Morning News Digest: September 16, 2011

Morning News Digest: Friday, September 16, 2011

By Missy Rebovich

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Walker on GOP appeal: ‘What are they afraid of?’

The Lewis camp reacted with outrage today over an appeal formally applied by GOP attorney Mark Sheridan in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sheridan and the Republicans want the entire, 13-member appeals court to eyeball and overturn a ruling earlier this week by a three-judge panel that would allow Lewis on the ballot.

“Of course we’re pleased with the decision,” said Lewis campaign manager Chris Walker, referring to Tuesday’s initial 2-1 verdict allowing Lewis to appear.

Speaking to Sheridan’s filing Wednesday afternoon, “It’s unfortunate that even before the judges were allowed to make their opinion public the Republicans have already filed,” the Democratic campaign manager added.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Lesniak celebrates court decision in Elizabeth BOE case

When he beat the allies of the Elizabeth School Board in the Democratic Primary, state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) said he wasn’t done wailing on his rivals, and this week provided more evidence of that as Superior Court Judge Karen Cassidy issued a court-order requiring former Elizabeth Board of Education President Rafael Fajardo and schools superintendent Pablo Munoz to pay back more than $60,000 they used on legal fees.

“Whether its the abuse in the free school lunch program, shaking down employees for campaign donations, or treating the taxpayers’ funds like their own personal piggy bank, Fajardo and Munoz and their supporters at the Elizabeth Board of Education have acted with impudence with our children’s education and the taxpayers of Elizabeth and the State,” said Lesniak.  “It’s time to expose the corruption, fraud and abuse of the taxpayers’ trust to the light of day, and to send corrupt school board members packing.  We have to focus on making Elizabeth schools work for the students enrolled there, and not allow the board of education to become a launching pad for political campaigns.”  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Gov.’s office responds to pay to play report

Governor’s spokesman Michael Drewniak today responded to a state Comptroller’s report slamming the state’s pay to play laws governing local contracts.

Drewniak said it’s time for the legislature to act on comprehensive reforms to the pay to play laws.

“The time for excuses and inaction from the Democratically controlled legislature is over: We must expand pay-to-play laws to all levels of government and stop this corrosive, corrupting process involving local contracts.  The report today from state Comptroller Matthew Boxer makes an urgent, crystal clear case for reform,” Drewniak said.

Last year, Gov. Chris Christie proposed a series of ethics reforms that included the elimination of the fair and open loophole decried by Comptroller Matthew Boxer in a report issued earlier today.  Among the proposed changes were the inclusion of labor unions in pay to play legislation and a prohibition on wheeling, which is funneling campaign donations though another entity to circumvent pay to play regulations.  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)



Audit: Pay-to-play rules flawed

A new state audit concludes local pay-to-play laws are essentially meaningless because contracts awarded by a loosely defined “fair and open” process can be exempted.

Comptroller Matthew Boxer said the current pay-to-pay restrictions are fatally flawed and that the state should strengthen or eliminate the exemption that lets local contracts be awarded to political donors so long as a “fair and open” process for choosing vendors is followed.

Local governments alone decide whether their contract qualifies. Cost doesn’t have to be a criteria, and auditors found officials in some towns, such as Hoboken and Ridgefield, don’t even maintain records about who made the evaluation.

“Qualifying as ‘fair and open’ is, to be perfectly blunt, ridiculously easy,” Boxer said.

According to state law, a “fair and open” process is one in which the contract is publicly advertised in advance in newspapers or the government’s website; awarded under a process that provides for solicitation of proposals; awarded under criteria set in writing in advance; and publicly opened and announced when awarded.  (Symons, Gannett)



Fight brews over New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing overhaul by Christie

The Christie administration, providing details Thursday of its decision to eliminate the state’s controversial affordable-housing agency, said the move would end a regulatory nightmare, but advocates called it an illegal giveaway to political allies.

In late June, while Trenton was focused on approving a new budget, Gov. Christie announced several state-government reorganization plans. Those included the elimination of the independent Council on Affordable Housing and the transfer of its functions to the Department of Community Affairs.

The changes would allow Christie to give towns more control over the construction of affordable housing, long a heated issue in a densely populated state where housing costs are high and poverty is concentrated.

New Jersey courts have ruled that towns are obligated to permit the construction of housing for low-income residents. The housing council was the independent agency that determined each town’s obligation.  (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



N.J. state Senator to introduce bill that would require Gov. Christie to tell Legislature when he leaves state

A New Jersey lawmaker wants to force Gov. Chris Christie to tell Legislative leaders every time he leaves the state.

Democratic state Sen. Loretta Weinberg tells The Associated Press she’ll introduce a bill on Monday that would require the governor to be open about where he is at all times.

Democrats have been critical of the governor for jetting off to private fundraising events out of state without releasing details of his whereabouts.

The state Republican Party has advertised some of the governor’s private fundraising events but not all political activity.

Christie says he is in constant touch with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno when he travels. But Christie refuses to release his private schedule because he doesn’t want reporters following his family around on vacation.  (Associated Press)



State lost 100 jobs in August

After six straight months of growth, New Jersey lost 7,100 jobs in August, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Labor and Worforce Development.

But after taking 7,000 striking Verizon workers out of the picture — they are now back on the job — New Jersey saw only a small net total employment drop of 100 jobs.

That small numerical loss, however, represented a significant loss of momentum.

From January to July, the state’s economy added 47,700 jobs, about 8,000 a month.

“Currently there is a real fear that the national economy is slowing dramatically,” said Rutgers University economist James W. Hughes.

Despite the net job loss, New Jersey’s unemployment rate dropped in August, moving lower by 0.1 percentage point to 9.4 percent.

The monthly unemployment report is made up of a survey of New Jersey employers that calculates the number of jobs and the unemployment rate is derived from a survey of New Jersey households. The two don’t always coincide, in part because workers not actively looking for a job aren’t counted as part of the labor force in the household survey.  (Serrano, Gannett)



Senate approves $7B disaster aid plan

President Barack Obama on Thursday issued a disaster declaration for Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties for flooding and other damage caused by severe storms in mid-August — before Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee struck New Jersey.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse state and local governments and nonprofit groups that helped the South Jersey counties recover from the storms of Aug. 13-15, the White House said.

“While much attention has been paid to the impact of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee on South Jersey, substantial destruction had already been inflicted by these mid-August storms. The subsequent weather merely compounded the significant problems these counties were dealing with,” Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-Ventnor, said in a statement.

“With this declaration and the federal resources it promises, communities in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem can fully rebuild,” he said.

This is the second time the state has received a federal disaster designation in recent weeks. The prior one came on Aug. 31 — three days before Obama toured New Jersey — as the state worked to recover from problems caused by Irene.  (Chebium, Gannett)|topnews|text|State



Menendez urges Justice Department to go after scammers promising recovery aid to N.J. flood victims

Amid reports of a targeted mail scam in New Jersey designed to extract payments and private financial information from Hurricane Irene flood victims, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) yesterday urged the U.S. Department of Justice to use its full force to protect vulnerable victims and consumers.

Under the scam, victims in New Jersey receive a false “Financial Recovery Awards” letter asking them to mail a $29.97 payment and to provide their financial information in order to process $27,000 in recovery assistance, which the victims will never receive.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Menendez wrote:

“Individuals who have suffered a natural disaster and who are already hurting, homeless and vulnerable should not be subjected to scams that target their already depleted pocketbooks

“I urge you to put the full force of the Department behind an investigation of these crimes. The flooding in New Jersey is a horrible tragedy and it would be devastating to New Jersey families to forfeit more of their precious resources to these heinous scams.”  (Staff, The Jersey Journal)



Rep. Garrett sponsors bills allowing states to opt out of federal highway, education programs

Rep. Scott Garrett joined several colleagues who share his strict reading of the constitution Thursday in calling on Congress to take the federal government back to limited size they say the founding fathers envisioned.

Bills that Garrett, R-Wantage, is sponsoring would let states opt out of federal highway and education programs. Both bills were included in the 10-point agenda offered by the 10th Amendment Task Force, which takes its name from the provision that says power not specifically given to the national government belongs to the states.

It was not clear whether the House Republican leadership would be moving any of the task force’s bills. Garrett’s highway bill has been pending since 2005 and the education bill since 2007, and neither has advanced in that time.

Garrett said there are fundamental flaws in federal education grant programs, such as the No Child Left Behind initiative by former President George W. Bush that tied federal funding to standards of performance.  (Jackson, The Record)



Sweeney to be honored as Legislator of the Year at Atlantic City reception

The Greater Atlantic City Chamber will co-host a reception Sept. 27 with the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce to recognize four state legislators and three business advocates for promoting a favorable business climate in New Jersey.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem, will be honored as Legislator of the Year by the state chamber.

Other honorees will include Sen. Steven V. Oroho, R-Sussex, Morris, Hunterdon; Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, D-Essex, Union;  and Assemblyman Jon M. Bramnick, R-Union, Morris, Somerset, Essex; as well as N.J. Economic Development Authority CEO Caren Franzini, Choose New Jersey CEO Traceye McDaniel and Business Action Center Executive Director Linda Kellner.  Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who oversees the Partnership for Action, will be among the award presenters.

The honorees will be presented with their awards at a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 27 at Bally’s Atlantic City.

All four of the legislative honorees will participate in a roundtable discussion on business and economic development issues facing New Jersey the following morning, at 9 a.m. Sept. 28.  (Staff, Press of Atlantic City)



Angry N.J. politicians urge Gov. Christie to veto $420K film tax credit for MTV’s ‘Jersey Shore’

New Jersey has a “situation” and it’s not a hard-partying reality television star from Long Island.

A chorus of angry politicians and a national coalition of Italian-Americans called on Gov. Chris Christie Thursday to veto a controversial $420,000 film tax credit awarded to the hit MTV television show “Jersey Shore.”

“The governor needs to step up for decency and veto this. If the show wants to go somewhere else, let ‘em,” said state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), who said it includes negative stereotypes of young Italian-Americans.

“Let us just hope against hope that New Jersey taxpayers don’t end up paying for ‘Snooki’s’ bail the next time she is arrested. What a terrible, terrible and misguided waste.” said State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen).

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said although the governor dislikes both show and the incentive program, he cannot veto the credit issued Wednesday by the state Economic Development Authority. Although the rules say the authority’s actions are subject to potential vetoes, Drewniak explained that the program is non-discretionary and the company met guidelines.  (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)



Whelan, Polistina waste little time challenging each other in first debate

The two candidates for state Senate in the 2nd Legislative District went on the attack at the first debate of the season Thursday.

Assemblyman Vince Polistina, a Republican, worked to portray Sen. Jim Whelan’s 25 years in local elective office as leaving Atlantic City in tatters, while Whelan, a Democrat, took jabs at the public contracts earned by Polistina’s engineering firm.

“The senator has had 25 to 30 years to get the job done,” Polistina said. “Think about it: I was 11 years old when he started.”

Whelan said Polistina has “made his money” at his engineering firm with “no-bid contracts” and added “That is his business, but please, spare us the hypocrisy.”

Attacked by Polistina over the state of Atlantic City and his long tenure as a political leader, Whelan tried to deflect the criticism to Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford, a Democrat running independently without the party’s backing, whom Whelan referred to as Polistina’s friend.

Langford filed to run as an independent in June but previously declined an invitation to appear Thursday.  (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)



2nd District Assembly debate focuses on taxes and casinos, but has no shortage of jabs

The four candidates for Assembly faced off in a debate Thursday that was less intense than their Senate counterparts, but the candidates still jabbed each other when they could.

Republicans John Amodeo and Chris Brown faced Democrats Alisa Cooper and Damon Tyner.

In their opening remarks, incumbent Assemblyman Amodeo said that he is running because he wants to take on the big issues, saying that unstoppable government programs have “put this state and our families on the path to bankruptcy.”

Brown said that he too opposes high taxes, saying everyone’s children need a chance to stay in New Jersey without being taxed out of it.

Cooper, an Atlantic County freeholder, said she was inspired by the model of her mother, former Assemblywoman Dolores Cooper, and “from her I learned the importance of public service.”

At the end of the debate, Amodeo seemed to compliment Cooper, saying that he agreed that her mother was “a great public servant.”  (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)



Republican incumbents in New Jersey’s 9th District race focus on Barnegat Bay, Oyster Creek nuclear plant

The 9th Legislative District incumbents said Thursday they are committed to serving their constituents, protecting and saving Barnegat Bay from further pollution and overseeing an orderly closing of the Oyster Creek Generating Station.

State Sen. Chris Connors, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove, all R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, agree that more work needs to be done to further reforms meant to shield Barnegat Bay from pollution.

They also said they believe that while the closing of the nuclear power plant in Lacey Township may be eight years away, plans need to be made now.

“We don’t want to see what happened in Indiana happen in Lacey Township, when (Oyster Creek operators) Exelon closed another plant out there and it was left vacant,” Rumpf said. “To us, there is an urgency now. It will be here before we know it, and we’ll be left with a ghost yard of a plant with no economic activity at all.”

The candidates spoke during an editorial board meeting with The Press of Atlantic City. The three acknowledge they disagree on certain issues and that they are not party-line people, instead acting first based on what’s best for their constituents.  (Weaver, Press of Atlantic City)



Lawmakers seek full Pompton Lakes study

Members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation have called on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a scientific study to determine whether contaminated groundwater beneath 450 homes in Pompton Lakes has affected the health of residents.

The news brought cautious optimism from some residents, who have long pushed for a more detailed study into the effects of the solvents PCE and TCE in the groundwater. Studies by the state Health Department showed elevated levels of certain cancers among residents, but those reports have never definitively linked the cancers to the solvents.

“The study will give us answers,” said Pompton Lakes Mayor Kathleen Cole. “If there are elevated levels, we need to know so we can help our residents. If they are not elevated, we need to know that as well so it can give our residents peace of mind.” In a letter Wednesday, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. and Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez urged CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden to launch a “scientifically controlled, full health study to assess the complete effects of contamination on the health of the town’s residents.”  (O’Neill, The Record)



Democrats, Independents for November election speak in Stillwater

Leslie Huhn experienced a politician’s broken promise first hand as a parent of a Sparta school district student in 2010. After petitioning the Republican state lawmakers in the 24th district to ease the pain of the state aid cuts to Sparta by convincing teachers to take a wage freeze, the cuts came anyway, and the lawmakers forgot who Huhn was.

They may recall her name this November at the polls.

Huhn is running as a Democrat for the State Assembly along with Democrat Jim Nye. They will face Republican incumbents Assemblywoman Alison McHose and Assemblyman Gary Chiusano, both R-Sussex, and Independent candidate Mark Quick in November’s election.

According to Huhn, it was the slight by the Republican lawmakers after the school budget battle that convinced her to seek state office.

“It became apparent that these people are not representing us, they think they have a done deal come election time,” Huhn said. “But when (Gov. Chris Christie) was slashing the state aid to suburban schools they should have been fighting him, not going along with whatever he said because he is a Republican. They should have fought for us, and they didn’t.”  (Reilly, New Jersey Herald)



State starts to consider new high school test and testing contract

Lofty rhetoric about the need to improve New Jersey’s high school tests aside, the Christie administration this week got down to a more mundane task: the advertising and awarding of its next testing contract.

The state’s current testing contract with Measurement Inc., a North Carolina-based company, expires after this school year. Measurement, which also holds the contracts for elementary and middle school, is paid $9 million a year to develop, distribute and score the state’s High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) and its alternative and subject tests.

Looking to the 2012-2013 school year, administration officials said they have begun discussing what the next exam and contract could look like, and are about to start a public process to develop the requests for proposals (RFPs) for a new agreement.

Department spokesman Justin Barra said the RFP will likely be completed “in the coming months,” and it will take the better part of the school year to negotiate and award the final contract.

The next step, he said, will be the formation of an advisory committee of education leaders and other experts to discuss the kinds of skills and knowledge that should be expected of New Jersey’s high school graduates.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Unresolved labor pacts weigh on state of new school year in South Jersey

In a community like Haddonfield, where high academic achievement motivates families to buy homes, Back to School Night is a big deal.

In a community like Haddonfield, where high academic achievement motivates families to buy homes, Back to School Night is a big deal.

Parents get to visit their children’s new classrooms and meet teachers. Many start an education partnership that will last the whole year.

“It is with sincere disappointment,” read a note by Superintendent Richard Perry, “that I must notify you that the Back to School nights for this fall are canceled.”

The reason: Haddonfield’s teachers, in their second year without a contract and dissatisfied with the status of negotiations, have opted out of the September tradition.

The decision was not made lightly, according to their union leadership.

“We know a lot of parents are upset, and we understand that,” said union copresident Sharon Stokes. “They have to understand our situation.”  (Giordano, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



NJTV: Watch us get better

After undergoing heavy criticism during its initial weeks on the air, NJTV, which has replaced New Jersey Network as the state’s public television outlet, is ramping up operations and has hired a veteran anchor for its news show.

Neal Shapiro, board chairman of NJTV’s nonprofit parent organization, said at a Statehouse press conference Thursday that the station is a “work in progress” but promised programming upgrades, starting with next week’s NJ Today newscasts featuring the debut of anchor Mike Schneider, most recently a host of the CNBC series “Titans.”

NJTV took over the state‘s broadcasting license July 1.

“It’s only been 11 weeks,” Shapiro said. “In the weeks to come we’ll have more announcements about new programs, new partners, new hires, and a new studio right here in New Jersey.”

Shapiro said Schneider is a key addition, and Schneider called his new job “an extraordinary opportunity. It gives us a chance (as a broadcaster) to do something no one else in the country is doing, to take a look at the state as a whole and draw all the elements and all the issues together in a way that’s important to the viewers.”  (Jordan, Gannett)|topnews|text|State



New 9/11 curriculum available for schools

The start of the 2011-2012 school year coincides with a focal event in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan region: the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Just in time for the commemoration of this dark event in our nation’s history, a new 9/11 curriculum is now available to the Garden State students and educators trying to make sense of the events and issues linked to that fateful day.

The 4 Action Initiative, a collaborative effort involving Families of September 11, the Liberty Science Center, and the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, created the new curriculum, entitled “Learning from the Challenges of Our Times: Global Security, Terrorism and 9/11 in the Classroom.”

The more than 50 lessons contained in this curriculum, which is divided into elementary, middle and high school lesson plans and themes, were developed, piloted in more than 60 New Jersey school districts, revised and refined by curriculum developers and the 4 Action Initiative team, according to the curriculum’s introductory letter.  (Bonamo, The Record)



Is the solar market too hot?

What kind of fix, if any, does New Jersey’s solar market need?

That question was debated at length by an overflow crowd that poured into the state Department of Environmental Protection’s meeting room in Trenton yesterday to argue over how broken the solar market in New Jersey is — a remarkable discussion given how successful the state’s solar program has been over the past eight years.

The crisis at hand is falling prices for solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs), the primary financing mechanism for installing solar systems for most of the past decade. With the price of the certificates, which system owners earn for the electricity they produce, falling from the mid-$600 range to as low as $150 last week, many industry executives are asking how to stabilize a red-hot market that is producing more supply than demand.

The crisis at hand is falling prices for solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs), the primary financing mechanism for installing solar systems for most of the past decade. With the price of the certificates, which system owners earn for the electricity they produce, falling from the mid-$600 range to as low as $150 last week, many industry executives are asking how to stabilize a red-hot market that is producing more supply than demand.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



Fine Print: Cutting energy costs at a hospital

Who did it: St. Peter’s University Hospital

Why they did it: Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) helped the hospital and its related facilities reduce energy costs by $1 million a year. The first phase of the project involved more than $4.8 million in energy efficiency improvements, which are currently being implemented at the hospital through the state’s largest utility hospital efficiency program. These include major upgrades to the cooling plant, adding high-efficiency motors and burners in the heating plant, and energy efficient light controls.

What else happened: The utility, through its Solar Loan Program, is funding 50 percent of the costs of a 2.1 megawatt solar system at sites around New Brunswick, the largest solar project yet built at a healthcare facility in New Jersey. The project involves six installations at various facilities in the city, including two rooftops and four parking lots.

Total expected savings from the solar system: The combined solar system is expected to save St. Peter’s approximately $10 million in electricity costs over the next 25 years.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



Parents want after-school funds restored

About 20 parents gathered at the Bergen Family Center on Thursday to protest the elimination of state funding for New Jersey After 3, which provides after-school programs for about 5,000 children, most of them in urban areas.

Karla Inestroza’s eyes filled with tears as she told other parents her son could not attend the after-school program this year.

“I don’t have the money for it,” she said in Spanish.

Inestroza’s 6-year-old son had attended the program in the past and expected to return this year. But with fees nearly doubling, she said she can no longer afford it. Her son, she said, is having a hard time understanding why he could not attend the program.

The majority of the parents spoke Spanish, and said many of their friends could not attend the meeting because they were working.

The Bergen Family Center used $100,000 in state funds to provide subsidized after-school programming at the Dr. John Grieco Elementary School.  (Hayes, The Record)



Newark is betting on a wave of new principals

There is Sonn Sam, a Rhode Island transplant who could be mistaken for one of the students at his alternative high school, with his shaven head, sneakers and tattooed left arm.

There is Chaleeta Barnes, who was promoted after just three years as a math coach at the Newark elementary school where her mother once taught.

And there is Raymond Peterson, the founding principal of Bard High School Early College in Manhattan, who came out of retirement to start a similar school in Newark.

These are some of the 17 new principals — 11 of them under age 40, 7 from outside Newark — recruited this year to run nearly a quarter of the city’s schools. They were hired by Cami Anderson, the new schools superintendent, as part of an ambitious plan to rebuild the 39,000-student district, which has long been crippled by low achievement and high dropout rates, but now is flush with up to $200 million from prominent donors, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

“I believe a strong principal is the key to almost everything,” Ms. Anderson said in an interview. “Where you have great performance, you have great principals, period, full stop. Where you have low performance, you have struggling principals. It’s not that complicated.”  (Hu, The New York Times)



NJ Transit bus fares not increasing despite Port Authority toll hikes on Hudson River crossings

NJ Transit officials said they have no plans to increase bus fares, even though the toll that the agency will pay for buses to cross the Hudson River will increase by $6 per bus starting Sunday.

Executive Director James Weinstein said Wednesday that the increased cost, estimated at an $4.6 million, would be absorbed by the agency by putting off doing “other things.”

Academy Bus officials notified customers Tuesday that a fare increase could be in the works because of the increase in Hudson River crossing tolls at Port Authority facilities. The toll for commuter buses is set to increase from $4 to $10 per bus on Sept. 18, the same date that all Port Authority tolls and PATH fares are scheduled to rise.

Some commuter advocates called on the Port Authority to waive the toll increase for commuter buses. A Port Authority spokesman said they’ve received no requests for a waiver so far.  (Higgs, Gannett)



AAA asks U.S. Department of Transportation to block toll increases on New York-New Jersey bridges

AAA is urging the U.S. Department of Transportation to block a plan to increase tolls by as much as 50 percent on the bridges and tunnels between New York City and New Jersey beginning Sunday, saying the increases violate federal law.

Besides the sticker shock to commuters, the motorists group said Thursday that it objects to using toll revenues for building the new World Trade Center at the site owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“One of our primary missions is to make sure that any tolls and revenue and any user fees go back into transportation,” said Marta Genovese, vice president of legal affairs for AAA. “But in this case it’s going into a speculative office development.”

The group said the increase violates a federal law that requires bridge tolls to be “just and reasonable,” and it sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking him to act.

“It’s an egregious example of the motorists getting ripped off,” AAA New York spokesman Robert Sinclair said.  (Hawley, Associated Press)



Mail processing centers the focal point of study

Struggling in the red as people send fewer letters, the U.S. Postal Service said Thursday it will study whether to close or consolidate 250 mail processing facilities nationwide, including one in Eatontown.

The proposal includes a change in the time it takes to process and deliver first-class mail, moving to two to three days rather than one to three days, the current standard.

“We are forced to face a new reality today,” Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said.

People pay their bills online, and email has replaced letters for correspondence. With the downturn in the economy, businesses have cut back on mailing as well.

The result: Mail volume has plummeted by more than 43 billion pieces in the past five years. First-class letters that have postage stamps have dropped 36 percent during the same period and nearly 50 percent in the past decade.

“Each year we are seeing a steady trend of decline in overall mail volumes,” said Raymond V. Daiutolo Sr., a postal service spokesman. “We have all these large processing facilities that are kind of proximate to each other that are operating at less than capacity. Now we have to look at the economies of scale opportunities that are there.”  (Willis, Gannett)



NJ town praised for renewal gets rating downgrade

With well-regarded restaurants, a walkable main street dotted with yoga studios and rail service that zips commuters to jobs in downtown Philadelphia, this town of 14,000 is held high as a national model of smart growth.

But Moody’s Investors Service this week said the town was unwise about how it financed one of its highly praised revitalization projects.

Moody’s lowered the borough’s bond rating from investment grade to junk status — something that has happened to only a handful of the 18,000 public entities that the firm evaluates.

The downgrade is an admonishment of the very approach that boosters say made Collingswood indisputably one of Philadelphia’s hippest suburbs. It could also be a warning to other towns: Be careful how you pay for renewal.

“I don’t think any of us would be here if the current administration hadn’t done some really cool stuff,” said Beth Filla, a Collingswood native, homeowner, owner of the Yogawood yoga studio, and the wife of the town library director.  (Mulvihill, Associated Press)



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N.J.’s solar energy future subject of BPU meeting

They talked of SRECS. They talked of the spot market and the SACP.

But at Thursday’s Board of Public Utilities meeting concerning the future of solar energy in New Jersey and how to pay for its growth, one industry executive put the problem into very human terms.  (Mooney, State Street Wire)



As six towns await Transitional Aid awards, Dems bank on Christie’s budget flexibility absent $139M restoration

Nearly one-third of the $149 million in Transitional Aid for cash-strapped cities is coming due over the next few weeks, though to date, only $10 million has been budgted to pay for it. Democratic leaders in the Statehouse are shuffling their feet on the $139 million budget cut restoration proposed by Gov. Chris Christie, even though the governor’s proposal has been on the table for weeks.  (Carroll, State Street Wire)



Federal job safety grants approved for New Jersey

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. said Thursday that more than $500,000 in federal grants that will help create and maintain jobs, improve worker safety and cut down pollution.

“Employees should not have to worry about their lives while they are on the job,” said Pallone. “Worker safety is the best it has ever been, but that doesn’t mean we can’t always do more to prevent accidents on the job. I’m glad to see this money go toward training that will save lives.”  (Hassan, State Street Wire)






Weprin’s loss in New York presages national defeat of Obama in 2012

New York Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Queens) is a friend of mine, despite our differing political parties and philosophies.  He and I have spent considerable time together at Orthodox Jewish political events, and I have often attended Shabbat services at David’s synagogue, Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, in Queens.  We are both Orthodox Jews.

A few months ago, David was selected by Democratic Party leaders to run as the party candidate in the special election in New York Congressional District 9 to replace the departed disgraced former Representative Anthony Weiner.   Soon after that, I said to David in shul, “Congratulations, Congressman Weprin.” The district is so heavily Democratic that I thought that even Larry Flynt could win as the Democratic nominee.  I had never even heard of the Republican candidate, Bob Turner, and I saw no chance whatsoever of a GOP upset.  (Steinberg, PolitickerNJ)



Gov grabs control of affordable housing

The Christie administration said today that it has ended a regulatory “nightmare” by eliminating the state’s unpopular affordable housing agency, but advocates called the move an illegal give-away to political allies.

In late June, when Trenton was focused on approving a new budget, Gov. Christie announced several reorganization plans of state government, including the elimination of the independent Council on Affordable Housing and the transfer of its functions to the Department of Community Affairs. The details of this change were released this afternoon.

The move allows Christie to give towns more control over the construction of affordable housing, which has long been a controversial issue in a densely-populated state where housing costs are high and poverty is concentrated.  (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Christie misses the mark on grading teachers, author says

Gov. Chris Christie has been touting his plans for education overhaul, including the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. It’s the first full week of school, a traditional time for politicians to roll out proposed changes.

It’s also the week a new book on education, Howard Wainer’s “Uneducated Guesses,” was released by the Princeton University Press. It raises significant questions about the premise on which much of Christie’s crusade is based — using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

“It sounds like a good idea if you say it fast,” says Wainer, a Pennington resident who teaches statistics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “But then you have to look at the evidence.”  (Braun, The Star-Ledger)



Post-9/11, poking and prodding a way of life

Since 9/11 the number of government agencies poking, prodding and looking into the private lives of people who would never consider doing the country any harm has blossomed. The terrorist attacks spawned an industry of consultants and an army of federal bureaucrats who spend like crazy even as the politicians say we must cut back. Common sense is called for, but government is usually short on that.

At the airport we take off our shoes because a flapdoodle named Richard Reid thought he could ignite explosive hidden in his footwear. It didn’t work because the genius walked about in the damp London air or had sweaty feet or both and the fuse refused to burn.  (Ingle, Gannett)



Reduce Newark employment: Bring in the jobs, hire the residents

It seems as if, every month, Newark announces that some economic development project, warehouse or distribution center is coming to town, attracted by an airport close to Manhattan and Newark’s downtown, a huge seaport and highways — with promises of jobs and more jobs.

So how can this be the worst of times, with an unemployment rate of 15 percent in Newark — compared with rates below 10 percent for New Jersey and the nation? Where are all those jobs?

I called Stefan Pryor, Newark’s deputy mayor for economic development (who is preparing to leave this post to become Connecticut’s education chief). The question I asked: Just how many jobs are we talking about and how many Newark residents are getting them?  (Whitlow, The Star-Ledger)



Mr. Jones goes to Washington

Over the course of his public career, Jeffery Jones has earned a reputation as a wily politician. It is well-deserved.

A couple of years ago, while still on the Paterson City Council, he manipulated fellow council members into making him council president through a slick divide-and-conquer maneuver befitting a man who has served in the military.

Problem is, on Wednesday, his city didn’t need a wily politician. It needed a leader. It needed a well-spoken ambassador with purpose. It needed someone willing to go to Washington, D.C., and to advocate for his people.

Instead, what Patersonians got was vintage “Jones-speak,” to anyone who has followed the mayor’s style in the last year and a half. What Paterson got was one of those patented long, rambling speeches its mayor is wont to give.  (Lowry, The Record)



Woman fighting to go topless in NJ should cover up in public

You have to admire Phoenix Feeley’s spunk, baring her breasts in Spring Lake, and then baring them again after police had forced her to put on a shirt.

Her view is that if men have the right to show it all, above the waist at least, then she should, too.

But we’re with the state appeals court on this one. Her personal freedom is not the only issue. The rest of us have the right to set standards on where the sun can be allowed to shine.

Feeley’s arrest came three years ago on the beach in Spring Lake, based on a borough ordinance prohibiting public nudity. She says going topless is not the same as going nude, and that she may appeal this to the state Supreme Court.  (Moran, The Star-Ledger)


  Morning News Digest: September 16, 2011