Morning News Digest: March 4, 2010

NJ Sports Authority still $830M in debt

Despite an $830 million debt and a $38 million deficit, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority serves an important purpose, the president of the public agency that oversees sports and entertainment venues told lawmakers Wednesday. “I do think there is a long-term future for the NJSEA,” said Sports Authority President Dennis Robinson. (DiFalco, Associated Press) 

Wisniewski says Tea Partiers are targeting Menendez because of the ‘sound of his last name.’

Even if the Committee to Recall Robert Menendez succeeds in its court case and wins the right to start the recall process against New Jersey’s junior senator, they will face the nearly insurmountable task of collecting 1.3 million valid petition signatures. 

Nevertheless, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), the Democratic state chairman, weighed in today, suggesting that the group targeted Menendez because he is Hispanic. “The attempt to recall Senator Menendez is an affront to the voters of New Jersey and has no standing in law,” said Wisniewski in a written statement. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ) 

Yudin: McNerney stole GOP idea 

Bergen County Republicans say that County Executive Dennis McNerney stole their idea to cut an open space tax because he’s facing a tough reelection battle.

”Our organization and our candidates have argued for years that the open space tax is being misused and that it must be cut to provide tax relief, but the Democrats have ignored our proposals,” said county GOP Chairman Bob Yudin in a written statement. “Now all of a sudden, when McNerney is facing a desperate election, he is trying to co-opt our ideas that he ignored for years.” 

McNerney, a Democrat, mentioned the idea in his “state of the county” address last night.
 (Friedman, PolitickerNJ) N.J. 

Gov. Christie: Part-time public workers should be ‘kicked out’ of pension system 

Governor Christie said he wants current public employees who work part-time to be “kicked out” of the state pension system, and urged the state Assembly to show it is “serious” about pension and benefit changes by passing them before his budget speech. In an interview on NJ 101.5 FM Wednesday night, the Republican governor chastised Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) for not acting on the four-bill reform package prior to the March 16 budget address. Oliver has said her house supports the reforms, but wants to review them carefully and will likely approve them after Christie’s budget. Those bills — which have passed the state Senate despite strong opposition by labor unions — include a provision to bar future part-timers from the pension system, as well as to reduce pension payments and cap sick leave payouts for all future workers. (Heininger, The Record) 

Christie administration details waste, fraud and abuse 

When Gov. Christie announced steps he would take to close a $2.3 billion budget gap, his administration claimed to have found $70 million in waste, fraud and abuse. Democratic lawmakers subsequently asked for a more detailed accounting of that $70 million. In a letter addressed to Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo, State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff elaborated on items that the administration considered waste, fraud and abuse. The letter noted that “no such formal list had previously been prepared” and (Lu, Inquirer) 

Greenwald not happy with spending reductions list 

When Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald (D., Camden) asked the Christie administration to provide a list of spending reductions it rejected or didn’t consider in trying to close a $2.3 billion budget gap, Greenwald received a list of about a dozen items “considered but not accepted.” One of the items took direct aim at Greenwald and his colleagues in the Assembly: $800,000, listed under “Return Assembly Salary Funds.” The Democrat-controlled Assembly last year overspent its account for employee salaries by $800,000 but received a last-minute infusion of cash from the outgoing Corzine administration. Greenwald said he had wanted to try to come up with alternatives to the proposed budget cuts, but that he was disappointed with the first response he received from the administration. (Lu, Inquirer) 

Poll: Most approve of job Gov. Christie is doing 

Most New Jersey voters surveyed approve of the job Gov. Chris Christie is doing. A Fairleigh Dickinson-PublicMind poll released Wednesday shows 52 percent of the respondents support the new governor’s policies. Republicans approve by a ratio of 10-to-one. Thirty-eight percent of Democrats approve and 33 percent disapprove. Independent voters approve of the governor 43 to 17 percent. Voters in the public pension system were less kind. Thirty-five percent approve of the new governor but 46 percent don’t. (AP) 

Union workers protest tax breaks for proposed casino 

A proposed $300 million tax break for a partially-built Atlantic City casino would lead to lost jobs in the city’s service sector, union protesters charged outside Morgan Stanley’s office on Wednesday. The financial services company has put up hundreds of millions of dollars for the 
proposed $2 billion casino on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Revel, which is developing the casino, has applied for a state grant that would allow it to only pay 25 percent of its state sales and room taxes over 20 years. “I have no problem with the free market,” said Bob McDevitt, president of UNITE 
HERE Local 54, the largest casino employees union in Atlantic City. “But why should the public finance something that is going to put two casinos out of business?” (Penton, Gannett) 

Ingle: High court won’t stop same-sex marriage 

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to block Washington, D.C.’s marriage equality law. Opponents of same-sex marriage asked Chief Justice John Roberts to stop Washington from issuing same-sex marriage licenses while they appealed defeat in lower courts. They wanted D.C. voters to decide the issue at the polls. “It has been the practice of the court to defer to the decisions of the courts of the District of Columbia on matters of exclusively local concern,” said Roberts, writing for the court. He also said Congress could have voted to stop Washington from putting the law into effect, but didn’t. (Ingle, Gannett) Morning News Digest: March 4, 2010