Morning News Digest: March 15, 2010

Christie to take a giant step 

Three months into his term, Gov. Christie is ready to jump off the cliff. For weeks he has referred to the scene in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in which the bank-robber heroes, running for their lives, leap off a cliff to escape certain death. Christie, who will introduce his first budget Tuesday, says it is time for New Jersey’s government officials to take risky but necessary action, too, on finances and taxes. (Tamari, Inquirer)

DiVincenzo praises Christie – won’t rule out pursuit of a fourth term

Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo tonight praised Gov. Chris Christie’s work to date, and specifically lauded the new Republican governor in anticipation of Christie’s proposal of a 2.5% cap on spending at all levels of government. “Are you asking me, ‘Do I agree with what he’s proposing in terms of a cap on spending? Yes, I agree,” said the county executive. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ) 

Pundits say Pallone, Holt are favorites for re-election 

New Jersey Republicans think they see something that congressional prognosticators don’t: vulnerable House Democrats in districts 6 and 12.

Both are home to well-entrenched and well-funded incumbents: Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) in the 6th, and Rush Holt (D-Hopewell) in the 12th. And both have significant Democratic registration advantages over Republicans. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ) 

Christie budget proposes 2.5% property tax cap

Governor Christie will propose a constitutional amendment limiting annual property tax increases to 2.5 percent when he introduces a budget Tuesday that will seek fundamental changes in spending at every level of government, according to administration officials with knowledge of the plan. (Heininger/Margolin, The Record) 

N.J. taxpayers owe pension fund $45.8 billion 

New Jersey taxpayers face a decades-long continuation of six-figure annual pension payouts and other costly retirement benefits promised to public employees. The reason: State law guarantees that pensions for existing workers can’t be altered. Even a package of pending legislation — hailed as the remedy for a system that’s short $45.8 billion — would apply only to new employees and not to the current workforce of some 450,000. (Young/Sheingold, The Record) 

In defense of ‘pork’: Congressmen oppose ban on earmarks, citing benefits to letting the money flow 

It’s good for the region and the nation, and any effort to weaken representatives’ power to steer it into their districts would upset the constitutional balance of power. The lawmakers — Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen and Democrats Bill Pascrell Jr. and Steve Rothman — prefer “member-directed spending,” or the Capitol Hill shorthand of “earmarks,” to the word “pork.” (Jackson, The Record) 

Q&A with Senate’s Sweeney: Will he partner with Christie or hinder him?

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat from Gloucester County, is arguably the state’s second-most-powerful politician. In an interview with Gannett New Jersey, he sheds light on his relationship with Gov. Chris Christie; what he expects to hear in Christie’s budget address on Tuesday, March 16; what he anticipates in the way of pension and benefits reforms; and what his priorities are for the coming year. (Gannett) 

Burlco Bridge Commission has deep ties to county GOP 

As he assumed control of the obscure but powerful Burlington County Bridge Commission three years ago, chairman John Comegno oversaw the launch of a public-relations campaign designed to burnish a badly tarnished image. The commission, historically a piggy bank for the Burlington County Republicans that collects almost $30 million a year in tolls on the Tacony-Palmyra and Burlington-Bristol Bridges, was reeling. (Rao, Inquirer) 

Ingle: Should Christie aim for health benefits next? 

Gov. Christie says his predecessor left him with an “exquisite pair of handcuffs” limiting options to close the $11 billion gap for the budget year starting July 1. Does that mean draconian moves are in the works to make up for it? We find out Tuesday when Christie delivers his budget address. (Ingle, Gannett) 

Stile: E-mail invite sounded like offer you can’t refuse 

West Milford Republican Mike Siesta’s May 2008 e-mail invitation to a “Godfather”-themed political planning strategy session reads like a good-natured and slightly cheesy spoof. Democratic Councilman Bob Nolan also sees it that way — for the most part. (Stile, The Record) 

Stile: Corzine aide drawn into brawl with Christie 

Josh Zeitz, Ph.D., had been on a career path for a nice, well-paid and quiet corner in the ivory tower. He’s an Ivy League-educated historian who has taught at Harvard and Cambridge. He has authored books on the “flappers” of the 1920s and postwar ethnic politics of New York City. (Stile, The Record) 

Hannon: Conservative fiscal conscience becoming mainstream 

It seems that being a fiscal conservative is in vogue. It wasn’t long ago that New Jersey’s elected officials were more concerned about providing increased services than worrying about how to pay for them. The staggering national and state debt, combined with a downturn in the economy, has some politicians claiming that they have always been fiscal conservatives. It took the current financial disaster to get them to come out of the closet. Welcome neo-fiscal conservatives to the club. (Hannon, The Record)

Burlco Bridge Commission has deep ties to county GOP

As he assumed control of the obscure but powerful Burlington County Bridge Commission three years ago, chairman John Comegno oversaw the launch of a public-relations campaign designed to burnish a badly tarnished image. Morning News Digest: March 15, 2010