Morning News Digest: February 24, 2010

DeAngelo says he won’t challenge Greenstein for Senate nomination 

The field of candidates who want to succeed state Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton) is quickly settling. 

Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton) will not entirely take himself out of the running for Baroni’s soon-to-be-vacated seat, but he will not challenge his fellow 14th District assembly member, Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro), if she wants it. 

”As we draw closer and Linda is the frontrunner, I’m not going to push a convention. I’m just not ruling myself out of it for whatever reason in case Assemblywoman Greenstein changes her mind,” DeAngelo said in a phone interview with “If she wants to bow out for whatever reason, I don’t want to take myself out of the circle just yet.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ) 

Inspector General urged to probe Larkin incident 

Republicans have asked the Mercer County Inspector General to launch an investigation into Sheriff Kevin Larkin’s disruption of a community college class earlier this month. 

According to published reports, Larkin was notified by text message that a professor cited him as an example of a double-dipper during a state and local politics class. Larkin collects a pension while earning a full-time salary as the Sheriff, which is legal in New Jersey. 

”The basis for the investigation that I am requesting is based not on his intimidation tactics or his completely inappropriate behavior in an academic setting,” Mercer County GOP Chairman Roy Wesley wrote in a letter to the inspector general, Robert Farkas. (Editor, PolitickerNJ) 

Smith won’t rule out HCDO chairmanship, but says it’s not on his radar screen 

Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith won’t rule out serving as the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) chairman, but he said he’s not thinking about it right now. “I’ve been focused on getting things squared away in my own house; like everybody, I have budget issues,” said Smith, who in 2008 won a special election to fill a seat vacated by Joe Doria. Smith also faces a May election in which he hopes to win a full four-year term. Councilman Gary LaPelusa has taken out petitions to oppose the mayor. “I’ve been able to accomplish a lot of the things we talked about during the campaign, including streamlining government – collapsing five departments into four, making our government the smallest its been since 1994,” said Smith, whose town faces a budget deficit of $30 million, or five million less than what it was when Smith first came into office, he said. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ) 

Incoming N.J. transportation commissioner turns up the heat at turnpike authority meeting 

New transportation commissioner James Simpson shook up the New Jersey Turnpike Authority board meeting Tuesday, promising transparency, increased customer service and budget hawking. He grilled the agency’s chief engineer and rattled board members with his aggressive, fast-paced questioning that brought a serious tone to typically lighthearted meetings where commissioners rarely speak. It marked a clear departure from the past several years, when board members voted on multimillion-dollar road and bridge contracts with little to no public discussion about costs or quality. “I’m not rubber stamping anything,” said Simpson, who is serving as acting commissioner until he is officially confirmed as state Department of Transportation commissioner. “This is a new reality. You’ve got to spend turnpike money like it’s your own. A dollar saved is a dollar for pavement.” (Rouse, The Record) 

Ex-N.J. Gov. Corzine making plans to emerge in public spotlight 

Jon Corzine may have lost the governorship, but he is not disappearing from public view. Corzine has arranged to be a regular guest host and commentator on the financial-news network CNBC, among other national outlets, and will be guest lecturing at Princeton University and, perhaps, Harvard, according to two Corzine confidantes familiar with the ex-governor’s plans. The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, stressed that no formal agreements have been signed because Corzine is still finalizing the biggest part of his post-State House plans: return in some fashion to the world of finance, which made him wealthy while he led Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs. Corzine spent about $130 million of that fortune on running for office. (Heininger/Margolin, The Record) 

Dow sworn in as N.J. 

Attorney General Paula Dow was sworn in Tuesday as state attorney general, capping her climb to the highest perch in New Jersey law enforcement during a Trenton ceremony she called “the most momentous occasion of my life.” Dow, 54, will be the first African-American woman to hold the position. The former Essex County prosecutor promised to keep pursuing corruption and violent criminal gangs while balancing her office’s divergent responsibilities. “I will do all that I can to protect the residents of New Jersey,” she said. “Justice will ring out from these corridors and these halls to every corner and byway of the state.” As a Democrat nominated by Republican Governor Christie, Dow’s nomination moved quickly through the Senate, receiving final approval on Monday. By comparison, she waited almost two years for Senate confirmation after becoming a county prosecutor in 2003. (Megerian, The Record) 

N.J. Gov. Christie cracks down on state’s independent boards and authorities 

Governor Christie ordered hundreds of state boards, authorities and commissions to stop hiring lobbyists and end “golden parachute” payouts, and said Tuesday that some of those agencies could eventually be eliminated altogether. The agencies also face new restrictions on travel expenses, all part of an executive order issued by Christie, his 15th since taking office last month. Roughly 700 boards, authorities and commissions operate in New Jersey. But not all of them – including the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, a frequent target for Christie – fall under the control of the governor’s office. (Reitmeyer/Young, The Record) 

N.J. gov Chris Christie restricts spending by state authorities 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday ordered sweeping restrictions on state authorities, boards and commissions to curb what he said was a disturbing pattern of wasteful spending. In issuing his 15th executive order since being sworn in as governor a month ago, Christie directed all such agencies to terminate contracts with outside lobbyists as soon as legally permissible and banned the hiring of new lobbyists or the renewal of existing contracts without approval from the governor’s office. The governor also capped all travel by employees of the authorities at $250 unless otherwise approved by the governor’s office. “The independent boards, authorities, commissions, they spend billions of dollars every year of taxpayer money, fee money, toll money that is collected from the people of New Jersey and others,” the governor said. “We intend to get these authorities under control.” (AP) 

Mayor’s aide admits lie about Platt’s location in Fla. during N.J. snowstorm 

For the second time in his tenure as Cherry Hill mayor, Bernie Platt has been in his Florida vacation home during an emergency-level snowstorm. When asked about the mayor’s whereabouts, a top aide to the mayor lied and said Platt was in town. When first asked about Platt’s whereabouts last Thursday, Chief of Staff Dan Keashen said that the mayor only took two weeks of paid vacation each February. Keashen added that Platt had been “around” throughout the storm, for which Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency. Keashen also said that Platt had been on ride-alongs with Department of Public Works vehicles to monitor snow removal. Keashen later called to apologize and say that he “misspoke.” He admitted he knew that Platt was more than 1,000 miles away the whole time in Boynton Beach, Fla., where the high temperature in February hovers around the mid-70s. (Roh, Gannett)

Revel casino tax abatement bill advances 

Atlantic City residents won’t have the chance to vote on whether the $2 billion Revel casino project should receive a $260 million state tax break, under a bill that passed in the Senate this week. The bill, S-920, moves next to the Assembly. Sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union) and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), the bill, if signed into law, would mean that voters could not vote to repeal a tax break offered through economic stimulus legislation previously sponsored by Lesniak. According to a press release from Lesniak’s office, the senator argued that allowing voters to overturn such tax breaks “empowers special interests to interject uncertainty into a project’s future, making it unlikely for private investors to want to invest capital to create jobs and expand economic opportunity.” Many unions support the Revel project because it will mean thousands of new jobs. Lesniak has said the casino would create 2,600 construction jobs and 5,500 permanent jobs at Revel and 2,500 related jobs. (Lu, Inquirer) 

Ingle: Pension reform fate depends on Assembly 

It is unusual to see bills passed unanimously in the state Senate quickly as the three pension reform bills did yesterday. They passed 36-0 with four senators not voting. The action now turns to the Assembly where that body’s versions of the bills will be introduced Thursday, probably. Hate to be the pessimist, but there is a nagging suspicion that the Assembly is where pension reform will come to an end or be watered down so much as to be useless. That’s what happened last time Sen. Steve Sweeney was reform-minded. (Ingle, Gannett) Morning News Digest: February 24, 2010