Morning News Digest: October 17, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: Week of October 10
This week’s Winners and Losers offers a mixed bag of triumph and tragedy starting with Gov. Chris Christie’s lofty poll numbers. The governor made several men happy this week and three of them are along for the Winners’ ride. On the losers side we present a hypocritical senator, a really ugly building, a woman with no name and more Twitter shenanigans.
With that, we invite you to sit back and enjoy… (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
In LD 6, outraged Lampitt tells twittering Mitsch to get out of the race
South Jersey Democrats planted Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt (D-6) in front of a microphone this afternoon where the Cherry Hill incumbent demanded that GOP Senate candidate Phil Mitsch end his challenge of state Sen. Jim Beach (D-6).
“It is absolutely disgraceful that the Republican candidate for Senate would show such callous disrespect toward women,” said Lampitt, referring to Mitsch’s twitter feed from last April.
Lampitt and her running mates, Beach, and Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (D-6) objected in particular to the following Mitsch tweets: “Your new survival philosophy toward women should be ‘pay, play, now get the F-k away’” and “Tell your women they can’t talk to you but they can moan.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Featured Race: Lacking resources, Monmouth Democrats play for the future in LD11
Republicans: Incumbent state Sen. Jennifer Beck, Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, and Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande
Democrats: Freeholder Ray Santiago (Senate candidate), Assembly candidate Vin Gopal, and Assembly candidate Kathy Horgan of Red Bank
Independent: Dan Jacobson (Assembly candidate)
Beck and her Republican team represent the first all-woman ticket in the history of the New Jersey Legislature. Redistricting welded towns from Beck’s old 12th District (Red Bank, Shrewsbury, Colts Neck, Tinton Falls, Freehold Twp.) onto the surviving pieces of the new 11th, including key Democratic towns Asbury Park, Long Branch and Neptune and Ocean. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie: GOP rule unlikely
Gov. Chris Christie is more popular than ever, but no one, including him, expects Republicans to take control of the New Jersey Legislature in the November elections.
The GOP governor, whose job approval rating was at 55 percent or higher in two recent polls, has been downplaying the likelihood that he could help sweep out enough Democrats in either the state Senate or Assembly for Republicans to take control.
Few potential upsets are seen.
“Let’s remember, we’re operating under a Democratic map,” Christie said of the newly redrawn legislative district map, which protected incumbents of both parties, the majority of whom are Democrats. “If we were to take back majorities this fall, that would definitely represent a tsunami.” (Delli Santi, The Associated Press)
N.J. legislative elections heating up
You’ve probably seen the ad portraying Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina of Atlantic County as a shameless thief because his engineering firm has received municipal contracts.
You’ve likely also caught the commercial depicting his opponent in the Second District state Senate race, Democratic Sen. James Whelan, as a greedy pension padder.
With legislative elections more than three weeks away, over-the-top ads have been flooding airwaves and mailboxes, propelled by a deluge of campaign contributions in this district, which features one of the most contentious races in New Jersey. (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Strong outflows take toll on state pension fund
New Jersey’s pension fund for government workers might be compared with a boat where rowers strain their oars to advance against a roiling current.
The pension fund, in total, gained a whopping 18 percent in its investments in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
But while state money managers pulled hard, they were faced with strong outflows: the fund had to pay out $7.7 billion more in benefits than it took in from contributions in that same time.
As stock markets fell in the past quarter ending Sept. 30, the fund’s investments slumped by nearly 7 percent and it had to pay out another $1.8 billion in benefits.
“They’re doing worse than treading water, and that’s not a surprise,” said New York-based consulting actuary Jeremy Gold, who tracks public pension funds. (Method, Gannett)
Savings unclear in N.J. public worker health revamp
Close to 850,000 current and retired state workers can start choosing new health care plans Monday — a normally routine process that this year forms part of the largest overhaul of public-employee health care in the state.
As workers consider a new range of 15 plans, the overall reform may reduce the cost of proving health insurance for towns and state employers but also leave workers with complex calculations to work out their changing payments.
Governor Christie’s health benefits policy aims to save money by shifting union members over the long term to high-deductible plans. The most extreme of those plans — being offered to current state workers and also to retirees — will cover health care only after a patient has incurred and paid $4,000 in out-of-pocket costs. (Fletcher, The Record)
Cerf names Penny MacCormack as Chief Academic Officer
Nine months into the job, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf continues to fill out what he calls his top “cabinet-level” positions, the latest hire a former official in Hartford, CT, schools to be his chief academic officer.
For the past five years, Penny MacCormack served as chief academic officer and assistant superintendent for secondary schools in Connecticut’s capital city.
Starting two weeks ago but serving in an interim role until confirmed by the state Board of Education (BOE), MacCormack will be in charge of New Jersey’s curriculum development and testing programs. Although a new title, the position has historically been the highest profile in a commissioner’s inner circle. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Christie’s Cuts: Fewer lawyers for the poor
Renata Desouza was not thinking of state politics earlier this month as she struggled to file divorce papers on her own.
The 26-year-old Aberdeen resident is unemployed and on disability. There was a time she could have turned to Legal Services of New Jersey and its Ocean-Monmouth office for help, but no more.
State budget cuts have forced the group, which provides free legal assistance for low-income residents, to stop handling divorces and some other types of cases, said Bill Rempel, the executive director of the Ocean-Monmouth office.
“Although divorce cases are important to those people, they’re not as urgent matters as being evicted or a child being abducted or someone needing Social Security, disability or food stamps,” Rempel said. “We have to prioritize what we’re doing.” (Ash, Gannett)
Municipalities are hesitant to consolidate, despite incentives from Gov. Chris Christie
Drive to Absecon Island across the Margate Bridge, and as you approach the toll-booth plaza an art deco-esque sign greets all visitors: “Welcome to Downbeach.”
There is no city of Downbeach, of course, only the three separate municipalities of Longport, Margate and Ventnor — which have long been informally grouped together under the Downbeach nickname. Just as there is no city of “Mainland,” only Northfield, Linwood and Somers Point; no “The Wildwoods” but instead North Wildwood, West Wildwood, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest; and when it comes to the multiple towns of Long Beach Island, it’s hard to know where to even begin. (Lemongello, Press of Atlantic City)
Polistina, Whelan attack each other’s jobs in campaign for New Jersey Senate seat
In the 2nd Legislative District, which covers most of Atlantic County, candidates have run ads attacking each other for weeks, and as one of the few targeted races in the state, residents should brace for even more of the same in the closing weeks of the campaign.
A major theme has been the employment of Democrat Sen. Jim Whelan and Republican challenger Assemblyman Vince Polistina. There is nothing inherently illegal or immoral about working for the government, either directly or through a contract.
But you wouldn’t know that judging from many of the campaign ads, which portray each other’s public employment as a kind of swindle. (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)
Legislative District 13
He’s the most powerful Democrat in Trenton but helped shepherd Gov. Chris Christie’s benefits overhaul through the Senate last spring. He’s a long-time incumbent from a heavily Democratic district where support for the governor is solid. He’s a union organizer without the support of two key unions.
Whether because of or in spite of all that, Steven Sweeney holds a commanding lead in his latest bid for Senate from the 3rd District, which covers large areas of Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem counties. A recent Richard Stockton College/Zogby Poll of likely voters found 48 percent leaning toward Sweeney, with just 29 percent supporting Republican opponent Mike Mulligan. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Legislative District 20
District 20 has long been Democratic, and it is expected to remain so in the wake of the November legislative elections.
Elizabeth, Union, Roselle, and Hillside make up the towns in this Union County district, which was not drastically altered by redistricting that took place in the spring. The only change brought in Hillside to replace Kenilworth, which moved to District 21.
Democratic Senator Raymond Lesniak, first elected to the legislature as an Assemblyman in 1977, faces a Republican challenger, Helen Rosales, who is hoping to break Lesniak’s long winning streak in the Senate. (Kassel, NJ Spotlight)
Heating aid program may be cut by Congress
Congress is proposing to cut a popular program that’s expected to help more than 1 million low-income New Jerseyans pay their heating bills this winter.
Cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program could reduce or eliminate aid to thousands of laid-off workers, retirees living on fixed incomes and struggling families with young children, advocates say.
A record 9 million people across the country applied for LIHEAP heating assistance nationwide last year, up from about 4 million a few years back, according to Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association. (Chebium, Gannett)
Battle over N.J. hospital
A plan to resurrect a shuttered New Jersey hospital—potentially the first such facility to re-open after two decades of closures in the state—is drawing fire from competing medical centers that say it would weaken health care in the region.
Hackensack University Medical Center in Bergen County is moving forward with plans to re-open Pascack Valley Hospital as a 128-bed for-profit medical facility. The state’s Health Planning Board is now reviewing the plan, and Mary O’Dowd, the state’s health commissioner, is expected to issue a final decision by the end of the year.
But competing hospitals said the drive to re-open the hospital has become politicized and is not based on sound health-care policy. (Avila, The Wall Street Journal)
Regional grid operator agrees to ease impediments to building new power plants
The independent operator of the regional power grid is moving to make a series of changes to its system. Its goal: fix impediments that even it agrees has helped thwart the development of new power plants, something the Christie administration has been pursuing for more than a year.
It is unlikely, however, that those reforms will go far enough in resolving a deepening dispute between the state and power suppliers, transmission owners, and PJM Interconnection, the regional grid operator, over why few new plants have been built in New Jersey since the state deregulated the energy sector in 1999. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Is anti-bullying law having an impact?
Bullying. It’s the new buzz word, but it’s been around as long as schools have. Often dubbed a rite of passage, many consider bullying to be a part of growing up.
But bullying today is different than what previous generations experienced, according to sociologist Paula Rodriguez Rust, a diversity educator and bullying-prevention consultant in New Jersey who has spoken to educators and parents at libraries and schools in recent weeks.
“Bullying is not just children calling each other names on the playground. Bullying is cyberbullying, it is exclusion and ostracizing, and it is bias and prejudice,” she said. “Bullying is K-12 and beyond, it is serious and it can be deadly. We cannot dismiss it.” (Delaney, Gannett)
Camden parents feel bulldozed on school project
When the chunks of concrete began falling, Camden’s Lanning Square School closed and students were temporarily moved into two 19th-century buildings.
Nine years and $10 million later, the Lanning Square School has been demolished, architectural plans have been drawn for a new building, and adjacent homes have been seized by eminent domain – but the neighborhood is nowhere near getting a new school.
Now children’s advocates are calling for an investigation into how part of the land set aside for a $42.4 million school has become a parking lot for a politically connected construction project. (Katz and Vargas, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Effort to boost safety on tracks
NJ Transit is undertaking a systemwide examination and education effort to look at how improving safety at railroad crossings and around tracks in the wake of two incidents that left three teenagers dead.
State Transportation Commissioner James Simpson and NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein announced the effort last week. The announcement came after accidents in Garfield, where a teenager ducked under a closed crossing gate after a train passed and was hit by a second train, and Wayne, where two teens were struck and killed while using a railroad overpass as a shortcut. (Higgs, Gannett)
ADP reports private sector nationally added 91,000 jobs in August
The ADP National Employment Report states that 91,000 private-sector jobs were created between August and September.
The estimated growth in employment from July to August was revised down only slightly to 89,000 from the initially reported 91,000. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Dept. of Agriculture urges horse-vaccinations after West Nile Virus case
The state Department of Agriculture is urging horse owners to have their animals vaccinated after a horse in Monmouth County tested positive for having West Nile Virus.
The disease, which affects the animals’ neurological systems, was believed to have been contracted by the horse after it was bitten by an infected mosquito. The disease isn’t spread between horses, but vaccinations are recommended. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Kean says Dems’ transitional aid inaction risks Moody’s downgrade
Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, (R-21), of Westfield, said on Friday that by stalling on a transitional aid bill that would provide a much needed financial lifeline to several struggling New Jersey cities, Democrats have increased the likelihood that credit agency ratings will be downgraded for those cities, making future borrowing more expensive. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Teachers’ union attempting a comeback with two TV spots
Already faced with an industry-wide paradigm shift following pension and benefit reform – and staring down another encounter with Gov. Chris Christie over education reform – the N.J. Education Association is rolling out two new TV ads.
According to the union’s website, the spots focus on “highlighting our commitment to teacher quality.” (Carroll, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Council candidate arrested
The Asbury Park Press is reporting that Highlands Borough Council candidate and blogger Art Gallagher has been arrested on a fugitive warrant out of Delaware.
Gallagher, who operates conservative leaning blog More Monmouth Musings, is running as an independent for borough council. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie coverage outpaces news of Steve Jobs death
Steve Jobs was an icon, whose passing sparked a wave of tributes from fans of the Apple guru’s technological and social genius.
But despite the rarefied air Jobs occupied, his passing last week garnered less media attention than Gov. Chris Christie’s performance of the presidential hokey pokey and other presidential election news. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Chris Christie has some explaining to do regarding his endorsement of Romney
On October 11, Governor Christie endorsed “moderate” Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination for president in New Hampshire. A couple of hours later, Christie and Romney held a national teleconference for supporters.
As a Ron Paul supporter, I dialed in anyway to hear Romney and Christie hoping to hear some great insight by our governor about the man he wants to occupy the White House. Instead, Romney began the teleconference by making a few platitudinous remarks, did not take any questions from anyone on the call, and then turned the session over to Christie to answer questions from listeners around the country. (Sabrin, PolitickerNJ)
Christie’s designs on 38th District keep everyone guessing
Governor Christie’s stumping in Paramus last Wednesday to boost Republican Senate candidate John Driscoll stirred a back-channel debate among Democrats:
Is the Christie-controlled state GOP going to pull out all stops and spend whatever it takes to dislodge Driscoll’s opponent, Democratic incumbent Bob Gordon of Fair Lawn? Or is Christie going to try to do it on the cheap and hoard his hard-earned campaign funds for his own reelection in 2013? (Stile, The Record)
State Sen. Sandra Cunningham weighing bid for Jersey City mayor
State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) has been meeting with influential politicians and consultants in recent weeks to gauge their support for a potential run for Jersey City mayor in 2013, The Auditor has learned.
Cunningham, whose husband, Glenn Cunningham, was the city’s first black mayor and died in office in 2004, has long flirted with the idea of running for mayor. But now, the Auditor is told, she’s leaning toward a bid and has even begun assembling a campaign team. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Barnegat Bay in dire straits: New Jersey must do more to help
The stinging sea nettles in Barnegat Bay got so bad five years ago that Paul Krauss sold his 23-foot sport boat, the focal point of summer visits with his grandchildren, because of the vicious stings his passengers got when they tried to swim.
Scientists such as Jim Vasslides, of the nonprofit environmental group Barnegat Bay Partnership, have theories about why these jellyfish are so abundant, so they’re studying the problem, trying to figure out exactly why some areas of the bay are worse than others. (Spoto, That Star-Ledger)
Occupiers illustrate frustration
For a nation born of protest and revolution, too many politicians take a dim view of present day activities, like Occupy Wall Street and the loosely connected protests around the country.
At first, the rag-tag band camped out in New York was generally ignored by the media. Undaunted, the protests not only continued, but spread across the nation to big cities and little towns. Across the street from the State House here an old man sits in a wheel chair with an American flag holding a sign that brings attention to a newspaper column. (Ingle, Gannett)
Too soon to cheer over casino wins
Going by last week’s headlines, you’d think the crisis in Atlantic City— specifically, the fact that gaming revenue has been in decline for years — has finally turned a corner, with a report indicating casino revenue was, in fact, still down, but this time only by less than 1 percent.
Forgive us for not breaking out the Cristal and noisemakers just yet. While we’re glad to see news of the less-bad variety, cheering the latest numbers is kind of like saying this time, the bully just shoved you in the mud after stealing your lunch money, instead of breaking your nose, too. (Staff, NJBIZ)
In case you missed it
N.J. sees lower revenue than expected in first quarter of ne budget year
New Jersey collected slightly less revenue during the first quarter of the new budget year than was originally forecast back in July when the $29.7 billion spending plan was enacted, according to official revenue figures released Friday.
The state has collected $4.14 billion since the budget year began on July 1. That is 3.6 percent less than the $4.3 billion projected for the first three months of the fiscal year. Those projections were used to support current state spending. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
Four-month stalemate could lead to credit rating downgrade in Paterson, Passaic
Paterson and Passaic could see their credit ratings downgraded due to the four-month partisan impasse in Trenton over an aid program for New Jersey’s neediest cities.
Gov. Christie and Democratic legislative leaders remain gridlocked over the state’s Transitional Aid program, and Moody’s Investors Service announced earlier this week that six New Jersey cities are still under the threat of a credit ratings downgrade as a result. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
Hurricane Irene hindered N.J. tax collections
The amount of tax revenue collected by the state government in September was 6.9 percent less than treasury officials expected and they said it is because of the tax extensions granted after Hurricane Irene swept the state on Aug. 28.
Total collections are 3.6 percent less than officials estimated for July, August and September. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Christie visits Mount Laurel, talks property tax reform
Gov. Chris Christie continued his tour of the state Thursday to talk property tax reform, visiting the Mount Laurel home of a Republican couple and touting local GOP candidates.
Christie projected local governments will save $337 million in pension and health care costs in 2012 as a result of bipartisan reforms he championed. (Comegno, Gannett)
Polls show a Menendez rebound; 44 percent back Lautenberg
Job approval ratings for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who is up for re-election next year, have rebounded in recent months, according to the results of two new polls.
The latest Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll, released today, shows 42 percent of adults approve of the way the New Jersey Democrat is handling his job, with 28 percent disapproving. (Symons, Gannett)
Women’s services hit hard by cuts
When Gov. Chris Christie cut a $7.5 million line from his $30 billion budget in 2010 to fund women’s health programs, he said it was to eliminate paying for duplicate services.
His critics, however, contend it has everything to do with stopping abortions.
Planned Parenthood of New Jersey — and other medical providers including nonprofits, local health departments and hospital-based clinics — relied on that funding for their own operating budgets. The line was never restored in subsequent budgets, and Planned Parenthood officials said losing the funding has caused the shuttering of several offices. (Manochio, Gannett)
Business PAC sees surge in political donations ahead of election
One of the state’s leading business-affiliated political action committees said it has seen a surge in donations, and expects to spend a record total this year.
The committee, New Jersey Organization for a Better State — or NEW JOBS — is expecting to top the $270,000 it spent in 2009 by a large margin, according to David Brogan, the organization’s executive director. (Kitchenman, NJBIZ)
NJ Poll: Obama helping Wall Street the most
President Barack Obama’s policies have helped Wall Street bankers, wealthy families and health insurance companies a lot more than middle class and poor families, according to a Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll released today.
Nearly half of the respondents said Wall Street has benefited a lot from Obama’s policies. Just 9 percent said the same about the middle class. (Bates, Gannett)
Schools navigate bullying law
New Jersey schools face a challenge this year that may be more difficult than raising test scores: transforming how children and teens behave toward one another.
Educators say while they fully support the spirit of the state’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights — considered the toughest anti-bullying law in the nation — they remain confused about its “gray areas.” (Roh, Gannett)
Tom Kean Jr. says Democratic tax hikes chased jobs out of New Jersey
Property taxes are one of the usual go-to sources to gripe about the high cost of living in New Jersey. But there’s dozens of other taxes and fees ripe for the picking.
Buying new tires? Working on your tan? Looking to blow something up — legally?
All that will cost a little something extra.
And a decade of Democratic control in state government is to blame, according to Republican state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (O’Neill, PolitiFact New Jersey)
Menendez: ‘I’m optimistic’ of an extension of $1B federal biotech incentive program
While touring the new headquarters of a life sciences company that got its start thanks to a billion-dollar incentive program, the U.S. senator who championed the grant and tax credit initiative said he’s hopeful that program can be expanded.
“We’re working both with the industry and some of our partners who originally supported the effort to see if we can get an extension,” said Robert Menendez (D-Hoboken) at the Cranbury campus of 10-month old Oncobiologics Inc. “I’m optimistic, and we’ve just got to keep working it out.” (Kaltwasser, NJBIZ)
Pascrell and Lance join in bipartisan effort to help cancer patients
Under the leadership of two New Jersey Congressmen, Bill Pascrell and Leonard Lance, 61 members of the House of Representatives — 13 Republicans and 48 Democrats — urged the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee not to cut $3 billion to Medicare, a cut designed to prevent reimbursement of medications for cancer and other serious diseases.
Pascrell and Lance sent their letter to Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), co-chairs of the Joint Committee. Ted Okon, Executive Director of the Community Oncology Alliance applauded the move and said, “Cancer care is in crisis as evidenced by clinic closings and drug shortages and [patients and the system] simply cannot absorb any additional payment cuts.” (Friedman, New Jersey Newsroom)
Regulators size up new gas-fired plants
Proposed construction of natural gas-fired power plants in Woodbridge, Old Bridge and Newark face challenges in federal court, but New Jersey’s chief energy regulator says he’s hopeful work on the projects will get under way.
Developers of the power plants are scheduled to receive aid from statewide ratepayer subsidies, a mechanism other energy suppliers at a state Board of Public Utilities hearing Friday cited as creating an unfair competitive advantage. (Jordan, Gannett)
Madden bill would officiate create Business Action Center in N.J.
Legislation that would officially create the New Jersey Business Action Center has cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
The bill, S-3079, is also sponsored by Sen. Fred Madden, D-Washington Township.
Though the center was created last year, it was never officially done so by statute. Doing so now will help codify much of the work the center has and will continue to do. The center serves as a liaison to the business community and provides information on: state taxes, permits, licenses, certificates, other governmental approvals, state regulations, available commercial real estate and international trade.” (Barna, Gloucester County Times)
NJPIRG returns fire after being blasted by EDA chief over report
A public watchdog has fired back at the state Economic Development Authority after the agency lashed out at the group over a report that said the state was at risk of abusing economic development incentive programs.
In a letter to agency CEO Caren S. Franzini, the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group defended its new report on tax-increment financing, which said New Jersey has “some of the highest potential for abuse” of using the incentives as a subsidy for developers. The letter defended the report’s reference to the 19 revenue sources that New Jersey’s so-called TIF program has access to, calling it “a much broader source of revenue than almost any other state TIF program.” (Burd, NJBIZ)
Public opposition a challenge for medical marijuana groups
New Jersey’s medical marijuana law was penned nearly two years ago, but residents suffering from debilitating illnesses have not been able to legally light up a single joint because of myriad delays in the law’s implementation.
First, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration had to write new regulations for how the state program would be run, as well as select six nonprofit groups that would be licensed to grow and sell the drug to registered patients. (Levinsky and Zimmaro, Burlington County Times)
The next frontier in gambling: E-gambling
Bally Technologies Inc. showcased its most popular games, including Cash Spin, on several platforms here this month at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E).
There was Cash Spin as a traditional slot machine; Cash Spin on an iPod, Droid, BlackBerry, and iTouch tablet; and Cash Spin as an online game at the Bally Interactive booth at the Sands Expo & Convention Center. (Parmley, The Philadelphia Inquirer)