Weekly Roundup: Week of Oct. 17

TRENTON – The landmark pension and benefits legislation passed by both houses of the Legislature in June took a hit this past week when a judge ruled that the higher pension contributions the legislation calls for is unconstitutional so far as the Judiciary is concerned.

That’s because the higher contributions amount to a reduction in salary for judges, which Judge Linda Feinberg ruled violates the state constitution.

Gov. Chris Christie slammed the decision made by Feinberg, calling it “self-interested” and “outrageous.” The decision, he said, is meant to protect an elite class of individuals who feel they are above their fellow public employees, as evidenced by the fact those other public workers were not included in the judges’ lawsuit even though they had similar gripes.

Christie is not likely to get much help from the Legislature. Christie wants the lawmakers to return for a lame-duck session to pass a resolution for this year’s ballot to let voters decide whether this practice should stand. The Democratic leaders said it’s best to let the appeals court process play out.

Housing rules blocked

A court on Tuesday issued a ruling that will prevent towns from seeking waivers to build affordable housing, and in addition blocks at least temporarily some of the administration’s proposed changes in the wake of abolishing the Council on Affordable Housing.

The Fair Share Housing Center praised the decision, saying the rules proposed by the Christie administration would create additional barriers for working people to secure decent homes.

Another court hearing on this issue will take place in February.

Strategic growth

The Christie Administration unveiled its State Strategic Job Growth Plan on Wednesday, which calls for targeting development in regions where there are existing or developing industries that could create more jobs for residents, preserving natural resources in a way that incorporates regional development and not hamper it, building “vibrant” communities around strong schools, transportation hubs and urban areas, and strong state government guidance.

But environmentalists said that among other things, this plan will allow water quality management rules to be bypassed and open up more of the state for development in areas where they say it should not occur.

Payrolls

As another measure of economic development, Gov. Christie is planning on cutting the state’s payroll taxes by some $190 million.

The state’s unemployment rate dipped in September, but that’s mostly meaningless, considering that the state still lost more than 11,000 jobs last month, according to figures released Thursday by the state Labor and Workforce Development.

If it’s any consolation, the state’s joblessness rate is now on par with the national average.

 ‘Fracking’ opposition

The quality of your drinking water is at stake.

At least, that is what the environmental lobby argued is at risk if the Delaware River Basin Commission doesn’t take a stance against the controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing, or more derisively known as “fracking.”

The environmental officials held a press conference and called on Christie to oppose lifting a ban on fracking, which is used to extract natural gas from deep underground.

The environmentalists say that among other things, fracking uses a great deal of water that would be drained from N.J. waterways, and the subsequent treatment of that water is critical because of the contaminants present.

The DRBC will hold a meeting at the Trenton War Memorial next month on this contentious issue.

 Behind the scenes

While the state Senate and Assembly members were mostly focusing on their election races, lesser known groups with authority conducted their business of making big decisions on hot button issues or helping projects move forward.

The state Redevelopment Authority made a $1.5 million commitment to a mixed use project in New Brunswick that will feature apartments and commercial space. The developer, Boraie, has redeveloped many parts of the large Middlesex County municipality. The authority also adopted a formal policy to  make future loans ineligible to developers who have defaulted on previous loans that were awarded to it.

Also, the Council on Local Mandates decided earlier in the week it does not have jurisdiction on the issue of schools having to pick up all of the costs for providing transportation to Springfield children who attend non-public schools, even after the state cut its share of the funding.

And the Board of Public Utilities took testimony on the ongoing issue of clean energy  and how to pay for it.  There is no consensus on the basic problem of whether government subsidies or market forces should prevail.

  Weekly Roundup: Week of Oct. 17