Morning News Digest: March 12, 2009

Gov. Jon Corzine trails Chris Christie by wider margin, poll finds

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine trails Chris Christie, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, by nine percentage points, up from six points in February, according to poll released today. (AP)

Lawmakers defend millions in federal earmarks for N.J.

They range from the tens of thousands of dollars to the tens of millions, funding everything from road construction and after-school programs to beach replenishment and cranberry research. (Mueller, Star-Ledger)

N.J. lobbyists reduce spending on gifts for lawmakers

Undeterred by the slumping economy, lobbyists last year shelled out more than $54 million trying to influence policymakers in Trenton, but the amount spent wining and dining the powerbrokers continued to plunge. (Heininger, Star-Ledger)

Former Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas is charged with taking city funds

Assemblyman Joseph Vas was indicted today on charges that when he was mayor of Perth Amboy he conspired with municipal employees to bill the city for $5,000 worth of clothing, sneakers and other personal items. (Spoto, Haydon)

14 county districts see boost in state aid

TRENTON Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s proposed budget boosts direct school funding by $304 million for the 2009-2010 school year, providing 171 school districts with an average aid increase of 5 percent Ð including half of those in Gloucester County, according to figures released Wednesday. (Graber, Gloucester County Times)

School aid numbers leave some questions

School districts throughout Gloucester County had been holding their breath until Wednesday, waiting for state aid numbers to be released. (Beym, Gloucester County Times)

In Middlesex: ‘rumors have been running rampant’

On hearing the news today of Assemblyman Joe Vas’s (D-Perth Amboy) arrest on bid-rigging charges, Democratic Party players surrounding what was an apparent contest for Vas’s 19th District Assembly seat reacted with little shock – and a mixture of grief and celebration. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Vitale calls on Vas to resign

State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge) today called on his indicted district-mate, Assemblyman Joseph Vas (D-Perth Amboy), to resign. “In light of the variety and extent of the charges, Assemblyman Vas should resign his seat immediately so the people and voters of the 19th Legislative District can have their government serve them in a way that’s unencumbered by these charges,” Vitale told in a phone interview. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Towns may learn fate of aid today

New Jersey towns could learn as early as today how much aid they will get out of Governor Corzine’s new budget, according to a state treasurer who spent Wednesday defending the governor’s latest property tax policies. (Reitmeyer, Record)

‘Double Whammy’ not the risk the GOP fears

The New Jersey Republican Party’s rapid response team scouring through Governor Corzine’s budget plan instantly seized on this line-item — the $959 million “Double Whammy.” (Stile, Record)

Corzine on budget: doing the right thing; GOP: bad decisions

Gov. Corzine framed out the narrative of his reelection campaign this week when he introduced an austere state budget: He said he had long been a man who would choose to do the right thing in tough times. (Burton, Inquirer)

Assemblyman charged with graft

TRENTON – A Democratic leader in the New Jersey Assembly has been charged with public corruption for allegedly abusing his former position as Perth Amboy’s mayor by using city money for personal expenses such as his son’s basketball camps and refreshments served after his father’s funeral. (AP)

Ex-Perth Amboy Mayor Vas facing corruption charges

TRENTON — Longtime Democratic leader and former mayor of Perth Amboy Joseph Vas has been indicted on charges that he rigged an affordable housing lottery for his personal driver and stole thousands from the city recreation department for his own use. The alleged thefts included $1,400 to send his son to basketball camp, sneakers for himself and $289 for refreshments for his father’s funeral. (Serrano and Russell, Courier News)

Poll finds division on rebates in N.J.

Half the voters in a new poll support cutting property tax rebates for nearly all New Jerseyans, and half are opposed. The Quinnipiac University Poll out Wednesday was taken before Gov. Jon S. Corzine proposed saving $500 million by eliminating rebates to residents earning more than $75,000 a year. Rebates to seniors and the disabled would be spared. (Courier-Post)

Labor Department call centers swamped

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — Before she hangs up, Michelle Brooks wishes each caller good luck and reminds them that there is still hope. Things will get better. The bad times won’t last. But from her desk at the state Department of Labor and Workforce’s call center here, she acknowledges that an economic recovery seems far away. (Diamond, APP)

New Jersey seeks to ‘set aside’ laws on beach funding

TRENTON State Treasurer David Rousseau said Wednesday the Corzine administration “will be setting aside those laws” that require the state to fund at least $25 million in beach replenishment and other shore projects. “Why should shore protection — not anything against shore protection — but why should shore protection be held at a higher standard than developmentally disabled?” Rousseau said at a news conference Wednesday. (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)

Morning News Digest: March 12, 2009