Morning News Digest: Monday, October 10, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
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Winners and Losers: The week of ‘The Decision’
Gov. Chris Christie hit the New Jersey Statehouse klieg light this week leading up to and as he announced his decision not to run for president.
But while that event focused the national media’s sights on New Jersey, our additional parochial attentions here included the shadows, of little use to those short time out-of-state visitors, and those characters within the shadows of this special two-week edition…
and the losers… (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
In LD7, BurlCo GOP tried to burnish Allen alliance as contrast point with Dems’ campaign
Republicans confident in the ability of state Sen. Diane Allen (R-7) to drag parochial GOP Assembly running mates into office on the strengh of her name ID and reputation, simultaneously observe their rivals as split and essentially running individual campaigns.
Democrats deny it, pointing to a joint candidates’ committee and a record of the candidates attending the same events together. The only other incumbent in the race besides Allen after his longside fellow Democrat districtmate retired this year, Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7) was not available for comment.
Once Conaway’s aide years ago before moving to the Speaker’s Office at the Statehouse, Troy Singleton (pictured), now Conaway’s running mate, said, “There is no separate campaign. I, along with (state Senate candidate) Gail (Cook) and Herb, are running one campaign. Our approach is not atypical of how campaigns are run when an incumbent has a non-incumbent running mate. We are all working hard, as a team, to show ourselves worthy to represent LD7 in Trenton.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Public opinions of Gov. Chris Christie, President Obama to play central role in upcoming N.J. elections
Gov. Chris Christie may not be running for the White House, but New Jersey voters over the next few weeks will still get to see him matched up against President Obama: during the campaigns for the state Legislature.
State Republicans are contrasting the governor — whose popularity is on the rise — with the Democratic president, whose poll numbers are sagging even in blue-state New Jersey.
As the Nov. 8 election approaches with all 120 state Senate and Assembly seats up for grabs, both parties are using the president and governor to get a leg up on who is to blame for the state’s 9.4 percent unemployment rate. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
New Jersey Democrats confident they can keep control of state Legislature
Candidates for state Legislature are entering the stretch of this year’s election races, with all 120 seats in the state Senate and Assembly up for grabs.
Opinions on whether control of the Legislature can be wrested from the current Democratic majority vary, depending on the party. Democrats say newly drawn legislative-district boundaries favor the status quo. But, Republicans say that under Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s leadership, voters are ready for a change.
Republicans could find it easier to win control of the Senate, where Democrats hold a 24-16 advantage, as a swing of five of 40 districts would put the Republican Party in control of the upper house. (Froonjian, Press of Atlantic City)
Report: State work force in deep decline
Staffing levels at departments across state government are at their lowest levels in decades, according to a new report.
The report by the Civil Service Commission paints a picture of a state work force depleted by a prolonged bad economy and a massive wave of retirements. It also shows the historic declines began under the Corzine administration and were accelerated by Gov. Chris Christie’s austere budgets and health and pension reforms that prompted workers to retire.
The dwindling numbers leave staffing levels in some critical departments — such as Health, Environmental Protection and Education — at levels not seen since the 1980s, figures show. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
State’s public schools courting “choice” students – and the financial aid that comes with them
Schools in the state Public School Choice program have begun recruiting students for the 2012-13 school year. Parents have until Nov. 1 to notify their hometown school district that they plan to transfer their child to one of the 70 approved choice districts next year.
Non-public school students may also apply to a choice district, but by law preference must be given to public school students. But with some programs expanding this year, school officials believe they will have room for most applicants, which in turn will allow them to expand programs. (D’Amico, Press of Atlantic City)
Lottery revenues at record high; state looking for more
Sales of lottery tickets and the resulting revenues for the New Jersey budget climbed by 1 percent last fiscal year to record levels, state officials announced Friday.
The New Jersey Lottery sold nearly $2.64 billion in tickets last year, $31 million more than a year earlier. It paid out $1.54 billion in prizes and gave $930 million to the state budget to support education and institutions. The rest goes to sales commissions and other overhead.
“These fiscal year 2011 revenues are a new record in lottery contributions, and a welcome one,” said state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, whose department includes the Division of Lottery. (Symons, Gannett)
Affordable housing gets new home in N.J.
In the past several weeks, a number of events have had an impact on the Garden State’s court-mandated affordable housing program, often called “Mount Laurel housing.”
Long administered by the state Council on Affordable Housing, the program has required every town to provide homes that low- and moderate-income residents can afford. This housing was funded in part by fees paid by developers. In recent weeks, though, the governor has signed another 2½-year moratorium on the fees, and COAH has been abolished. The state’s Department of Community Affairs now will administer the program. (MacKenzie, Gannett)
North Jersey voter registration continues to slip as off-year election nears
The number of registered voters in North Jersey continues to fall from a record high in 2008 heading into the November election, authorities said.
The number of registered voters in Bergen and Passaic counties — 788,471 as of last week — is down from a peak of 816,643 three years ago and 797,561 last year, according to election officials in both counties.
Voters have until Oct. 18 to register for the Nov. 8 election, but North Jersey remains on pace to lose several thousand voters for the third consecutive year
Registration continues to decline as voters die or move, among other reasons, officials said. And because 2011 is neither a presidential election year nor a congressional election year, there is little hope that a new wave of voters will register to replace them. (Shilling, The Record)
New Jersey Democrats say Republican Vince Polistina is collecting a government pension on top of $70,000 in taxpayer-funded salaries
A political mailer reaching homes in Atlantic County gives voters two choices for state Senate: a shiny, green apple and a rotten, brown one.
The campaign literature, sent on behalf of state Sen. Jim Whelan, a Democrat fighting for re-election, paints Whelan as the apple you’d want to give a school teacher and Vince Polistina, the Republican candidate in the 2nd legislative district race, as a decaying piece of fruit.
The literature, paid for and authorized by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, tells voters “Whelan won’t let some rotten politicians get in the way of reforming government.” (PolitiFact New Jersey)
Credit downgrade makes for pricey Collingswood bailout
The borough of Collingswood is betting a renter’s market will get it out of a hole dug by the flailing LumberYard condominiums project.
Borough officials — including Mayor James Maley — lobbied Moody’s analysts Sept. 30 in Collingswood to revisit the six-notch super-downgrade the borough received Sept. 12. Moody’s is the only ratings agency that monitors the borough’s finances. The downgrade to junk made more expensive the town’s plan to purchase 14 empty condominiums and put them on the market for rent.
Information exchanged in such meetings with analysts is confidential and Moody’s would not comment. Maley would only describe last month’s conversations as “productive.” (Roh, Gannett)
AC casino workers fear falling from middle class
Since coming to this country from the Dominican Republic, Marcos Vidal has scratched and clawed his way up to a lower-middle class existence, a status to which he is tenuously clinging.
He has not had a raise in seven years at his housekeeping job at Resorts Casino Hotel. And in December, when the casino changed hands, the new owners cut his pay from $14.55 an hour to $9.83.
“Now I can barely keep up with my bills and buy food,” Vidal said. “I’ve gotten rid of cable TV, the Internet, long-distance phone calls. I can no longer send money to my mother back home. I’m a grown man and I can’t even go to a movie with someone. Do I deserve a decent life like everyone else in the United States?” (Parry, The Associated Press)
N.J. budget cuts hit Hispanic outreach groups
Family and freedom motivated engineer Antonio Paneque to leave his native Cuba for the U.S.
More fortunate than most, he secured a difficult-to-obtain visitor visa — a “miracle” he calls it — and left behind his wife, who chose to stay. He arrived in the U.S. in 2006 to live with a cousin in Burlington County. But even after securing a “green card” for permanent residency, Paneque still has issues with community integration and employment because of his limited English.
Suyupa Castillo, a warehouse worker and recent new mother, left Honduras 11 years ago with a permit to work in the U.S. and a desire to find better opportunities. (Comegno, Gannett)
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Weekly Advance: Week of Oct. 10
Weekly Roundup: Week of Oct. 3
Mayor trumpets sale of Hoboken hospital following court approval
Mayor Dawn Zimmer announced today that the “last legal hurdle” to complete the sale of the city-owned hospital was cleared Thursday with federal bankruptcy court approval. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Unemployment rate remains unchanged in September
Jobs data presented mixed results today as the economy added 103,000 jobs in September, but unemployment stayed unchanged at 9.1 percent.
Nearly half of the added jobs were the result of the end of a strike as 45,000 telecommunications workers returned to work. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
From the Back Room
Diakos contributed $500 to Rothman the same month she changed party affiliation
A state and federal search of campaign contributions shows U.S. Senate candidate Gwen Diakos made a single campaign gift: $500 to U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
A civilian defense contracter, Diakos made the contibution in June of this year, the same month she changed her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.
Diakos delcared her Democratic Primary challenge this week to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
N.J. GOP donors will throw weight behind whomever Christie endorses
Governor Christie’s “you’re stuck with me” declaration last Tuesday that ended – at least for this round, anyway – speculation about his running for president next year, triggered a national exodus of pro-Christie boosters into former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s camp last week.
But you won’t see New Jersey donors and fund-raisers rushing to Romney or any of the other half-dozen contenders just yet, according to GOP sources. They are going to wait until Christie formally announces his endorsement. That will allow Christie to back his words with a significant New Jersey “money bomb” in tribute. (Stile, The Record)
Poll finds NJ voters may not have picked Carl Lewis after all
Carl Lewis, winner of nine Olympic gold medals, is considered a favorite son by some New Jerseyans, but voters in the 8th District don’t think so — at least according to an internal Republican poll.
So maybe Republicans spent a lot of time and money for nothing.
Taken less than two weeks after Lewis was removed from the Nov. 8 ballot as the Democratic state Senate candidate for not meeting the residency requirement — the poll found 28 percent of respondents in the Republican-leaning district have an unfavorable opinion of him, while 21 percent view him favorably. Forty-one percent had no opinion of him. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
In global ranking of students, N.J. and Pa. fare better than nation
Bentley, K. (1994). Supports for community-based mental health care: an optimistic review of federal legislation. Health & Social Work, 19, 288-94. Retrieved from Social Sciences Full Text database
The test was given in 2009 to 15-year-olds in 60 countries, including Canada and many of the European, South American, and Asian nations with which the United States competes economically. Students in a few Chinese cities also took the exam. (Hardy, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Most rate increases will provide needed
New Jersey’s drinking
Not accelerating investment in New Jersey’s infrastructure now could have a negative impact on our state’s existing businesses, and could deter new businesses from choosing New Jersey. The time has come to put a solution in place. (Alexander for NJBIZ)
Something Christie is not: A maverick
He’s been called a blowhard, an egomaniac, a bully and – unfortunately and inaccurately – too fat to be president.
In the week that Chris Christie announced (again) that he would not jump into the presidential race, one of the oddest descriptions of him emerged. He was called a maverick. (Kelly, The Record)
Power broker steps up for education
Anyone knowledgeable about New Jersey knows Camden County’s George Norcross is the go-to guy to get things done in the political arena, but even he was surprised at the request he got at the dedication of a Camden city park.
A woman asked Norcross, long-time Democratic power broker, if he could help get her children into a charter school. The woman told him there was a waiting list with 2,000 names on it.
Although he went to school in Pennsauken, and now lives in Cherry Hill, Norcross said he didn’t know the extent of the problem until he became chairman of Camden-based Cooper Hospital. “I have come to see and to learn that Cooper’s interests and those of the city of Camden are inseparable.” (Ingle, Gannett)
In case you missed it
Gov gets raves in national spotlight
Gov. Chris Christie finally stepped out of the spotlight last week after he had dominated the national stage as a potential presidential contender.
In the days since, political experts have given him positive reviews, and they say Christie’s nine-day run and nationally televised news conference did nothing to hurt him in New Jersey and everything to help him establish himself for future considerations.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said his initial read on public opinion is that New Jersey voters will not hold it against Christie that he spent more than a week preoccupied with his role in national affairs. (Method, Gannett)
Christie doesn’t thrill Tea Party on every issue
Governor Christie’s Tea Party bona fides, earned by halting the ARC tunnel project and withdrawing from a greenhouse gas reduction effort, probably won’t hurt him in Republican primaries if he runs for president four years from now.
But it’s also likely that he’d have a hard time beating some of the more right-leaning Tea Party favorites in those races, where voters tend to skew to the right.
Christie’s relationship with the Tea Party movement — both inside New Jersey and throughout the country — is nuanced. (Gartland, The Record)
A good show, candidate or no candidate
The national audience was shocked.
Had Chris Christie just made fun of a reporter? Had he just temporarily forbidden another from asking a question because the reporter had “screwed around”? Had he just talked for 50 minutes repeating the same reason – with varying degrees of humor – for not running for president?
And was he wearing the ugliest tie any politician has ever worn on TV?
Yes, yes, yes, and – yes, that’s his Big Speech tie. News flash to the news flashers: This is how it always is. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Chris Christie website owners still hoping
Chris Christie may not be running for president, but the owners of “Christie” website domain names hope that changes some day.
The roster of reserved “Christie for President” URLs is long and includes Christie2016.com (and .net and .org), ChrisChristie2016.com (and .net and .org), ChristieforPresident.com (and .net and .org), ChrisChristieforPresident.com (and .net and .org) AmericansForChristie.com (and Americans4Christie.com), 2016Christie.com, 2016ChrisChristie.com and VoteforChristie.
Most of the domain names are merely “parked,” meaning they don’t direct visitors to an actual pro-Christie website. Rather, they have just been purchased and are laying low until there’s a reason to spawn a substantive website — or to sell the domain to someone who’s interested. (Gavin, POLITICO)
Democratic party boss George Norcross III lends voice to discussion on New Jersey education policy
The latest call for overhauling public schools in New Jersey’s cities is coming from an unexpected source: a powerful Democratic Party boss who may be the state’s most savvy behind-the-scenes political operative.
Southern New Jersey political powerbroker George Norcross III typically stays out of public policy discussions, sticking instead to what he knows best: old-fashioned machine politics that churns out candidates for his region and beyond. Though arguably the second most powerful person in state politics _ behind only Republican Gov. Chris Christie _ Norcross until recently was seldom even seen at political events. (The Associated Press)
Health-care debate puts some female GOP lawmakers in a tough position
After Gov. Christie rejected a $7.5 million allocation for women’s health care in the Democrats’ proposed budget, legislators convened in July to consider overriding his veto
Democrats, who lack a veto-proof majority, voted to reinstate the line item. All but one Republican who voted sided with the governor.
And then there was Sen. Diane Allen (R., Burlington), who abstained.
“I thought it was wrong, the whole playing of politics,” Allen recalled recently in her Burlington City office. (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Assemblyman asks comptroller to check out N.J. weatherization program
Assemblyman John Wisniewski today asked the state comptroller to examine New Jersey’s weatherization program, which critics say has made slow progress despite millions of dollars in federal funding.
Wisniewski’s letter focused on the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, which received $29 million but has only finished work on a fraction of the nearly 3,900 homes it is responsible for. The deadline to finish the work is March 31, and the state will be required to return any unspent money to the federal government. (Megerian, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. lawmakers push online gambling for infusion of much-needed revenue
South Jersey lawmakers, who have jealously guarded Atlantic City’s hold on gambling and the millions of dollars it generates in tax revenue, now say they are willing to loosen their grip.
Whether in the northern or southern part of the state, among Democrats and Republicans, there is a growing consensus that spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars rejuvenating Atlantic City while leaving the struggling racetracks to fend for themselves is not the answer. (Spoto, The Star-Ledger)
Could sports betting be Atlantic City’s Hail Mary?
Here in Sin City, at elaborate arenalike theaters with rows of plush seating and walls of giant LCD screens and monitors, sports wagering brings in very big bucks. This year’s Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers drew wagers at casinos on the Strip totaling about $87.5 million.
It also attracted 272,000 visitors to Vegas who spent an additional $84.6 million – nearly as much as was wagered on the game – on non-gambling-related items such as hotel rooms, meals, shows, and souvenirs, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. (Parmley and Anastasia, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Report: State work force in deep decline
Staffing levels at departments across state government are at their lowest levels in decades, according to a new report.
The report by the Civil Service Commission paints a picture of a state work force depleted by a prolonged bad economy and a massive wave of retirements. It also shows the historic declines began under the Corzine administration and were accelerated by Gov. Chris Christie’s austere budgets and health and pension reforms that prompted workers to retire. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
DCA commissioner pledges changes to affordable-housing system
Less than a month after the Department of Community Affairs took full control over the functions of the Council on Affordable Housing, the agency’s head told many of the state’s builders Friday that changes to the system are under way.
Commissioner Lori Grifa told members of the New Jersey Builders Association that her agency was streamlining protocols that commonly stymied developers, professionals and municipal officials under the 25-year-old council. The department now allows those parties to make requests and applications in letter form, instead of having to file a motion with COAH and be subjected to long response times. (Burd, NJBIZ)
N.J. relaxes rules on food stamps
Faced with an increasing number of people receiving food stamps, some states, like Kansas, have toughened eligibility requirements for their federally funded food assistance programs.
But New Jersey has done the opposite. Gone is the requirement that people must list assets to apply.
The annual gross income limit for a single person in New Jersey to be eligible to participate in its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was raised in April 2010 from $14,701.50 to $20,146.50. Deductions for things like utility bills figure into the limits. (Serrano, Gannett)
Conservative activist Steve Lonegan claims “Social Security system is broke.”
If conservative activist Steve Lonegan is to be believed, millions of people throughout the country should not expect to receive any more Social Security checks.
During a recent discussion on News 12 New Jersey’s Power & Politics show, Lonegan, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group, suggested that the federal program had run out of money. Lonegan appeared on the show with Deborah Howlett, president of the left-leaning New Jersey Policy Perspective. (PolitiFact New Jersey)
New Jersey businesses turned to SBA amid tight credit
Rehtek Machine Co. in Passaic, which makes parts for pressure sensors, received three U.S. Small Business Administration loans at the end of 2010 for a total of $305,000, to refinance debt, raise working capital and invest in equipment.
Owner Stephen Reh said this week the financing pulled the company out of a post-recession slump and helped it return to profitability. With increased productivity, and liquidity, sales increased about 20 percent this year and exceeded $1.5 million, he said. (Newman, The Record)
N.J. Sen. Whelan says opponents overblowing July car accident
State Sen. Jim Whelan, a Democrat, says Republican attempts to attack him over his involvement in a July auto accident is “character assassination.”
The July 3 collision in Absecon has become fodder for conservative talk radio and bloggers as the race for state Senate enters the final weeks of the campaign.
The crash occurred at 2:50 p.m., according to the official investigation report released last week by the Absecon Police Department following a public records request by The Press of Atlantic City. (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)
State judicial panel files complaint against Atlantic County Surrogate Jim Curcio over support of Assembly candidate Chris Brown
A state judicial oversight body filed a formal complaint against Atlantic County Surrogate Jim Curcio this week, saying he overstepped his bounds by formally supporting General Assembly candidate Chris Brown at a fundraiser in March.
The complaint is the first step in a process that can result in anything from the complaint’s dismissal to Curcio’s removal from the bench. (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)
8th District legislators propose pay cuts for top government officials
Two years ago, New Jersey Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego and Assemblyman Scott Rudder voluntarily took a 10 percent pay cut, claiming state lawmakers should share in the pain being felt by residents and taxpayers.
Now Addiego and Rudder want Gov. Chris Christie to take the same cut, along with his Cabinet, their fellow legislators, and many other state officials, judges and prosecutors. According to their math, the state would save about $9.6 million from the salary reductions. (Levinsky, Burlington County Times)
N.J.’s next step for health care: Healthier employees, more affordable care
New Jersey hopes to save around $10 million next year on public employee health care costs, as workers start paying more for their health plans and chose from a menu of new plans that for the first time includes high-deductible, lower-premium plans.
But what still lies ahead, experts said, is the more daunting task of reining in the growth of health care spending by making the delivery of care more efficient and encouraging healthier employees. (Fitzgerald, NJBIZ)
NJ Transit sets bill for rail tunnel at $600M
The trans-Hudson rail tunnel killed by Governor Christie will end up costing roughly $600 million even with a big refund from insurers, according to officials who released a “bottom line” breakdown on the aborted project.
Data tabulated by NJ Transit and released on Friday show that a net of $591.4 million was spent on the project from its formal inception in the summer of 2006 through Aug. 31. (Pillets, The Record)
Camden, Lawnside, Paterson, Trenton and Union City receive special state aid
The New Jersey state Department of Community Affairs Friday handed out $117.1 million in state aid to Camden, Lawnside, Paterson, Trenton and Union City.
Bridgeton sought aid but was not turned down because of what is described as an improved financial condition.
Camden is getting $61.4 million, Trenton $22 million, Paterson $21 million, Union City $12 million, and Lawnside $700,000. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)