Morning News Digest: January 25, 2010

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s date night; Gov. Chris Christie’s mulligan; Senate President Steve Sweeney’s $6,000 party Overjoyed she got to

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s date night; Gov. Chris Christie’s mulligan; Senate President Steve Sweeney’s $6,000 party

Overjoyed she got to bring a date to Tuesday’s inaugural party, Lt. Gov.Kim Guadagno informed the crowd at the Prudential Center it took “an act of the Supreme Court” to let husband Michael Guadagno, a state Superior Court judge, in the door. What she didn’t let on was exactly how complicated that act had been. Judges are not allowed to participate in political events, but Judge Guadagno asked the Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities for permission to attend his wife’s Election Night celebration. The committee said he could go to the morning Mass and afternoon swearing-in, but the evening reception was off limits. That led to a personal intervention by then-incoming Gov. Chris Christie, who is close with Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, a former U.S. Attorney’s Office colleague. Christie reminded Rabner of the event’s importance to the Guadagnos — and had Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) reinforce the message when he saw Rabner at then-Gov. Jon Corzine’s State of the State speech Jan. 12. Rabner told Christie to have Guadagno appeal, and on Jan. 14, he issued a letter on behalf of the high court granting a reprieve. “The upcoming inaugural reception is not a political fundraiser, with all net proceeds going to charity,” Rabner wrote. “We believe that objectively reasonable members of the public would recognize that your attendance is driven by your position as a husband, not a judge.” Winnie Comfort, a spokeswoman for the state judiciary, told The Auditorthat keeping judges nonpolitical is “taken very seriously,” and that Rabner had advised Christie to “use the procedure that’s in place, and frankly works well.” Guadagno said her husband “enjoyed the night.” Will it advise the advisors? On Christie’s first full day as governor Wednesday, he issued eight executive orders. No. 5 said the public would benefit from “an effective and efficient mechanism for the governor to obtain advice” and so created the Council of Economic Advisors. Only problem, according to The Auditor’s research, is the state already has a Council of Economic Advisors dating from the early days of another Republican governor named Christie: Christie Whitman. According to the New Jersey Legislative Manual, the council was created through a 1993 statute and “is a permanent, nonpartisan advisory panel reporting directly and independently to the executive branch of government, the Legislature and the public.” (Star-Ledger)

Obama Moves to Centralize Control Over Party Strategy
President Obama is reconstituting the team that helped him win the White House to counter Republican challenges in the midterm elections and recalibrate after political setbacks that have narrowed his legislative ambitions. (Zeleny/Baker, New York Times

County party fundraising down across the board, but Dems still dominate

Continuing the statewide trend of fundraising declines in 2009, county political parties reported a 28% decrease in money raised from four years ago, according to the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) County parties raised $13.7 million last year — $5.2 million less than they raised in 2005, the last year there was a comparable electoral landscape, with an election for governor while all 40 assembly seats were up. Jeffrey Brindle, the executive director of ELEC, said the totals are down because of a “double whammy” of the bad economy and more restrictive pay-to-play laws. “Donors generally have become stingier due to the financial pinch of the recession,’’ he said. “Moreover, laws intended to discourage political contributions by government contractors have stung most campaign coffers.” Brindle qualified that by noting that donors were also circumventing campaign contribution limits to county parties by donating to newly formed PACs. Democratic county parties raised three times as much as their Republican counterparts, taking in $10.7 million and spending $10.3 million. Republican county parties raised and spend about $3 million. The Bergen County Democratic Organization topped the list of fundraising organizations, taking in and spending approximately $1.7 million. The most cash to a local Republican organization went to the Burlington County Republican Committee, which reported raising $627,887. Democratic organizations from Camden, Essex, Middlesex, Passaic and Union Counties all raised more. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Possible Second Life for Stalled Xanadu Project? Consider Trip to ‘Jersey Shore’

There’s a new governor, Christopher J. Christie, who took office on Tuesday, but otherwise the news from New Jersey last week had that familiar ring. Guy Catrillo, a former Jersey City Council candidate who took $15,000 in bribes, received 18 months in prison in the first sentencing to grow out of the largest public corruption sting in state history. Leonard Kaiser, a longtime North Arlington mayor and a former freeholder and member of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion charges on Thursday in connection with campaign funds converted to personal use. The reality show “Jersey Shore” finished a triumphant season of redefining contemporary courtship etiquette. (Thus saith “The Situation”: “I necessarily didn’t want to bring home any sort of zoo creatures whatsoever. These broads just smelled the food at the house.”) And just when it seemed ready to recede into the New Jersey Turnpike permanent landscape, the Meadowlands Xanadu project resurfaced as the state’s other misbegotten reality show. First the chief executive of the sporting goods-outdoors megastore Cabela’s, the project’s anchor tenant and an indispensable attraction, said it was unlikely ever to open a store there. And on Friday, a report prepared by the Christie administration’s transition team said that Xanadu “appears to be a failed business model” and that New Jersey needs to tell the owners to “open or surrender the property.” It concluded: “There is no leasing plan making material on-site progress. The physical activities of construction are at a standstill, if not abandonment. The construction loan is out of balance. There are no monies readily available to finish construction of public areas or tenant improvements. Most, if not all, of announced major tenants have an ‘escape clause’ solely dependent on leasing — or lack thereof.” Officials with the project say its business model is sound and it has been delayed because two of its lenders went bankrupt. Mr. Christie has been a critic of the stalled $2 billion project. But with a new administration, there will almost certainly be new attention to what can be done to forestall what could be perhaps the worst retail failure ever. (Applebome, New York Times)

Corzine transferred $1M so Assembly could meet its payroll

Despite a budget deficit now projected by Gov. Chris Christie at $1.33 billion, and weeks after detailing $839 million in spending cuts, former Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s administration transferred $1 million to the Legislature in its final week in power to help it make its payroll. Most of the money, $800,000, was directed to the Assembly, which had overspent its salary accounts in 2009, which includes the first six months of the 2010 fiscal year. Twelve Assembly staffers in Trenton are being laid off to help balance the books. The $800,000 transferred Jan. 13 amounts to an 18 percent increase in the Assembly’s salary account. The Senate received $200,000 that day, though its salaries are running under budget and it maintains about $2 million in surplus. “After enacting almost $1 billion in spending cuts to leave the new governor with a $496 million budget surplus, the Corzine administration allotted funds to the Legislature — at the request of the Assembly and Senate leadership,” said Corzine spokesman Joshua Zeitz. “The administration took this measure to ensure that the majority and minority staffs, which are both executing personnel layoffs, would be fully operational in time to work with the new administration,” Zeitz said. Assembly Democrats’ spokesman Tom Hester Jr. said the caucus is eliminating 11 positions to reduce its payroll by $735,000 — six through layoffs and five by not replacing employees who are leaving, cutting the staff to 24 people. “The salary account had been relying on surplus money,” Hester said. “Speaker (Sheila) Oliver and Majority Leader (Joseph) Cryan stopped that and put the budget onto a responsible footing. “The $800,000 will be appropriately and solely devoted to unforeseen General Assembly expenses over the coming years,” Hester said. “This is the proper and responsible approach.” Assembly Republicans’ spokesman Greg Volpe said the GOP caucus is cutting roughly $450,000 worth of salary from its payroll, reducing the professional and secretarial staff from 26 people to 19. The caucus hadn’t been told of the $800,000 transfer. (Symons, Gannett)

Christie to shun ‘schmooze cruise’

He’s too busy. There’s too much to do. And time’s short. That’s Governor Christie’s publicly stated reason for not going on the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce train to Washington this week — an annual four-hour joy ride that combines Jersey politics, business and booze. But being busy is not the whole story. This is more about getting even. Christie wants revenge against two of Trenton’s most influential lobbying groups: the chamber and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. People close to Christie describe it as being in the governor’s “penalty box.” They say the chamber and association kept their distance from him during the year leading up to the election, currying favor with then-Gov. Jon Corzine, betting the Democratic incumbent would win the governor’s race. Bad bet, said Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, a key adviser to Christie who led the Republican’s campaign. “These organizations have shown a lack of political resistance to organized labor, to the [Democratic] majorities in the Legislature, to the partisans in the executive branch and the governor’s office,” Kyrillos said. “Shame on them for caving in to conventional wisdom that the Democrats would continue to control the state. They did not serve their constituency. Now it’s the new world order.” The train has traditionally been a key coming-out appearance for a new governor. Christie declined to talk about his feelings toward the chamber last week when discussing the Thursday morning train ride. He simply said he would not be attending and neither would members of his administration. “We have too much work to do, candidly, to take a couple of days off to go down and schmooze with political folks and business leaders,” Christie told reporters on his second full day in the job. Christie’s problems with the chamber and the association are separate and different in terms of intensity; the fissure with the chamber is far more pronounced. And, to be sure, people in all three camps said the groups are working overtime to try to mend fences. But the fault lines remain noticeable, especially because Christie came to office as a pro-business Republican committed to reducing regulation and luring new companies to the state. (Margolin, The Record)

Christie’s transition team unveils recommendations for the state

Gov. Chris Christie’s transition team today unveiled recommendations intended to guide almost every aspect of state government under the new administration. With Christie promising to cut government spending to close the state’s budget gap, each report includes recommendations for cutbacks, ranging from closing entire facilities to shifting responsibilities. “These reports are full of bold ideas and recommendations for change from a bipartisan group of individuals from the private and public sectors,” Christie said in a statement. “In the coming weeks, my cabinet and I will be consulting with subcommittee members, reviewing each of the reports, and carefully considering these recommendations for improvement and change.” The transition team included 21 subcommittees which compiled 19 reports, each focusing on a different sector of state government. One report analyzing the Treasury said the department has been allowed to deteriorate in recent years, including aging technology and poor management. “The technology deficiencies warrant a massive, multi-year, department-wide and centrally driven modernization effort. The management problems stem from artificial, primarily union-driven constraints which should be directly addressed and/or lifted,” reads the report. “We believe that the management problems are perhaps an even bigger strait-jacket to optimal Treasury function than obsolete technology.” The subcommittee evaluating the departments of Human Services and Children and Families said the state operates far too many inefficient institutions and should consider closing at least one problem psychiatric hospital in South Jersey, two centers for people with developmental disabilities, and privatizing or phase-out other facilities for kids. The team’s report also recommends following through on former Children and Families commissioner Kimberly Ricketts’ proposal to phase-out 18 “regional schools” serving disabled children, teen parents, and children with behavioral problems. Former Gov. Jon Corzine blocked the proposal as part of a deal to protect union jobs. The schools were created 30 years ago when local districts did not have the skills and staff to handle the challenges. “That is not the case today,” the report said. Another subcommittee recommended double-bunking inmates to increase prison capacity by up to 500 beds, reducing the need to purchase space at county jails. The state requested $57 million in the current fiscal year to place inmates in county facilities. (Megerian/Livio, The Record)

Christie report: Xanadu appears to be failure

Xanadu “appears to be a failed business model,” according to a gaming, sports and entertainment report released Friday by Governor Christie’s transition team. Thus, New Jersey needs to tell the owners to “open or surrender the property,” the report says. The group, which includes Atlantic City casino industry chief Joseph Corbo and former New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority President Robert Mulcahy, was led by ex-sports authority Chairman Jon Hanson. The analysis was as blunt and at times as withering as a Christie press conference. But Peter Fair, the chief operating officer of Xanadu, responded pointedly in a statement. “The Xanadu business model is sound,” Fair said. “The project is delayed because two of our lenders went bankrupt. We are in the market procuring an alternative source of financing.” Among the other observations in Hanson’s report: 1) The horse-racing industry’s “business model is broken,” as well. The industry is expected to lose $22 million in 2010. “THE STATUS QUO IS NOT SUSTAINABLE” (sic) the report says, and consolidation of racing statewide is under consideration. 2) A feasibility study regarding the introduction of a NASCAR auto racing track must be considered. 3) A deadline for the Nets to announce a move to Newark from the Meadowlands should be extended until Feb. 28 — which is one day before the Nets are required to inform the National Basketball Association of such a shift. But the report also said, “‘The [Nets] cannot leave the Meadowlands without paying the waiver amount,” referring to a $7.5 million lease-breaking fee that would be due to the sports authority. The report found that six of the 11 Atlantic City casinos are either in bankruptcy or facing major debt restructuring. A greater police presence and removal of blight on the Boardwalk, a greater effort to make the city more than just a gambling destination and better marketing are among the recommendations. Regarding Xanadu, the report found that “there is no leasing plan making material on-site progress. The physical activities of construction are at a standstill, if not abandonment. The construction loan is out of balance. There are no monies readily available to finish construction of public areas or tenant improvements. Most, if not all, of announced major tenants have an “escape clause” solely dependent on leasing — or lack thereof. The report also bluntly criticizes the lack of a specific deadline in the 2003 developer’s agreement by which Xanadu would have to open or be in default. (The Record)

N.J. Assembly poised to hold budget meeting

New Jersey lawmakers are getting an early start on battling the state’s ongoing budget woes. An Assembly panel will gather Monday to hear from David Rosen, the Legislature’s chief budget officer, on what they can expect for the upcoming fiscal year. They’ll also discuss the status of the state’s current budget — including whether the administration of former Gov. Jon Corzine left the state with a budget surplus or deficit — and other fiscal matters. Several local government officials are also expected to attend the Budget Committee’s 10 a.m. hearing in the State House Annex to discuss how the sour state and national economies have affected their budgets and constituents. “We know we have many difficult decisions ahead, including some that people may not like, so we’re going to get to work,” Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said. (AP)

N.J. Senate President Steve Sweeney is other top dog in Trenton

In the few months since his election, we have watched Republican Chris Christie establish himself as the alpha male in Trenton, a fighter who is ready to knock down anyone standing in his way. He called one assemblyman a liar. He says the former governor secretly sabotaged the budget. In a gut punch to Democrats, he issued an executive order last week to choke off union money in politics. He even took the stage and sang Bruce tunes at his inaugural bash. Watching from the sideline is a lesser-known fellow from a poor rural district in South Jersey, Senate President Steve Sweeney. He’s a weight lifter who never attended college, an ironworker and the son of an ironworker, a guy who used to like bar fights even more than chasing women. “I finally grew up,” he says. Prepare for the bully wars. Sweeney, a Democrat, and Christie both like to bang heads with people who challenge them. It’s baked into their genes. And forget about the so-called honeymoon period. This is Jersey. When the history of this period in Trenton is written, much of it will hinge on the relationship between these two men, for good or ill. “That executive order really made me angry,” Sweeney says, referring to the chokehold on union money. “We weren’t told about it, and our Republican colleagues were. That’s not a good start.” The first round in this fight will be about tax cuts for the rich, where both men are already drawing lines. Christie insists that he will cut taxes on incomes over $400,000. Sweeney regards the idea as nuts. “This is where we’re going to make our stand,” Sweeney says. “To give up $1 billion to the wealthy during this budget crisis is just wrong.” Another thing that annoys Sweeney: Christie signed a second order, allowing the casinos to stay open in the event of a government shutdown due to a budget standoff. “Sending a message that you expect a fight is not what’s needed,” Sweeney says. “That’s disappointing.” Sweeney is now the state’s highest-ranking Democrat. As Senate president, he can kill any bill with a wave of his hand, power that he could use to block much of Christie’s agenda. (Moran, Star Ledger)

Christie team releases ‘bold ideas’ for changes

New Jersey should consider installing tolls on some interstate highways and conduct a referendum on raising the gasoline tax, Gov. Christie’s transition team said in reports released yesterday. The team of advisers also recommended merging the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which operates the Atlantic City Expressway, with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which operates the turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. Christie yesterday released the team’s 19 reports analyzing the state’s various agencies, with a goal of reducing spending, increasing revenue, and streamlining government. Among the recommendations were that the state stop subsidizing horse racing and its public television station, and that a sales-tax holiday be enacted to spur consumer spending. The advisers also recommended doing away with the Council on Affordable Housing, which determines how much affordable housing towns and cities must provide. They suggested privatizing the lottery; increasing prison space by double-bunking inmates and diverting nonviolent drug offenders to community programs; and imposing more accountability for the billions in municipal aid that the Department of Community Affairs oversees. They recommended saving $1.35 million by eliminating the Office of the Child Advocate, saying it was an “unnecessary and duplicative oversight.” And the Office of Recreation should be cut, the reports said. The Departments of Human Services and Children and Families, separated in 2006, should be merged, the advisers said. They also recommended that the state close one psychiatric hospital and the 18 regional schools run by the state for children with disabilities, at-risk youths, pregnant teenagers, and teen parents. The Corzine administration attempted to close the 18 schools, but backed down after an outcry from parents and advocates. The reports cited an urgent need to upgrade technology, and decried the impact of civil-service rules on personnel matters. The subcommittee on the Department of Human Services found that the current system “protects poor performers, blocks exceptional workers from moving through the ranks, and impedes management from creating new and needed positions.” Managers who wished to create a new position or title were required to complete a 1,200-point questionnaire, one report said. (Lu/Nussbaum, Inquirer)

Editorial: Gov. Jon Corzine gives former Newark Councilwoman Dana Rone a ‘gift’

On his way out the door, the ex-governor lifted a lifetime ban from office that had been placed on former Newark councilwoman Dana Rone. The move is a setback for a state struggling to sanitize its political image, and it makes Jon Corzine look like a hypocrite. For weeks after a corruption sweep last summer, Corzine distanced himself from the tainted public servants and demanded they resign. Yet now, in one of his final acts, he has restored the ability of a disgraced former public servant to run again. Is the state so desperate for public servants that it has to recycle someone who, given even the limited power of a city councilperson, used it to muscle a rookie Rutgers University cop? Intervening in a traffic stop involving her nephew, Rone turned a routine summons into a circus when three Newark cruisers, carrying ranking officers, had to be summoned to the scene. Rone said she was worried about her nephew’s safety following the shooting of Sean Bell in New York. The rulings of the municipal and appellate courts said, in short: “Baloney.” “She used her position to denigrate the university’s police force,” Appellate Judge Dorothea Wefing wrote. Holding office is a privilege, and Rone forfeited it. The matter had been tidied up by the courts. But now, if Rone decides to run for office again, it will be up to voters to do what Corzine should have done: Tell her to find another hobby. (Star Ledger)

Stile: McNerney has Sarlo’s full support in executive race

Sen. Paul Sarlo admits having pre-campaign jitters about the Bergen County executive race, the marquee political event in North Jersey next year. But he denies that he has been working behind the scenes to knock two-term incumbent Dennis McNerney off the ticket so that Sheriff Leo McGuire or someone else can take his place — a rumor going through Democratic Party circles in Bergen and through the State House halls in the last two weeks. In an interview Friday, the Wood-Ridge Democrat declared that the party is “completely united” behind McNerney, who distributed a letter to Bergen County Democratic Organization officials last week, announcing his intention to run for reelection. McNerney’s letter also included endorsements from dozens of party officials, including Sarlo, McGuire, BCDO Chairman Mike Kasparian, Congressman Steve Rothman of Fair Lawn and others. But Sarlo acknowledged that he has privately expressed to party officials in recent weeks anxieties about the slow start to the McNerney campaign. The historically dysfunctional Bergen GOP’s swift coalescing around the candidacy of Kathleen Donovan, the popular Bergen County clerk, raised the alarm. “I was very outspoken in the past two weeks about getting this campaign started,’’ Sarlo said. “If anybody took that the wrong way, I’m sorry, but my only intent was to get this campaign kicked into high gear recognizing that we know [the] opponent and that their gloves are off.” Sarlo says he also expressed worries that McNerney’s longtime association with convicted former Democratic Party boss Joe Ferriero will make him an easy target for the GOP attack machine. So, Sarlo said, he told party officials that the McNerney campaign should become a Ferriero-free zone. “I made it clear that any operative or any individual who has any ongoing ties to Joe Ferriero, that they should not be involved in this campaign,” Sarlo said. (That precaution could also reflect concerns that the U.S. Supreme Court could very well strike down the “honest services” statute that was used to convict Ferriero. If that happens, Ferriero’s conviction could be overturned and possibly free him up to wield advice on the sideline from his cellphone.) McNerney could not be reached for comment, but his spokesman Brian Hague denied that McNerney began rounding up endorsements to defuse pressure to step aside. “This had less to do with conspiracy theories and more to do with letting the Republicans, especially Kathy, know that he’s the county executive and he’s the guy to beat.” McGuire also reasserted his support for McNerney. (Stile, The Record)

Mulshine: GM’s plan – more cash, more clunkers

First they take my tax money to get clunkers off the road. Then they take my tax money to put more clunkers on the road. That was the news out of Detroit last week. It seems the management of GM, after taking billions from us taxpayers, has decided to stake its future on building more big pickup trucks and SUVs. As for the Obama administration — you know, those guys who spent $3 billion of your money last summer getting people to junk their gas-guzzlers — they’re not objecting to GM’s decision. In reporting last week on the move by GM to stake its future on big trucks like the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra, the Wall Street Journal quoted an anonymous administration official as saying: “The administration has said from the start that we won’t be involved in day-to-day operations of GM or Chrysler, which includes decisions about the styles, colors or sizes of the automobiles sold.” No wonder this guy wanted to stay anonymous. He’s lying. It’s true that the federal government has no say in the styles or colors of automobiles — yet. As for the size, though, the feds have been dictating that ever since 1978, when the Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations took effect. And the result has been disastrous for those of us who prefer cars over trucks. Back before the feds got involved and the free market was at work, people preferred cars over trucks for the simple reason that cars are better than trucks for 99.9 percent of driving needs. But then Congress passed the CAFE regs. The standards were not too onerous at first. The first standard called for both cars and trucks to average about 18 miles per gallon. This made sense. At the time, the average pickup truck weighed no more than the average car. Pickups were lighter then for the simple reason that they lacked such luxuries as captain’s chairs and climate-control systems. Believe it or not, back then, pickup trucks were used to pick up objects, not members of the opposite sex. That changed over the years thanks to buying decisions. I’m not talking about consumers’ decision about cars. I’m talking about automakers’ decisions about congressmen. The Big Three bought enough of them to carve out the so-called “light-truck loophole” in the CAFE regs. By 1990, cars had to average 27.5 mpg while so-called “light trucks” — a category that had grown to include SUVs — could average 20 mpg. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Albright: Census count stands to cost New Jersey a seat in Congress

The federal Census begins April l. And New Jersey won’t like the final tally President Barack Obama will deliver to Congress Jan. 3, 2011. New Jersey is projected to come in 37th in population growth among the states in the last decade. This tally is expected to cost the state a congressional seat and federal aid. By Nov. 15, the legislative Apportionment Commission will be appointed by the Democratic and Republican state chairmen. By June 15 next year, the same group will appoint the members of the Congressional Districting Commission. They’ll draw new lines – including across Hudson County – based on the Census for use this decade. Before then, however, Democrats could have a problem in the Nov. 2 election. Jon Ruynon, a former Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle – now a San Diego Charger – has accepted overtures from Burlington County Republicans to oppose freshman Democratic Congressman John Adler, of Cherry Hill, in the Nov. 2 election. Adler benefited from a bitter GOP primary fight in June 2008, and won the election 94,000 to 92,000 votes, aided by Barack Obama’s coattails. The Eagles are popular in South Jersey. Ex-Eagle Runyon soars. (Albright, Jersey Journal)

Torres: It’s a chilly Massachusetts wind blowing on Menendez

U. S. Sen. Robert Menendez has been anxiously trying to fix a dysfunctional Hudson County Democratic Organization. Now just imagine the level of anxiety following the victory in Massachusetts by Republican Scott Brown in a special Senate election for “the people’s seat.” After the Brown victory, Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, issued a sugarless press statement. He warned that people should not take the Massachusetts special election and extrapolate some meaning that could be applied to the congressional midterm elections in 10 months. Of course, we know they will. The Insider talked to some people with political backgrounds in Hudson County and the state and asked them how the Brown win affects Hudson County. The focus was New Jersey’s own senior U.S. senator and his 2012 re-election bid. The consensus is that under the present voter anger, a Menendez re-election would be in trouble. Polls show the incumbent senator would have close races with former CNN host Lou Dobbs and his old GOP nemesis, Tom Kean Jr. The way voters feel about incumbent politicians, the poll results would not change if the candidate was Gumby. Those who make a living from politics, or who are just junkies, refer to the defeat of Gov. Jon Corzine as a first sign of a coming storm. Massive FBI corruption arrests of political figures this summer was a turbo-boost for the eventual winner, Republican Chris Christie. It would be safe to say that Christie is probably not a Menendez fan. Joe Lauro, who has seen his share of election campaigns, said it is difficult to evaluate a 2012 U.S. Senate race based on today’s noxious political atmosphere. When Obama took the White House, he could do no wrong, and a year later it seems he can’t do anything right, said Lauro. The same could happen to Christie, he said, and the political climate could improve for Menendez. Then again . It will be nice to see Robert at a Jersey Journal editorial board session again, since he will be spending a lot more time than usual in New Jersey over the next two years. By the way, those I talked to said a Massachusetts upset was not needed to see Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s re-election future. Just ask those who will be at Wednesday’s tax protest rally at City Hall. (Torres, Jersey Journal)

Ingle: Hypocrisy, thy name is Corzine (and Roberts)

While Corzine and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts were doing their swan song to sycophant praise from the hangers-on, Corzine had to send $1 million to the Legislature so it could make payroll. Keep in mind this is while Corzine said he was leaving a surplus and bragging about $839 million in spending cuts. My colleague Michael Symons blew the lid off this one. Most of the $1 million in tax money Corzine gave to the Legislature was directed at the Assembly run by Roberts and his pals. Roberts & C o. overspent its salary accounts in 2009 which includes the first six months of the 2010 fiscal year — the budget we’re in now. The $800,000 Corzine kiss to Roberts represents an 18 percent hike in the Assembly’s salary account. What did Roberts do, hand out $5,000 bonuses to be loved?The Senate, then under Dick Codey, got $200,000 that day although salaries there are under budget and the Senate has a $2 million surplus. Assembly Democrat spokesman Tom Hester put it to Roberts: “The salary account had been relying on surplus money. Speaker Oliver and Majority Leader Cryan stopped that and put the budget onto a responsible footing.” Guess that acknowledges Roberts was irresponsible. Greg Volpe, speaking for the Republicans in the Assembly, said the GOP didn’t know about the transfer from Corzine. “We’re concerned at what appears from your information to be another example of then-Gov. Corzine using public dollars for a political bailout when we have a deficit of more than $1 billion.” (Ingle, Gannett)

Ingle: Christie fires shot at Corzine’s union snuggling

His first full day in office, Gov. Christie signed eight executive orders, the most significant being one to bring union committees under the state’s pay-to-play ban. Using his hands in a see-saw like demonstration, Christie said he was leveling the playing field so that one group didn’t have more influence with lawmakers than others. It was a direct shot at former Gov. Corzine, whose kowtowing to union bosses sometimes embarrassed even union members who are, after all, tax-paying voters too. After Jim McGreevey’s “gay American” speech in August ’04, and before he was out the door in November, McGreevey rolled out the pay-to-play ban to get back at party bosses who didn’t support him, but he exempted unions. Since then, things were done to turn McGreevey’s ban into law but unions remained exempt and usually endorsed Democrats. The NJEA is saying it thinks the ban may not apply to the teachers’ union and another state workers union held a brain-storming session to see how it can get more respect from voters. Christie tells them: get a grip, talk to your lawyers and understand change has come. Surprise! Corzine’s administration refused to turn over revenue forecasts during the gubernatorial transition while claiming it was leaving Christie a surplus. Christie said he has discovered forecasts are about $1 billion short of what’s needed this budget year (in addition to the expected minimum $8 billion shortage for the budget year starting July 1). When asked if that news brought the potential of running out of money to pay state workers closer, Christie responded, “Yeah, a billion dollars closer.” Even as Corzine hid the shortfall, his administration sent $121 million to five towns that have come to expect handouts annually — via wire transfer so Christie could not block it. The governor should put those towns on notice that money will be considered an advance on next year’s state help and that said amount will be deducted from what they would have received. (Ingle, Gannett)

McCarthy: A lost bet leads to clean-shaven Sweeney

I wouldn’t exactly call it an extreme makeover, but newly elected Senate President Stephen Sweeney certainly looks different. The top Democrat serving in Trenton decided after 32 years to shave off his trademark moustache. It was not really by choice for Sweeney, who hails from West Deptford and serves the 3rd Legislative District. “I had a bet with a couple of friends,” Sweeney explained this past week. “It was a tall order to become Senate president, but people kept saying there was no way I couldn’t get it.” It was decided eight months ago, he said, that a rise to the top would mean losing the facial fixture. “Everything was so much in the air,” said Sweeney. For Sweeney, who is folliclely challenged, he said its time to go was imminent. “I kept trimming it shorter and shorter because it kept getting whiter and whiter,” he said. “Since I don’t dye my hair — I don’t have hair to dye — eventually, it had to go.” The last time Sweeney was clean-shaven, he was in high school. When Sweeney’s 16-year-old daughter, Lauren, saw the new look for the first time, she was not impressed. “She said, ‘I don’t like it. Put it back,’ ” Sweeney recalled. Tightening the belt. The state Election Law Enforcement Commission issued a report this week that showed statewide fundraising efforts were down last year as compared to 2005. The ELEC report found it was likely because of the recession and new pay-to-play laws – a “double-whammy” for political organizations. In New Jersey, county party committees raised a combined $13.7 million in 2009, a $5.2 million reduction from the $18.9 million raised four years ago. “Fundraising by county committees has decreased by 28 percent since 2005, the last time there was an election for governor and the General Assembly,” said Jeff Brindle, executive director of the state ELEC. “Donors generally have become stingier due to the financial pinch of the recession. Moreover, laws intended to discourage political contributions by government contractors have stung most campaign coffers.” For example, Gloucester County Democrats received just shy of $561,500 last year, which marked a significant drop-off from 2005’s $795,678 that was received. The county’s Republican organization saw a much smaller decrease. They also had significantly less to start. In 2005, the organization brought in $71,407 – compared to $47,947 raised last year. You wouldn’t know there was a problem this year, according to county GOP Chairman Bill Fey, who said a fundraiser earlier this month had 150 supporters in attendance. The effort, which was meant to celebrate the party’s successes in November, brought in just shy of $3,500. (McCarthy, Newhouse) Morning News Digest: January 25, 2010