Morning News Digest: September 13, 2011

Morning News Digest: Tuesday, September 13, 2011

By Missy Rebovich

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Christie done talking about Oliver issue

Gov. Chris Christie had the same answer today that he had last week on whether his account of the pension and benefits reform passage given in a political speech was accurate. It was, he said.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver called the governor’s account a lie, which Christie said today seemed like a “defensive” response from Oliver.

He reiterated his belief that her lower chamber shepherding of the bill was “courageous,” and that her actions would be historically vindicated in the eyes of taxpayers.

Even though Christie has himself called Oliver a liar in the past, he also continued to not engage the lawmaker in what he terms “name-calling.”

“I’m growing up in this job, too,” Christie said. “In January 2010, I would have really taken it to heart.” He was critical of Democrats for using his account of interactions with Oliver as another reason to threaten Oliver’s position as speaker, and said he was done talking about the issue.  (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)



NJ governor heads to Cherry Hill elementary school

A day after announcing he would reconsider some regulations on how schools measure success, Gov. Chris Christie plans to ask students about it.

Christie and acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf will visit a Cherry Hill elementary school on Tuesday to speak with first-graders.

On Monday, the governor sat down with school superintendents for an education round table to discuss ways to update how schools measure success and graduate more college-ready freshmen.

Christie says the current measures to determine classroom success — the federal No Child Left Behind and the state’s Quality Single Accountability Continuum — both have flaws. He said the department would look to merge the two measures into a single accountability tool.  (Associated Press)



Christie: No obligation to announce travel plans

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he had no obligation to announce a trip to Colorado before speaking at a private gathering of GOP conservatives in June.

Christie told reporters “I go a lot of places without telling you” when asked about the trip Monday.

Christie criticized former Gov. Jon Corzine’s out-of-state trips while running against him, and Christie promised greater transparency. But his trip went unnoticed until a secret recording surfaced of the speech Christie gave to the big-money Republicans.

In it, Christie says he agreed to help Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver hold on to her leadership post if Democrats took a run at her after she posted pension and health benefits legislation they opposed.  (Delli Santi, Associated Press)



NJ seeks No Child Let Behind waiver; Chris Christie ready to refocus on education reform

For parents and students, this is back-to-school time. For Gov. Christie, it’s back to education reform.

Christie and his top education chief said Monday the state would seek a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements and move forward on other proposed changes to state tests and curriculum standards.

Christie and acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf made the announcement during an open meeting with three superintendents and the chair of Christie’s task force on education.

Cerf said that a new, tougher high school exam could be in place for the 2012-13 school year. Cerf had previously discussed making New Jersey students pass an exam or exams, much like the New York Regents Exam, in order to graduate.

Although students currently are expected to pass the state’s High School Proficiency Assessment, the test is considered closer to an eighth-grade level test and there are alternatives to obtaining a diploma other than passing the test.  (Method, Gannett)



Easing the bureaucratic burden on public schools

More than a century ago, a county superintendent annually visited a public school in New Jersey to check its buildings (including outhouses), the “efficiency of the teachers,” and the “character, record and standing of the pupils.”

Jump cut 100 years and public schools — according to critics — are burdened by more than 1,000 pages of regulations and 1,200 of statute. And Gov. Chris Christie is the most recent governor to decide things have gone too far.

Yesterday, Christie launched the latest phase of his school reform agenda with a plan — or a loose timeline — for revising the rulebook.

“These requirements often come out of either a good idea that wasn’t implemented correctly or a bad idea that shouldn’t have been approved in the first place,” Christie said. 

Christie will be doing a series of these events. Another is planned for today in Cherry Hill.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Gov. Christie’s Education Task Force offers proposals on changing public education

Gov. Chris Christie on Monday called the initial report of his Education Transformation Task Force a strong first step in his effort to change and improve the way New Jersey’s public school function.

The governor said the report also provides recommendations on how to reduce the regulatory burden in an attempt to make it easier for schools and educators to focus their efforts on classroom innovations.

The recommendations, to be followed by a final report submitted by the Task Force on Dec. 31, are described as a critical element of what Christie calls his four “Building Blocks for Success in New Jersey’s Schools,” including changes to address educator performance and accountability, academics and standards in the education system.

“This report confirms that we need to provide a new accountability system that works for our educators and students, and that sensibly moves us toward a system that values educational results over bureaucratic red tape,” Christie said.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Christie administration nixes plan that would have cut Medicaid coverage for thousands of N.J. residents

Thousands of New Jersey’s working poor will keep their health insurance under a new administration proposal to restructure Medicaid, abandoning a controversial plan that would have drastically reduced the number of eligible recipients.

In May, the state Department of Human Services proposed tightening the income requirements for New Jersey FamilyCare, an offshoot of Medicaid, which provides affordable health insurance for working parents and their children.

For instance, a family of three making $5,317 a year would have earned too much to qualify, compared with the current income cutoff of $24,645.

The initial proposal was roundly criticized by Democratic state legislators, New Jersey’s congressional delegation and advocates for children and the poor. Today, they expressed relief at the final plan.  (DeMarco, The Star-Ledger)



Administration requests plans to privatize Liberty State Park

The Christie administration’s efforts to privatize state assets moved forward on another front yesterday.

In a request for proposal issued by the Department of Environmental Protection, the agency asked developers to propose a plan for managing and operating concessions, catering and event services at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, one of the most popular parks in the country.

This is the latest effort by the administration to turn over certain functions at state-owned facilities to the private sector, a push that has been criticized by some environmentalists.

Since Gov. Chris Christie took office, the administration has turned over boat rentals at Island State Park to the private sector, as well as state-owned golf courses in Monmouth and Gloucester counties. It also has proposed allowing state forest lands to be cleared of timber, a move that has been put on hold.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



Carl Lewis again aims at spot on NJ Senate ballot in court today

Olympic superstar Carl Lewis may be down to his last chance to get back on the ballot in New Jersey for November’s state Senate election.

His lawyers are scheduled to argue his case Tuesday before a panel of federal appeals judges in Philadelphia to put him back in the race.

A judge agreed last week that he should not be on the ballot in New Jersey’s 8th legislative District because he does not meet a four-year residency requirement.

The nine-time Olympic gold medalist wants to run for office as a Democrat, challenging Republican incumbent Dawn Addiego.  (Associated Press)



Bill to provide Hurricane Irene relief fails in U.S. Senate

The U.S. Senate this afternoon failed to advance a bill that would have provided $7 billion for victims of natural disasters, including Hurricane Irene, injecting a level of uncertainty into the flow of cash that tens of thousands of flood-ravaged New Jerseyans are counting on to clean up and rebuild.

The measure received 53 votes, seven shy of the 60 needed to advance the bill, part of which would fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Democrats blasted the vote as another example of partisan politics run amok.

“No wonder Americans are fed up with Congress when the Republicans make disaster victims pawns in a political game,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). “The Republicans seem to be willing to go to any length to make the government appear to be dysfunctional and ineffective.”

The uncertainty was something two House Republicans from New Jersey had hoped to avoid in sending a letter last week, asking that there be no delay in disaster aid.  (Goldberg, The Star-Ledger)



Incumbents prepare for challenge

Democratic incumbents in districts spanning deep-blue Camden and Gloucester counties acknowledge rarely sweating off-year elections, but insist they do not count their votes before Election Day.

“We’re not in traditional campaign mode, but I suggest to you I’m always in campaign mode,” said 5th District Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden. “It never stops.”

South Jersey Democrats in particular can at turns run against Gov. Chris Christie and on a record of cooperating with him. The delegation — with Assemblyman Nelson Albano of Vineland the lone exception — helped Republicans override a Democratic majority and pass a historic pension and health benefits overhaul for public workers.

It’s a flexibility Democrats in tighter districts might not have. At the same time, lawmakers here say reports of a breakup with organized labor are greatly exaggerated.  (Roh, Gannett)



National Republicans add Runyan to protected incumbents program

The National Republican Congressional Committee today announced that U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan of New Jersey is among 10 additions to its Patriot Program, which aids potentially vulnerable incumbents seeking re-election.

The program provides fundraising and organizational assistance in districts Republicans are seeking to defend as they try to maintain their majority in next year’s elections.

Runyan is currently in his first term representing the 3rd District. The partisan friendliness of the boundaries of his district, and even whether he’ll be facing a Democratic incumbent or a newcomer, will depend on the results of redistricting now getting underway. A map will be completed by mid-January.

The lawmakers added to the program today include three each from Illinois and Ohio, plus lamakers from California, New York and Virginia. All together, 20 are now taking part.  (Symons, Gannett)



Legislator offers seniors help navigating new policies

Assemblyman Gary Schaer met with senior citizens on Monday and delivered some troubling news about the safety net.

Schaer, a Passaic-based Democrat, said changes to Medicaid and New Jersey’s PAAD program that took effect on July 1 have resulted in some seniors paying more for prescription drugs. Some seniors are being hit with increases in copayments ranging from $3 to $5, he said.

Schaer urged seniors to call his office if they need help making sense of the changes or in navigating their way through the system.

“If you give us a problem to work with, we’ll hold your hand and walk you through,” Schaer said.

The assemblyman spoke before about two dozen members of the Sequoia Senior Center, which meets each day at the Hillel Academy, a synagogue at 565 Broadway. The Sequoia Senior Center recently moved to the Hillel Academy after the YM-YWHA center on Scoles Avenue in Clifton closed in June.  (Cowen, The Record)



Lautenberg: Urban Jobs Act will help New Jersey

Some young people in Newark are working hard to learn the skills they need to get a job. The agency that is helping them is hoping the urban jobs bill will help it continue to put young people to work.

Quran Bey, 21, dropped out of high school and was selling drugs on the street. Now thanks to the International Youth Organization he is ready to get a job in landscaping or brownfields. The Urban Jobs Act sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg would provide more funding to organizations like IYO to get more kids off the streets and on the job.

If your neighbor next door your neighbor down the street can’t make a living, can’t take care of his family you’re going to have to pay for it one way or another,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey. “And we ought to pay for it by getting people jobs.”

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama just sent his own $447 billion jobs plan to Congress. It focuses on tax cuts and new spending.  (Persichette, My Fox NY)



Casino union prepares for contract negotiations

The union representing thousands of Atlantic City casino hotel workers brought the nation’s second-largest gambling market to its knees with a 34-day strike in 2004.

Now the relationship between workers and casino operators is reaching another boiling point, with labor contracts for nine of the city’s 11 casinos expiring Thursday and no talks scheduled this week.

Still, the head of Local 54-Unite HERE insists he’s not ready to recommend that members prepare for another stoppage, which could affect the state’s revitalization plans for Atlantic City led by Gov. Chris Christie.

“The economy in Atlantic City is extremely fragile at this point and something like a strike could be devastating,” said Bob McDevitt, the union president.

Other employee unions in the state have been losing ground, but Local 54 still has clout in Atlantic City, with 14,000 members including bartenders, cocktail waitresses, housekeepers, cooks and other service employees.  (Jordan, Gannett)



State agency green-lights discounts to big gas customers

The state agency responsible for overseeing gas rates has decided it is OK to allow larger customers to negotiate discounts with New Jersey utilities, as long as the agreement is reviewed by the Board of Public Utilities (BPU).

Some worry that the decision could saddle ratepayers with higher bills.

The policy has long been in place at the BPU, although the extent of the discounts had not been widely known until two years ago when the issue came up in a rate case involving the state’s biggest utility, Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G), and became public knowledge as a result of reporting by NJ Spotlight.

In the PSE&G case, the BPU allowed the utility to negotiate an agreement with an affiliate that operated power plants so it could avoid the societal benefits charge (SBC), a controversial surcharge paid by virtually all of the state’s nearly 3 million gas customers. The surcharge is the primary means of funding clean energy programs and low-income energy assistance programs.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



State to get $2.7M settlement from health care firm

New Jersey will receive $2.7 million from Maryland-based Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc. to settle claims of overbilling patients who received Medicaid and veterans benefits.

The nationwide company has more than 300 offices in 40 states, including 11 in New Jersey and one on Kings Highway in Cherry Hill. It is based in Columbia, Md.

Maxim agreed to pay $150 million to resolve allegations of fraud and non compliance between Oct. 1 1998 and May 31, 2009. Charges were brought by the federal government and states in which the company does business.

The company provides home health care and medical staffing to tens of thousands of patients and has approximately 60,000 employees, according to state Attorney General Paula Dow.

“False billing to government health care programs has become a blight on our state,” said Dow.  (Stilwell, Gannett)



Ex-Newark Deputy Mayor steered city contracts to developer, surveillance tapes show

On the day Mayor Cory Booker made his first state of the city address, he had vowed to end political contributions given in exchange for city contracts.

“No one with a city contract can give money to politicians in the city of Newark going forward,” Booker told reporters February 7, 2007.

But that same afternoon his deputy mayor, Ronald Salahuddin, was doing just that, according to FBI surveillance tapes.

“Your contract’s the only one that’s been executed,” Salahuddin told Nicholas Mazzocchi, then the state’s largest contractor in building demolition. Only two months prior, according to the tapes, Salahuddin solicited a $5,000 contribution from Mazzocchi to Booker’s nonprofit, Newark Now, telling him, “This makes you strong.”  (Giambusso, The Star-Ledger)



Hackensack hospital loses appeal, millions in state reimbursement

Hackensack University Medical Center has lost a case before the state Appellate Division involving millions of dollars in state reimbursement for expenses related to educating medical residents and interns.

The Legislature’s annual appropriation of funds for graduate medical education — $60 million in the 2010 New Jersey fiscal year — is allocated by the state Medicaid division using a formula set by state law. Funding is made available to hospitals whose “utilization rate,” or the ratio of Medicaid patient days to all patient days, falls above the median.

In 2009, under the formula, Hackensack received $4.1 million. In 2010, the medical center’s utilization rate was one slot below the median. As a result it received nothing.

The hospital challenged this decision by the state agency. It repeatedly submitted additional data that it claimed showed the hospital had actually provided more Medicaid care than originally submitted.  (Washburn, The Record)



Obama’s jobs plan contains $4 billion for high-speed rail

President Barack Obama’s new jobs bill contains $4 billion for high-speed rail grants and $2 billion to repair and refurbish Amtrak’s assets in the Northeast Corridor.

Obama unveiled the specifics of his $447 billion plan Monday.

“This is a bill that is based on ideas from both Democrats and Republicans,” Obama said at a White House ceremony. “And this is the bill that Congress needs to pass. No games. No politics. No delays.”

The Northeast Corridor is the only high-speed rail route in the U.S.

Last week, a House Appropriations subcommittee passed a bill that would eliminate all high-speed rail funding and cut Amtrak’s yearly federal subsidy by $358 million.

The subcommittee, which includes no members from the Northeast, also proposed slashing transit spending and increasing spending on highway and bridge projects. That bill awaits a vote by the full Appropriations Committee.  (Chebium, Gannett)



NJSIAA attorney Herbert dies

Michael Herbert, the NJSIAA’s lead attorney since 1982, passed away Monday morning after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer, associate Steve Goodell said.

Herbert, 73, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late July and passed away at his home in Hopewell Township surrounded by members of his family, Goodell said. Goodell was Herbert’s partner in the Lawrenceville-based Herbert, Van Ness, Cayci, Goodell firm.

“I don’t think there was anybody involved in the association that had more of a commitment to the NJSIAA, its the core values, philosophy and by-laws and consitution than Mike Herbert,’’ said NJSIAA Executive Director Steve Timko. “The membership wrote them and passed them. Mike made sure they were interpreted the way they were written.’’  (Falk, Gannett)



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Court rules Newark company liable for cleanup in section of Passaic River

A Newark plant will have to pay for the cleanup costs of chemicals it discharged into the Passaic River.

Superior Court Judge Sebastian P. Lombardi, sitting in Essex County, ruled that Tierra Solutions Inc., which owns the site of the former Diamond Alkali/Diamond Shamrock plant on Lister Avenue in Newark, is liable under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act for past and future costs of cleaning up a contaminated section of the lower Passaic River.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



GMAC receives OK to resume uncontested mortgage foreclosures in N.J.

GMAC Mortgage has been given permission to resume residential mortgage foreclosures in New Jersey.

The appellate court’s special master issued its report that GMAC be allowed to resume processing uncontested mortgage foreclosures.

This makes the sixth such recommendation by the special master to allow resumption of such foreclosures in the state after the practices had been halted last year over concerns about possible abuse.  (Staff, State Street Wire)



From the Back Room 



Christie to scribe: Get a life

After the governor called today’s press conference in Hopewell to a close, Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran, often a critic of the governor and often the butt of Christie’s criticism of the press, called out a question to the governor.

Moran asked for Christie’s reaction to Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver’s claim that phone records would prove correct her claim that she never called Christie for Republican help to keep her leadership position in the pension and benefit reform passage.  (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)






If speaker fears losing her post, she hides it well

If Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver fears that fellow Democrats are plotting to dump her from the third-most powerful political seat in New Jersey, she did a good job concealing it during an interview Monday.

The Essex County Democrat struck a philosophical, life-will-go-on tone when I asked her about the renewed chatter of a Democratic Party coup d’état. Critics and foes privately say Oliver is sitting on political death row, waiting for a last-minute reprieve. But in our conversation, Oliver gave a verbal shrug.

“I’m not going to cry in my sleep at night if I don’t get reelected,” laughed Oliver, the first African-American woman to hold the post in New Jersey. “If I don’t get elected as speaker, I’ll go sit in my seat in the chamber. … I don’t understand what the brouhaha is about.”  (Stile, The Record)



Qualifications, diversity good for whole court system

An alliance of black and Latino groups has written Senate President Steve Sweeney asking that the Senate not move forward with any state Supreme Court nomination  unless the next two nominations include one Latino and one African-American and represent the court’s partisan (Democrat/Republican) balance.  It is important that the courts have a diverse makeup because for credibility people need to know that the judiciary is representative of the entire population. While this state has appointed Republicans and Democrats back and forth that has not been particularly representative of anything.

In fact, you could argue that New Jersey’s top court has been a laughing stock, responsible for some of the biggest problems the state faces now. Members have misquoted the constitution (thorough and efficient education) and have ruled against it (Torricelli switcheroo).  (Ingle, Gannett)



N.J. water infrastructure must be addressed

Most people — maybe you are included in this — take clean water, and all that goes into delivering it to our taps, for granted.

That is easy to explain, as much of the complex network of pump stations, treatment plants and the thousands of miles of pipes in New Jersey that distribute the water we use in our homes, offices and schools are either buried underground or are not in plain view. This “out of sight” aspect, coupled with the incredible reliability of water service today, has made it difficult for customers to understand the effort and the money required to sustain our water infrastructure, which contributes greatly to growing and sustaining business in the state.  (Bigelow, NJBIZ)

  Morning News Digest: September 13, 2011