Morning News Digest: October 18, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Rutgers-Eagleton: Voters prize Christie’s ‘stubbornness, smarts, and leadership ability’
Whether or not they like him, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly see Gov. Chris Christie as a smart and stubborn leader, according to this morning’s Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
In the poll, 88% of registered voters say “smart” fits Christie somewhat or very well while eight-in-ten say he is a “strong leader” as well as “stubborn.”
The poll represents more good news for Christie, whose job approval rating jumped in last week’s Monmouth University and Rutgers polls.
In an April Rutgers-Eagleton poll, as many voters said they thought the Republican governor was stubborn, but now they are more likely to cite his leadership and intelligence. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Pallone raises $321K to lead October fundraising
October quarterly fundraising totals for the New Jersey Congressional Delegation show veteran U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) raising the most money from June 30 to Sept. 30 of this year, followed by U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R-3) and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12).
Pallone raised $321,218 this quarter and has $3.4 million in the bank, still the biggest campaign warchest in the delegation. Runyan raised $244,824 and has $378,843 cash on hand. Holt raised $261, 293 this quarter and has $511,109 in his coffers.
After Pallone, the biggest warchests in descending order belong to U.S. Rep Steve Rothman (D-9) ($1.7 million), U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) ($1.6 million), U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8) ($1.4 million), and U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-10) ($1.2 million). (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Gov. Chris Christie: I would consider being 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee
Gov. Chris Christie still doesn’t think anyone will ask him to be vice president. But just in case, he’s willing to listen to the nominee’s pitch.
In a radio interview with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity today, Christie continued to leave the door open to joining the eventual Republican nominee’s ticket.
“I’m not going to sit here and be arrogant enough to say I wouldn’t accept it when nobody has even asked me,” he said.
Christie has repeatedly said that he doesn’t think his personality — outspoken, sometimes brash — would be a good fit for the number two spot. But he said he won’t say no prematurely. (Megerian, The Star-Ledger)
Poll: Unhappy with Legislature, many don’t know election is coming
Barely half of New Jersey voters know that the Legislature is up for election in three weeks, according to results of the latest Monmouth University/New Jersey Press Media Poll.
But, even though people are generally unhappy with lawmakers, voters appear unlikely to change control of the state Senate and Assembly, the poll found.
Overall, 33 percent of registered voters approve of the job the Legislature is doing and 45 percent disapprove.
Though Democrats run the Legislature, Democratic voters disapprove of the Legislature’s performance, 52-25, while Republicans approve, 49-33. (Symons, Gannett)
N.J. Democrats’ tax-cut bill touted—and claimed—by GOP and Christie
Workers in New Jersey will see a slight reduction in taxes taken out of their paychecks next year thanks to a Democratic bill signed – and now touted – by Republican Gov. Christie.
“This isn’t a temporary cut, this is a permanent cut,” Christie said on commentator Sean Hannity’s radio program.
Christie went on to refer to “liberals” who are committed to taxation, but didn’t mention that the bill that led to the cut was introduced by Democrats with full Democratic backing and passed over “no” votes from 34 Republicans in the Legislature.
The law is designed to raise only the amount needed for the state disability benefits fund, allowing the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to adjust it each year. Since 1994, nearly $800 million in excess money toward disability benefits has been collected and then diverted to the state’s general fund. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Judge declares public employee pension, benefits hikes do not apply to fellow judges
Gov. Chris Christie Monday night called “outrageous, self-serving” a judge’s decision earlier in the day that the state’s new pension and health benefits’ plan is unconstitutional as it applies to Superior Court judges and Supreme Court justices.
Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg, sitting in Trenton, ruled the increased health benefits and pension contributions that Christie and Democratic legislative leaders put into effect on June 28, are unconstitutional as it applies to the judges because it amounts to a reduction in their salaries.
The ruling does not affect state and local public employees, including teachers, police and firefighters, who are now paying the increased costs. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Change in N.J. payroll deduction rate to save workers an average of $87 in 2012
Gov. Chris Christie Monday announced a $190 million payroll tax cut he said is designed to provide a tax savings of $87 annually for working New Jersey families in 2012.
On July 1, Christie signed Democratic legislation into law authorizing the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to calculate a new payroll-deduction rate to finance the Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) fund. For most workers next year, the revised formula means the amount of TDI payroll tax deducted from their paychecks will be reduced from $148 to $61 per year, for a savings of $87 per worker. The changes take effect on Jan. 1. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Talk about merging some schools into a University of South Jersey
A University of South Jersey?
When Democratic deal-maker and Cooper University Hospital chairman George E. Norcross III talked up the concept – at a recent business luncheon in Mount Laurel – of merging Rowan University with Rutgers-Camden, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Stratford, and the soon-to-open Cooper-Rowan Medical School, to many observers it sounded far-fetched.
Not only have similar proposals been circulating for more than a decade, but there has never been a successful merger of public universities in the country, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. (Osborne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Legislative District 5
In a legislative district that contains Camden, one of the nation’s most distressed cities, it is a foregone conclusion that politicians promise to create jobs.
The candidates in the 5th District don’t disappoint: The two Senate candidates and four Assembly hopefuls all put job creation at the top of their campaign promise lists.
The 5th is also the home of George Norcross, the widely acknowledged Democratic Party boss of South Jersey. His brother, Donald Norcross, is the district’s Senator. There’s no question of which party controls politics here: The Democrats have more than three times the number of registered voters than the Republicans. (Daigle, NJ Spotlight)
Taxes, corruption top issues in 13th
Creating jobs, stabilizing property taxes and curtailing corruption should be priorities for the two individuals elected to represent the state Assembly’s 13th District, the race’s six candidates told the editorial board of the Asbury Park Press on Monday.
Incumbent Republicans Amy Handlin and Declan O’Scanlon expressed support for Gov. Chris Christie’s “tool kit” proposals, including civil service reform, eliminating payouts for unused sick leave and preventing nonpublic employees from being a part of the state’s pension system. (Pentón, Gannett)
Legislative district 13
The conservative preference of voters in the 13th District may not have changed, but one at least one thing will definitely be different after the election — thanks to last spring’s redistricting.
Incumbent Assemblyman Samuel D. Thompson, a Republican who has served in the lower house since 1998, has found himself the odd man out now that his hometown of Old Bridge Township has been moved out of the 13th.
That leaves one Assembly seat without an incumbent. Or does it?
Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon’s hometown of Little Silver was moved from the 12th into the 13th, and the two-term lawmaker is hoping to make a smooth transition into office in his new district. (Hunger, NJ Spotlight)
NJ redistricting pits longtime political heavyweight against newcomer
Redistricting in New Jersey has caused some long-time politicians — including Democratic heavyweight former Governor Dick Codey — to work harder to keep their seats ahead of the election next month.
Codey, the incumbent and longtime Democrat, will face off against fresh-faced Bill Eames, a tea party supporter, in the 27th Legislative District — an area where lines have been redrawn to include more traditionally Republican towns in Morris County.
About 30 percent of the state’s residents will be voting in different legislative districts on November 8, when they decide who fills the legislature’s 120 seats. (Hennelly, WNYC)
Candidates to debate ‘litigious’ challenger
Assemblyman Scott Rumana agreed Monday to debate his 40th District Democratic challengers on Oct. 30 after his running mates said they had made arrangements to participate.
Rumana, a Republican former mayor of Wayne, said last week that he would not attend two debates set for this month because he did not want to open himself to a potential lawsuit from his Democratic challenger William Brennan. Rumana said he feared that Brennan, who is involved in several lawsuits, might sue him for remarks he makes in an open forum or use his comments against him in other pending legal battles. (McGrath, The Record)
Menendez has $6.9M for campaign
Sen. Robert Menendez has $6.9 million cash on hand for his re-election campaign in 2012, according to his latest filings with the Federal Election Commission.
The New Jersey Democrat reported raising $1.7 million from July 1 through Sept. 30, with much of that — $1.4 million — coming from individual donors, his filings show.
Menendez reported raising an additional $272,000 from political action committees, which are set up by corporations, labor unions and other interest groups to raise and distribute campaign cash to candidates they favor.
Menendez, seeking re-election to his second term, reported no debt. His campaign reported expenses of nearly $261,000 in the latest quarter. (Chebium, Gannett)
School vouchers: Out of the spotlight, not out of mind
Tenure reform and charter schools have dominated education politics of late in New Jersey, but the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA) is making a quiet resurgence in the halls of the Statehouse.
People on both sides of the contentious proposal to provide tax credits for privately subsidized scholarships to low-income students have said that a slimmed-down version of the bill has a good shot of coming back in the lame duck session after the Nov. 8 election.
None are putting odds on its passage as yet, and talk of its fall and rise is nothing new. The bill was said to be close to passage at the end of June, yet never came to vote or committee in the Assembly. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Officials: Schools were left behind
Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf was in the role of student Monday as two state legislators and school officials taught him how two Monmouth County schools districts fell through the funding cracks, receiving less money than the state considers adequate.
Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande and State Sen. Jennifer Beck, both R-Monmouth, brought Cerf on a tour of two schools in Red Bank and Freehold Borough, which are among 14 in the state that receive 20 percent less than the amount of funding the state recommends, which is a glitch they want corrected.
Perhaps the most telling examples of his trip to the Red Bank Primary School and the Park Avenue school complex in Freehold was the stage in the Freehold school cafeteria, which has been converted to a classroom, and the former library, which has been carved into a technology lab and other small teaching facilities. (Higgs, Gannett)
Newark charter and district schools share space and visions—but not technology
The fight was fierce this winter, just at the idea of Newark district schools sharing space with charters. At times, ugly hearings revealed the sense of have and have-not that often mars debates about charters across the state.
Six months later, the new shared campuses in four Newark school buildings have opened. While the turmoil has faded — some — the challenges are just as real.
The issues were highlighted as Newark school and city officials, including Mayor Cory Booker, announced $350,000 in grants from the Newark Education Trust. The money is to encourage collaborative efforts across the city — shared activities between students and parents or coordinated staff training. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Officials hail benefits of emissions law
Releases of toxic pollutants into the air, water and soil have fallen 76 percent nationally and 94 percent in New Jersey in the 25 years since a federal law was passed requiring companies to report emissions, U.S. officials said Monday.
Since its inception, the Toxic Release Inventory has given countless citizens’ groups information about the pollutants emitted in their neighborhoods — a key tool to pressure companies to reduce those emissions. The law, introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, has gone global, with more than 50 other countries adopting some form of toxic emissions reporting. (O’Neill, The Record)
State may budget $55 million for cogeneration
In a straw proposal for how it plans to spend money raised from ratepayers, the office, an arm of the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), would set aside $55 million in its energy efficiency budget to provide rebates, grants, and other incentives to spur development of the technology.
CHP, long touted by its advocates as a cost-effective and cleaner way of producing electricity, is pushed in the draft Energy Master Plan (EMP) developed by the administration. It recommends the state build up to 1,500 megawatts of new CHP capacity. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
NJ energy plan: Panel to debate promoting clean fuel
A panel of energy advisers is rolling out suggestions on how to create more bang for the buck in the surcharges utility customers are paying to promote New Jersey’s clean energy initiative.
The Clean Energy Funding Work Group said the surcharges can be minimized through better management of the funds and other efficiencies.
The average residential utility customer feels a small amount of pain — paying about $5 monthly in societal benefits charges (SCB) — but the bill can grow by the tens of thousands of dollars for businesses, with costs passed on to consumers and customers. (Jordan, Gannett)
At Jersey City school, Sen. Menendez hails Senate approval for spending $693M on autism research
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez noted in Jersey City yesterday that the Senate has voted to allot $693 million in federal funding for research into autism over the next three years.
Speaking at the Gerard J. Dynes NJ Regional Day School on Johnston Avenue for children with autism, Menendez said the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act 2011 will provide $231 million per year for the next three years.
President Barack Obama signed the act into law on Sept. 30. The Combating Autism Act was enacted in 2006 and was due to sunset this year. (Hack, The Jersey Journal)
Study: Investments in port region will generate 7,000 new jobs annually
Planned investments in the state’s ports region are expected to generate nearly 7,000 jobs annually through 2017, according to an economic impact study released Monday.
For the region’s port and maritime industry, the projected growth would continue the positive impact created during the height of the recession, according to two trade groups that commissioned the study. The projections assume a project to raise the Bayonne Bridge by 64 feet is completed by 2017.
Joseph Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association, said at a news conference Monday that his members were anxious to find out a firm timetable for the bridge project, which is needed to allow larger container ships to reach Newark and Elizabeth following the expansion of the Panama Canal, expected for a 2014 completion. (Burd, NJBIZ)
Capital Health touts community development in tour of $540M hospital
Capital Health on Friday held an inaugural event at its $540 million, 237-bed medical center in Hopewell, highlighting clinical advances from robotic surgery, to pediatric emergency care, to a green building design that saves water, energy and money.
The new hospital, which opens to patients Nov. 6, replaces Capital Health Mercer, in Trenton, which will operate as a satellite emergency department. Capital Health also operates Capital Health Regional Medical Center, in Trenton, and an outpatient facility in Hamilton.
Among the speakers were Bob Martin and Mary O’Dowd, commissioners of the state departments of Environmental Protection and Health and Senior Services, respectively. (Fitzgerald, NJBIZ)
Rhode Island Governor follows Christie to seek curbs on public pensions
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who left the Republican Party last year to run as an independent, is joining New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in seeking to roll back benefits promised to government retirees.
Chafee, 58, elected in November after he lost a U.S. Senate seat in 2006, wants to overhaul the state’s $7.4 billion pension because it has only about half the assets needed over the coming decades, according to state data. New government workers also would have a chance to opt for a defined-contribution retirement plan under a proposal he is preparing with Democratic Treasurer Gina Raimondo, according to Joy Fox, a Raimondo spokeswoman. (McDonald, Bloomberg)
Codey sees disparity in how mental illness sufferers treated
Sen. Richard Codey, (D-27), Roseland, said today there seems to be major differences between the types of facilities offered to people suffering from developmental disabilities and those for people suffering from mental illness.
Codey made this observation after Arc of New Jersey Executive Director Thomas Baffuto insisted residents would “not (be) moving to boarding houses” if the state decides to go forward with building more community-based homes to phase out large state institutions. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Arc sees N.J. as behind the curve on turning to community-based settings
The head of Arc of New Jersey told the legislative panel studying developmental disabilities centers that New Jersey is behind the curve when adapting to the community home models for residents with developmental disabilities. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Watson Coleman tells Mack to accept oversight for $22M in unpassed Transitional Aid
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, (D-15), of Ewing, released a statement today urging embattled Trenton Mayor Tony Mack to sign off on state oversight in exchange for $22 million in state aid that Democrats have yet to restore.
Watson Coleman sent a letter to Mack asking him to “act quickly” in reaching an agreement with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to accept its offer to provide the city of Trenton with $22 million in Transitional Aid, according to a majority office release. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Gov touts tax break in opposition territory
The timing and location of Gov. Chris Christie’s announcement of a $190 million payroll tax reduction today is curious. The legislation passed in May, was a Democrats’ bill, and was voted down by the Republican lawmakers who represent the district where Christie plans to make his announcement.
The bill, S2609, sponsored by state Sens. Fred Madden, (D-4), of Washington Township, and Shirley Turner, (D-17), of Lawrenceville, and Assemblyman Matt Milam (D-1) of Vineland passed earlier this year, allowing the Department of Labor to reduce the state temporary disability insurance surtax. (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)
Redistricting bred disengagement
Gov. Chris Christie basically admits it. The polls are indicating it, too.
Come Nov. 9, Democrats will still control the Legislature, following a lackluster campaign season in which the results were nearly preordained by a decision made in April by the tiebreaker in the state’s redistricting sweepstakes.
When Rutgers University political scientist Alan Rosenthal opted for a redistricting map put forward by Democrats and labeled by the professor as “a more conservative, less disruptive map,” the GOP knew its chances of retaking the Legislature were slight to nil. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
You’d have to be president to afford the Guv’s property taxes
If Chris Christie ever decides to ascend to higher office, I will claim part of the credit.
By making that big move down I-95, the Governor would finally make his escape from the question I’ve been hounding him with for more than two years: Just when the heck is he going to demand we change the formula for handing out state property-tax relief?
Under the current formula, suburban taxpayers get socked to transfer wealth to the cities. And few suburbs fare quite as badly as Christie’s own home town, Mendham Township in Morris County. I like to bring that thorny fact up when I question him at press conferences. (Mulshine, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. deputy education commissioner’s role in pro-charter school group a conflict of interest
The so-called revolving door between government and lobbying organizations is a familiar fact of political life. Government officials often leave their public posts and join private groups representing the enterprises those officials once regulated. Happens everywhere.
But there may be a Jersey twist on the practice. Andy Smarick, the deputy education commissioner, is now a member of the governing board of a private advocacy organization seeking to bring its version of education reform — including expansion of charter schools and stricter teacher evaluation — to all 50 states, including New Jersey. (Braun, The Star-Ledger)
Legislators trying to rework laws to account for sexting
If a teenage girl sends her teenage boyfriend a naked picture of herself, is it child pornography?
And if that same couple has a nasty breakup and the boy sends the picture to the entire high school football team, should he be prosecuted for possessing and disseminating child pornography?
State lawmakers are grappling with these questions as they tinker with laws to account for “sexting,” the transmission of explicit pictures via cellphone, an activity that doesn’t fit well into the laws currently on the books. (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)