Morning News Digest: October 25, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Christie’s approval numbers remain strong
Gov. Christie’s approval ratings continue to top 50 percent as the governor continues his recent spike in popularity.
Christie scored a 51 percent approval rating versus 36 percent who disapprove of the job the governor is doing. The latest Fairleigh Dickinson/Public Mind Poll marks a new high for the governor with 47% saying he’s doing a “good” or “excellent” job.
And while the majority of those polled approved of his performance, Christie continues to spark strong opinions in the state he governs. Greater than one in four residents have a “very favorable” opinion of Christie, while another one in four have a “very unfavorable” opinion of him.
Christie’s popularity will likely not translate into GOP gains in the coming race as just 44 percent of those polled said they have a “great deal of interest” in the upcoming legislative elections. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
With Norcross waiting, DiVincenzo works behind-the-scenes to cement support for ally Oliver
The back chatter continued tonight as the state’s two most powerful bosses attempted to hold together their leadership alliance.
In a volatile political back-atmosphere, South Jersey Democratic Leader George Norcross told Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo to deliver hard evidence of Essex support for Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34).
Sources said the Norcross undercurrent was roughly: “If you can’t do that then South Jersey’s 11 votes may move on from Essex.”
This evening, the powerful North Jersey executive held a meeting in which he lined up seven hard supports in the Oliver column and one unconfirmed.
The only one he didn’t have an answer from by the end of the night was Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27), said sources, who weren’t worried about losing Oliver. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Rutgers-Eagleton: largest percentage of voters cite jobs and unemployment as state’s toughest problem
In today’s Rutgers-Eagleton 40th anniversary poll, voters assess the state’s most important problems. Twenty-seven percent name unemployment and jobs first, followed by 25 percent who cite taxes first, and 10 percent who express concern about the economy in general.
Crime, cited first by 16 percent in 1971, beat taxes by only 2 percent. Today just 3 percent put crime at the top of the list. The environment, named by 10 percent in 1971, receives first mention from only 1 percent of Garden Staters today.
In the very first Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in September 1971, crime and drug addiction topped taxes as the single most important problem in New Jersey. Forty years later, crime is barely mentioned as jobs and the economy are now New Jersey’s top problem. Taxes, which consistently have been listed first or second over 40 years, continue to vex New Jerseyans, ranking just behind jobs as the state’s biggest problem. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Gov. Christie to travel to Israel next year
It has been a rite of passage for New Jersey governors for several decades — a trip to Israel.
Jon Corzine toured bomb shelters near the border with Gaza. Christie Whitman boasted about the advantages of her home state to hundreds of business leaders in Jerusalem. And Jim Florio talked with Israeli scientists about how to grow a better Jersey tomato.
Next year it will be Gov. Chris Christie’s turn to travel to there. He announced his plans for his first official overseas trip as governor today after meeting with the Israeli ambassador to the United States at the Statehouse in Trenton.
He said he will probably visit in the spring with his wife, Mary Pat, and their children. (Megerian, The Star-Ledger)
Kim Guadagno mail covered in white powder; it’s just baking soda
A suspicious white powder covering mail sent to Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s office Monday was determined to be baking soda.
Police were alerted about the powder after an employee of the office discovered it while opening the morning mail.
Guadagno’s office inside the Statehouse was quarantined for a few hours while hazardous materials investigators determined there was no danger to employees.
State Police Sgt. Brian Polite says an investigation is ongoing. He declined to say who the letter came from or what it said. (The Associated Press)
N.J. to appeal judges’ benefits ruling
Governor Chris Christie’s administration is preparing an appeal of a New Jersey judge’s ruling that judges shouldn’t be required to pay more for their pensions or health insurance.
The state officially notified the court of its intent to appeal on Monday, just days after Christie publicly condemned Judge Linda Feinberg for the ruling.
The issue is a touchy one for Christie because it combines a policy that is one of his major accomplishments as governor — overhauling public workers’ pension and health insurance system — and a group he often rails against — the state’s judges.
In June, the Republican governor and Democrat-controlled Legislature agreed to the benefit changes, which will require workers to pay more and get sparer benefits. Christie says the savings could save pension and health insurance systems that are underfunded. (Mulvihill, The Associated Press)
Christie’s campaign promises to cities go largely unfulfilled
As a conservative candidate for governor, Chris Christie visited New Jersey’s deeply liberal and severely impoverished urban areas. He filmed a campaign ad at Camden’s infamous Tent City homeless encampment.
And he released a list of 11 policy promises for “bringing back New Jersey’s cities.”
But nearly two years into his term, the Republican governor has fulfilled only one of those promises and has not publicly prioritized the others. (See below for a list.) As many as four tent cities exist in Camden, hungry children are increasingly visiting the city’s main soup kitchen, and the depleted police force struggles to fight rising crime. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Health care reforms could save N.J. $100M
Federal health care reform has had a sizable impact on New Jersey’s health coverage for public workers and is now expected to save the state nearly $100 million in 2012.
That means the state, which brokers health care for 850,000 employees and dependents, is on track to save three dollars for every dollar spent to implement the nationwide health care reforms advocated by President Obama.
New Jersey saves a total of $153 million next year through two major programs aimed at retirees. Costs have risen too, as dependent children are covered longer, insurers are banned from capping medical payouts and existing plans lose grandfathered status and must comply with new rules. (Fletcher, The Record)
Study: Health care reform won’t decrease employer-sponsored insurance
A recent study funded by the Princeton-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation disputes the notion that employers will no longer need to provide health insurance benefits for employees under the Affordable Care Act.
According to the analysis, completed by the Urban Institute, the insurance exchange subsidy provided through the ACA will only benefit employees earning 250 percent or less of the federal poverty level.
“What’s important for employers to understand is what will really be available to their employees once the law goes fully into effect,” said Judy Feder, a fellow at the Urban Institute who worked on the study and a professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “For most of their workers, it really doesn’t change much at all — the expectation (is) that they will get benefits from their employers.” (Caliendo, NJBIZ)
Afterschool fund falls victim to line-item veto, battered economy
New Jersey After 3, the statewide program that funded afterschool for thousands of New Jersey students, has told sponsors and supporters that it will cease operations next week.
The program, established in 2004, steadily saw its state funding cut in the past three years.
In an email yesterday, New Jersey After 3 president and chief executive Mark Valli said the final blow was the elimination of the last $3 million in state funding under Gov. Chris Christie’s 2012 budget. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Lawmaker: School aid formula works if its funded
Senate President Stephen Sweeney is questioning the Christie administration’s efforts to change the way public schools are funded before it fully funds them using a formula approved by the state Supreme Court.
Sweeney sent a letter Monday to Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, seeking details on a group of independent consultants who Sweeney says have been asked to recommend changes to the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter.
The law eliminated low-income districts known as “Abbotts” and created a formula where aid to schools follows the child. (The Associated Press)
NJ pols sponsor bill in honor of South Jersey student
Private lenders would face greater student-loan disclosure requirements under a bill named after a deceased South Jersey student.
The legislation, introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Reps. Bill Pascrell, D-Paterson, and Jon Runyan, R-Mount Laurel, would require private lenders to “clearly define the obligations of the co-signer” if the loan recipient dies. Colleges would also have to inform students and co-signers that they have to repay private loans regardless of whether the recipient is alive. (Chebium, Gannett)
Over 3K desks available for 2012-13 N.J public school choice program
71 New Jersey school districts expect to have 3,126 open desks available when the 2012-13 school year begins in September under the so-called Interdistrict Choice program that enables parents to send their children to schools outside their district without cost, the state Department of Education announced Monday.
There are 1,878 students in the program for the current 2011-2012 school year.
The program was developed by Gov. Chris Christie to enable the parents of children stuck in bad schools, especially in the inner cities, to transfer to a better learning environment. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Federal court upholds challenge to NJ’s power plant subsidy
New Jersey has suffered another setback in its much contested effort to develop new power plants in the state by funneling ratepayer subsidies to three firms to build additional generating capacity.
A U.S. District Court judge has rejected the state’s motion to dismiss a challenge to the law brought by power suppliers and electric utilities who argued that the measure, among other things, is preempted by a federal law giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) jurisdiction over wholesale electricity sales. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
EPA sued for release of toxic rankings
An environmental group has sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the release of detailed scoring and ranking information used to determine if contaminated sites in New Jersey should be added to the Superfund cleanup list.
The suit by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility was spurred by ongoing controversy over whether a Pompton Lakes neighborhood with contaminated groundwater beneath about 450 homes should be put on the Superfund list. (O’Neill, The Record)
Taxes key in 10th District
Veteran politicians in the 10th Legislative District are being challenged in the Nov. 8 election by a slate of Democrats who say constituents need a new voice in Trenton.
But the Republican candidates are touting the services they say they have provided to their constituents, both in the Assembly and in Toms River, where one is a councilman.
Republican Assemblyman James W. Holzapfel, in office since 1994, is seeking a two-year term in the Senate, in the seat held for almost 20 years by Sen. Andrew R. Ciesla, a fellow Republican who is not seeking re-election. (Hopkins, Gannett)
Legislative District 32
In the 2007 legislative election, Democrats in the 32nd District garnered four times the number of votes as Republicans.
Last spring’s redistricting probably won’t affect voting trends, but it did change the composition of the 37th.
The new 37th came about at least partly because of a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that further defined the Voting Rights Act. It also reversed an earlier ruling by the state Supreme Court, which allowed Democrats to split both Jersey City and Newark into three voting districts. The federal decision said the state cannot supersede the Voting Rights Act, which mandates that cities be split into as few districts as possible. (Hunger, NJ Spotlight)
Legislative District 36
Hard as it may be to believe, the infamous Snooki played a bit part in the Senate race in North Jersey’s 36th. More precisely, her name was invoked when the Republican candidate accused Sen. Paul Sarlo of flip-flopping on a tax credit for the “Jersey Shore” reality TV show.
Snooki aside, the GOP faces an uphill climb against the Democratic ticket of Sarlo, Assemblyman Gary Schaer and Marlene Caride. This year’s redistricting gave the blue-leaning 36th a larger group of Democratic-dominant towns.
The incumbent senator is a powerful force in Trenton, serving both as deputy majority leader of the upper house and as chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. (Lehren, NJ Spotlight)
Races in 36th focus on jobs, taxes, flooding
How government can help job growth is front-and-center in the 36th District legislative race which is topped by a battle between Democratic incumbent state Sen. Paul A. Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, and veteran Republican Don Diorio.
In the race for two, two-year Assembly seats, long-serving Democratic incumbent Gary Schaer of Passaic and ticket-mate Marlene Caride face a solo challenge from GOP newcomer Sara Rosengarten, whose partner on the ticket, John Genovesi, dropped out of the race.
The winners will deal with combating unemployment, a debate over gaming, easing Passaic River flooding, pending legislation in the Meadowlands District and unstable property taxes. (Hampton, The Record)
Most legal work for Lewis’ N.J. Senate bid provided free
The legal battle over Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis’ New Jersey Senate candidacy cost state taxpayers $77,798.19.
It cost the Republicans $127,335.50 – with up to $12,000 in bills still pending, according to the lawyer they hired.
The bill to Lewis and the Democrats? So far, nothing.
That’s because Lewis’ lawyer, William Tambussi, and the four other lawyers who worked with him over five months volunteered their time, an exception permitted under state election law.
Lewis, 50, was stricken from the ballot in the Eighth Legislative District in Burlington County after a federal appeals court agreed with rulings from state and federal courts that he did not meet a four-year state residency requirement to run for the Senate. Lewis, a nine-time gold medalist, had lived in California and voted there in 2009, but now lives in Medford. (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Christie’s Cuts – Higher property taxes, fewer cops in NJ
First, the good news: Property tax increases have slowed in many New Jersey towns. But the bad news is, many residents have seen municipal services cut as their taxes have continued to climb.
Cities and suburbs all over New Jersey have laid off police officers and other public employees in the last 12 months as a drop in state aid and lingering economic doldrums have put the squeeze on municipal finances.
While many towns were able to keep property tax increases at or below a newly imposed 2 percent cap, municipal officials have been forced to cut jobs and slash services to keep from raising taxes even more. (Mikle, Gannett)
Coalition formally asks state to extend utility-sponsored solar installations
Echoing an argument heard repeatedly in recent weeks, a coalition of solar energy developers is formally asking the state to extend and to expand utility-sponsored programs to promote solar installations throughout New Jersey.
In a petition filed with the state Board of Utilities (BPU), the Solar Alliance, a coalition of 33 large solar companies, is asking the agency to allow three of the state’s electric utilities to solicit an additional 47.3 megawatts of solar capacity through long-term contracts with customers. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Education chief says no to higher ticket prices
The NJSIAA took a hit from the acting commissioner of education on Monday when he rejected the association’s request to raise ticket prices to state tournament events this fall across the board and in two instances lowered the price slightly from last year.
The association will be permitted to charge $9 for adults and $3 for students and seniors for sectional championship football games at MetLife Stadium and Rutgers the first weekend of December. (Schutta, The Record)
Who is OWS and why should we care?
Does the Occupy Wall Street movement represent anything other than the protesters who have taken to the streets in New York and elsewhere? Public opinion data indicates that they are tapping into widespread frustration with the political system, even if they don’t reflect the political ideology of most Americans. And that makes this a movement worth watching.
So what drives those who are actively taking part? One pollster, Democratic consultant Doug Schoen, actually waded into the throngs occupying lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and interviewed nearly 200 protesters. While his methods didn’t necessarily adhere to the most rigorous polling practices, the results are suggestive. (Murray, PolitickerNJ)
Democrats plead with union not to retaliate
Jittery New Jersey Democrats held a private sit-down with one of their longtime allies last week and made this request: Please call off your scalp-hunting posse. The Nov. 8 election is not the time to target turncoat Democrats for revenge.
Party operatives and Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the Teaneck Democrat, made that case to leaders of the Communications Workers of America, the powerful government workers union, who are poised to make good on a promise to punish a South Jersey Democrat for voting for the landmark law requiring public employees to pay significantly higher contributions to their health insurance and pensions. (Stile, The Record)
A growth plan with built-in allies
Last week’s announcement of Gov. Chris Christie’s “State Strategic Job Growth Plan” drew the typical response these plans bring from critics.
But noticeable in its optimism was the statement from the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
“While this is just the first step in a long, public process, the league is encouraged that the administration is focused on state government, and proposes no new requirements or mandates on local governments,” read a statement from the league. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
Don’t tell anyone, but there’s an election in two weeks
The other night I had a nightmare. I dreamed that there was an election coming up soon in which every seat in the state Legislature was up for grabs. Yet no one was paying attention.
Then I woke up, got my coffee and looked at the calendar. The election’s two weeks from today. That was no dream.
But it may be a nightmare, at least for the New Jersey Republican Party. Around this time last year they were riding high. They had a new Republican governor and they were looking forward to a redistricting process that could give them a fair shot at erasing the dismal memory of the prior decade. (Mulshine, The Star-Ledger)
For reform, order in the court a must
In a profession famous for impartiality, it’s disappointing to see a judge side with her colleagues and her paycheck at the expense of the taxpaying public, but that’s exactly what happened last week.
Superior Court Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg ruled judges are exempt from paying more into their pensions and health benefits under a sweeping set of reforms designed to rein in runaway health care costs paid by the state.
Upon hearing the news, Chris Christie, who championed the reform effort as a way to bring state spending under control, immediately reopened his diary and flipped to his 2010 musings on the teachers union for inspiration in handling this rebuke of policy. (Staff, NJBIZ)
Rutgers professors help rethink realities for local N.J. government leaders
Those who take delight in the frenzy of recrimination against government and people who work for it should spend some time with Dorothy Olshfski and Angie McGuire, two Rutgers faculty members who are studying the consequences of the slow destruction of a sense of community throughout New Jersey.
“The character of small- and medium-sized communities is changing and it won’t come back, not for years, probably never,’’ says Olshfski.
She and McGuire work for the Center for Executive Leadership in Government at Rutgers and try to help municipal officials deal with spending caps, state aid cuts, tax reductions, the circus of animus directed at government, and, of course, the endless aftermath of the Great Recession. (Braun, The Star-Ledger)