Morning News Digest: August 18, 2011

Morning News Digest: Thursday, August 18, 2011

By Missy Rebovich

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Unlike Stack, Connors proud of NJEA support LD33

Living in the considerable political shadow of state Sen. Brian P. Stack (D-33), 33rd District Assembly candidate Sean Connors wants Hudson County to know he appreciates the support of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), gratitude that plants him in opposition to the 33rd District senate overlord.

“I was extremely proud to recently receive the endorsement of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the state’s largest teacher’s union, for my campaign for State Assembly,” Connors wrote in a letter to the Jersey Journal today, a copy of which his handlers CC’d to  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Poll: NJ voters split on debt ceiling agreement

New Jersey Democrats narrowly support the debt ceiling agreement, 40 percent to 38 percent, while Republicans are also split, with 36 percent supporting and 41 percent opposing the agreement, according to this morning’s Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. 

New Jersey independents are also slightly opposed, with 39 percent in favor and 43 percent against. Overall, 39 percent of New Jersey voters support the agreement and 41 percent oppose it, while 20 percent are not sure. Those who paid the most attention to the debate also reported the most anger with Washington and the strongest belief that Washington “no longer works.”  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)



Christie: Lewis should have been a resident of New Jersey before deciding to run for office

Answering the charge by the Lewis campaign that he’s ultimately responsible for keeping the LD8 state Senate candidate off the ballot, Gov. Chris Christie today said he didn’t make the decision not to certify Lewis.

But he emphatically agrees with the decision.

“The secretary of state did,” said Christie, referring to Lt. Gov./Secretary of State Kim Guadagno’s letter to Judge Noel Hillman Tuesday (which reaffirmed her earlier order) indicating her denial of Lewis’s candidacy based on residency.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Poll shows improvement in Christie’s approval rating

The second poll in less than a week shows the downward trend of Gov. Chris Christie’s popularity may have halted.

A Quinnipiac University poll, released Wednesday morning, shows that Christie’s approval rating stands at 47 percent of those surveyed. A total of 46 percent disapprove of the governor.

While his numbers indicate a statistical dead heat, they provide some encouragement for the first-term Republican. In a June poll, only 44 percent of the registered voters surveyed approved of the governor while 47 percent disapproved.

Christie also showed a bump in his approval ratings in a Monmouth University/NJ Press Media poll last week. In that survey, the governor cracked 50 percent approval rating for the first time in any nonpartisan poll since April.  (Staff, Gannett)



Short-lived rumors about Gov. Chris Christie presidential run explode throughout political media

It took one tiny little tweet to rekindle a firestorm of speculation about whether Gov. Chris Christie is running for president next year.

“BREAKING: My sources say NJ Gov. Chris Christie is conducting focus groups in preparation for a possible run for president in 2012,” Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Alter wrote on the website.

Bill Palatucci, a close friend of the governor who acts as his de facto political spokesman, was at the shore in Cape May on vacation when his cell phone exploded with inquiries from reporters across the country.

“Not true, quote me,” he responded.

But as Palatucci and others close to the governor tried to squelch the newest rumor, it was already splashed all over national publications: The Washington Post, Politico, Fox News, MSNBC and many others published stories online.  (Gibson and Friedman, The Star-Ledger)



Democrats, GOP unite for farmland preservation funding

With a Republican in the governor’s office and Democrats in control of the Legislature, New Jersey’s divided government has come together on funding for farmland preservation.

Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday signed legislation approved overwhelmingly in both houses in June providing $90.6 million in grants to counties, towns and nonprofit organizations to preserve farmland and add money to state-initiated land conservation.

The money was generated by the 2009 referendum that raised $400 million for land purchases, farmland preservation, wetlands protection and for saving historic sites.

“Preserving farmland in this state is something I feel very strongly about,” Christie said at the bill-signing ceremony at Terhune Orchards, not far from downtown Princeton. “This is another example of how we’re doing things in New Jersey in a bipartisan way.”  (Jordan, Gannett)



New Jersey voters: Chris Christie’s health not an issue

Less than a fifth of New Jersey voters say they’re concerned about Gov. Chris Chrsitie’s health, according to a poll from Quinnipiac University, despite Christie’s recent hospitalization for shortness of breath.

Seventy-six percent of voters said they were aware of Christie’s asthma attack, but only 18 percent said they were “personally worried” about his health. That figure was essentially consistent across party lines, with 20 percent of Republicans, 18 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of independents calling themselves concerned.

The poll result doesn’t mean that Christie’s health wouldn’t be an issue in a national race — if he entered the 2012 primaries or was chosen as vice president — but it suggests that voters who are familiar with Christie are confident that he’s physically capable of serving.  (Burns, Politico)



Christie: Rutgers makes sports call

Gov. Christie said the next president of Rutgers University should decide whether the price of competing in top-level college sports is too high.

Christie told reporters Thursday that he would not second-guess decisions by outgoing Rutgers president Richard McCormick and that money the New Brunswick state school spends on athletics is “not waste and abuse.”

McCormick will retire in June, and a selection committee is searching for a replacement.

Rutgers’ athletics budget was subsidized by the school at a higher rate than any other public institution in the six biggest football conferences during the 2009-10 fiscal year, based on data compiled by Bloomberg. More than 40 percent of sports revenue came from student fees and the university’s general fund.  (Dopp and Eichelberger, Bloomberg)



Gov. Chris Christie says he’s still undecided on Port Authority toll hikes and PATH fare hikes

A day after public hearings on a proposed toll and PATH fare hike, Gov. Chris Christie said he had not decided on the proposal but told reporters “there were more people who spoke in favor of the toll hike than against it.”

The Port Authority has been criticized for scheduling the eight hearings all on the same day, during the morning or evening rush hour, at remote or unfamiliar agency facilities. Critics say the hearings were part of an effort to discourage input by commuters, who by definition are fighting traffic or elbowing their way onto trains during those times.

By far the biggest contingent at the hearings was not made up of commuters at all. Dozens of members of the Laborers International Union of North America turned out at each hearing in orange T-shirts reading “Port Authority = jobs,” a reference to 167,000 positions the agency says are dependent on capital projects the hikes would finance.   (Strunsky, The Star-Ledger)



Christie’s energy plan gets a hearing

Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature will hold a hearing on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed energy master plan in Toms River Thursday.

The hearing will allow the public and special interest groups to comment on the Christie administration’s vision for the state’s energy for the next 10 years.

Christie’s plan calls for 22.5 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2021.

Democrats and others believe the target should be 30 percent.

Democrats who lead the environmental panel say they will introduce legislation revamping the goals.  (The Associated Press)



Christie muscles Mike on 9/11 invite

Hot-headed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie yesterday threw his weight around to get his way for the upcoming 10th-anniversary 9/11 ceremony after blasting Mayor Bloomberg for excluding ex-Jersey Gov. Donald DiFrancesco from the solemn event.

Christie privately lambasted Bloomberg as “Napoleon,” “a dictator” and “a putz” when DiFrancesco — who was the Garden State governor during the attack — wasn’t asked to speak at the ceremony, sources told The Post.

But Bloomberg took the high road later in the day and extended an invitation to DiFrancesco — saying all the former governor had to do to be included was ask.

“Though former Governor DiFrancesco hadn’t asked to speak at the previous 9/11 memorial ceremonies, the New Jersey’s Governor’s Office asked on his behalf this afternoon,” a Bloomberg spokesman said. “He’ll have the same role in this year’s ceremony as the other officials in elected office.”  (Margolin and Fredericks, NY Post)



Democrats in trouble in Garden State

A majority of New Jersey voters disapproves of the way President Obama is handling his job, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released early Wednesday that also shows Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez facing significant headwinds going into his 2012 re-election campaign.

Just 44 percent of New Jersey voters approve of Obama’s job performance, the lowest score ever recorded in the Quinnipiac poll, while 52 percent disapprove. In mid-June, half of New Jersey voters approved of Obama, while 46 percent disapproved. Garden State independents have turned sharply on Obama: Now, just 39 percent of independents approve of his job performance, while 57 percent disapprove.

A slight plurality (49 percent) also says that Obama does not deserve to be re-elected, while 45 percent feel that he does deserve re-election.  (Shepard, National Journal)



Audit faults overtime pay

Overtime pay “flows like water” at the Port Authority, New York State’s top auditor said Wednesday, days before a vote on the agency’s proposed largest-ever toll and fare hikes.

The bi-state authority paid $85.7 million in overtime last year to 5,360 of its 6,977 employees, an audit by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found. More than two dozen of the top overtime earners boosted their total pay to more than $200,000 in 2009, in many cases more than doubling their base salaries, the audit found. It concluded that the agency has failed to rein in extra pay.

“Management has no clear strategy to achieve its own benchmarks and goals for curbing costs,” DiNapoli said. “Before the Port Authority asks for more money to fund its operations, the agency should take a long, hard look at whether its business model for managing overtime really makes sense.”  (Boburg and Reitmeyer, The Record)



Citing debt and benefits, Fitch lowers bond rating for New Jersey

Despite its efforts to cut spending, New Jersey is a riskier investment, one of the leading ratings agencies said on Wednesday as it lowered the state’s credit rating, citing heavy debt and benefits obligations.

Fitch Ratings lowered its assessment of New Jersey’s general obligation bonds one notch, to AA– from AA. Fitch’s ratings for Kentucky and Michigan are also AA–; only California and Illinois have worse ratings.

In June, Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature agreed on health care and pension changes for public workers that will save New Jersey billions of dollars. That deal added to other large budget cuts Mr. Christie had passed since taking office in January 2010, as well as savings he hopes to get in continuing contract talks with public-employee unions.  (Pérez-Peña, The New York Times)



NJ schools prepare to implement bullying law

New Jersey schools are ramping up for the state’s new anti-bullying law as the start to another school year looms just weeks away.

School administrators have attended regional training sessions to prepare for implementing the measure, which has been called the toughest of its kind in the nation.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights permits the expulsion of offenders from school and adds strict requirements to report and investigate incidents without delay.

Districts have until Sept. 1 to show the state Department of Education that their policies comply with the law, signed by Gov. Christie in January.  (Hicks, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Republicans hoping shakeup in Cumberland County will help their chances in 1st Legislative District

Republicans are hoping a political shakeup in Cumberland County could give them the opening they need to overcome the power of incumbency in the 1st Legislative District.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, is seeking a second term in office against Republican challenger David DeWeese.

Meanwhile, Republican challengers Suzanne Walters of Stone Harbor and Cumberland County Freeholder Sam Fiocchi of Vineland are challenging incumbent Democrats Nelson Albano and Matthew Milam for state Assembly.

DeWeese, a lawyer and municipal court judge from Wildwood, said he hoped to capitalize on perceived disarray among Cumberland County Democrats. Two Democratic Cape May County freeholders are not seeking re-election while a third, longtime Cumberland County Democratic Party Chairman Louis Magazzu, resigned this month amid a sexting scandal.  (Miller, Press of Atlantic City)



Veepstakes speculation heats up

Virginia’s McDonnell, however, hails from a key swing state that Obama’s team is focused on, and his experience as chair of the Republican Governors Association could fit a national ticket.

The presidential field might also produce several vice presidential prospects since it’s not uncommon for primary opponents to select one another as ticketmates after a hard-fought contest – Obama and Vice President Joe Biden come to mind – but given Perry’s criticism of Romney over his Massachusetts health care plan, and his known antipathy for his former fellow governor, it is hard to see them serving together.

Most strategists pointed out that, for all the parlor games surrounding the early veep possibilities, the ultimate pick very much comes down to the nominee’ s gut feeling toward his or her prospective running mate.   (Haberman, Politico)



New Jersey teachers’ raises drop to average of 2 percent

Average raises for teachers under contracts negotiated this year have dropped to about 2 percent, data released Wednesday by the New Jersey School Boards Association show.

But the number of districts with starting teacher salaries of at least $50,000 will double this year to 162, New Jersey Education Association data show.

More than 200 expired contracts remain in negotiation, compared with the 158 that remained unsettled at the same time last year. Representatives of both the NJSBA and the NJEA said the economy, state budget and new state laws governing pensions and benefits have contributed to slower negotiations.

Locally, about 15 districts in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean Counties are still in negotiations.  (D’Amico, Press of Atlantic City)



N.J. a great place for kids despite increased poverty count

The annual Kids Count survey found New Jersey ranked fifth in the nation as a state to raise and educate children, moving us up two positions from last year.

Kids Count said New Jersey scored highly in children’s health and well-being, which takes in infant mortality and teen deaths to the percentage of children living in poverty. And New Jersey had the best rate in the nation in keeping teens in high school.

Advocates for Children of New Jersey reported that the state saw improvements in the infant mortality rate, teen deaths, and teen births.

But unfortunately, the poverty count was moving up in New Jersey as well as across the nation. The survey reported that 13 percent of New Jersey children were living in poverty in 2009, compared to 10 percent in 2000. Across the U. S., 20 percent of children were living in poverty in 2009, while 17 percent were doing so in 2000.  (Holt, New Jersey Newsroom)



N.J. receives $4.5M in grants from Department of Transportation for ferry-related projects

The U.S. Department of Transportation believes in ferries.

About three-quarters of more than $4.5 million in grants awarded for New Jersey highway-related efforts is going toward ferry projects.

The largest award was $2.54 million for replacement of the bulkhead retaining wall at Bayshore Ferry Terminal in Middletown.

Other ferry-related grants announced today by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez (both D-N.J.) were: $475,000 to design and build a ferry facility with boat service for Elizabeth and $300,000 for improvements to the Long Branch Pier and Ferry Terminal.  (Frassinelli, The Star-Ledger)



NRC will allow nuclear industry to keep policing itself

After years of criticisms that they were lax in dealing with radioactive leaks, spills and groundwater contamination at nuclear power plants, federal regulators have decided to let the industry keep policing itself.

The five-member U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission agreed to maintain the status quo and not add a tougher level of oversight — at least for now.

NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko, the lone supporter of stronger oversight, had stressed that voluntary efforts aren’t good enough. But the four other commissioners disagreed, and the agency will monitor the effectiveness of a voluntary industry initiative on protecting groundwater.  (Bates, Gannett)|topnews|text|State



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Casinos report drop in second-quarter net revenue, gross operating profit

Atlantic City casinos today reported a 7.3 percent second-quarter drop in net revenue – down to $855.1 million – compared to the second quarter of last year, according to reports filed with the Division of Gaming Enforcement.

For the quarter, casinos reported gross operating profit – before taxes, interest, depreciation and other items – of $136.3 million, an 8.5 percent decline from $149 million of last year’s second quarter.  (Mooney, State Street Wire)



Lautenberg and Pallone join boardwalk parade, announce updated Beach Act

One week after Gov. Chris Christie came to the former Monmouth County borough of Elcho – now Belmar – a Democratic echo came from two Washington delegates at the beach today.

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said Newsweek recently named Belmar the fifth most popular beach in the United States, and he and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-7) announced their renewal and strengthening of the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act to keep it that way.  (Carroll, State Street Wire)



Lesniak to reintroduce online betting bill

A state senator said today he will reintroduce legislation that would permit online betting. 

In the wake of the demise of Perretti Farms, New Jersey’s largest standardbred horse farm, Sen. Raymond Lesniak, (D-20), said he would reintroduce next week a bill that earlier this year the governor vetoed.  (Staff, State Street Wire)



From the Back Room 



Out of the diners and onto the stage

State Sen. Brian P. Stack (D-33) of Union City and Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop convened a question and answer session with residents this evening at Zeppelin Hall.

“A unified front,” one source described the hour and a half long session, which was attended by 400 people.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)






Why Rick Perry can win

I think Governor Rick Perry has even shot both to beat Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination for President, as well as defeating President Obama next year.

He has the gravitas and experience that only Governors of mid-to-large states possess.  He has been Governor of Texas for 12 years.  While the Texas governorship is “weak” compared to governorships in most other states, his long tenure appears to have acquainted him with important issues that come with high office.  (Michaels, PolitickerNJ)



That was Jersey news that was

While most freshmen Congressmen linger in the back row of unimportant sub-committees until they prove their worth, at least one New Jersey freshman congressman has been put in charge of an extraordinarily important Congressional committee. Earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner appointed first term New Jersey Congressman Jon Runyan (NJ–3) to chair the newly formed Congressional Coffee Committee.  Falling to Runyon will be the very important job of making sure all 435 members of Congress have their cup of coffee each and every morning.  (Novick, PolitickerNJ)



Rutgers sports costs don’t anger Christie

Governor Christie never let a mere technicality, such as lack of authority, stop him from imposing his will on the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners.

Christie stood in his bully pulpit and railed against that agency’s waste and patronage and its ridiculous regatta on the Passaic River. He shook the place up. The overpaid executive director quit. The board of commissioners fled. Some workers ended up in court, like the four arraigned Wednesday in Paterson, charged with sending subordinates to work on their homes on company time. PVSC hacks became the first scalps in Christie’s cost-cutting crusade.  (Stile, The Record)



Should taxes be used to fight the opening of charter schools?

Should public school districts be allowed to use tax money for lawsuits that seek to keep charter schools from opening? As charter schools increasingly go from urban to suburban it’s a question that needs the public spotlight.

The Princeton International Academy Charter School seeks to bring attention to the issue by suing three public school districts, contending that for two years Princeton Regional, South Brunswick and Plainsboro-West Regional districts have spent at least $44,000 in tax money for legal fees and other expenses in a “calculated and continuing campaign with the objective of ensuring that PIACS never opens its doors.”  (Ingle, Gannett)



Inside look at helistop’s history

Evesham residents and others who work in town have major issues with a helistop created a few years ago without any public action by officials.

The helistop is owned and operated by The Michaels Organization at a Stow Road industrial park, about a mile from Conner Strong & Buckelew’s planned helistop site off Route 73 and Cropwell Road.

Michaels’ helistop has been granted temporary state Department of Transportation licenses since April 2009. But the helistop was never publicly approved by an Evesham board, and the township didn’t have an ordinance on the books allowing industrial park helistops until April 12.  (Rosen, Gannett)



Heroes, until they’ve arrived

A little Rick Perry goes a very long way.

That was one lesson of the last few days, when this proud cowboy, whose stride into the presidential derby had been as lustrous and neatly styled as his mane, began to show more than a few split ends.

He fantasized aloud about the “ugly” justice that Texans might administer to the Federal Reserve chairman, whom I’d advise to connect through Chicago instead of Dallas for the time being. He questioned President Obama’s love of country, perhaps presenting a fallback position for birthers frustrated by that pesky certificate. He carped that a specific licensing requirement for tractors was “idiotic,” which it absolutely would be, except for one teensy, party-spoiling detail. It doesn’t exist.  (Bruni, The New York Times)


Morning News Digest: August 18, 2011