Morning News Digest: February 8, 2010

Former Gov. Corzine talks about life in Hoboken, the corruption scandal and the future

More than two weeks have passed since Jon Corzine moved out of the governor’s home at Drumthwacket to be succeeded by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who beat him in November’s election. In blue jeans and a navy blue turtleneck at his penthouse condo on the southeast corner of Maxwell Place in Hoboken, Corzine is now in his comfort zone, recovering from a long jolt of public and media attention. (Maurer, Jersey Journal)

Lisa Jackson speaks up; Rabbis and Gov. Chris Christie mend fences; Carla Katz case goes to Philly

When U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson lit into Gov. Chris Christie during the Chamber of Commerce dinner in Washington 10 days ago, some thought it was the first shot fired in the 2013 campaign. Others thought it was just a fun way for Jackson, who was former governor Jon Corzine’s chief of staff and environmental protection commissioner, to get back at the guy who defeated her ex-boss. Those close to Jackson say it’s neither. The Auditor is told the EPA chief, who went to work for President Obama last year, was simply taking on a new role as a public voice on New Jersey matters. During the Chamber banquet, Jackson mocked Christie for not going on the annual Washington trip. She closed her featured speech by saying, “Folks, we can bring more change by sitting down at a table and having a meal here, in D.C., talking to each other, than we can yelling or editorializing about why we are not here.” Jackson spokesman Allyn Brooks-LaSure declined to comment. But one person close to Jackson said “she will continue to remain a voice on matters important in the Garden State.” Time to mend the fences Apparently, Christie’s feud with the business lobby and the New Jersey Education Association has gotten the attention of others who were at odds with the Republican during the fall election. One group that took notice was the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Lakewood. The council of rabbis that runs the massive rabbinical college in town broke with its tradition of interviewing both major-party candidates before endorsing someone; instead, it gave its nod to Corzine without ever meeting with Christie. Now that Christie is governor, The Auditor is informed the rabbis made a move to smooth things over by meeting last week with Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), a Christie intimate who chaired the Republican campaign. Kyrillos declined to say much about the sit-down with Rabbi Aaron Kotler, CEO of Beth Medrash Govoha, except to say, “I trust and hope the rabbi and his community will be there to support the governor on the tough agenda items upcoming, many of the goals of which he shares with the governor.” Sen. Robert Singer (R-Ocean) helped broker the sit-down, which was also attended by Sister Rosemary Jeffries, president of Georgian Court University in Lakewood. Singer said he was disturbed by the rabbis’ refusal to meet with Christie and blamed Corzine, “who was overly sensitive” and insisted that they not sit down with the Republican. With Christie in office, “the rabbis certainly wanted to let Joe know they would be supportive,” Singer said. (Star Ledger)

Menendez recall effort back in court on Feb. 26

A panel of Superior Court judges accelerated a hearing over whether a group has the right to start a petition drive to recall U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-Hoboken).

The hearing is set for Friday, February 26 at 10am at the Appellate Division courtroom in Trenton. 

The Committee to Recall Robert Menendez, which is affiliated with the Sussex County Tea Party, filed a notice of intent for its recall petition drive with former Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells in September. Two months later, after the office did not act on the notice, the group filed suit.

The Secretary of State’s Office, now under the control of Lt. Gov Kim Guadagno, holds that although state law permits the recall of statewide elected officials, U.S. senators fall under the purview of federal law, which does not provide for recall proceedings. 

The case is significant not because the group has a realistic shot at recalling Menendez (they would need signatures from 25% of registered voters, which amounts to about 1.3 million New Jerseyans), but because it could set a precedent for New Jersey and the 17 other states that allow for a recall of statewide officials. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ) 

Tober to join Christie staff 

Peter Tober has resigned his seat on the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission and will join Gov. Christopher Christie’s administration as an attorney in the Chief Counsel’s office. Tober, an ELEC commissioner since 2002, had served as a senior assistant counsel to two other Republican governors, Christine Todd Whitman and Donald DiFrancesco. 

The resignation creates an open Republican seat on the panel that regulates political campaigns and lobbyists. Christie makes that appointment, with the advise and consent of the State Senate. 

” Peter Tober served the citizens of New Jersey with distinction, always being guided by the principles of fairness and neutrality. This trait is imperative when serving on the Commission,” said ELEC chair Jerry Fitzgerald English. “In the same way that a justice must leave his or her partisanship at the door, so too must a Commissioner who oversees the financial activities of candidates, political parties.” (Editor, PolitickerNJ) 

N.J. Gov. Christie, lawmakers propose sweeping pension, health care changes for public employees

Gov. Chris Christie and lawmakers of both parties will unveil a series of sweeping pension and benefit reforms Monday that could affect every public employee in New Jersey while saving the state billions of dollars, according to four officials with direct knowledge of the plan. The proposals would require workers and retirees at all levels of government and local school districts to contribute to their own health care costs, ban part-time workers at the state and local levels from participating in the underfunded state pension system, cap sick leave payouts for all public employees and constitutionally require the state to fully fund its pension obligations each year. Details of the four-bill package to be introduced Monday were provided to The Star-Ledger on the condition of anonymity because the four officials were not authorized to speak in advance. The proposals go further than several past efforts at reining in taxpayer-funded pension and benefit costs, and if enacted would represent a major early victory for the new Republican governor and Democrats who control the state Legislature. But supporters anticipate an angry response from public employee and teachers unions that wield considerable power throughout the state — though lawmakers argue rank-and-file workers would have safer pensions than before. Christie’s office declined to comment, as did top Democrats and Republicans involved in crafting the bills. All sides had made their feelings clear last month, when Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) announced the upper house’s intentions to fix a system that would otherwise “go bankrupt.” Lawmakers of both parties pledged their support, with Christie saying “bipartisan action is critical to reforming a broken pension and benefits system.” Hetty Rosenstein, a state director of the Communications Workers of America, which represents 60,000 state and local workers, said she was still studying the bills but believes the reforms are misguided. For most rank-and-file employees, benefits are “not extremely lucrative…They are not out-of-whack,” Rosenstein said Saturday. “This interferes with the collective bargaining relationship and it’s not going to save any kind of significant money.” Steve Baker, spokesman for the 200,000-member New Jersey Education Association, said Saturday the teachers union is still reviewing the bills and had no immediate comment. (Heininger, Star Ledger) 

Christie’s Cabinet picks face N.J. Judiciary panel

Now that Republican Governor Christie has named the people he wants to run New Jersey’s departments and agencies in his new administration, his Cabinet nominees must pass muster with the Democratic-controlled Senate. The confirmation hearings start Monday with the nominees for attorney general and for military and veterans affairs scheduled to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee. With about 18 nominees to be confirmed by the Judiciary panel and then by the full Senate, the process is likely to take weeks. Christie’s picks will be on the job in the meantime, serving as acting commissioners until the full Senate signs off. “We’re doing the best we can to coordinate and help the gov get his people confirmed,” said Sen. Nick Scutari, who chairs the Judiciary Committee. “The governor for the most part should get to pick his nominees, so long as they’re qualified.” Brigid Harrison, a political science and law professor at Montclair State University, predicts mostly smooth sailing for Christie’s choices. “When you’re dealing with individuals with the credentials that many of the Christie appointees have — particularly the prosecutors — there is the assumption that there are relatively few skeletons in the closet,” Harrison said. “There’s a relatively good feeling between the governor and the Legislature, and a lack of public opposition to any of the appointees.” Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow is Christie’s pick for attorney general. Maj. Gen. Glenn Rieth has been asked to stay on as adjutant general and head of the National Guard. He is one of four holdovers from Gov. Jon Corzine’s Cabinet who Christie asked to remain. Scutari said a thorough confirmation hearing “is going to take a few hours” and will put the nominee’s policy positions on the record. For example, the Health Department nominee, Dr. Poonam Alaigh, can expect to be questioned about how she intends to implement the state’s new medical marijuana law. Children and Families nominee Janet Rosenzweig can expect questions about her vision for continuing the state’s multiyear, court-ordered reform of the child welfare system. Harrison thinks that Bret Schundler, Christie’s pick for Education Commissioner, will attract the most opposition. He previously antagonized the state’s powerful teachers’ union over his vocal support for charter schools and merit pay, which the union opposes. “Schundler is the lightning rod who will attract most of the Democrats’ bluster,” Harrison said. James Simpson, Christie’s choice for Transportation commissioner, also could face scrutiny over one of his policy positions: Simpson had praised Corzine’s unsuccessful and wildly unpopular plan to raise Turnpike and Parkway tolls 800 percent to pay for highway improvements and pay down state debt. Scutari said Dow will be questioned about her tenure as a a federal prosecutor and the head prosecutor in Essex County. He said she’ll be quizzed about the state’s role in political corruption cases and whether she anticipates competition between state and federal authorities. Because Rieth and other Cabinet members who are staying on have an established job history, their records in the position will likely be fodder for the confirmation hearings, Scutari said. Scutari believes the process shouldn’t be rushed to give committee members ample time to review resumes, formulate questions and interview the nominees privately before the hearing. (AP)

N.J. Gov. Christie transition reports find problems with buyout program

A highly-touted program to pare the state payroll by offering early retirement to workers failed to produce the predicted savings and has strained departments that help New Jersey cope with the economic crisis, a review by The Star-Ledger has found. The buyout program, announced with fanfare two years ago by Gov. Jon Corzine, prompted 1,492 people to take early retirement — but only 653 of them held positions that were fully funded by state taxpayers, according to data obtained under the Open Public Records Act. The rest held jobs funded by the federal government, dedicated funds or other sources. That means the state is saving about $49.9 million on annual salaries financed solely by New Jersey taxpayers — short of Corzine’s $90 million goal. The bulk of the savings — $63.7 million — has come from jobs the state didn’t pay for. At the same time, the workers who left — though fewer than the expected 2,144 — added a nearly $185 million long-term cost to the state pension system. Corzine said the program would pay for itself within four years and was a small piece of his efforts to shrink the state work force by 8,000. But with Corzine’s successor, Gov. Chris Christie, scrutinizing state employees during the continuing budget crisis, critics of Corzine’s attempt to shed jobs say it was counterproductive. They say the loss of workers not funded by state taxpayers crippled the productivity of state government — and in some cases prevented it from bringing in more money — without providing budget relief. Areas of government that perform critical functions in a bad economy, such as the Labor Department and the Department of Banking and Insurance, were especially hard-hit. “Is the premise being able to say that you cut state government, even when you’re cutting its legs off?” said Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), a critic of the program since its inception. “You’re losing experienced personnel, not saving the money you thought you were, adding to the pension debt and diminishing the revenue that could potentially come into the state in this critical time in our history, when we need every penny we can collect.” Christie transition officials and Buono said the loss of revenue is a result of empty positions in departments such as Banking and Insurance, which is funded by fees from the industry it regulates. Some of the employees in those departments collect money that supplement taxes to the state budget. With those jobs empty, less revenue comes into the state, according to a report by Christie’s transition team about Banking and Insurance, which lost 32 workers to early retirement and had three replaced. Understaffing from “Governor Corzine’s decision to simply attempt to reduce raw numbers” caused a “significant productivity problem” and put the department at risk of losing its regulatory oversight of mortgage lending to the federal government, the report says. Understaffing or poor staffing is a theme throughout the 19 transition reports Christie’s office released late last month. The report on the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which lost 217 people — 208 in non-state-funded positions — also faults early retirement for lost productivity. (Heininger/Fleisher, Star Ledger)

Gov. Christie’s Chief of Staff addresses Somerset County Business Partnership

When Rich Bagger returned to his former company Friday, he offered a grim appraisal of the state’s finances but also a pledge that New Jersey’s new governor is committed to fixing that mess. Bagger, a former state assemblyman and state senator, was employed by Pfizer Inc. for more than 16 years, last working as a senior vice president for worldwide public affairs and policy from 2006 to 2009. These days, the Westfield resident is on the front lines of efforts to repair state government in a weak economy as Gov. Chris Christie’s chief of staff. “New Jersey’s fiscal situation is about our state’s economy, it’s about the burden of taxation, it’s about reforms that are needed to return to growth and create jobs in our state, and that’s why it’s at the very top of the governor’s agenda,” said Bagger, speaking during a meeting of the Somerset County Business Partnership’s legislative affairs committee at Pfizer’s facility here. The partnership this week unveiled a reform agenda for the state that includes reforming the tax structure to retain businesses and residents; reforming the pension system for public employees to make it affordable and sustainable; reforming the public sector bargaining system to reflect the public’s ability to pay; and reforming the state’s dependence on local property taxes. “I’m enthusiastic about being here today, because the governor is looking for partners among county and local officials, partners among business leaders, partners among community leaders to work together to make this happen,” Bagger said generally about reforming the state. FINANCIAL MATTERS: Bagger said state government has a more than $1.5-billion shortfall during the current fiscal year along with a projected budget deficit of $10 billion to $11 billion for its upcoming fiscal year. Bagger blamed excessive state spending, public programs that cost more here compared with other states, high taxes and one-time budget gimmicks for “creating a fiscal house of cards that came tumbling down with the bad economy.” (Bricketto, Gannett)

McCarthy: Kean wants future Super Bowl played in Garden State

It’s Super Bowl weekend and most people are getting ready for the big game by digging out of the snow and making some wings. One New Jersey legislator is more concerned about the game a few years from now. Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean introduced a resolution last week urging the NFL to select New Jersey as its location for Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014. “New Jersey offers the best venue for the Super Bowl. Period,” the Union County senator said. “We have the image, logistics and ambiance that is unparalleled in the world and the millions of die-hard fans in this region would do everything in their power to make Super Bowl XLVIII the biggest, most talked about game in the history of the NFL.” The Meadowlands Stadium Co. was able to place its bid without having an indoor stadium or one located in a warmer climate. Kean recalled the championship game played in 1958 – played at Yankee Stadium – as being the “Greatest game ever played.” Given the weather this weekend, Super Bowl XLVIII could be a game for the ages. Early campaigning. The Republicans in the 1st Congressional District aren’t wasting any time with attacking U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews. The candidate from two years ago, Dale Glading of Barrington, announced last week he was running again. Then, on Thursday, he attacked Andrews and the House Democrats for “making America’s recession worse.” Glading has not yet filed his petition, but he fired off a release that criticized Andrews for votes he has made over the years. “Washington is spending too much, and the people of South Jersey are paying for it with their jobs,” said Glading. On Friday, Andrews announced a decision he said he helped spearhead to cut some $10 billion in “wasteful” spending. Expect this to be an interesting race. Cutting the tape. Assemblyman John Burzichelli has been named to the governor’s Red-Tape Review Committee. The appointment, which was made by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, means Burzichelli will help review state regulations and recommend changes. The appointment comes after Burzichelli, D-3, of Paulsboro, was also named to the newly created Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee – a group designed to review state regulations seen as burdensome to businesses. It has the authority to legislatively approve changes and send them to the governor for final approval. (McCarthy, Newhouse) 

Editorial (The Star Ledger): Aiming at N.J. authorities – Hold state agencies accountable 

They used to be New Jersey’s dirty little secrets, but not anymore. For three weeks, Gov. Chris Christie, the voter-appointed fiscal sniper, has been firing shots at free-spending regional boards and authorities. Bam! The Delaware River and Bay Authority’s 3 percent budget increase is rejected by Christie because it outpaces inflation. Bam! Christie blocks the School Development Authority from spending another $1.2 million on the construction of Burlington City High School, already $18 million over budget. Bam! Christie blocks $415,608 in Urban Entreprise Zone Authority spending because $399,608 would pay salaries and benefits for only four employees of the Hillside Clean Team VIII project to keep the downtown area neat. Christie has taken aim at “the hidden economy,” he calls it — largely unregulated agencies that are patronage pits of nepotism, outrageous salaries and excessive spending, often protected by well-connected politicians and well-paid lobbyists. These boards spend tens of millions of dollars without having to answer to voters. Now Christie wants them answerable to him. The governor has control over some, but not all, of these agencies. That’s why Christie is asking the Legislature to pass a bill, proposed by State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), that would give him power over the others, like the fiscally reckless Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission. Christie wants the power to veto those agencies’ minutes to block specific spending. The PVSC has become the whipping boy of waste because it has an executive director making $313,000 a year, 82 employees earning more than $100,000 and spends rate-payer money on Trenton lobbyists. The payroll looks like a family tree of the politically connected. But that’s peanuts. Weinberg says she uncovered $13 million in legal fees and $3 million spent on public relations over a six-year period. One lobbyist was paid $100,000 to create a coloring book, she said. Assemblyman Gordon Johnson once described the PVSC’s budget, now $164 million, as “an awful lot of money to push poopy through a pipe.” “We’re going to rein in these authorities and let them know they are answerable to the people who are elected,” Christie said. These boards need a watchdog, so why not the governor — the dog with the biggest bite? (Star Ledger) 

Stile: Rumana attacks panel that employs his close ally

Assemblyman Scott Rumana leapt headlong into last week’s pile-on of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners. Spurred by Governor Christie’s public flogging of the patronage-larded agency, the Wayne Republican proposed a state takeover of the agency to halt the “waste and out-of-control salaries.” But Rumana’s zeal is shaded by a personal and political irony: Rumana’s godfather, Robert A. Roe, the former Passaic County congressman-turned-lobbyist-consultant, has been paid handsomely as a $120,000-a-year grant writer for the PVSC since 1999, officials confirmed Friday. In an interview, Rumana said he was generally aware that Roe, a longtime political ally, had a contract with the agency, but said the hiring of lobbyists, consultants and grant writers was “not my angle” — or put another way, not the primary target of his takeover proposal. “My focus … is the employee roster, the titles they have, the amount of salaries that they are receiving. You are looking at over 80 people [each earning] over a $100,000 a year,” said Rumana, who is also chairman of the Passaic County Regular Republican Organization. “It is far, far out of control from where it should be.” Roe’s contract, he said, “wasn’t even on my radar.” Rumana also said he had no role in helping Roe win the PVSC grant-writing gig. Christie has repeatedly laced into the agency as a haven of patronage and waste. The commission includes some of the state’s highest-paid public employees, including 82 staff members with pensionable salaries. Bryan Christiansen, the $313,000-a-year executive director, has borne the brunt of Christie’s wrath. Christie, who wants the power to veto the minutes of the commission’s meeting, has also taken aim at the authority’s spending on contract lobbyists, including those hired to “get me to tone down a little bit.” The jab at lobbying is of a piece with a Christie transition team report which singled out the commission’s prolific use of outside consultants. The hiring of lobbyists and consultants like Roe would certainly come under scrutiny if the state were to take over the commission. It would come down to a basic bang-for-the-buck analysis — did they justify their monthly retainers (Roe’s is $10,000 a month)? Any review, Rumana said, would have to “look at how many millions of dollars that were applied for and received and compare that to their salaries.” (Stile, The Record)

Ingle: The pension play’s the thing

The dirty little secret about more than 400 state boards, commissions and authorities is that the so-called “public members” aren’t public members in the sense that anyone in the state can get in on it. You and I can get appointed to a seat on the honorary Board of Turducken Stuffers, but the agencies that offer state money to attend meetings are a special breed, a way to plant former political trough-swillers in a job that keeps them in the pension system long enough to get a payout. It takes a minimum 10 years of getting a state check. New state employees have to earn at least $7,500 a year to stay in the pension system, and that is way too low. Part-timers should be excluded. Political hangers-on from times past can stay in for as little as $1,500 a year. When they raised the minimum to $7,500, the ones already at the public trough were grandfathered in. Many of them are greedy. A source told me he got a call from a member of one of these boards who was panicking because it was close to the end of the year and he wasn’t close to having his $1,500. The guy wanted two more meetings before the end of the year. Since the pension system payout is based on the top three years of pay, the $1,500 is all it takes to stay qualified for whatever time is needed, then draw a lifetime pension and health benefits based on three years of, say $100,000 a year. That’s outrageous. You want some examples? Lucille Davy, Gov. Corzine’s education commissioner and “yes” woman for the teachers’ union, was appointed to the state Board of Pharmacy. Tom Vincz, public relations guy for the state treasurer, is now on the state Board of Ophthalmic Dispenser and Ophthalmic Technicians. His qualifications? He wears glasses, maybe. His former boss, former Treasurer David “Let Them Drink Beer” Rousseau, is the newest member of the Mercer County Board of Taxation, no doubt doing for the people of Mercer what he did to the taxpayers of the state in general. At least with those three boards, there is some kind of notion about what they do. How about the Health Service Corporation Conversion Temporary Advisory Commission? What the heck is that? Mark Matzen, a Corzine deputy, now serves on it. “There is actually a board that uses paperwork to figure out how to reduce paperwork,” New Jersey 101.5 FM newsman Kevin McArdle said in asking Gov. Christie what he thought about the Corzine last-minute appointments and if New Jersey needed all the boards. “The answer is no,” the governor replied. He said he asked his senior staff and the lieutenant governor to look into agencies, boards and commissions to see which of them can be eliminated and what killing them would take. (Ingle, Gannett)

Mulshine: Three beers (well two, anyway) for Leonard Lance!

Over at the “Beer-Stained Letter” blog hosted by Jeff Linkous, we learn that Leonard Lance is the only New Jersey congressman to have joined the House Small Brewers Caucus. Not only that, but Lance recently toured the Climax Brewery in Roselle Park run by Dave Hoffman, where we at have gathered on occasion to register our objections to any efforts to impose new taxes on beer. And Lance is calling for a reduction in the federal tax on small breweries. That would be nice. As I noted in the video to which I linked above, it has never made sense to tax a wonderful, barley-infused beverage like beer while not taxing a vile, obesity-promoting product such as that corn-soup that passes for soda in the United States these days. Back when I was a lad, soda was made with real sugar. But then some mad scientist in Japan figured out how to turn perfectly good corn into that awful sweetener known as high-fructose corn syrup. The Midwestern corn lobby conspires with Congress to keep sugar prices artificially high, so we are stuck with this dreadful stuff in our food and beverages. Corn belongs on the cob, not in beverages. Good beer of the type Dave makes is entirely devoid of corn, but many mass-market beers use corn as an adjunct. So tax corn in beverages and drop the tax on beverages made with barley. That would mean better beer and better soda as well. That’s my dream, anyway, just as I dream of driving a car that doesn’t have that crappy corn-based ethanol in the tank. But a simple cut in the tax on small brewers is a step in the right direction and every beer-lover in New Jersey should raise a toast to the congressman from Hunterdon County. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Mulshine: Tax hike on the rich? – We get fooled again and again

The Super Bowl won’t occur until this evening, but I already know the highlight. That will occur at halftime, assuming the British rock group The Who sticks to its set list. That list includes “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” a recap of a revolution that ends with the proclamation: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” That song has become something of an anthem for political realists. I got thinking of it last week after a think tank at Boston College released a report on the migration of wealthy people from New Jersey beginning in 2004. That was the year Jim McGreevey enacted his so-called “millionaire’s tax” as part of his effort to introduce a bit of European-style class warfare to New Jersey. The result of the tax hike brought to mind another work by a great British rock group. The Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” album took its title from their tax-exile status as they hid out across the Channel from the “Taxman” — if I may cite another song by another great British group. The reaction to McGreevey’s class warfare was similar. The wealthy fled New Jersey or just declined to move here. New Jersey’s net drop in wealth between 2004 and 2008 was $70 billion, the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy stated. This was entirely predictable and this Who fan wasn’t fooled. I realized at the time the tax hike would be permanent while the promised property tax relief was temporary. Many of my colleagues in the media fell for this stunt, though. An editorial in this newspaper praised McGreevey and said he “showed nerve” by hiking taxes. A New York Times editorial called the move “a step in the right direction.” Both papers lamented that McGreevey didn’t go even further and extend the tax hike down to households making in excess of $300,000. Then we might finally see real property tax relief. Or so they thought. But I’ve been following Jersey politics for almost as long as I’ve been listening to The Who. I’ve had this routine drummed into me as if Keith Moon were playing a solo on my skull. First Brendan Byrne gave us an income tax and told us he’d solved the property tax crisis. Then Tom Kean raised the rates and solved the same crisis. Ditto Jim Florio. Christie Whitman cut the rates a bit but then went “wet” on us, in the British parlance, running up billions in debt. That helped create the crisis that Chris Christie now faces. To his credit, the most famous Bruce Springsteen fan in New Jersey is refusing to engage in the sort of class warfare endorsed by his predecessors — and his idol. Christie has stated that he won’t be renewing the three “temporary” tax hikes that Jon Corzine imposed on those making more than $400,000. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Torres: Old Peter ripped from his pedestal outside School 11

This is not a history lesson but more of a debate about our past, which right away falls under the category of a culture clash. There will probably be more answers to the question why and who is responsible after you read this. This is about Peter Stuyvesant and Jersey City – specifically when the city was born. Stuyvesant, governor of what would eventually become New York, was himself a political figure and now finds himself in the middle of a modern debate. Should he give way to more recent historic figures who resonate more with the present population? Christopher Columbus knows what is happening to Stuyvesant because the Great Navigator once moved around Journal Square like one of those felt-based running back figures that vibrate all over a metal gridiron in those classic electric football games. It is apparently Peter’s turn to erratically head for the end zone. Yesterday morning, without any warning, workmen removed the bronze Stuyvesant statue from its place in front of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School (School 11), put it on the back of a truck and drove off. The stone-etched words on the statue were cut out and the afternoon was spent jackhammering the base. The surprise attack took local historians and conservancy people off guard, and they spent the afternoon calling each other. Unless a ransom note arrives, the consensus was that the order to remove the likeness of the great director-general of the New Netherlands colonies of the Dutch West Indies Company came from city Superintendent of Schools Charles T. Epps. Epps could not be reached for comment. Supposedly, the plan is for a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to replace Stuyvesant in front of School 11, according to local merchants and history buffs. What says Epps? Not long ago, when plans were in the works for building the Hudson County Community College’s Culinary Arts Institute/Conference Center on Newkirk Avenue, some noticed that the Stuyvesant statue was depicted as being in a small triangle park by the new building. There were objections. They argued that New Jersey’s first settlement, the village of Bergen, began as an 800-square-foot fort at present day Bergen Avenue and Academy Street. The HCCC park location is outside the historic site, they argued. There is some irony to all this. (Torres, Jersey Journal) Morning News Digest: February 8, 2010