Morning News Digest: February 16, 2009

Harmony still lacking in push for N.J. song

Start with a colorful cast of characters and a modest goal. Then add provincialism and decades of haggling. Now throw in a compromise idea that still leaves some bristling. Finally, mix in fear of a media backlash. (Tamari, Inquirer)

Census shows Garden State growing farmers

Shannon Kilpatrick and her friends were looking for a change, "something more than corporate America, something that we could own and love." Three couples – all white-collar professionals – pursued their dream five years ago by starting Auburn Road Vineyards in Pilesgrove, Salem County. (Colimore, Inquirer)

Marlboro team trounces COAH in resolution

MARLBORO – The self-professed good government tag team of Marlboro Mayor Jon Hornik and GOP rising star turned Democratic Party Hornik-backer Councilman Jeffrey Cantor amped up their anti-Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) effort at last Thursday night’s meeting. Just days after Cantor scrapped the local Republican Party as a band of naysayers and became a Democrat, the Marlboro Township Council on Thursday night voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling on Democratic Party leadership in Trenton to step up and abolish the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). (Pizarro, PolickerNJ)

Friends fear for life of U.N. official with Jersey roots

From his days as a young student in the Demarest public schools in the 1970s, John Solecki seemed destined for a life of adventure and service. The son of a well-known anthropologist who had lived abroad with his family in the Middle East, he showed a deep enthusiasm for other cultures, particularly for such a young man, said Karen Strickholm, a childhood friend in Demarest. (Habe, Star-Ledger)

State Legislature considers cuts to library funding

A recently-introduced state Assembly bill would slash the dedicated tax dollars reserved for libraries, according to a report in The Record. The bill follows the lead of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, which says the current funding formula is outmoded and outpaced by land values that rose during boom years, The Record reported. (Star-Ledger)

NJ Towns Want Their Slice of the Stimulus Pie

There's lots of talk about where federal stimulus money will go in New Jersey and the state's mayors are saying…bring it on! According to the Executive Director of the State League of Municipalities, as of last week 190 towns had put in for $1.8 billion worth of projects. Bill Dressel says towns want funding for projects large and small that will put people to work, generate dollars and off set local property taxes. (NJ101.5)

Bill affects NJ businesses that overpay

Under current state law, public utility companies are required to pay interest on an overpayment by a nonresidential customer if the overpayment is neither fully refunded nor credited within the billing cycles determined to be appropriate by the Board of Public Utilities, but they're only required to do that for residential customers. Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Grace Spencer and Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo would require interest be paid or credited on overpayments by residential and nonresidential customers to public utilities. (NJ101.5)

Libraries facing hefty budget cuts

A movement led by the New Jersey League of Municipalities aims to halve dedicated tax dollars for libraries. A state Assembly bill to that effect was introduced this week. (Yoo, Record)

State bill targets student criminals

When New Jersey students transfer schools, their academic records automatically follow. Their criminal files, however, do not. That may soon change. A bill moving through the Legislature would require school districts to try to obtain the criminal history, if one exists, of new students over the age of 18. (AP)

Audit shows ineffective economic development corporation in Essex

The agency that administers Essex County's federally funded economic initiatives spent $1.6 million to generate just a handful of community development loans and to offer technical assistance to a scant few businesses over six years, a stinging federal audit says. (Read, Star-Ledger)

State Supreme Court considers ban on distributing voter information cards

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey says a state directive banning the group from distributing voter information cards at polling places violates free speech and voter rights. The Attorney General's Office says it is needed to give voters a politics-free haven as they make their way to the polls. (Larini, Star-Ledger)

Park system offers bargain basement rent

The Monmouth County Park System allows 34 department heads and other employees to live in homes owned by the county at below-market monthly rates, continuing a decades-old practice. (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)

Federal grant funds may brighten future for Bridgeton's past

BRIDGETON – Only three municipalities in New Jersey are designated as federal Preserve America towns, and officials in Bridgeton are hoping to make this city the fourth soon. Carola Hartley, executive director of the Bridgeton Main Street Association, said inclusion in the program, which former President George W. Bush signed into law last month, would qualify Bridgeton for as much as $150,000 in grant money for historic and cultural preservation. (Martins, Press of Atlantic City)

A.C. budget would give mayor, staff pay increase

ATLANTIC CITY – Mayor Lorenzo Langford's pledge to lead by example when it comes to fiscal cuts apparently does not include more money for himself and his staff. The mayor's budget proposal to City Council includes a longevity increase of more than $4,000, which represents 4 percent of his $101,785 salary, even though the payment may conflict with resort policy. The proposal also includes raises for his staff that he had promised to rescind and the anticipation of a new deputy mayor slated to make more than $50,000 per year. (Clark, Press of Atlantic City)

Bill may force towns to share

TRENTON It's been proposed over and over, and in these tough economic times, lawmakers are once again looking at consolidating some of the state's 566 towns as a way to cut costs. Legislation that would force two dozen so-called "doughnut hole" towns, those encompassed by another municipality, to either consolidate or share services with the surrounding town is being discussed in Trenton. (Graber, Gloucester County Times)

Bridgeton councilwoman backed for Assembly

Less than a week after Assemblyman Doug Fisher received the governor's nod to become the state's next agriculture secretary, South Jersey Democrats are endorsing a Bridgeton woman to be his successor Ð Bridgeton City Council President Celeste Riley. (Beym, Gloucester County Times)

Manzo, Cassidy, Outlaw ready to rumble

A meeting about two weeks ago with two of former Assemblyman Louis Manzo's at-large council candidates was one of those moments that confirms this opinion that the Jersey City municipal election campaign will be a bit more spirited than usual. Running with Manzo, who wants to unseat Mayor Jerramiah Healy, are former Hudson County Sheriff Joseph Cassidy and ex-Director of Public Works Betty Outlaw, who served the late Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham. (Jersey Journal)

Governor candidates must pick sidekicks

TRENTON — There's more to this year's governor's race than a wealthy incumbent battling a popular former federal prosecutor. For the first time, New Jersey gubernatorial candidates will have running mates. You haven't heard their names because they haven't been chosen. As the June primary election gets closer, candidates will be pressed to name people under consideration for their running mates. (AP)

Bill would transfer students' criminal past

TRENTON — When New Jersey students transfer schools, their academic records automatically follow. Their criminal files, however, do not. That may soon change. A bill moving through the Legislature would require school districts to try to obtain the criminal history, if one exists, of new students over the age of 18. Approved by the Assembly last fall, the measure was passed by a Senate committee Feb. 9. It still needs the full Senate's approval and Gov. Jon Corzine's signature before it becomes law. (AP)

County Dems target GOP strongholds

Democrats have dominated Passaic County politics for a decade, but the party's Passaic County chairman, John Currie, isn't content with the status quo. Currie called a meeting of elected officials and party leaders last Saturday in a Wayne catering hall. The point was to get Democrats revved up to make inroads this year in towns that remain Republican enclaves, Currie said. (Stile)

Capital Games

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ has added another title to his portfolio: chairman of the Housing, Transportation and Community Development Subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee. The new post, announced last week, comes on top of Menendez's other roles: (Jackson, Record)

Bernards assemblywoman fights effects of recession during first term in office

CENTRAL JERSEY —After 13 months in office, Assemblywoman Denise Coyle, R-Bernards, finds herself among 120 state legislators trying to guide the state through a deep national recession among the usual challenges of providing services while holding down spending. (Bricketto, Courier News) Morning News Digest: February 16, 2009