Weekly Roundup: Week of Sept. 26

TRENTON – While the Senate held a session after a summer recess and passed several bills, including ones on film tax credits and charter schools, they were easily overshadowed by the seemingly never-ending speculation about Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential aspirations.

Christie insisted, as he has in the past, that he is not running.

Still, much of the media worked this story like a pit bull worrying a steak bone. They quoted other officials, such as former Gov. Tom Kean, that he is “seriously considering” it.

Yet Christie’s own brother and his lieutenant governor each said he is not running.

We’ll leave it to the pundits to figure this out. For now, we will talk about the more rudimentary stuff that went on the past week that the national media could care less about.

Senate in session

Among the more interesting bills passed at Tuesday’s Senate session was one sponsored by Raymond Lesniak, (D-20),  of Elizabeth, that would enable private and parochial schools, which have long struggled financially, to become charter schools, enabling them to receive taxpayer funds.

Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), of Piscataway, slammed the bill, saying it will take money away from the public schools. But Sen. Gerald Cardinale, (R-39), Demarest, called that argument “bunk.”

Lesniak said only academically-strong parochial schools would qualify for the transition.

The issue of taxes provided another opportunity for both parties to bicker, with the Republicans arguing they were right to not support taxes such as the cosmetic procedure tax because they prevent business growth, while the Democrats said they wanted to learn from the experience and move on.

In the end, both sides came together and passed the bill to phase out the cosmetic tax. The tax, currently at 6 percent, would be reduced to a 4 percent rate starting with the first calendar quarter after the bill is enacted. Then, the tax will slip to a 2 percent rate from July 1, 2012 until July 1, 2013, and then after that, the tax will be gone.

The other controversial tax issue, the film tax credit, was also dealt with, but Republicans voted against giving tax credits, saying they haven’t produced anywhere near the revenue that the credits were supposed to help yield.

To top it off, Snooki and her “Jersey Shore” roommates got the shaft from the governor, as Christie vetoed the $420,000 tax credit the Economic development Authority approved two weeks ago.

Sales tax report

New Jersey is missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. That was the claim by the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association on Thursday, which  called on New Jersey to force out-of-state, internet-based companies to levy the state’s sales and use taxes.

Traditional, brick-and-mortar businesses said they are at a bigger disadvantage if the online merchants are not charging the tax.

By one economic measure, the state missed out on as much as $608 million in 2009 in sales and use tax revenues, based on out-of-state purchases and business-to-business transactions, the association said. And in 2010, it missed out on as much as $171 million on just the online sales tax.


ARC deal

As the week wound down, the U.S. Transportation Department and Christie’s office announced a resolution to the dispute over the state repaying the feds for canceling the Access to the Region’s Core Hudson tunnel project.

Originally, the federal government had demanded more than $270 million, but the parties reached a settlement in which the state will pay $95 million over five years.

Christie shut down the project last year because he feared the state would be responsible for any cost overruns.

Despite pleas from organized labor that the deal would mean millions in revenue and thousands of jobs, Christie stood firm. 

Then the showdown between Trenton and Washington began, with the resolution being announced this week.



Weekly Roundup: Week of Sept. 26