Morning News Digest: February 15, 2010

Richard Constable for Essex County Prosecutor?; Gov. Chris Christie’s press honeymoon ends; Recalling Sen. Bob Menendez 

Around the courthouses and law offices in Newark, the talk of late has focused on Richard Constable. The well-regarded assistant U.S. attorney in the federal prosecutor’s corruption unit was, according to the rumor mill, Gov. Chris Christie ’s choice for Essex County prosecutor. But The Auditor is told the rumors about Constable — who is not a member of the New Jersey Bar — are not true. Constable, 37, is an Orange resident and a favorite of Christie, the former U.S. attorney. And he is going to work for governor — but in Trenton, not Newark. Beginning next month, Constable will be deputy labor commissioner. He will start the job right after taking the New Jersey Bar exam. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said “our intention all along was for Rich to go to the Labor Department. People can talk all they want but the rumors are not true 
. . . the only grand plan is to get Rich here and working with us. We’re very happy to have him.” Constable declined to comment. Quoteful, but nameless Christie came to office talking about the need for more transparency, government openness, accessibility and the like. And he has offered quite a bit of red meat to the media, which thrives on fresh quotes and soundbites. But alas, the press honeymoon took a bit of a hit on Thursday after the governor delivered his dramatic budget address to the Legislature. At a session called for reporters to drill down on the details of Christie’s budget fixes, his press handlers tried tightening the leash. They insisted — in fine Washington fashion — reporters could not use tape recorders during the spin session and could not identify the “administraton officials” doing the spinning. It didn’t play well on press row. Two dozen reporters hollered at each press aide who entered the Statehouse conference room to deal with the rebellion. Reporters reminded the governor’s gang that a similar play was made — and quickly shelved — in 2002 by then-rookie Gov. Jim McGreevey, and questioned Christie’s commitment to openness. A Christie aide threatened to cancel the briefing altogether if the press didn’t play nice (something that would truly be unprecedented in Trenton). Eventually, reporters were allowed to record but still had to keep the officials’ names a secret. Drewniak, a former Star-Ledger reporter himself, told the press: “Having been in your shoes, I get it 100 percent.” But he was insistent. “We relent on recording, but . . . the attribution agreement must stay in place. ‘Administration officials.’ You’re going to have to just go with it today. Maybe we’ll change things going forward. But that is the plan for today . . . We can just do this now, or we can not do it. I’m not kidding.” (Star Ledger) 

http://blog.nj.com/njv_auditor/2010/02/richard_constable_for_essex_co.html 

Larsen launches GOP Primary bid against Lance 

He drives a Ford Expedition with 240,000 miles on it, which he calls “Moose,” owns a .16 gauge shotgun and a .30-06 – for deer hunting – and when he grips the hand of a supporter at his campaign kickoff at the Oldwick Volunteer Firehouse, the other man’s face crinkles into a broad grin at the feel of calluses on the hands of David Larsen, owner of a windows and doors business, and a candidate for U.S. Congress. 

”I would never have guessed just a few years ago that I would be here tonight, making this announcement, making this commitment,” declared Larsen, standing at a podium Friday night in the belly of the station house in front of a modest but animated crowd of 50 people.

”I also don’t think any of us could have predicted just a few years ago the challenges we would face as a nation or how our politicians would react to these challenges and how thoroughly they would disappoint us,” added the candidate, whose businessman’s Obama era outrage spills into his own party.

The GOP object of this long-shot, Tea Party-affiliate’s disappointment is incumbent U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton), who served for three decades at the Statehouse before gritting through a Republican Primary in 2008 and then beating Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Fanwood) 51%-41% in the 7th District general election. The moderate, pro-choice Lance’s victory over Stender came two years after Stender had come within two points of upending the more conservative, pro-life former U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson.

”But the times have changed,” said Larsen.

A month after a nobody named Scott Brown drop-kicked the Democratic Party U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts to win the late Ted Kennedy’s seat, Larsen’s Republican Primary compare-and-contrast campaign war cry provoked a standing ovation at the end of his roughly 15-minute address.
 
The Brown-like gist of it is that Lance, son of a politician, has himself been a politician all of his adult life and consequently cocooned himself outside of the experience of most of the district’s residents; while Larsen, the son of Norwegian immigrants who emerged from a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, started his own business at 20 and grew it big enough to employee hundreds of people through the years, make plenty of money and move to Oldwick around 15 years ago – knows the Route 22 terrain of everyman.
 
Even if he owns what he describes as a “gentleman’s farm” in Tewksbury, where he raises American quarter horses, he did it the Horatio Alger way, explained one supporter in attendance at the firehouse last night, and has the requisite grease and spackle dust under his fingernails to play in Union and Middlesex, and simultaneously just enough dirt and saddle sweat under the nails to harness votes in Somerset and Hunterdon.

”I am not a politician, having been an entrepreneur all of my life,” said Larsen, married with three daughters. “I am not a Harvard MBA or lawyer, and I never worked for a big Wall Street firm. I have no ties and owe no favors to big business, so I have no political obligations, nor do I want them. …A few years ago, I may have considered this to be a handicap for someone who would pursue a political office. I no longer feel that way. I felt this way because, like many, I thought the answer to our problems was to elect ‘good’ politicians.’ 
(Pizarro, PolitickerNJ) 

http://www.politickernj.com/max/36849/larsen-launches-gop-primary-bid-against-lance 

Bergen Dems face prospect of a competitive convention 

For the first time in recent memory, it is possible that the Bergen County Democratic convention – set this year for Thursday, Feb. 25 — will not have a predetermined outcome. 

There are eight Democratic candidates seeking three freeholder seats, including incumbents James Carroll and Elizabeth Calabrese, who are not expected to have any trouble winning the party nod. But there are six non-incumbents who want to replace retiring incumbent Tomas Padilla: former Freeholder Julie O’Brien, Northvale Mayor John Hogan, Westwood Mayor John Birkner, Maywood Mayor Tim Eustace, former Ridgefield Councilman Rob Kovic, Bergen County College Trustee Cid Wilson, Dr. Pargellan McCall, a retired NJCU professor, and Cliffside Park Green Committee Chairman Sebastian Belfon. 

Some – like Hogan, O’Brien and Birkner – are considered more likely to win than others. But even though Hogan appears to have the endorsement of county Democratic chairman Michael Kasparian, according to four people with knowledge of the internal party machinations, there is no clear favorite. Sheriff Leo McGuire and County Executive Dennis McNerney are not facing any intra-party challenges yet.

Under the regime of former Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero, that rarely happened — save for the special election convention for state senate in District 37. Conventions were a mere formality. Ferriero made a choice and most of the county committee members abided by it.

”When was the last time it happened that we even had candidates that numbered more than the positions that were open?” said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck). “That’s what Ferriero used to do more than anything else, just talk people out of running so there was no competition at the convention.”

But, both by design and circumstance, Kasparian does not run the party like Ferriero, who resigned several months after his indictment on corruption charges. 

”I came in by saying that I thought the process needed to be more transparent, I thought the process needed to be more accessible to those who are not necessarily party insiders, and I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing,” he said in a phone interview.

Kasparian also denied supporting Hogan over any other candidates. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ) 

http://www.politickernj.com/matt-friedman/36842/bergen-dems-face-prospect-competitive-convention 

Star-Ledger acknowledges OPRA lawsuit against sports authority 

A lawsuit filed by the Star-Ledger against the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA) seeking the release of certain contracts for public inspection got a boost yesterday from U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson), who wrote directly to concert promoter Live Nation requesting that they release their contracts with authority. The newspaper is alleging that the NJSEA is not fulfilling their obligation under the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

A Star-Ledger report today acknowledged their legal action against the NJSEA for the first time, and revealed that “depositions taken as part of the lawsuit have revealed that the authority entered into a written incentive agreement about two years ago with Live Nation to make sure it kept booking acts in the Meadowlands.” “Several promoters in certifications made to the court at the behest of the sports authority claimed release of their contracts with the authority would put them at a competitive disadvantage,” Star-Ledger reporter Ted Sherman wrote. “Yet contracts with those same promoters with other public venues around the country were quickly released under public records requests made by The Star-Ledger.”

In a letter to Irving Azoff, the chairman of the Live Nation/Ticketmaster company, Pascrell said that as a state agency, the NJSEA “has a responsibility to the taxpayers of New Jersey, especially in light of recent reports that the NJSEA may need to seek several million dollars in aid from the state in order to stay afloat.”
 (Editor, PolitickerNJ) 

http://www.politickernj.com/editor/36823/star-ledger-acknowledges-opra-lawsuit-against-sports-authority 

N.J. Democrats take aim at Gov. Christie’s cuts to NJ Transit, school funding 

With Gov. Chris Christie defending his decision to invoke emergency powers to balance the current state budget, Democratic lawmakers today dug in their heels against cuts to local school districts and NJ Transit. Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature scheduled a pair of public hearings next week on Christie’s plans, which he enacted by executive order, claiming a fiscal “emergency.” While it is doubtful they can stop anything, Democrats said they wanted to bring “transparency” to the moves, and will take testimony in hearings on the full plan and NJ Transit cuts. “Governor Christie’s ill-advised plan steers New Jerseyans toward property tax increases, potential hospital closures and the possibility of higher tuition and transit fares that are no different than tax hikes,” said Assembly budget chairman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), whose committee will convene on Wednesday. “Governor Christie may not want this plan to undergo public scrutiny, but that’s what the public expects and deserves.” In radio appearances today, Christie said the fixes he announced Thursday are the best way to dig New Jersey out of a $2.2 billion deficit in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
”I’m not a dictator,” Christie said. “What the people of New Jersey hired me to do was to go down there and get this under control.” Christie’s plan includes cuts to higher education, hospitals and NJ Transit. It seeks to save $475 million by freezing aid to more than 500 school districts to force them to spend down their surpluses. Christie said the cuts would not hit the classroom or property taxpayers “at all, if their school boards are acting responsibly.” Senate President Stephen Sweeney objected to forcing schools to spend surplus when the state has a $500 million cushion left in the bank. “An executive order wasn’t necessary, to start with, but the biggest problem, honestly, is why aren’t we touching our rainy day fund first? …It’s easy to go after someone else’s money. We need to do ours first,” Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said in his own radio appearance. Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), who will hold a hearing on the $32.7 million NJ Transit cut Thursday, said it “may well equate to a hefty tax increase on lower- and middle-class New Jerseyans who have no other choice but to rely on NJ Transit to get to work.” Christie defended the cut, calling NJ Transit a “political patronage pit” that can cut costs before passing them on as fare hikes. (Heininger, Star Ledger) 

 http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/02/nj_democrats_take_aim_at_gov_c.html 

N.J. Gov. Christie’s administration of tough ex-prosecutors must deal with nuance of government 

When he became governor, Jim McGreevey brought his allies from Woodbridge, where he had been a popular mayor. Then Jon Corzine, the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, recruited Wall Street brains to make Trenton more businesslike. Neither had the magic fix. Now Chris Christie is taking a shot at enlisting a crew of “outsiders” from his old work world to help fulfill a campaign vow to shake up state government. The Republican governor, a former federal prosecutor, is practically building a Statehouse branch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. With his cabinet and senior staff nearly complete, he has surrounded himself with former prosecutors. Some of them are in places that appear to have little to do with law enforcement but that, Christie says, need fiscal scrutiny, such as the Schools Development Authority and the Department of Community Affairs. His lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, is another former prosecutor. All told, Christie has hired or retained at least 15 ex-prosecutors for the top echelon of his administration, as well as bringing in a handful of staffers from his former office. The prosecutors, some with experience in other fields, are joined by experts in areas like health and finance. While Christie’s hires have mostly drawn praise for their individual qualifications, critics argue that politics requires more compromise than sending bad guys to jail does. Others caution that voters have seen swaggering outsiders stumble before. “Those efforts in the past have met with decidedly mixed success, because state government in New Jersey is the kind of thing everyone thinks they can do until they get there,” said Ben Dworkin, a political scientist at Rider University. “Government requires subtlety and communication and persuasion and empathy and creativity. And anytime a new group of people think they’ve got all the answers, it’s almost always proven that they don’t.” Asked recently why his change agents would meet a better fate than Corzine’s or McGreevey’s, the governor said it’s a simple case of Follow the Leader. (Heininger, Star Ledger) 

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/02/chris_christie_governor_budget.html 

N.J. freeholder boards withhold dues from Association of Counties over agency’s spending 

Some freeholder boards across the state are withholding dues to the state Association of Counties, concerned about “excessive’’ pay and benefits to its executive director and staff, plus a lack of accountability about spending of agency funds. They are upset about Celeste Carpiano’s $205,000 salary, which rose from $133,000 since 2003, plus a luxury car she leases, and oversight of the group’s nonprofit educational foundation. Also, some freeholders are unhappy NJAC employees are enrolled in the state’s overburdened pension system. The Morris County freeholders this week passed a resolution to withhold the county’s dues of $10,000 pending an independent audit of the agency. They want cuts in pay and benefits to NJAC’s director and staff, and want the lobbying organization streamlined.
”NJAC is worthwhile. It gives counties a voice in Trenton,’’ said Morris County Freeholder Douglas Cabana, past NJAC president. “But I believe some drastic reforms are needed.’’ Morris County’s resolution was sent to freeholders and Constitutional officers, including county clerks, surrogates and sheriffs, statewide, seeking support. It got mixed reviews. Freeholder boards in Sussex and Warren counties are joining with Morris to withhold dues, while Cumberland County officials have been very critical of the NJAC operation. “I’m livid about what’s happening,’’ said Warren County Freeholder Director Richard Gardner, who wants Carpiano to resign. “She has certainly padded her pocketbook.’’ (Ragonese, Star Ledger) 

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/02/nj_freeholder_boards_withhold.html 

McCarthy: ELEC report finds big money in 2009 campaigns 

Elections are always said to be about money. The candidates with the most money usually have the better chance of winning. Despite the nation’s economic crisis, candidates in New Jersey did not have trouble raising a lot of money for their campaigns, an analysis by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission found. For example, fundraising efforts by candidates for county offices topped the $200,000 mark in 12 cases this past year. One of those was Gloucester County, which collected some $388,000, according to the ELEC report. Nearly all of those funds were also disbursed. The county ranked No. 7 on the list. Municipal races showed similar contribution results, including Deptford Township, which was one of 21 towns to top the $100,000 mark for the recent election. Five municipalities, including Gloucester Township, topped the $200,000 plateau. ELEC has decided to make these local contribution reports easily accessible on its Web site for the public to review, according to Executive Director Jeff Brindle. “Hopefully, the availability of this information will help citizens become more actively engaged in their communities,” said Brindle. “Enlightened citizens make the best citizens.” Reports can be viewed by going to: http://www.elec.state.nj.us/publicinformation/searchdatabase.htm Keeping the pace. Freshman Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco continues to introduce bills geared toward transparency in government. DiCicco has talked about these bills since taking office in January. Specifically, they look to better inform property taxpayers about the appeals process, require public comment at open public meetings and require adopted local budgets to be available for public inspection. “Everyone, at all levels of government needs to be more clear, transparent and direct in how we communicate with the people we serve,” said DiCicco, R-4, of Franklin Township. “These three pieces of legislation will give a voice to a public that for far too long has been ignored.” Let’s see if the first-time legislator can keep up the pace while he serves his constituents in Trenton. (McCarthy, Newhouse) 

http://www.nj.com/gloucester/voices/index.ssf/2010/02/pete_mccarthy_elec_report_find.html 

Stile: Christie budget speech provokes howls — just as desired 

Governor Christie’s “emergency” budget speech on Thursday included this one inaccurate prediction: “The defenders of the status quo will start chattering as soon as I leave this chamber,” he said. They didn’t chatter. They howled. “Three weeks into his administration, all we know so far about the governor’s budget priorities are that they consist of an income tax cut for millionaires and a property tax increase for everyone else,” complained Sen. Paul Sarlo of Wood-Ridge, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Christie’s speech was as much a strategic political provocation as it was a strategy to close a $2 billion shortfall in the current state budget. He successfully goaded Democrats into a wartime footing. Democrats sat as his polite, glum audience during the speech and became his foil the instant he left. The Democrats followed of a time-honored Trenton tradition of acting as the loyal, critical opposition, which suited the Christie scheme just fine. The same hand he extended to Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver in a grand gesture of bipartisan cooperation at his inauguration can now point an angry finger of blame at the duo and their members. They will soon be depicted as the intransigent, parochial enemies of change. “They’ll say the problems are not that bad; listen to me, I can spare you the pain and sacrifice. We know this is simply not true. New Jersey has been steaming toward financial disaster for years due to that kind of attitude,” Christie said. Patrick Murray, the Monmouth University pollster who watched the speech, said it was a bold step and let Christie appear that he is controlling the debate. “People know that there has to be an enemy in the process,” Murray said. “If it looks like the Democrats are defending the status quo, then they are part of the problem.” Christie signaled earlier this week that the bipartisan cordiality was about to come crashing down. He kept the Democrats in the dark over the speech details until Wednesday night, when a cursory summary was provided to Sweeney and Oliver in a five-minute conference call. Details were expected to follow the next morning in an 8 a.m. e-mail that didn’t arrive until closer to 9:30 a.m., an hour before the speech. Democrats also fumed over Christie’s executive order, his 14th in four weeks, which he’ll use to carry out bold budget-balancing measures, including a $475 million cut in school aid and a $12 million cut in reimbursements to hospitals for treating uninsured patients. Some Democrats began hinting that Christie has a Napoleonic streak, using executive orders to bypass the Legislature, where Democrats maintain majority control. (Stile, The Record) 

http://www.northjersey.com/news/politics/political_stile/84204522_Speech_provokes_howls___just_as_desired.html 

Stile: State senator says Bergen GOP chief looking out for ‘cronies’ 

Soon-to-be ousted Republican Bergen County Board of Elections Chairman Peter Incardone now has some unlikely supporters in his corner — two powerful Democratic senators. Sen. Paul Sarlo of Wood-Ridge says he is writing Governor Christie urging him to reappoint Incardone instead of Richard Miller of Cliffside Park, who has been recommended by Bergen County Republican Organization Chairman Bob Yudin as Incardone’s replacement. Sarlo said Sen. Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck has also agreed to sign the letter, although Weinberg said Friday that she wanted to first see the actual letter before doing so. “In the 20-plus years of service he has done an admirable job in overseeing elections here in Bergen County,” Sarlo said of Incardone, a retired college professor who was Wood-Ridge mayor “when I was in grammar school,” Sarlo said. Sarlo also criticized Yudin for playing “boss politics” by rewarding Miller, the BCRO’s Legislative District 38 leader and a member of Yudin’s close circle of advisers, and punishing Incardone, an ally of Yudin’s longtime intra-party foe, Bergen County Clerk Kathleen Donovan. “This is not a place for Bob Yudin to stick his political cronies,” said Sarlo, who then went on to challenge Christie. “With his tough rhetoric about political patronage, well here is the perfect opportunity for him to say ‘no’ to political bosses.” Yudin said Sarlo’s letter and remarks are “so ludicrous that it defies description.” He accused both senators of “sticking their nose” into internal party affairs — election board commissioners are selected by county party leaders and then referred to the governor for appointment. The board is comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats, with the chairman’s seat awarded to the member with the most seniority. Incardone’s two-year appointment expires March 1. “This is an attempt by these two bosses of bosses to interfere in the process,” Yudin fumed. He also said it was the height of hypocrisy for the dual-office holder Sarlo — who is also the Wood-Ridge mayor — to defend Incardone, whom he called a “classic” double-dipper. Incardone’s $20,000-a-year seat on the election board is his only public job, but he draws a pension from his career as Jersey City College professor and stands to draw a small pension for election board work. “Talk about the kettle calling the pot black,” Yudin said. Yudin, who is up for reelection as chairman in June, said Sarlo’s attack “tells me how effective I’ve been. … I’m really honored. I must have really rattled their cages.” He also predicted that Christie will ignore their request. “I am willing to take odds that Governor Christie will have the biggest laugh of the day when he gets this letter,” he said. (Stile, The Record) 

http://www.northjersey.com/news/politics/political_stile/84328437_Senator_says_BCRO_chief_looking_out_for__cronies_.html 

Mulshine: Gov. Chris Christie fires the first shot in what will be a long war 

They used to call singer Mel Torme “the Velvet Fog.” But after yesterday, I’m ready to hand that nickname to Bret Schundler. The former Jersey City mayor and unsuccessful 2001 Republican gubernatorial nominee is the new state education commissioner. In that role he was left to explain away $560 million in school-aid cuts after Gov. Chris Christie had finished telling a joint session of the Legislature that the state faces a fiscal emergency. Most of the education savings will be attained by forcing school boards to use up surpluses in their budgets. When Democrats have tried this trick in the past, the Republicans charged that it was a property tax increase in disguise. Those surpluses should be used to reduce the next year’s tax bill, they said. That was a good argument back then. So how did Schundler defend against it when the Democrats were pushing the exact same line of reasoning? “We’ll give them tools to avoid tax hikes,” Schundler said of the school boards. It sounded nice, like a trip to Home Depot. But you can buy a screwdriver in one aisle and a chainsaw a few aisles over. Schundler didn’t say which tool he was recommending. And with Schundler, the press doesn’t want to get him started anyway. Ask a question and you get a dissertation. That’s not a bad way to handle the critics the administration will meet in the long battle that began with yesterday’s skirmish. The teachers’ unions don’t want to confront the unpleasant reality that there simply is no more revenue available for their endless “breathing bonuses.” That unflattering term for longevity pay comes from the leader of the loyal opposition, Senate President Steve Sweeney. The Democrat from South Jersey enraged the public employee unions a few years ago when he employed that term during Jon Corzine’s failed effort to deal with property taxes. Yesterday, Christie alluded to the climax of that battle when he told the legislators, “unlike in the past when you stood up and did what was right, this governor will not pull the rug out from under you.” It was an obvious reference to Corzine’s infamous letter to legislative leaders in 2007 informing them that he was going to ignore the reforms they had worked on for months. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

http://blog.nj.com/njv_paul_mulshine/2010/02/gov_chris_christie_fires_the_f.html

Star Ledger Editorial: Gov. Chris Christie’s bully budget

The inconvenient truth behind Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to cut state spending is this: We don’t have much choice. If we don’t act now, checks written by the State of New Jersey will start to bounce in a few months. It’s that bad. But Christie seems to think his blueprint is a sacred scroll. He claims imperial powers for himself and says he needs no consent from the Legislature. The lawyers are arguing about that now, and it could wind up in court. But even if the governor is right on the law, he is wrong on the politics. He insulted Democratic leaders by failing to consult them, showing an arrogant streak that crippled the governorships of both Jon Corzine and Christie Whitman. Let’s hope he regains his footing soon. In the meantime, Democrats plan to hold hearings on this proposal, as they must. So let’s take a look at the key questions. Christie claims a budget gap of $2.2 billion. His biggest move is to cut education aid by more than $500 million. He wants to target districts that are carrying large surpluses in hopes they won’t have to cut programs or raise property taxes this year to cope. That seems like a sensible approach. No doubt, these districts will feel the pinch next year because they will build budgets without a starting surplus. But they will at least have time to adjust. An across-the-board cut would have forced rushed layoffs. Frank Beluscio of the New Jersey School Boards Association puts it this way: “We don’t like it, but we know the governor has limited options, and this is not the worst-case scenario.” Still, Democrats need to look at the details, Because the hit to some districts seems unreasonable. Union City, a poor urban district, is a shining success story where elementary students are outperforming the state average. Because the district set aside money in preparation for hard times, its aid will be cut by $30 million, one of the steepest cuts in the state. That seems wrong. Democrats should also look at the loss of federal matching grants. On health care, for example, Christie would throw 12,000 legal immigrants off the NJ FamilyCare program, the state’s insurance plan for low-income families. He would close the program to all new adult enrollees as of April 1. Here’s the concern: The federal government pays 65 percent of the tab for NJ FamilyCare. When we cut people from the program, they often wind up in emergency rooms where the cost is picked up by the state and by insured patients. Sen. Joe Vitale, the Legislature’s leading voice on health policy, says this cut will wind up costing New Jersey more than it saves. Democrats should ask other questions as well. Christie would raid a clean energy fund that subsidizes solar and wind power, and energy conservation efforts. It is paid for by ratepayers on each month’s electric bill, and it’s not clear that the state has the legal authority to grab it for other purposes. (Star Ledger) 

http://blog.nj.com/njv_editorial_page/2010/02/gov_chris_christies_bully_budg.html 

Ingle: Cost-cutting concepts keep coming 

You continue to share recommendations on how Gov. Christie can streamline New Jersey government, so today let’s take a look at more readers’ ideas: John says we’re going about the budget all wrong. He thinks the process needs to be changed. “I suggest rather than having a big fight over gored oxen in order to eliminate waste, that we simply decide how much we want to spend for government and put a cap on that amount.” Property taxes would be capped at some voter-approved level as well, he said. Then, “eliminate state subsidies to local government as well as property tax rebates, restrict the state’s use of those resulting funds to pay down dept and eliminate any increase in taxes, both state and local levels to a three-quarters majority.” John has thought it through and is smart enough to know nothing is accomplished overnight. “The resulting outcry from reduced services would allow us to recover fiscal sanity in a few years.” Frank from East Brunswick wants more work out of state workers: “How about increasing the state’s work week by one-half hour per day? That would allow the same amount of work to be done with fewer people.” Anthony has a question: “Why should retired state employees be reimbursed the monthly Medicare insurance premium, which is currently $96.40 a month?” Al of Brielle offers a chilly solution — freeze benefits for all government employees. He thinks if the cost of benefits continues to rise the employees should pay for everything above the freeze level or accept a reduced benefits package with higher deductibles. “If this is done, it would stop immediately the never ending increases that we the tax payers are forced to pay each year …” Dan from Sayreville, unemployed in the computer programming industry after 40 years on the job, addressed an item about the state’s pensions and benefits computer system being out of date. He said he and others like him could modernize it for less than replacing it. He said he could probably do it for less money that he is getting for unemployment insurance, just for the benefits and to keep his skills sharp. “There are probably thousands of others like me.”A supervisor for the state joined the chorus to chop the dead wood: “I could cut 20-40 percent of our work force and get the same job done if I could target the dead wood. I have terrific young workers with 3-7 years of experience who need to stay and have too many higher title workers with 20-23 years experience who sit and surf the web. Find a way to give managers the ability to get lean and mean by targeting dead wood and you will hear no complaints from me. You won’t hear me anyway over screams of the union.” (Ingle, Gannett) 

http://www.app.com/article/20100214/OPINION05/2140301/1093/NEWS03/Cost-cutting-concepts-keep-coming 

Torres: Will historic statue get ornamental use? 

Since being taken Feb. 5 from its base in front of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in Jersey City, the century-old Peter Stuyvesant statue has been sitting on a platform truck at the Burns Bros. monuments firm’s snow-covered lot on Tonnelle Avenue. The base was jackhammered into powder. The bronze statue has a big tarpaulin covering it. Where the great director-general of the New Netherlands colonies of the Dutch West Indies Company finally calls home may be a subject of debate. For those behind the whisking away of peg-leg Pete, the destination has been several years in the making. At a Jersey City Board of Education meeting on Dec. 20, 2007, a request was made by the Hudson County Community College and the county Open Space Committee to move the Stuyvesant statue. Old Pete would travel about 1,000 feet from School 11 to a new pocket park, Culinary Arts Plaza, at Sip Avenue and Newkirk Street, according to the school panel’s Facilities Committee minutes. In the meeting minutes of the school board’s March 13, 2008 session, approval was given to “loan” Stuyvesant as the centerpiece of the new park. The justification is that the relocation would give the leader of the first settlement in New Jersey better public exposure than at the school. In return, the Board of Education, on recommendation of Superintendent of Schools Charles Epps, would use $50,000 of county Open Space Trust funds to commission a statue of School 11’s namesake, Martin Luther King Jr. John Burns Jr., of Burns Bros., feels he’s caught in the middle of a controversy. Burns says he questioned HCCC officials about who actually owns the statue. He was told everything was above board. A spokesman for the administration of County Executive Tom DeGise said the HCCC or any county agency did not demand the statue but they were happy to do anything to “beautify the Journal Square area.” As noted, local historians are unhappy that the statue will be relegated outside the original Bergen settlement. Perhaps the Christopher Columbus statue can point out peg-leg Pete’s new home. (Torres, Jersey Journal)

http://www.nj.com/columns/jjournal/index.ssf?/base/columns-0/1266045946289330.xml&coll=3

Morning News Digest: February 15, 2010