Morning News Digest: Friday, October 14, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Republican Mitsch resigned to taking good with the bad in tough-to-win LD6
Sixth Legislative District senate challenger Phil Mitsch received public union endorsements that made him feel suddenly as though he’s in a race – even if he probably isn’t, in a 2-1 Democratic District designed to protect Democratic incumbents in all weather.
Briefly – before he found himself ensnared in questions about the sexual content of his twitter feed, Mitsch basked in union support.
“The FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) is clearly concerned about the creation of a regionalized police force in Camden County, and the effect it will have on jobs,” said Mitsch, a realtor, who entered the race energized by the potential for new 6th District towns Maple Shade, Merchantville and Pennsauken to better Republican chances. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie campaigns for Burlington GOP candidates in new LD7; seeks school funding, sick leave, civil service reform
Gov. Chris Christie used the setpiece of the middle class Cogan residence to amplify his property tax relief record in the presence of 7th and 8th Legislative District incumbents – in a town that next year will be in the 7th Legislative District.
“I picked places where there are really good officeholders,” said the governor, who accepted the introduction of Mount Laurel Mayor Jim Keenan, who’s running for Assembly this year on a ticket headed by state Sen. Diane Allen, (R-7).
Now in the 8th, Mount Laurel will next year will be in the 7th Legislative District.
Olympian Carl Lewis had hoped to challenge state Sen. Dawn Addiego, (R-8), but never managed to get his campaign going before an appeals court ruled him inelligible based on New Jersey residency. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Featured Race: LD14 – Labor will be front and center in one of the state’s few competitive districts
Combatants: The district is currently represented by Democratic Sen. Linda Greenstein and Democratic Assemblymen Wayne DeAngelo and Dan Benson. The trio is challenged by Hamilton School Board member Richard Kanka, Robbinsville Councilwoman Sheree McGowan and former Cranbury Mayor Wayne Wittman. Green Party candidate Steven Welzer is also in the mix.
Background: The 14th has long been known as the district of ticket-splitters, savvy enough to look beyond the line. But for the past year, the district has been owned by Democrats, led by stalwart Sen. Linda Greenstein. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie back to New Jersey business after national tour
Back at home after a stint on the national campaign trail, Gov. Christie spent an hour Thursday in the driveway of a Mount Laurel home – shaking hands with neighbors, talking local property taxes, and looking out at a small contingent of reporters.
It was quite a change for Christie, who earlier this month was ruminating on foreign policy in front of the national press corps.
Christie became a media sensation as he flirted with running for president, but after deciding not to run – and endorsing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday – the Republican was back to the meat-and-potatoes work of politicking and governing in New Jersey. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
For Gov. Chris Christie, balancing N.J.’s needs against Mitt Romney’s will be a political challenge
The crowd at the Perth Amboy High School on Saturday afternoon was confused. Gov. Chris Christie was supposed to deliver a speech on education, but the podium was empty.
One of the governor’s aides told a state senator that Christie’s son was sick, but asked him not to repeat it. Christie’s spokeswoman said “something personal” had come up.
As it turned out, that “something personal” was lunch with the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was locking down a big political victory that day by gaining Christie’s support. (Megerian and Gibson, The Star-Ledger)
State pension fund falls 7% in 3rd quarter
New Jersey’s pension funds climbed nearly 18 percent through June, then fell back along with the global slide in stock prices, according to a state report released Thursday.
The report by the state Division of Investment showed that the pension fund was led by the 32 percent gain in its investments in U.S. stocks through the end of the fiscal year, June 30. That was followed by a 25.6 percent gain in its international stock holdings.
But the pension fund in total has dropped nearly 7 percent through Sept. 30, to $66.4 billion.
Timothy Walsh, the director of the Division of Investment, told a board overseeing the pension funds that “all cylinders were firing,” in the fiscal year that ended in June, as all areas where the fund invested money had gained. (Method, Gannett)
State hires special consultant to probe utilities’ response to Hurricane Irene
The state is broadening its investigation into how New Jersey’s four electric utilities handled events in the wake of Hurricane Irene, a storm that left 1.8 million people without power at one point or another.
Acting on a recommendation from staff, the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) authorized the hiring of a special consultant to analyze how the utilities planned, executed restoration efforts, and communicated with local officials and their customers during the days following the storm — which has been described by one official as the worst weather-related event for electric utilities in the state’s history. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
New Jersey Department of Education enforces new background checks for board members and charter school trustees
The state Department of Education has notified public and charter school officials that school board members and charter school trustees who have not registered for the new criminal background check will be removed from office.
An Oct. 11 letter sent to chief school administrators by Robert J. Cicchino, Director of the Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance, said all of the registrations should be complete. He asked school officials to confirm that their board members or trustees have complied, and to send the names of those who have not to the state, which will notify them that they are no longer eligible to serve on the board. (D’Amico, Press of Atlantic City)
More N.J. charter school oversight pushed by lawmaker
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) Thursday urged the state Senate to pass several measures she is sponsoring that would create more accountability and oversight in the creation and operation of charter schools in New Jersey.
The legislation (A-3356 and A-3852), which provide what the Assemblywoman describes as a sensible approach to Gov. Chris Christie’s effort to expand the number of charter schools in the state. The bills were approved by the Assembly in June and discussed by the Senate Education Committee Thursday. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Charter anxiety: A suburban malady?
A Senate hearing yesterday on charter schools brought out many of the same familiar faces, led by a growing cadre of parents from suburban communities like Princeton, Highland Park, East Brunswick, and a new one to the list, Cherry Hill.
While more than half of all of New Jersey’s charter schools operate in its poorest cities, there was nobody from places like Paterson, Trenton, and Camden. They weren’t entirely without representation, to be sure, as various advocates stepped up to speak, but New Jersey’s fierce debate over charter schools has had a distinctly suburban feel of late. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
NJ credit unions campaigning to raise business lending limit
New Jersey’s credit unions, locked in a perennial turf war with banks, ramped up their marketing efforts this week to present themselves as potential job creators as they try to get the federal government to ease business-lending restrictions.
The New Jersey Credit Union League on Thursday started running online and radio ads to garner more support for proposed legislation that would more than double their statutory business lending limit to 27.5 percent of assets from 12.25 percent. New Jersey’s 1.2 million credit union members are “ready to help put America back to work” says one online ad. (Newman, The Record)
Senate committee advances two measures to assist flood-ravaged N.J. communities
Two measures to help flood-ravaged communities make emergency repairs and buy out homeowners were advanced by an important Senate committee yesterday at the urging of mayors whose towns are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Irene.
The most controversial of the measures (S-3099) would allow the state to seek $100 million in bonds for emergency infrastructure repairs in flooded towns. Half of the allotment would go to counties and the other half to municipalities for emergency transportation and water infrastructure projects. Authorization for the bonds would come from a little-used provision of the state Constitution allowing legislators to bypass voter approval in the event of natural disasters or an “act of God.” (Spoto, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. bill would use open-space money for flood buyouts
Owners of more than 1,000 flood-prone homes could receive buyouts from New Jersey towns under a proposal that received unanimous support after its first legislative hearing Thursday.
The legislation permits municipalities to establish so-called Blue Acres programs to complement the state’s Green Acres program that enables towns to acquire land for parks or conservation, said Sen. Bob Gordon, a Democrat whose Bergen County district was hit hard by flooding from Hurricane Irene and other summer storms.
Money raised through local open-space taxes – subject to voter approval – could be used to buy out homeowners, knock down flood-prone structures, and turn the property into parks. (Delli Santi, The Associated Press)
BPU helps hard-hit New Jerseyans keep the lights and heat on
How bad is New Jersey’s economy?
Here’s one clue: Nearly a quarter of a million households rely on state assistance to pay their gas and electric bills. That roughly translates into approximately 1 million people relying on government help to keep the lights and heat on, according to Board of Public Utilities (BPU) Commissioner Joseph Fiordaliso.
“It just gives us an idea of what is going on in the state,” said Fiordaliso, a few minutes before voting with other commissioners yesterday to approve a new budget that will provide help to low-income residents and others who have encountered unexpected layoffs, job losses, or illnesses that make paying utility bills difficult, if not impossible. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
EDA chief blasts watchdog group’s report as ‘fundamentally faulty’
In a letter, the head of the state’s Economic Development Authority lashed out at a public watchdog over a report Caren S. Franzini said is “founded on fundamentally faulty research.”
In the letter, obtained by NJBIZ, Franzini, the agency’s CEO, said the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group’s report relied on data from the state’s now-dormant tax-increment financing program, which was eliminated in 2009 in favor of the Economic Redevelopment and Growth grant program. (Burd, NJBIZ)
N.J. lawmakers step in over Camden City property-tax outcry
State representatives want to add more muscle to property-tax-relief options that Camden City officials passed in recent weeks to help residents struggling with rising bills.
Representatives from the Fifth Legislative District, which covers Camden, plan to introduce a bill that would allow “all property owners – in certain cities that have not undergone a municipal-wide property revaluation in at least 15 years, but have implemented a revaluation within the past year” – to appeal their property assessments.
The announcement comes after weeks of residents’ complaining about increased property values on many city houses. (Vargas, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Senate candidate David DeWeese criticizes Sen. Jeff Van Drew’s stance on taxes
State Senate candidate David DeWeese says his opponent, incumbent 1st District Sen. Jeff Van Drew, is a tax-and-spend Democrat in fiscal conservative’s clothing.
DeWeese, a Republican, said taxes proposed by Democrats such as Van Drew are the reason so many residents and businesses have fled the state.
“He continues to portray himself to voters as a conservative legislator,” DeWeese said. “I think it’s important for the public to understand that’s not the case. The fact is he’s a tax-and-spend Democrat.”
DeWeese counts at least 35 taxes and fees Van Drew supported as a lawmaker, including a cigarette tax, an HMO tax, a car-rental tax and corporate business surcharge all levied in 2006. (Miller, Press of Atlantic City)
Legislative District 1
At the southern tip of New Jersey, the 1st District is getting a lot of attention this year. The three Republican challengers are waging a strong battle against the incumbent Democrats and have a serious chance at victory.
For one thing, this district had split representation as recently as 2005. For another, registered Republicans actually outnumber registered Democrats, although the unaffiliated are still the plurality.
Still, a recent nonpartisan poll puts the incumbents significantly ahead of their rivals, particularly for the Senate seat. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Legislative District 17
District 17 pits a trio of powerful Democrats — the environmental and energy leaders of the Senate and Assembly, as well as the deputy majority leader of the lower house — against a Republican team led by a conservative blogger.
The 17th, which covers parts of Somerset and Middlesex counties, is heavily Democratic, but the Republican contenders are hopeful they will succeed.
The recent redistricting has done little to improve their chances. The loss of Highland Park to the neighboring 18th was mainly a matter of geography and is not expected to change voting patterns. New Brunswick, the county seat of Middlesex, is probably the best-known city in the district. Franklin Township in Somerset County remains its most populous. (Kassel, NJ Spotlight)
Moody’s rethinks Camden rating
For the second time in a month, a South Jersey municipality’s credit rating is under scrutiny.
Moody’s Investors Service said on Thursday that Camden’s credit rating is under review for a possible downgrade due to uncertainty over state aid to the impoverished city. Moody’s said it also is considering possible downgrades for five other cities — Trenton, East Orange, Passaic, Paterson and Union.
The change could affect Camden’s already-lackluster Ba2 rating for $3 million in general obligation bonds, Moody’s said. A spokesman for Camden Mayor Dana Redd could not be reached for comment Thursday night. (Walsh, Gannett)
Greenhouse gas activists rally in Asbury Park for veto override
Environment New Jersey organized rallies here, in Princeton and in Rutherford on Thursday to try to get state legislators who have voted against the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to reverse their votes and work to override Gov. Chris Christie’s August veto of continuing in the program.
RGGI is an agreement signed by 10 Northeast states to lower carbon emissions from electrical-generation power plants by placing a surcharge on carbon pollution from the plants, according to the New Jersey Sierra Club, whose director, Jeff Tittel, took part in the rally. (Shields, Gannett)
Hundreds gather in haring on UMDNJ merger with Rutgers to speak out against proposed plan
Hundreds of people worried about the future of Newark turned out last night to speak against a plan to restructure the state’s medical education system.
Faculty, students and alumni of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey cautioned against a proposed merger of three parts of the institution with Rutgers University.
The fear is that if the merger goes forward, the remaining components of UMDNJ in Newark would face an uncertain future. (Corbett, The Star-Ledger)
NJ voters who favor Herman Cain should remember Corzine
The latest Quinnipiac poll finds that 38 percent of New Jersey voters would choose Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, over President Obama if the election were held today.
After our experience with Jon Corzine, you might think New Jerseyans would know the peril of picking someone with no political experience to run the show.
But that’s only part of the problem with Cain. He is basing his campaign on his 9-9-9 plan – a proposal to replace the current federal tax code with one that would impose a flat rate of 9 percent rate on all personal income, corporate income, and sales. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Nation’s loss is New Jersey’s gain
When Gov. Chris Christie announced last week, finally and irrevocably, that “It is not my time,” and “…I will not be a candidate for president in 2012,” it was a win for New Jersey and a loss for the nation.
Several polls had him neck and neck with President Barack Obama and one national survey put him ahead, so if the election were to take place now, he would probably win. But the election is 14 months away and a lot of water will pass under the bridge between now and then. (Sullivan, The Record)
Christie weighs in on the sick-leave issue
I just left the Governor’s afternoon press conference on property taxes at a home in Mount Laurel.
More on that issue later.
Another issue that came up was the one on which I just posted, the issue of how public employees are getting away with theft of public funds by taking cash payouts for unused sick leave at retirement.
Christie came down hard on the right side of this one. (Mulshine, The Star-Ledger)
Christie’s poll numbers with women: Why have they improved?
The latest poll on Gov. Chris Christie’s popularity shows a robust jump in the percentage of women who support him.
He has made a sizable dent in the “gender gap” that has dogged him. He still doesn’t poll as strongly with women, but now he’s back in the range that most Republican politicians typically see.
The pollster attributes the change to the attention our governor recently got from people around the country who begged him to run for president. (O’Brien, The Star-Ledger)
Bob Smith comes back, but not to politics
The last time Bob Smith made headlines, the Gloucester County assemblyman was abandoning politics because of alcoholism.
Smith was sober by late 2005, when he revealed his secret. He planned to keep practicing law but steer clear of elected office, given the temptations and letdowns.
“I began to feel that being an assemblyman was almost meaningless. The imperative in everything we did was political supremacy,” he recalled. In recovery, “I had clarity. I needed to see a purpose.” (Kinney, The Philadelphia Inquirer)