Morning News Digest: October 27, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Flashpoint LD1: Van Drew and DeWeese clash in Cape May County conflagration
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1) burnished his record of standing with Republicans on thorny issues and treating political parties as if they’re finally distractions, while GOP challenger David DeWeese associated high taxes and hard-scrabble times with Van Drew’s tenure.
“New Jerseyans are looking for bipartisanship,” Van Drew told the crowd at this packed League of Women Voters-sponsored debate.
“They needed two Democratic votes to move that budget out of committee,” the senator added. “I was one of those votes. I co-sponsored a bill that said if you’re going to borrow money, the voters need to approve it. We have to fight for South Jersey.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Lonegan blitzes key Dem candidates with TV and radio
Steve Lonegan and Americans for Prosperity today unleashed a six-figure cable TV and raido ad campaign against five targeted Democrats, three of whom occupy the cycle’s three battleground districts.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), former Senate President Richard Codey (D-27), state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14), state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-2), and state Sen. Robert Gordon (D-38) are all tacked on Lonegan’s dart board.
“They all flunked our taxpayer scorecard,” Lonegan told PolitickerNJ.com. “On every single one of our issues, they were 100 percent against us. I know the Sweeney race is tough, but we’re not endorsing; we’re explaining how bad these guys are for taxpayers. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
LD 38 Flashpoint: Goldberg says he would have bucked Christie on women’s healthcare
A candidate for the Assembly in LD 38, Hawthorne Mayor Richard Goldberg told PolitickerNJ.com that if he had to pick one area of difference with Gov. Chris Christie it would be on this year’s women’s healthcare vote.
With what his rivals say was a vengeance, Christie repeatedly axed state Sen. Loretta Weinberg’s (D-37) $7.5 million women’s healthcare budget itemization.
“We have a difference of opinion on that; I would have voted for it,” said Goldberg, who added that his and Christie’s styles are somewhat different.
“As mayor I have always tried to get the full seven votes, rather than just the 4-3 Republican majority,” he added. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Gov. Christie still undecided whether to join states’ coalition to defend EPA against lawsuit
Gov. Chris Christie has less than two weeks to decide if the state will join one of the largest legal fights to date against power plants whose pollution winds up in New Jersey.
About one-third of the state’s dirty air comes from other places, and leaders on both sides of the political aisle — including Christie — have long fought hand-in-hand with the rest of the northeast to stem the toxic winds.
“Targeting out-of-state air pollution that negatively (affects) our state is just one of many initiatives we are undertaking to benefit the public health and improve our environment,” Christie said in March. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. judge says no to health insurance hike
A state court judge has ruled against Gov. Christie’s administration for a second time in a lawsuit over whether the state can increase judges’ health insurance and pension contributions.
Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg ruled Wednesday that New Jersey cannot increase judges’ contributions while the case proceeds.
Last week, Feinberg sided with Hudson County Superior Co
urt Judge Paul DePascale, who sued the state over its pension and benefits overhaul.
DePascale argued that the increases would diminish his salary. He said that violated a state constitutional provision against decreasing judges’ wages.
The state sought to collect the higher pension contributions while Christie’s administration appealed the ruling, which challenges one of the governor’s landmark accomplishments. (Mulvihill, The Associated Press)
Gov. Christie likes idea of extending No. 7 subway from N.Y. to N.J.
Gov. Chris Christie said he’d support the extension of New York City’s No. 7 subway to Secaucus, offering more commuters direct Manhattan access.
New Jersey will “do our share” if New York state and the city contribute to the financing, Christie said in a WCBS radio interview yesterday. “All of this will be able to come together.”
Christie last year killed an $8.7 billion commuter rail tunnel, intended to double rush-hour capacity, because of concern that New Jersey would be responsible for as much as $5 billion in additional costs. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg then proposed to extend the crosstown subway to northern New Jersey. (Bloomberg)
New state task force to determine how N.J. students can best be prepared for college and careers
The state Department of Education has created a 21-member “College and Career Readiness Task Force,” a group of K-12 and college educators and business representatives that will have two main responsibilities: determining the knowledge and skills that students should master to be “college and career ready,” and ensuring that New Jersey has the appropriate graduation requirements and high school assessments in place to evaluate the mastery of the
The task force will submit its recommendations to the DOE by Dec. 31.
“Our number one priority is to ensure that students across the state of New Jersey are not only graduating from high school, but that when they do, they are truly ready for college and a career,” Education Commissioner Christopher D. Cerf said Wednesday. “When you have over 90 percent of students who matriculate to Bergen and Essex County community colleges requiring remediation before they can begin college-level work, we clearly are not hitting that mark. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Education officials call for civility
Education officials meeting in Atlantic City this week called for more civility as the debate intensifies over sweeping changes in public schools.
Gov. Chris Christie and the powerful teachers union have clashed as Christie attempts to advance an education agenda that includes abolishing lifetime teacher tenure, awarding teacher raises based on merit and tying their evaluations to student achievement.
On Wednesday, the executive director of the union and Christie’s own education commissioner asked that discussions be less politically charged in separate panel discussions sponsored by the New Jersey School Boards Association. (Delli Santi, The Associated Press)
Education department to set up seven ‘regional achievement centers’
The Christie administration’s reorganization of the state education department is moving out into the field, with plans to create seven “regional achievement centers” that will serve as satellite bureaus.
Acting education commissioner Chris Cerf announced the configuration at the convention of New Jersey school boards and administrator associations yesterday, saying the new centers would help provide needed on-the-ground help to districts.
Acting education commissioner Chris Cerf announced the configuration at the convention of New Jersey school boards and administrator associations yesterday, saying the new centers would help provide needed on-the-ground help to districts. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Disability-insurance brokers criticize planned N.J. tax break
An effort by Gov. Chris Christie and the state Legislature to reduce workers’ payroll taxes will backfire and force businesses to pay exorbitant disabili
ty insurance rate increases, two insurance brokers said Wednesday.
The two Monmouth County-based wholesale insurance brokers, who claim to represent the bulk of the market for private disability insurance, said the new law will force rates up for those companies not in the state system, perhaps leading to layoffs there.
One client, a conglomeration of temporary staffing agencies, will be forced to pay $1.2 million more for disability insurance, said David A. Koch, president of Two River Benefits Consultants. (Method, Gannett)
Taking your medicine: Realigning New Jersey’s medical schools
Nine years ago, a blue-ribbon commission recommended merging Rutgers University, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology into a single research university that could compete more effectively for major federal grants and the jobs they would create. Despite the state’s abysmal record of attracting federal research grants, Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey backed off the plan in the face of strong opposition from Essex County Democrats.
Today, however, with staunch backing from Republican Gov. Chris Christie, Rutgers University is well on its way to acquiring Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and the School of Public Health — the three UMDNJ schools located in New Brunswick and Piscataway. (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)
At economic outlook, tempering hope of a faster-moving recovery
New Jersey’s economy may have weakened over the past year, but the news isn’t all bleak, according to Rutgers University economist Nancy H. Mantell.
“The forecast remains positive, although the pace of the recovery is not as rapid as we would like,” Mantell said at today’s Rutgers Economic Advisory Service conference, in New Brunswick. Employment is higher than last year, output is up, and inflation and interest rates remain low, she said.
In the forecast, Mantell, along with economists James W. Hughes and Joseph J. Seneca, of Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, discussed trends, the overall economic environment, policy and debt. (Bourbeau, NJBIZ)
State fails to participate in program that could cut energy costs, report finds
The state is failing to take advantage of a two-year-old program that offers huge opportunities to significantly reduce energy costs without laying out any capital, according to an advisory group recommending changes in the draft Energy Master Plan (EMP).
For that matter, local school boards and governments are missing the chance to save on energy bills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and, perhaps most importantly, create well-paying jobs, the group said.
These lost opportunities result from a failure to take advantage of the Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP), a law signed by former Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009 that has yet to live up to its expectations. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
A redistricted DiCicco battles Burzichelli, Riley in Third District
On a rundown street corner in Millville, Cumberland County Republicans and police officers applauded when Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco stepped up to talk about his proposal to have inmates returned to their home counties after serving their sentences.
Cumberland County is home to three state prisons, and DiCicco and other advocates of the plan voiced concern that inmates not originally from the county were staying in the area after being released – and many were committing more crimes.
DiCicco said at Tuesday’s news conference that when Freeholder Sam Fiocchi came to him to talk about the problem, “I said, ‘Wow, look at this, South Jersey is getting the shaft again.’ ” (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Candidates: Legislative District 7
The 7th District in Burlington County is an area with split partisan representation where Republi
cans hope to cut into the Democrats’ hold on Assembly seats and the incumbents are fighting just as hard to try to stay in power.
Because it is one of the four districts considered truly competitive this year, the race continues to attract attention. That’s even without well-known veteran Jack Conners, a 13-year assemblyman and the deputy speaker, who stepped down after his home town, Pennsauken, was moved from the district. (Tyrrell, NJ Spotlight)
School funding, tax relief are key in 37th
The 37th District Democrats point to their record of reforming campaign finance, capping municipal spending and passing comprehensive anti-bullying legislation as reasons to send them back to Trenton.
But their Republican opponents cite that same record as a reason to vote for change.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” GOP Senate candidate Robert Lebovics said, quoting Albert Einstein.
Lebovics, of Englewood, and his Assembly running mates John Aslanian, of Englewood Cliffs, and Keith Jensen, of Fort Lee, say that to see real tax relief and changes coming from Trenton, voters need to send new people with fresh ideas to the Statehouse. (Hayes, The Record)
Pay hike dispute heats up in race
A Republican Assembly candidate in the 38th District who was criticized for approving a municipal budget that increased — on paper – salaries for the mayor and council has fired back at one of his opponents.
The Democrats last week slammed Richard Goldberg for voting for a 2003 budget when he was a Hawthorne councilman that included a $5,000 pay increase for the mayor and council. But the Republicans countered that the raises did not go through because they were not included in a required salary ordinance.
Goldberg and his running mates, Senate candidate John Driscoll Jr. and Assembly candidate Fernando Alonso, said Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, D-Paramus, approved a 3.9 percent raise for Bergen County freeholders in December 2007 before she vacated her seat on the freeholder board to join the Assembly in 2008. (Sudol, The Record)
Salary squabble may cost district its state aid
State officials ordered the Parsippany school district on Wednesday to cut Superintendent Lee Seitz’s annual compensation by $43,000 to fit under a state-mandated salary cap, threatening to withhold millions of dollars of aid if the district fails to comply.
The action comes after it became widely known that the district had been paying Seitz $220,565 for this school year under a contract that the school board rescinded over the summer under threat of sanctions by state officials.
Morris County Superintendent Kathleen Serafino, in a letter addressed to the board, wrote that the line item for Seitz’s salary “shall be reduced” to $177,500 to meet the cap requirement and additional money set aside for his compensation must be used for instruction related to the core curriculum. (Kolof, Gannett)
State thanks its Hurricane Irene responders
Hurricane Irene’s impact on New Jersey had one unfinished piece of business addressed Wednesday when unpaid first responders and disaster relief workers from all over the state received an official state “thank you” at the New Jersey State Volunteer Recognition Ceremony.
With the 1,800-capacity War Memorial nearly filled, Gov. Chris Christie, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes and Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth, the commander of the New Jersey National Guard, took turns recalling how the response was a job well done. (Jordan, Gannett)
Man behind sports betting ban stands his ground
The lone referendum on the Nov. 8 New Jersey ballot asks residents statewide whether to approve the legalization of sports betting at the state’s casinos and racetracks.
But even if the non-binding ballot measure p
asses, state officials still will be unable to offer such gambling because a federal law — sponsored by former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey — forbids it. As a result, sports betting would be legal only if that law is overturned by federal courts or Congress decides to change it. (Brennan, The Record)
Camden to workers: Live here
Four of the city’s major medical and educational institutions announced incentive programs Wednesday for their employees to buy homes in Camden.
All four share the same goal: Bring the middle class back to Camden.
The amounts vary with each institution. Virtua is offering its employees $2,500 to buy in the Liberty Park and Whitman Park neighborhoods. Rowan University is offering $1,200 for downtown near Cooper Street. Cooper University Hospital is offering $1,000 to buy in Cooper Plaza/Lanning Square. (Stilwell, Gannett)
Labor Dept. recognized for battling unemployment insurance fraud
The Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported it received an award for saving an estimated $56 million by preventing an estimated 35,000 people from collecting fraudulent state unemployment insurance payments, thanks to an investigation this year. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Garfield city manager glad EPA, state will continue to monitor cleanup work
The Garfield city manager expressed confidence today that the state and federal governments would continue to monitor the problem of chromium groundwater contamination and possible related cancer risks.
With the release on Tuesday of a long-awaited report that concluded no statistical increase in the rates of cancer in the wake of a 1983 chromium spill in this Bergen city of 30,000, Manager Thomas Duch said they are grateful the state Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency have stepped up. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
N.J. executives’ survey finds some cause for optimism
The glass is more than half full, according to a survey of N.J. business executives.
Seven out of 10 such execs replied to a survey by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and Sovereign Bank that they expect their companies’ prospects to improve over the next 12 months.
Additionally, 55 percent said they plan to hire in the next 12 months. Thirty-seven percent of respondents expect to hold employee levels steady, and only 8 percent anticipate a staff decrease. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Hair rising on the back of the neck in LD 1 Assembly race
There was some dislike there, more than a suggestion of needling discomfort between the two men as Assemblyman Nelson Albano (D-1) and GOP challenger Cumberland County Freeholder Sam Fiocchi of Vineland locked horns hard at tonight’s debate at Cape May Court House. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Politicians aim appeals at voters’ emotions
Political handicappers are predicting a record low turnout for the Nov. 8 legislative elections, but I have a tough time believing that.
I understand the dour, conventional wisdom. After all, local animal control wardens are better known to voters than legislators. And few voters have any faith that legislators will lower property taxes or find a sustainable source of financing to fix roads and bridges. Those issues draw a collective yawn. (Stile, The Record)
Foreign leaders see Christie as a political force
Gov. Chris Christie plans a spring trip to Israel to represent New Jersey, the only state with a foreign policy. After meeting with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, came the announcement that Christie would become the seventh recent governor to do so.
There are many reasons to make the trek, as Gov. Jon Corzine did in 2008. Israel is our 11th largest trading partner. Giving yourself the appearance of having foreign relations experience, because that’s what they always ask about when you run for higher office, is another. Corzine thought he was headed to Washington, maybe as U.S. treasurer. (Ingle, Gannett)
N.J. slow to act on dangerous-driving complaints
At least some issues are being resolved with the state’s dangerously slow system to hold accountable drivers of public vehicles.
I’ve learned of perhaps the best solution — officials are close to outsourcing the state’s Central Motor Pool of nearly 6,400 vehicles with annual maintenance costs totaling almost $7 million.
A request for bids from potential vendors tells how the state wants to “totally” remove itself from maintenance, repair and operation, in order to cut costs. (Rosen, Gannett)