Morning News Digest: Monday, August 08, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: Week of August 1
It was tough to dredge up the winners this week on a national political landscape that gave us the debt ceiling debate, another round of Gov. Chris Christie bill signings and an AFL-CIO convention that sources described as a circus.
But here they are, along with the far easier other side of the equation… (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
AFL-CIO endorsements expose federation’s internal divide
Moments after a contentious endorsement conference during which the AFL-CIO failed to endorse three of its own, members of the trades unions attending the meeting turned their backs and walked out the door.
The endorsement snubs of Democratic Senators Steve Sweeney and Donald Norcross and Republican Assemblyman John Amodeo, all trades union members who voted in favor of a recent pension and health benefit reform bill that the state’s public employee unions opposed, labeled the AFL-CIO as out of touch and “irrelevant,” charged William Mullen, President of the of the New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council, and AFL-CIO member. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
NJEA releases endorsements
The state’s largest teachers union released its slate of endorsements Saturday and like the AFL-CIO, which released its list on Friday, the union has made some legislators pay for their support of recent pension and healthcare reform.
Notably missing from the NJEA endorsements are several prominent Democrats, including Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
“While the screening committees took many issues into account in making their decisions, as a result of the recent pension and benefit legislation, our members will be facing significant financial consequences,” said NJEA President Barbara Keshishian. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie: Deal not near with NJ state worker union
Gov. Chris Christie says contract talks with New Jersey’s largest public worker union are continuing at a slow pace.
Christie says the administration has offered proposals on wages and noneconomic issues to the Communications Workers of America. But he doesn’t expect an agreement within the next two weeks.
The contract for 40,000 state CWA employees expired June 30.
Hetty Rosenstein, the union’s state director, says the two sides haven’t met in several weeks and no meetings are scheduled. But she says the two sides haven’t reached an impasse and bargaining will continue. (Delli Santi, The Associated Press)
Christie kicks off health center week in South Jersey
Gov. Chris Christie is kicking off New Jersey’s participation in National Health Center Week.
Christie will travel to a health center in Burlington City Monday to sign a proclamation.
The second week of August is set aside every year to recognize the contributions community and public health centers make toward ensuring everyone has access to medical care.
The theme for 2011 is “serving locally, leading nationally.” (Lederman, The Associated Press)
Why the Port Authority wants $1 billion in toll and fare hikes
For decades, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has been one of the region’s key economic drivers, pulling in ever-increasing revenues from its airports, cargo ports and bridge and tunnel tollbooths and pumping that money back into the economy in massive job-creating infrastructure projects.
Now it’s the Port Authority that’s overextended and strapped for revenue, as its unprecedented request for a $1 billion-a-year toll and fare hike shows. The plan would raise bridge and tunnel tolls, which were just increased from $6 to $8 three years ago, to $12 next month and to $14 in 2014, and would hike PATH fares next month from $1.75 to $2.75. (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)
Spotlight Interview: George Norcross
George Norcross — part Democratic power broker, part South Jersey businessman and cheerleader — has recently added a third attribute: self-proclaimed school reformer.
He has publicly backed a controversial tax-credit voucher bill called the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA). He has talked about opening a network of charter schools in Camden. And he has grown ever more outspoken in criticizing the public sector unions that have lately made him Public Enemy No. 2 behind Gov. Chris Christie — especially the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. energy policy receives another revision
New Jersey is overhauling its energy policy for the second time in three years as states make rewrites to keep up with technology changes and ideological shifts.
Northeastern states have been responding lately to the abundance of natural gas drawn from the Pennsylvania section of the Marcellus Shale, a geologic formation in the Appalachian basin. It has dropped gas prices to a third of 2008 peaks. (Jordan, Gannett)
Proposals would alter car insurance in state
New Jersey proposed a sweeping overhaul last week to its regulations for the personal injury protection component of auto insurance, hoping to curb rising premiums. The changes affect how and what doctors can bill for treatments and restructure the process for appealing a denied claim.
Though New Jersey consistently ranks among the most expensive states to purchase auto insurance, rates did decline after former Gov. James E. McGreevey enacted changes in 2003 that spurred competition. (Lederman, The Associated Press)
Solar industry still hopes to stand out
New Jersey has been proud of its commitment to renewable energy, and legislative policies have encouraged the installation of photovoltaic solar arrays to the point that the state is second only to California in solar power production, according to the Board of Public Utilities.
But in June, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration announced that it was withdrawing New Jersey from a 10-state regional energy plan, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
This was followed a few days later with the introduction of the proposed new Energy Management Plan, a blueprint for energy planning for the next decade. (MacKenzie, Gannett)
PSE&G increases investment in transmission and distribution lines 15 percent
Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) is once again ramping up its capital spending on new transmission and distribution lines, boosting its investment by 15 percent to $5.2 billion over the next three years.
In its quarterly earnings call Wednesday, the state’s largest utility indicated that more than half of its increased spending will involve transmission line projects, saying recent state and federal regulatory approvals laid the foundation for the investments. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Program addresses childhood obesity
Children across New Jersey once again have the opportunity to become “Health Heroes” by learning about childhood obesity, designing programs to address it and implementing the programs in their communities.
Kicking off the fourth year, Youth Service America and UnitedHealthcare are calling all “Health Heroes” to apply for 2012 UnitedHealth HEROES grants.
UnitedHealth HEROES is a service-learning, health literacy initiative designed to encourage young people, working with educators and youth leaders, to create and implement local hands-on programs to fight childhood obesity. (Staff, Gannett)
Filling budget shortfalls: Nursing, care centers prepare for $37.5M funding state budget cuts
Reductions in state and federal funding have operators of nursing homes and specialty care hospitals scrambling to fill budget shortfalls.
In Hamilton, the head of one senior-citizen facility faces a funding loss of up to $300,000, money that could be recouped by cutting into services like transportation and nutrition.
For many nursing and care centers, Paul Langevin, president of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, said the impact of the cuts remains to be seen.
“But clearly they’re not going to be able to provide the same level of care,” he said, especially if staffing is reduced. (Duffy, The Times)
Newark creates office of film and television
Newark is ready for its close up.
New Jersey’s largest city has established an office of film and television. It was set up to help companies with everything from logistics to identifying locations for film shoots.
It will also help film and TV producers apply for state incentive programs
City officials hope to persuade filmmakers to consider shooting in Newark and also obtain any needed goods and services locally. (The Associated Press)
U.S. judge gives N.J. legislators more time to make wine laws
A U.S. District Court judge has given New Jersey lawmakers a shot at salvaging profits for the state’s wine industry.
In December, a federal court of appeals ruled that it was unconstitutional to allow in-state wineries to sell directly to retailers and in tasting rooms while requiring wineries from other states to go through wholesalers.
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney backed a bill that would allow state wineries to keep their tasting rooms open and ship their products directly to consumers’ homes. The bill was not passed by the time lawmakers departed for their summer recess. (Bittner, Gloucester County Times)
Cumberland County freeholder’s resignation shows power of local bloggers
When Carl Johnson began his Magazzu Watch website several years ago, the Millville resident’s goal was to act as a watchdog — not on a county, exactly, not even on a town, but on a single individual: Cumberland County Freeholder Louis Magazzu.
After years of posts about Magazzu’s public statements and the ins and outs of county governance, Johnson decided to post nude photos of Magazzu, obtained from an unidentified woman, that led to Magazzu’s resignation Tuesday.
“The local news essentially shrugged it off as not being a story,” Johnson said. “So I put it on my website, and then I guess (they) decided it was a story. Now I’ve gotten calls from all over. I’ve gotten calls from Australia.” (Lemongello, Press of Atlantic City)
Latest from State Street Wire
Christie, Cuomo express concern over proposed toll hikes by Port Authority
The governors of New Jersey and New York both expressed concern over the news of a planned toll hike by the Port Authority.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie today released the following statement today…(Staff, State Street Wire)
Port Authority fare hikes await, Post reports
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will announce a fare increase of $1 on the PATH line, $4 for EZ Pass and $10 for cash payers on all six of its bridge crossings, according to the New York Post. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Multiple-dwelling-unit inspection bills draw League of Municipalities’ opposition
The N.J. League of Municipalities has sent a letter to state lawmakers in opposition to two bills that it believes would hamper municipalities’ ability to inspect apartments, hotels and motels. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Institutions vs. community-based care: Fate of legislation, Vineland still up in the air
The issue of having developmentally disabled people moved from state-run institutions to community-based centers is an emotional one, with advocates on both sides fighting passionately for their causes. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Judge tosses Schneider case against Unger, Politano
Superior Court Judge Patricia Del Bueno Cleary today threw out a lawsuit filed by Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider against challenger Councilman Brian Unger, political consultant Pat Politano and others involved in last year’s Long Branch Mayoral election. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Democrats can survive rebuff from big labor
The AFL-CIO of New Jersey last Thursday publicly snubbed the “Christiecrats,” the derisive moniker used to describe Democrats who voted for Governor Christie’s new law that dramatically hikes the amount public employees contribute toward their health and pension benefits.
The powerful labor coalition refused to endorse Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the ironworker union official who sponsored the measure, and Sen. Donald Norcross, the former Camden County labor leader, in the fall legislative elections. (Stile, The Record)
Sweeney still looks for the union label
The state AFL-CIO announced its endorsements for all seats in the Legislature last week. Not surprisingly, Republicans didn’t feel the love. More unusual is that key Democrats were also left without a date for the Nov. 8 prom. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, as well as Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, are going alone.
The snub to Sweeney and Norcross is more pronounced because both are union members: Sweeney, an iron worker, and Norcross, a member of the electrical union. But apparently the two men should have been looking for love from the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union because, in the eyes of the state AFL-CIO, they are really good at making turncoats. (Doblin, The Record)
Personal injury protection reforms needed to halt rising auto insurance rates
In New Jersey, auto insurance rate hikes are like the cicada, they come around in predictable cycles and bug the hell out of us. Politicians used to shrug their shoulders and say it’s terrible but that nothing could be done because we’re such a crowded state.
When voters found out legislative leaders had no incentive to push insurance reform because they were driven around in state cars at taxpayer expense, they spoke up. The McGreevey administration determined high rates were partially due to lack of competition, fueled by New Jersey’s byzantine bureaucracy that discouraged new companies from selling here. Changes were made, Geico’s spokeslizard came to Jersey and the cost of auto insurance dropped. (Ingle, Gannett)
N.J. tops other states on the metrics that matter
Chief Executive magazine in its seventh survey of the business friendliness of the 50 states, has again concluded New Jersey is near the bottom.
To be clear, the survey is an opinion survey in which the rankings often contradict Chief Executive magazine’s own data. The survey also is not in sync with the data to be found in the Council on State Taxation’s annual study of state and local business taxes prepared by the quantitative economics and statistics practice of Ernst & Young LLP. (Najarian, NJBIZ)
In case you missed it
New Jersey health benefits committee working slowly
The new state labor-management health benefits committee is moving slowly on its mission to design new, more cost-effective management plans for government employees.
The 12-member committee — evenly split between labor representatives and those appointed by the state — could not agree on a chairperson at its first meeting in late July. (Method, Gannett)
N.J. Republicans line up to challenge Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez
Add another name to the field of potential Republican candidates who may want to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez next year: Tim Smith.
Tim who? He’s a councilman in Roxbury, and founder and CEO of the Comprehensive Group, a financial services firm.
Smith, 48, acknowledged to The Auditor he’s considering a run. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. Democrats say their barbs have forced Gov. Christie to rethink harsh approach
Gov. Chris Christie pulled a page from former President Bill Clinton’s playbook when visiting with seniors in Bergen County last week — he felt their pain.
“I want to thank the seniors who are here, and those you represent, for hanging in there with us through very difficult times,” he said. “It’s been a tough 18 months in New Jersey since I became governor.” (Megerian, The Star-Ledger)
Port Authority’s proposed toll hikes raise hackles
Outraged North Jersey residents vowed to curtail travel to New York if a Port Authority proposal to increase fares at Hudson River crossings is adopted.
The cost of traversing bridges and tunnels could double within the next three years, according to a plan unveiled Friday.
Governor Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a joint statement they had “obvious and significant concerns” about the plan and would weigh the impact of residents shelling out more cash versus the bi-state agency’s need to protect its bond rating. (Adely, Coutros and Yorio, The Record)
Measure would make permanent N.J. veterans program
Legislation that would make permanent a peer counseling program that has helped thousands of New Jersey veterans deal with mental health matters has been sent to Governor Christie’s desk.
Vet-2-Vet, a toll-free confidential help line, was created years ago by the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. It’s designed as an early intervention for returning veterans suffering from psychological or emotional distress or seeking help assimilating back into civilian life. (The Associated Press)
Van Drew optimistic Christie will prolong care center’s life
A bill that could extend the life of a care center on the verge of closure is still sitting on the governor’s desk.
The bill, S2928, calls to create a task force to review all seven state developmental centers. It passed in both state legislative houses on June 29.
Gov. Chris Christie signing the $29.697 billion state budget in June put Vineland Developmental Center in line for closure by June 2013, but he also promised to carefully examine the bill creating the task force. (Funderburk, Gannett)
N.J. to spend more than $17M on snow equipment after last winter’s historic storms
It was an epic blizzard that hit the day after Christmas, with up to 2 1/2 feet of snow burying New Jersey’s roads for days.
And the flurry of criticism came quickly for Gov. Chris Christie, who was vacationing in Florida while people were trying to dig out from mounds of snow in whiteout conditions. (Rizzo, The Star-Ledger)
New Brunswick magic being tried in Atlantic City
The head of the nonprofit agency redeveloping New Brunswick now has a formal role in efforts by Gov. Chris Christie’s Hanson Commission to pump new life into Atlantic City.
Christopher J. Paladino, president of the New Brunswick Development Corp., had already been contributing since last fall to the volunteer advisory panel for policy on the state‘s sports, gaming and entertainment businesses. (Jordan, Gannett)
Christie signs bill that attempts to make horse racing independent and self-sustaining in New Jersey
Gov. Chris Christie on Friday signed legislation to bring about the takeover of horse racing from the state Sports & Exposition Authority by private operators and authorizes the joint management of Meadowlands Racetrack and Monmouth Park for a one-year transitional period. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Bill would offer pretrial intervention for misdemeanors
Defense attorney Joe Eustace made an unusual request in court a few days ago on behalf of his client, a recent high school graduate accused of shoplifting a few pairs of jeans from a local mall; he asked the local prosecutor to charge his client with stealing more.
And the practice is common, defense attorneys say. (DeFalco, The Associated Press)
N.J. mental health system struggles
This is a familiar story to mental health advocates.
A mentally ill Camden County man has nowhere to go since he was kicked out of his group home. In and out of psychiatric hospitals throughout his adult life, he requires supervision and reminders to take his twice-daily medication. For now, he is living with his parents while waiting for another program to take him in. (Mulford, Gannett)
Subsidizing airlines at Atlantic City International is questioned after AirTran announces departure
AirTran Airways’ announcement last week that it will eliminate flights at Atlantic City International Airport raises the question of whether commercial air service will ever bring tourists to the casinos – and whether public dollars should subsidize a market that isn’t there.
Area officials expressed hope that airline service would still some day expand Atlantic City’s tourism industry, especially if new investment and state intervention succeed in reviving the gaming resort. (Froonjian, Press of Atlantic City)
Alliance critical of efforts on Pinelands
A report by a preservation group accuses government agencies at all levels of not doing enough to save the Pine Barrens by controlling development that affects
In its annual State of the Pinelands report, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance directed its harshest criticism at the state Department of Environmental Protection and also expressed serious concerns about the policy direction of the Pinelands Commission. (Comegno, Gannett)
Prosecutors from seven counties to address cyber bullying at school safety conference
Imagine being a child who dreads going to school every single day. Every morning, just arriving on school grounds is a horror.
They torment you about the shoes you wear, the blemishes on your skin, your hair, your frame. They spread rumors about what goes on in your bedroom, and for every eye that meets yours, you assume he or she has heard. (Green, Gloucester County Times)
Newark school had been flagged before for possible cheating on standardized tests
The Benjamin Franklin School in Newark is one of almost three dozen recently flagged by the state for possible cheating on standardized tests, but this wasn’t the school’s first brush with allegations of testing impropriety.
Late last year, the district disciplined one of the school’s third-grade teachers — and forced all of her students to retake their state exams — after a state investigation found the teacher had “breached the test administration security” by allegedly giving a student extra time to finish, according to a report by state investigators for the Department of Education. (Rundquist and Calefati, The Star-Ledger)
Thousands of Verizon workers in NJ go on strike
Thousands of New Jersey employees of Verizon Communications Inc. were among 45,000 who went on strike this morning after unions representing the workers failed to reach an agreement with the telecommunications giant on a new labor contract.
Verizon said that negotiations in Philadelphia and New York with the Communications Workers of America fell apart. (Stirling, The Star-Ledger)
Deal to buy homes for $1 in Camden headed to mediation
Carolyn Bethea raised her five kids on the second and third floors of a rowhouse at Broadway and Clinton Street in Camden, owned by developer Israel Roizman. After living there for 18 years, she was evicted in December, smashing her dream of home ownership — a dream that seemed within reach.
Bethea’s home was one of 91 units purchased by Roizman from the city for $175,000 in 1992 with financing from New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs. (Stilwell, Gannett)
Burlington County prosecutor says Evesham violated Sunshine Law
Township officials violated the state’s Sunshine Law by emailing one another prior to a meeting concerning a controversial “helistop” project off Route 73, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office announced Friday.
Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi made the decision after a six-week investigation into whether the Open Public Meetings Act was violated. (McHale, Burlington County Times)
Christie’s helicopter flights still kicking up storm
Thursday’s column on Gov. Chris Christie’s state helicopter flights prompted strange responses as it circulated on major national media outlets.
That evening, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak was quoted by USA Today political blogger Catalina Camia saying my column about his office not releasing information on four Christie helicopter flights and three trips to the shore was “completely erroneous” and incorrect. (Rosen, Gannett)
This “sharia-law business is crap . . . and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies!” So blustered Chris Christie. Bluster is the New Jersey governor’s default mode. It has certainly served him well. When directed at surly advocates of New Jersey’s teachers’ unions — who, after all, deserve it — bluster can apparently make a conservative heartthrob out of a pol whose bite is bipartisan moderate, however titillating his bark may be. (McCarthy, National Review)
Bottom lines: New Jersey car insurers take stand against customers’ high medical bills
New Jersey auto insurance costs have been rising the past decade, which worries those of us who remember when we paid the highest premiums in the nation.
As of last year, we were still a comfortable 22nd among states for auto insurance costs, but the state Department of Banking and Insurance wants to reverse the trend that could return us to the unpleasant past. (Post, Press of Atlantic City)
Eliu Rivera is in his ‘last hurrah’ phase: Political Insider
The Night Out Against Crime event Tuesday at the Villa Boriquen housing complex in Jersey City was one of loud music, dancing, food and drink — and the public appearance of Freeholder Eliu Rivera.
There has not been a complete explanation of how Rivera, 67, finds himself needing help to breathe. All anyone knows is that he was accidentally exposed to a chemical aerosol that left him incapacitated and then hospitalized. (Torres, The Jersey Journal)