Weekly Roundup: Week of Oct. 10

TRENTON – Not totally bowing out of the national political scene, following last week’s announcement that he wasn’t running for president, Gov. Chris Christie weighed in this week, and decided to endorse a fellow Northeasterner, former Gov. Mitt Romney, for president.

Christie said Romney possesses executive experience both in the public and private sectors and has a good understanding of job creation, unlike the current president, Democrat Barack Obama, whom Christie said doesn’t have such experience.

Premium quality

A major aspect of the pension and benefits reform legislation was enacted this past week that would require employers to fork over more money toward public workers’ health insurance.

The premium hikes on average will be 9 percent higher in 2012 than this year. Health plans for education employees are also going to rise an average of 10.1 percent.

The rates were negotiated by the respective plan design committees, the School Employees’ Health Benefits Commission and the New Jersey State Health Benefits Commission.

Medicare premiums are expected to remain the same.

School daze

Three education bills related to charter schools were discussed at a Senate Education Committee hearing.

A grassroots organization, Save Our Schools, argued that charter schools take money away from local communities and called for supporting a bill that would enable local residents to vote on whether or not a charter school can open in their respective communities.

The panel did not vote any bills out of committee, and equally notable was that the Republicans who serve on the committee were all absent.

The proximity of November elections may have had something to do with the bills being discussed but not voted on.

Jobs bills

The Senate Budget Committee reviewed several bills Thursday afternoon, most of them revolving around job creation.

Committee chairman Paul Sarlo, (D-36), Wood-Ridge, prefaced that while none of the bills could guarantee jobs would be created, it was worth taking a shot, nonetheless.

Among the bills was one that would allow towns to devote their open space funds toward Blue Acres, which enables towns to buy properties in flood zones.

Other bills that came out of committee include:

*S3080, the “Back to Work NJ Program,” a $3 million job-assistance fund that would help provide small stipends for things like job transportation costs or babysitting, according to bill sponsor, Sen. Linda Greenstein, (D-14), Plainsboro.

*S3066, which would permit small, women-owned, or minority-owned businesses located in designated regional centers to qualify for loans from the state Economic Development Authority (EDA).

*S3079, which would make permanent the already-operating N.J. Business Action Center.

*S3072, which directs the EDA and Commission on Higher Education to promote the establishment of higher education and business partnerships.

Cancer protection

Also, the Senate Budget Committee approved a bipartisan bill that would require health insurers to cover oral cancer drugs at the same level as intravenous cancer medications. Objections were heard from business advocates who argued that a state mandate could jeopardize prescription coverage plans currently in place.

Goya stays

The Economic Development Authority on Wednesday approved an Urban Transit Hub tax credit of at least $80 million for longtime food business Goya Foods to set up its new facility in Jersey City. It has several facilities in nearby Secaucus.

EDA officials approved the sweetener as an incentive to keep the longtime company and its respective jobs from moving across the river to Suffern, N.Y. Goya has been in the Garden State since 1936.

Backing mergers

A major lobbying group lent its support to the idea of merging towns and sharing municipal services to cut down on property taxes.

The New Jersey Association of Realtors on Monday released a series of reports, prepared by researchers at Ball State University in Indiana,  that found merging school districts and towns would create substantial savings.

Power players

The Board of Public Utilities held a day-long hearing, a continuation of an earlier session, into the problems of promoting new electricity-generation in the state.

The issues, as framed by numerous witnesses, come down to the choice of supporting the state’s proposal for ratepayer-supported subsidies to spur new generation or the utilities’ preference for free-market solutions that don’t artificially control prices. Weekly Roundup: Week of Oct. 10