Week of May 30

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie’s whirlwind trip – literally and figuratively – to his son’s high school baseball game via a brand new state police helicopter dominated the news cycle in this abbreviated week following Memorial Day.

While the governor has had better days, at least one of his fellow Mendham residents – soon-to-be state Supreme Court Justice Anne Patterson – got the OK from the Senate Judiciary Committee after it released her nomination for justice to the full Senate on Tuesday afternoon.

While it’s too soon to determine if Christie’s 80-mile chopper ride to his son’s baseball game tarnished his image, the governor, known nationally for his toughness, executed an extremely rare about-face. One day after saying he was not going to reimburse the state for use of the helicopter for something that would not be termed as official state business, Christie essentially caved in to some legislators’ demands and decided Thursday afternoon he was going to reimburse the state after all for more than $2,250 worth of chopper rides.

“(T)hough the superintendent of the State Police noted yesterday the travel does not cost taxpayers additional dollars, the governor understands the sensitivity about this kind of thing and believes he owes it to the public to ensure that this is not a distraction,” spokesman Michael Drewniak said in a statement.

The ill-timed incident occurred on the same day he was scheduled to meet a group of Iowa-based Republican fund-raisers who were trying to sway him to run for president. He declined.

A healthy sign

Legislation-wise, Gov. Christie signed into law Thursday a bill requiring the pulse oximetry test for newborn babies, a test that measures how much oxygen is in their blood.

The pulse ox is placed on the baby’s foot by a sticky strip, like a bandage, and takes just a few minutes to perform. A low pulse oximetry reading would prompt a doctor or nurse practitioner to ask for more testing, such as a heart ultrasound or echocardiogram.

The legislation’s sponsors, Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, (D-31), of Bayonne, and Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, (D-38), of Paramus, said that while the pulse oximetry test may not identify all signs of congenital heart disease (CHD), it is a significant and sensible step toward early detection.

An unhealthy situation

The programs provided by the state Department of Environmental Protection to remove underground storage tanks and to rehabilitate brownfields have been popular…so popular that there’s not enough money left to continue them.

That was the assessment by DEP’s Irene Kropp, who appeared before the Senate Energy and Environment Committee this week.

“The program is not dead,” Kropp said, “we just can’t finance what’s in the queue right now,” she said.

Kropp said that there are an estimated $33 million worth of applications in-house, and there about $16 million worth of applications that are approved. Last year, they processed about $40 million worth of tank removal funds, the committee was told.

But for now, going forward, they will still take and process applications for about $16 million a year’s worth of projects.

The money, which comes from corporate business taxes, will be divided up differently now, with about 55 percent of the funds going toward the underground tank program as it has dipped below $20 million.

Similarly, the department has received about $71 million worth of applications for brownfields work, but it has stopped accepting any more.

Rallying the (union) troops

Civil Rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson fired up members of the Communication Workers of America, one of the state’s largest public employee unions. The popular icon appeared at several rallies around the states, with stops in Jersey City, Newark and Trenton.

Unsurprisingly, he took on a populist tone, stressing the need to fight for justice.

“Workers, we must fight back…Banks took us over the edge without government oversight…They made money off of lending…They made money off of foreclosures.”

The CWA and Gov. Christie have been engaged in negotiations regarding health care and pension benefits. It was a marked change in course since the governor, along with Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-3) of West Deptford, called for changes to benefits to be accomplished legislatively.

Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver, (D-34), of East Orange, also had a face-to-face meeting with the governor, but revealed scant details.

A reappointment

On the same day the Judiciary praised and then gave the seal of approval for state Supreme Court nominee Anne Patterson, it also interviewed and eventually approved for reappointment the head of the state police, Col. Rick Fuentes, but only after committee members pressed Fuentes for information on the agency’s handling of a traffic accident involving an off-duty undercover officer that has led to an investigation that is ongoing.

The Patterson nomination, as well as some Bergen County nominations, had been log-jammed for some time due to politics, but all were given approval Tuesday.

  Week of May 30