, in the 2008 tax levy, which has been projected to increase about $25 million. Average cost per property owner will be known when the county's 2008 budget is introduced on March 11.
Duffy said he originally intended to vote against the resolution to borrow $10 million to replace revenue expected from the failed golf course sale. Duffy's opposition would have killed the measure. (Brubaker, Herald News)
SLOWLY, MCCANN CLAWS HIS WAY BACK INTO LOCAL POLITICS
Elected to the Jersey City Board of Education last year – over opposition from Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy and the teachers union – former Mayor Gerald McCann is seeking some measure of revenge.
Eleven candidates, including three incumbents, met yesterday's filing deadline to run for three seats in the April school board election.
McCann is putting his political chips on one incumbent and two newcomers, hoping to unseat two longtime board members: Suzanne T. Mack and former schools superintendent Franklin L. Williams.
"I think it's time for them to move on," McCann said about Mack and Williams, each seeking a fourth three-year term. "They've been on the board for a long time. Nothing has really changed. And neither one of them supported me." (Thornourne, Jersey Journal)
State Attorney General Anne Milgram should reconsider her decision to allow electronic voting machines to be used in the next two elections without a paper verification system, according to two women involved in an Ocean County lawsuit focused on the 2006 municipal election in Barnegat.
Milgram has said she supports a bill that would extend the deadline for having the backup system from June 3 until Jan. 1 because federal testing of a paper verification system for the electronic machines used in New Jersey cannot be completed in time to meet the earlier deadline.
The result will be the use of the machines without the paper verification for the June primary and November presidential elections.
Michele Rosen, Bradley Beach Way, Waretown, and Rose Jackson, Marblehead Place, Barnegat, contend in a prepared release "it makes no sense for the attorney general to acknowledge that need and yet discard the option to order every Board of Elections to use emergency paper ballots until a fully tested voting machine printer is available." (Bennett, Asbury Park Press)
MORE GREAT NEWS FOR NEWSPAPERS
Lawmakers seeking to cut government spending set their sights on newspapers Monday, advancing a bill that would allow legal notices to appear on official Web sites, instead of in print ads.
The Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee unanimously approved the measure, sponsored in part by two South Jersey legislators. The bill would allow the state, counties and municipalities to post many notices online. However, notices required for open public meetings would still have to appear in print.
"The times are changing, and the way we are doing this is out of date, antiquated and costing millions of dollars to taxpayers in this state," said bill sponsor Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald, D-Camden.
Another sponsor, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, called the proposed change "long overdue." (Volpe, Gannett)
NEWSFLASH: BIG BUREAUCRACIES WASTE MONEY
A top state investigator yesterday said wasteful spending is rampant at New Jersey public colleges and universities and urged lawmakers to impose stricter oversight.
Cary Edwards, chairman of the State Commission of Investigation, told the Assembly Higher Education Committee an inquiry found lax financial oversight and paltry accounting rules at the state's public colleges.
Edwards, a former attorney general, said the SCI review found a "wide spectrum of serious problems and weaknesses."
"What we found was more than disturbing," Edwards said. "No one quite understands what's going on at those institutions." (Hester, AP)
APPARENTLY THIS GUY IS RUNNING FOR CONGRESS
FLEMINGTON- After hearing one of his would-be successors refer dismally to his recent re-election struggles, retiring U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson of the 7th district went to the microphone to offer a good-natured rebuttal.
"When I saw Mike Ferguson going down steadily," Dr. A.D. Amar, a professor of business management at Seton Hall University andlow orno-hoper in this GOP primary race, said in his remarks, he felt compelled to get more involved in politics.
"He won with only 3,000 votes," Amar reminded the crowd in Plaza One in Flemington, and there was an uneasy murmuring as people glanced nervously at Ferguson, who stood smiling amid a cluster of other ruffled Republicans.
"Democrats are making huge inroads into the district," said Amar, standing under a portrait of President George W. Bush.
"I am glad George Bush has done such a nice job keeping terrorists out of our country," the candidate said.
Moments later, Ferguson was at the front of the room.
"First of all," the congressman said with a laugh, "my wife is the only one who’s allowed to tell me I’m going downhill." (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
IN THE 9TH DISTRICT
Local Republican legislators have announced their support of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney's proposed legislation that, if made law, would punish business owners who knowing hire and employ illegal immigrants.
Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem, announced the proposal earlier this month. The bill would suspend for 10 days the license of a business owner caught employing illegal immigrants. A second violation would result in a permanent suspension.
"We are pleased that it appears the unscrupulous business practice of hiring illegal aliens could become a priority of the legislative agenda with Majority Leader Sweeney's recent announcement," Connors said in a release."It's time for the state to stop turning a blind eye to this unlawful activity and impose penalties for companies that knowingly hire illegal aliens." (Spahr, Press of Atlantic City)
IN GLOUCESTER COUNTY
School board elections across Gloucester County could shape up to be rather interesting this year, as dozens of newcomers have filed petitions to challenge the incumbents.
Monday was the deadline for interested residents to file petitions with their local board of education. The election will be held April 15, when voters will have a chance to choose their candidates and vote on the school budgets.
For the most part, many current board members and a few former members decided to seek re-election as well.
In Washington Township, Chester Nawoyski is trying to regain a seat after he lost his in the election last year. Nawoyski, who has two children in the district, was appointed in July 2006 to fill an unexpired term.
He said he wants to give it another shot.
"I found it extremely rewarding to serve on the board before, but I didn't have long enough time to accomplish everything I wanted," Nawoyski said. "It's the toughest job you'll ever learn to love." (Beym, Gloucester County Times)
STOP, KIDS — BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!
VINELAND — Three high school seniors are among those vying for seats on local school boards.
Vineland High School seniors Robert Petronglo and Marilee Negron, and Millville Senior High School senior David Gifford turned in nominating petitions to run for the spring election. Petitions were due by 4 p.m. Monday.
Petronglo, who turned 18 in October, was excited to learn other students were as enthusiastic as he is to be part of their community.
"I think it's great that kids are getting involved," Petronglo said. "That's what it's all about, getting involved. That's democracy." (Funderburk, Daily Journal)
IN SALEM COUNTY
SALEM Monday was the deadline for candidates to file for seats on local boards of education in the upcoming April 15 school elections.
Petitions to seek board seats in the county's 13 public school districts were due by 4 p.m. Monday.
Here is a district-by-district rundown of the candidates: (Today’s Sunbeam)