Morning News Digest: Monday, August 15, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: Week of August 8
Gov. Chris Christie claimed in Manasquan yesterday that no way would he trade his comfort level at the Jersey Shore for a presdential run right now.
But you have to wonder who he believed won that GOP Primary debate on Fox last night, and who he wants to get the nomination if it isn’t him… (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Bachmann wins Iowa Straw Poll: Pawlenty ends his presidential bid
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) won the Ames Iowa Straw Poll among GOP Presidential contenders this evening.
She won 4,823 votes of a total 16,892.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) came in second with 4,671 votes. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie, unions at odds again
Gov. Chris Christie says he’s already frustrated by the lack of progress by a joint union-management health benefits design committee.
The unions concur. Leaders say they are frustrated as well.
“It seems to me that the people on the union side just want to drag their feet and not come to a conclusion,” Christie said last week in Manasquan. “I’m discouraged by the attitude they’ve taken but not surprised.”
The two sides, which were supposed to find common ground in an effort to rein in health benefit costs under a new law passed in June, already face a potential stalemate. (Method, Gannett)
Christie’s courtship of business pays off in contributions
Since taking office last year, Gov. Chris Christie has aggressively wooed businesses by cutting red tape, boosting tax incentives, trimming taxes — and giving their leaders a front-row seat when discussing key policy decisions.
Now, the business community is responding.
Corporations, executives and related political action committees have opened up their wallets to the major state Republican committees the past 18 months, helping end the Democratic Party’s long fundraising dominance heading into the fall legislative elections.
From 2004 to 2009, these groups gave $17.9 million to the three major Democratic state committees and just $6.1 million to the Republican counterparts, according to a Star-Ledger analysis of state campaign finance records. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
GOP lawmaker: Tax numbers show Christie was right
One of New Jersey’s most powerful Republicans says there’s new evidence that Gov. Chris Christie was right to reject the budget Democrats sent him.
Christie sparred with Democrats in June over how much money the state would take in from taxes over the next year. The Republican governor slashed $1.3 billion in spending off the Democratic plan before signing the fiscal year 2012 budget, saying Democrats had relied on overly optimistic projections.
State Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. says July’s collection numbers match Christie’s projections. Kean says that shows the state would be in major trouble if Christie had listened to Democrats. (The Associated Press)
Mixed signals given on offshore drilling
Governor Christie touted his environmental credentials during a tour of several beach towns last week, but what the governor’s office called an “unwavering” opposition to oil drilling off Delaware and Virginia is actually more murky.
Christie has been outspoken in opposition to drilling off New Jersey even as Republicans in Washington pushed to lift a moratorium on Atlantic drilling in response to rising gas prices.
But when asked about drilling off Virginia, Christie told The Record last year that he was not going to tell Gov. Bob McDonnell how to run his state. (Jackson, The Record)
Measure to prevent billing of sexual assault victims for investigations awaits Gov. Christie’s signature
Health care providers may soon be barred by the state from directly billing sexual assault victims for forensic evidence collection.
The federal government requires that the providers be reimbursed for such services, but all invoices are supposed to go to designated government agencies for review and payment. However, victims frequently receive such invoices due to administrative errors or attempts to get payment from a victim’s insurance company.
The New Jersey measure – which was overwhelmingly passed by both houses of the Legislature and now awaits Gov. Chris Christie’s consideration – would clarify that victims should never receive such invoices. (Shipkowski, The Associated Press)
Stymied charter files suit against three school districts
As New Jersey’s battles over charter schools have increasingly gone suburban, one charter school is fighting back in a legal counteroffensive that could have statewide implications.
The Princeton International Academy Charter School (PIACS) has filed suit against three districts that have openly fought its existence, contending that they have unlawfully used public funds in their two-year campaign against the school.
Although approved by the state, the charter has yet to open. It has needed two extensions while it battles for potential sites in Princeton and now South Brunswick, two of the districts named as defendants. The third is West Windsor-Plainsboro. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
New education advocacy group claims to be political equalizer
In Gov. Chris Christie’s New Jersey, there is acknowledgement among some public school defenders that after several losing battles, they will lose the war.
It’s bad enough, critics say, that Christie has attained national media status. Factor in Better Education for Kids (B4K), funded by hedge funder managers Alan Fournier and David Tepper, and you’re talking billions of dollars versus the New Jersey Education Association’s (NJEA) millions.
The way this ends is a no-brainer, public school defenders say.
Since the Clinton presidency, partisan alliances have been shifting to favor figures like Christie and Michelle Rhee of national advocacy StudentsFirst, says Jeffrey Henig, who teaches urban education policy at Columbia University’s Teachers College. (Roh, Gannett)
Outsiders join fray on schools
Better Education for Kids (B4K), a new advocacy group financed by hedge fund managers, is introducing itself to poor communities across New Jersey by giving away 50,000 backpacks filled with supplies.
The first backpack drive hit Asbury Park Saturday and other drops are planned in Elizabeth Tuesday, Perth Amboy on Aug. 24, Jersey City Aug. 27, East Orange/Linden/Orange Aug. 28 and Camden on Aug. 31.
The group also plans a drive somewhere in Gloucester County, home of Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney. (Roh, Gannett)
New Jersey looks to nurture tech startups
New Jersey is seeking to create a new-company “accelerator” program to nurture technology entrepreneurs through mentoring. Similar programs have been successful elsewhere.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority is seeking proposals and ideas from technology specialists on how to create the program, hoping to bolster innovation at the earliest stages of a company’s growth.
The program will get $450,000 over three years and should “demonstrate an ability to leverage private investment dollars” to public dollars at a minimum ratio of 3-1, the EDA said. (Morley, The Record)
Downgrade fears sparked move on tolls
Fear of a potential downgrade by a credit-ratings agency helped fuel the proposal by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to raise tolls and fares on bridges, tunnels and PATH trains, said people familiar with the matter.
Port Authority officials told members of its board earlier this month that the agency’s debt would likely be downgraded within a year if it didn’t significantly cut spending on construction and repair projects or raise new revenue, said people familiar with the matter.
In January, Moody’s Investors Service assigned a negative outlook to the Port Authority’s credit, saying a downgrade could result if the agency’s debt continued to grow faster than its revenues. Moody’s currently rates the Port Authority’s debt Aa2, its third-highest rating. (Brown and Grossman, The Wall Street Journal)
Toll hike hearings in odd places
What might be harder to find than support among drivers and PATH train riders for the Port Authority’ of New York and New Jersey’s proposed toll and fare increases are the locations of some of the nine public hearings scheduled for Tuesday.
Even representatives of organizations who plan on testifying said they’re flummoxed by the unusual hearing locations.
“It will be a challenge for motorists and the general population to attend these meetings, They have made this a difficult process for the public to attend the hearings,” said Tracy Noble, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman. “We are weighing in and submitting comments online. We’ll still try and have someone get to one of the hearings.” (Higgs, Gannett)
Of 46 ‘Bid Rig’ defendants, eight corruption cases remain
More than two years ago, federal officials stunned Hudson County, New Jersey and the nation with its Operation Bid Rig III, a wide-ranging investigation into corrupt politicians and money-laundering rabbis.
The sting resulted in 46 arrests, nearly two dozen of them Hudson County figures.
Some 33 of the 46 defendants initially charged in Operation Bid Rig III have been convicted by a jury or by a plea, two have been acquitted, one died shortly after his arrest, one saw charges against him dropped and one remains a fugitive. (McDonald, The Jersey Journal)
Parks directive hits a rough patch
The new federal directive has a progressive goal: giving disabled residents a better chance to enjoy public parklands by letting them use motorized vehicles on trails.
Park supervisors can prohibit such access only if they document that conditions are too rough on a given trail and publicly post the findings.
But those seemingly simple changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act have New Jersey and county parklands staff scrambling to assess thousands of miles of trails. They also are rubbing up against the state’s ban on motorized vehicles in environmentally sensitive lands. (Patel, The Record)
Commuter busses exempt from proposed safety laws
As legislators and safety officials focus on charter buses and how to make them safer in the wake of several fatal crashes, some of the proposals being debated in Washington — such as passenger seat belts — will not be extended to commuter buses.
The long-distance commuter bus, a direct cousin to the motor coach, or charter bus, is exempted from two bills proposed in the Senate that would deal with physical improvements to buses such as seat belts and rollover protection — as well as better regulation of drivers such as making sure they don’t work more hours than legally prescribed. (Higgs, Gannett)
Can combined heat and power make a comeback?
In the debate over a draft energy master plan, there was pretty much a consensus among many speakers: New Jersey should be doing more to encourage the building of combined heat and power systems.
CHP, as is it sometimes called, was touted as the lowest-cost way of providing additional power generation, as well as helping the state achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by reducing carbon dioxide production.
Those are no small benefits given the state’s ambitious goals for shrinking its carbon footprint and strong desire to get new power plants built to bring down sky-high electric bills for consumers and businesses. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Technology spotlight: What’s happening with solar?
There is a lot of debate about the state’s solar energy sector, a market that has been seen prices for solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) drop dramatically in recent weeks. That has led some to call for the state to intervene in the markets to stop the drop in spot market prices. Others have welcomed the plunging prices as a sign that solar energy is becoming more competitive with conventional forms of power. To get a take from an industry insider, NJ Spotlight interviewed Chris Rubine, chief executive officer of SPG Solar, a California-based company that has built three megawatts of solar capacity in this state. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
More gay couples living in suburbs
In the 1980s, when Jon and Michael Galluccio first lived together in North Jersey, they were unusual even among their gay friends.
By the 2000s, though, they had noticed a dramatic rise in the number of gay couples living in the suburbs, a trend confirmed by new census numbers released last week.
According to those figures, the number of households in North Jersey headed by same-sex partners grew by 30 percent in the past decade. And a substantial portion of those couples are raising children, like the Galluccios of North Haledon, Passaic County. Nearly one-fourth of North Jersey households headed by male partners and almost a third of female couples have related children living in their homes. (Lipman and Sheingold, The Record)
Latest from State Street Wire
State collects nearly $35 million less than anticipated in July
While collections of the big three taxes – income, sales, and corporate taxes – are on par with the Treasury Department’s original projections for July, other taxes collected fell more than $34 million short of projections last month, according to the Treasury Department’s monthly revenue report released Friday.
In total, the state collected $335.6 million in tax revenues. That is about $34.8 million less than the $370.5 million it was anticipating to receive from nearly a dozen different state taxes. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Hillary Clinton would have been a much better President than Barack Obama
The Internet and print media are replete with comments of Democratic leaders and rank-and-file expressing “buyer’s remorse” over their party’s selection of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton as the presidential nominee in 2008. Obama’s political ineptitude and pathetic lack of policy insight have been magnified before the national electorate during the debt ceiling wars and the financial markets’ free fall. Unless unemployment drops below eight percent by September, 2012, Obama will not be reelected, regardless of the identity of his Republican opponent. (Steinberg, PolitickerNJ)
Chris Christie’s cue
This has been a clarifying week for the 2012 election. Thursday’s Republican debate reminded everyone why Mitt Romney is the front-runner, as his rivals left the former Massachusetts governor more or less untouched. Saturday’s Ames straw poll disposed of Tim Pawlenty, who not so long ago seemed positioned to give Romney a real challenge. Instead, that challenge will probably come from Rick Perry, whose entrance into the race promises to set up a Romney-Perry slugfest for the nomination, with Michele Bachmann playing spoiler. (Douthat, The New York Times)
GOP challengers stick to school aid issue in 37th
In the most liberal legislative district in New Jersey, the Republican Assembly long shots have hitched their wagon to the Legislature’s most conservative Republican lawmaker — at least when it comes to the issue of school funding.
John Aslanian of Englewood Cliffs and Keith Jensen of Fort Lee are running as disciples of state Sen. Michael Doherty, a conservative firebrand from Warren County, who is expected to run for the U.S. Senate next year. (Stile, The Record)
Christie’s double standard
I’m sorry, governor. But you can’t have it both ways. You have been in office for more than a year and a half. And you can no longer get away with blaming the sad state of affairs on your predecessors while claiming credit if the sun rises on the Garden State.
On. Aug. 5, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey proposed raising tolls on the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln and Holland tunnels by $4 per trip starting next month. (Harrison for The Record)
Dual-language charters help prepare students for future
I recently attended the grand opening of Huawei’s newly expanded New Jersey office in Bridgewater. Huawei was founded in Shenzhen, China, in 1987 and has since grown into a high-tech global company with more than $28 billion in revenue.
When Huawei first arrived in New Jersey, in 2008, it had only four employees. Now, its new Northeast Regional office on Crossing Boulevard is expected to accommodate 150 employees in the next few years. (Tedeschi, NJBIZ)
In case you missed it
N.J. tax collections for July fall million below budget estimate
Total tax collections by the state government for July totaled $335.7 million, $35 million below the estimate in the 2011-12 state budget, Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff announced on Friday.
Collections for the three biggest revenue generators closely track the budget estimates. Income tax collections totaled $133.03 million, nearly matching the budget estimate of $133.4 million. Sales tax collections totaled $21.9 million, 0.2 percent less than the estimate of $22 million. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
…And then Christie walks Ocean City’s Boardwalk, discussing New Jersey’s shore communities
Gov. Chris Christie, with his 8-year-old daughter in tow, walked the Boardwalk on Friday and talked about the importance of preserving the state’s shore resorts and the way of life that families enjoy here.
“This is still one of the most special places in America,” he said to a crowd of about 200 who stood to hear him speak at the Music Pier. (Procida, Press of Atlantic City)
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie could face recall election in 2012
Tim and Joanne O‘Neill of Collingswood and Newark-base pro-labor lawyer Bennet Zurofsky of Maplewood have set a big goal for their fledgling political organization, NJ-CAN: Late this year or early in 2012, they intend to seek the signatures of at least 1,317,000 of New Jersey’s 5.27 million registered voters — or 25 percent of them — to force an election to recall Gov. Chris Christie. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Christie cites frustration over benefits committees
Gov. Chris Christie says he’s already frustrated by the lack of progress by a joint union-management health benefits design committee.
The unions concur. Leaders say they are frustrated as well.
“It seems to me that the people on the union side just want to drag their feet and not come to a conclusion,” Christie said on Thursday in Manasquan. “I’m discouraged by the attitude they’ve taken but not surprised.” (Method, Gannett)
Economist: NJ sees bigger proportion of replacement jobs than in past recessions
More than in recent recessions, New Jersey’s post-downturn job growth has been evenly divided between hiring to replace laid-off workers and new jobs created in expanding industries, the New York Federal Reserve Bank said Friday.
The even distribution of the job creation provides a sign of the breadth of the slump, showing it reached beyond weaker industries to healthy sectors, said Erica Goshen, an economist for the bank, at a press briefing in New York. (Morley, The Record)
Port Authority toll hike comes with public relations blitz
The announcement of a bridge-and-tunnel toll hike proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last week was exhaustive by itself: three pages of historical context and current and projected financial figures intended to justify the two-part increase, which by 2014 would raise rush-hour tolls to $14 for E-ZPass users and $17 for people still paying cash.
But the announcing didn’t end there. (Strunsky, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. residents: Taxes not improving
A new poll shows nearly all New Jersey residents think little to no progress has been made on the state’s top issue: property taxes.
A Monmouth University poll released Friday shows 49% of residents believe the state has made a little progress on property taxes, while 43% think it has made none. And 3% said the state has made a lot of progress. (Fleisher, The Wall Street Journal)
Assembly candidate Fried forced to bow out
Dave Fried, a candidate for state Assembly in the hotly contested 14th Legislative District, is expected to drop out of the race this week, The Auditor has learned.
Fried, the 43-year-old mayor of Robbinsville and the Mercer County Republican co-chairman, has run into a serious health issue that will make campaigning difficult. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Campaign trail a rough route to run for Lewis
Carl Lewis — tall, trim and freshly turned 50 — strode confidently from door to door in a middle-class neighborhood of Mount Holly on an evening last week.
The nine-time Olympic gold medalist was doing the legwork for his state Senate campaign. Lewis, a Democrat, was no stranger to residents.
Steve Soult, sitting in a boat parked on the street, called to Lewis that a friend had been on a championship-winning soccer team with him as a teenager. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Emails, column trigger probes
Another state Sunshine Law investigation is closed and others are pending as a result of a July 31 column detailing budget emails among tri-county officials.
Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi determined Tuesday county freeholders did not violate the Sunshine Law with the continuation of an advertised personnel committee meeting in early April. (Rosen, Gannett)
Burlington County Freeholder Chris Brown is not done with politics yet
Burlington County Freeholder Chris Brown announced earlier this year that he would not run for re-election, saying he wanted to spend more with his family and his title and real estate business.
Four months later, the Evesham Republican decided to stick with politics.
Brown will run for the Eighth District Assembly seat vacated by Pat Delany, who stepped down last month, also for family reasons. (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
NJ tourism could be in for boost from Revel casino
New Jersey’s tourism industry, which state officials say is responsible for 193,000 private-sector jobs across Atlantic, Cape May, Ocean and Monmouth counties, may be in line for a boost from the opening of the $2.8 billion Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City next spring.
Gov. Chris Christie visited the Revel construction site and also spent time on the Ocean City boardwalk Friday. He said Revel’s planned opening in May 2012 will be a “huge moment for us in furthering the redevelopment of Atlantic City.” (Jordan, Gannett)
Nardello will temporarily fill in until Brown seeks Assembly seat
The state Assembly has a new member, although she won’t be in office for too long.
GOP committee members from Burlington, Camden and Atlantic counties voted Thursday night to have former Mount Laurel Mayor Gerry Nardello complete the unexpired term of Patrick Delany in the 8th Legislative District. (The Associated Press)
Small N.J. brewers push for changes to state law
There’s no denying the popularity of the beers at Trap Rock Restaurant & Brewery in Berkeley Heights.
Charlie Schroeder, the brewmaster, sells a lot of his JP Pilsner, Kestrel IPA, McClellan Stout and other varieties — about 480 barrels a year. That’s enough to fill a backyard swimming pool. (Hutchins, The Star-Ledger)
IBEW union warns members to support Verizon strike
The president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers told the union’s members Saturday not to break ranks in its strike against Verizon Communication Inc. in response to reports of locals doing contract work for the communications company.
The union has been on strike against Verizon since Aug. 7. (Gartland, The Record)
Garden State hospitals’ budgets and jobs protected after special Medicare provision extended
South Jersey hospitals can relax now that there has been a successful push by federal lawmakers to extend a provision for the Garden State that keeps Medicare reimbursements on par with nearby urban healthcare providers. (Romalino, Gloucester County Times)
Settlement in N.J. sergeant selection process case draws mixed emotions from officers
Anthony Hyatt aced his police sergeant’s exam, but only because the Paterson police veteran said he studied four hours a day for three months. His score earned him a promotion in 2006, before budget cuts reduced his rank last year.
Lorenzo Tosado passed the exam twice, excelling the second time, but barely missed the cut for advancement. (Terruso and Friedman, The Star-Ledger)