Morning News Digest: November 17, 2009

Scutari argues that Christie's victory does not alter dynamics of senate leadership One of the last senators to announce publicly

Scutari argues that Christie's victory does not alter dynamics of senate leadership

One of the last senators to announce publicly that he would support Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) for leadership over Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland), state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) today said he intends to stick with Sweeney. "That's not the first time I have heard that, but I don't think it changes my thinking," Scutari said to an argument made by East Orange Mayor Robert Bowser that Democrats should remain with the veteran Codey as senate president to ensure the toughest top legislative negotiator in the coming era of Republican Gov. Chris Christie. "I certainly don't think Steve Sweeney is a poor negotiator and I believe he would do a fine job," Scutari explained. "Senator Codey would do a great job – and has. But with the new governor coming in I think there are real opportunities for change. Senator Sweeney has been a strong advocate for stabilizing our pension system and he will lend credence to our efforts." Scutari is in line to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the senator insisted "that wasn't part of my reflection on leadership. I would be honored to chair the judiciary committee." The Union County-based senator described Codey as "an excellent leader who connected with people personally and professionally in a time of need." (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Bowser to Joe D.: rethink Codey banishment now that GOP in charge of gov's office

East Orange Mayor Robert Boswer today said he believes Chris Christie's victory over Jon Corzine in the governor's race earlier this month should spark Democratic Party senators to reconsider their abandonment of support for Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland). "I don't know what to expect at all from Chris Christie, and probably won't get any kind of clues until the transition team changes the guard, but I do believe Christie's win changes the dynamic for the senate presidency and the same thing for the speaker of the assembly," said Bowser. At last public count, Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has 15 caucus votes to Codey's eight heading into their Nov. 23rd Statehouse confab and presumptive legislative leadership change. In a North for South top-seat swap, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) also has enough votes to win and to succeed Speaker Joe Roberts (D-Camden), according to Democratic Party sources. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

On budget issues, Christie says everything is on the table

After discussing the budget at a meeting with State Treasurer David Rousseau and two officials from the Office of Management and Budget, Gov.-Elect Christopher Christie said his reaction was a "rueful chuckle." And at a press conference today talking about that meeting, the faces of Christie and his two top budget advisors, Richard Bagger and Robert Grady – who were also present at the meeting — were dour. That $8 billion structural deficit we've been talking about for 2011? If things remain the way they are and infusions like the one that came from the federal stimulus for the 2010 budget are not repeated, the men said, that's "the low end of the range." Moreover, the revenue projections for the 2010 budget, which were about $190 million short in the first quarter, are set to continue to come in below projections, while there are expected to be supplemental needs in agencies that will increase spending. "If you add together the fact that revenues are continuing to come in light and there are supplemental needs, it's clear that we will have a problem in Fiscal 2010 that will need to be addressed," said Grady to a room packed shoulder-to-shoulder with a few dozen reporters and cameramen. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Editorial: Governor James E McGreevey reconsidered

Five years after Gov. James E. McGreevey resigned, we are seeing the first attempts to restore his battered reputation. And about half of it makes sense. New Jeseyans tend to remember McGreevey as a deceptive little weasel who borrowed the state into a gigantic hole, a guy who hired his gay boyfriend for a homeland security job for which he was not remotely qualified. All true. McGreevey made it worse when he tried to spin this as a matter of homosexual rights, a story line that some in the national press swallowed. Please. Gay people don’t bother most of us in New Jersey. Our problem is lying politicians who waste our money. Okay, once you vent the spleen, it is possible to remember the other side of McGreevey, as described in The Sunday Star-Ledger by Eric Shuffler, one of his senior aides. McGreevey signed the Highlands Act, the most ambitious piece of environmental legislation in a generation. The act is imperfect, but it does save one of the state’s most beautiful regions and the abundant clean water that lies below. He revamped the auto insurance regulations to finally contain premium increases. He removed some of the toll booths on the Garden State Parkway and fixed an E-ZPass system that was a mess. He even managed to end the Kafka-like nightmare at the state’s motor vehicle offices. He built quality preschools in the state’s poorest districts, hiring smart people to ensure that teachers were well trained and classes small. (Star Ledger)

N.J. Gov.-elect Christie transition team says budget problems are worse than expected

Gov.-elect Chris Christie and his team got their first hands-on look at New Jersey’s already bleak state finances today and he says it’s even worse than he realized. "We did not get any pleasant news this morning from the Treasurer’s Office, not that I expected to, but more unpleasant, perhaps, than we had hoped," Christie said. State finances are "undoubtedly New Jersey’s most serious problem," he said. The governor-elect and two men he named to a special transition task force on taxes and the state budget spoke publicly after a three-hour meeting with budget officials from Gov. Jon Corzine’s administration. Today's appearance was Christie’s first news conference in Trenton since he defeated Corzine by about 100,000 votes on Nov. 3. But Christie, who campaigned against Corzine by stressing the state’s high taxes and budget problems, also said he’s optimistic he’ll be able to repair the health of state finances in four years — something Corzine was unable to do. Christie declined to offer specifics about how he’s planning to address the fiscal problems, saying he is still gathering information. (Reitmeyer, Star Ledger)

Former Sen. Congilio reports to Pennsylvania prison

Former New Jersey state Sen. Joseph Coniglio has reported to a federal prison camp in Pennsylvania to begin serving a 2 1/2-year sentence for influence-peddling. The 66-year-old Coniglio arrived at the federal facility in Lewisburg shortly before 9:30 a.m. today. The Paramus Democrat was accused of using his role on the powerful Senate Budget Committee to channel millions of dollars in public funds to Hackensack University Medical Center in exchange for a $5,000-a-month consulting fee. The former plumber was convicted April 17 of mail fraud and extortion. He served in the state Senate from 2002 to 2007. Coniglio is the third former Senate Budget Committee member to be convicted of corruption in the last two years. (AP)

N.J. unveils online searchable database for campaign contributions in effort to strengthen pay-to-play rules

Anyone with a computer and internet service now can easily track how their local and county politicians get campaign money, including any companies they hire to perform taxpayer-funded government work. Through a searchable database the Election Law Enforcement Commission unveiled today, people can view the contributions individuals and companies make. Previously, contributions to local candidates could be accessed only by sifting through candidates’ individual reports and looking for donors’ names. Jeffrey Brindle, ELEC’s executive director, said the tool is part of the office’s mission to provide "the fullest possible disclosure of candidate fundraising." He said more complete disclosure of contributions also will enhance pay-to-play enforcement. Reforms in recent years have resulted in strong state-level restrictions on pay-to-play, the practice of using political contributions from government contractors to help fund the campaigns of politicians who have the authority to award taxpayer-funded work. But restrictions are either too weak or not in place at the county and local level, and the commission also had not focused much on that level of government. (Graber, Star Ledger)

Stile: ELEC goes on offense in war on pay-to-play

The Election Law Enforcement Commission number crunchers and lawyers toiling for years with skimpy budgets and creaky software and in a building more suited for private detective agencies did something Monday I thought I would never live to see. They flexed some investigative muscle — in public. Instead of waiting for marching orders from an indifferent, spineless Legislature, ELEC wonks took the offensive in the war on pay-to-play corruption. It was no longer the low-key agency of rarely read "white papers" (required reading for insomniacs), but a low-key agency of rarely read white papers — with a little edge. In a rare news conference, the agency unveiled a new searchable database that will let reporters, government officials, gadflies, voters, and just about anyone with a computer to track contributions to county and municipal campaigns. Put simply, it just got a lot easier to find out which government contractors financed the campaigns of your mayor and council. The public can now track them — and during the heat of a campaign — with a few keystrokes. (Stile, The Record)

Law allows N.J. to collect unclaimed slot winnings from Atlantic City casinos

New Jersey may have found another way to bring in some money. The state Casino Control Commission last week approved a law to require winnings from slot machines and keno in the Atlantic City casinos be collected in one year. After that, the money belongs to the casinos and the state. Officials said there are $12.4 million in unclaimed winnings — much of it in very small amounts, often under $1. The first deadline to collect is April 8 for all winnings more than a year old. After that, the vouchers will be good for a year after they're issued. The rules apply only to slot machines and keno, not to other games of chance. The state and casinos are each to get a share of unclaimed winnings. (AP)

Morning News Digest: November 17, 2009