Morning News Digest: November 11, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Assemblyman Pete Biondi is dead
Veteran Assemblyman Pete Biondi (R-16) died tonight.
Mr. Biondi suffered from cancer and perservered in the face of his illness, winning re-election on Tuesday night.
Born in Newark, the assemblyman settled in Hillsborough and kept his well-trafficked office in downtown Somerville.
A throwback who enjoyed nurturing friendships on both sides of the aisle, Mr. Biondi was respected by his peers as a savvy politician.
The former mayor of Hillsborough presided over the 1990s construction of the township’s impressive municipal building. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Source: Rabner recusal in DePascale case based on his lobbying against sitting judge inclusion in pen-ben reform
Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner is recusing himself from the case of judicial pension contribution hikes, but a spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts is declining comment on why Rabner isn’t sitting in.
The answer, according to a source with knowledge of the inner workings of the judiciary, is that Rabner actively participated in the discussions of the pension and benefit bill with both the Christie administration and the Legislature before it was passed into law. According to the source, Rabner preemptively lobbied the lawmakers and the executive branch to remove sitting judges from the reform before it was passed to avoid a Constitutional challenge. (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)
Sources: Vitale to return to health committee chairmanship
State Sen. Joe Vitale (D-19), Woodbridge, will return to chair the Senate Health and Human Services Committee next year, sources told PolitickerNJ.com, now that state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) is slated to be the new Senate majority leader.
In 2009, Vitale backed state Sen. Dick Codey (D-27) over Sen. Steve Sweeney (D-3) for the Senate presidency, and finished that fight on the losing squad. Sweeney bumped him out of the chair and replaced him with Weinberg. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
N.J. voter turnout hits an all-time low
New Jersey’s registered voters set a state record this past Tuesday, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
Of the 5.2 million registered voters in New Jersey, the Wall Street Journal reported that only 1.4 million came out to vote, a total of about 26 percent.
Essex County led, or trailed the list, with only 18 percent of its registered voters voting, according to election records. Hudson County had 19 percent voter participation, and 225 came out in Passaic County. Only 34 percent of registered voters came out in Atlantic County, where the ballot question on sports betting would have the most impact. (Holt, New Jersey Newsroom)
Christie attacks jurists’ motives in pension case
Gov. Christie questioned the motives of two state Supreme Court justices Thursday after the court agreed to fast-track a case involving a Superior Court judge’s challenge to a new requirement that judges – like other state employees – pay more toward their health insurance and pensions.
The suit maintains that the higher contributions in effect reduce judicial salaries and thus violate the state Constitution provision that the salaries of Supreme Court and Superior Court judges “shall not be diminished during their term of appointment.” (DeFalco, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Gov. Christie approves measure paving way for more charter schools
Legislation signed today by Gov. Chris Christie will allow private schools in struggling districts to become charter schools.
“Charter schools, if done correctly, can be a vital part in improving our public education system and ensuring quality education for our children,” said Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex), one of the bill’s sponsors. “By removing some of the obstacles to creating charter schools, we’ll be opening the door to a better future for many children while ensuring the proper oversight is in place for a quality education.” (Megerian, The Star-Ledger)
NJ sports betting won’t be slowed by NFL opposition, Chris Christie says
Gov. Chris Christie said he is prepared to buck any opposition from the National Football League on legalizing sports betting in New Jersey, even with the NFL committed to siting the 2014 Super Bowl in the Garden State.
Voters in a statewide referendum Tuesday overwhelmingly approved allowing sports betting in New Jersey, but only if a federal ban affecting the state is lifted or repealed, with 64 percent in favor.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Thursday that the league has “a long-held unwavering opposition to gambling on NFL games,” but declined to comment on whether the 2014 Super Bowl could become leverage in stopping New Jersey’s plans. (Jordan, Gannett)
Democrats vow to fight, but who’s the boss?
Buoyed by Election Day victories, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) yesterday vowed to stand up to Republican Gov. Chris Christie, but found themselves answering questions about whether they would be answering to South Jersey power broker George Norcross II and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.
Two days after retaining 24-16 control of the Senate and gaining one seat for a 48-22 majority in the Assembly, Sweeney and Oliver pledged to push a Democratic agenda that would include job creation programs; higher taxes for millionaires; and healthcare, education and environmental initiatives. (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. Democrats retool leadership in restive meeting
The majority Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature picked their leadership teams Thursday, promising to get tough with Republican Gov. Christie.
But first, some Democrats in the Assembly reportedly got tougher with their own leader, Speaker Sheila Oliver, who at times has been seen as too accommodating of the governor’s agenda.
Oliver received full support in the caucus after Assemblyman John McKeon (D., Essex) led a faction of lawmakers in requesting that she not post bills that do not have the support of at least 41 of the chamber’s 48 Democrats, according to a legislative source. (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Dems prepare to push agenda
The Democrats who control New Jersey’s Legislature are turning to a veteran Bergen County lawmaker known for her confrontations with Governor Christie to help set a new, aggressive tone in Trenton.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck — a frequent critic of Christie who has loudly challenged the Republican governor on out-of-state travel and women’s health care funding — was unanimously selected by the Senate’s Democratic caucus Thursday to serve as its majority leader. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
N.J. Supreme Court to decide if judges must pay more for pension, health benefits
The legal battle over whether New Jersey state judges and justices should have to pay more for their pension and health benefits will be heard by the state Supreme Court and not a state Appellate Court, according to an order signed by Justice Virginia A. Long.
In the order, filed Thursday, the Supreme Court granted Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale’s request that it decide whether judges and justices must pay more toward their pension and health benefits is unconstitutional. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Solomon steps down as head of BPU
Board of Public Utilities President Lee Solomon, who oversaw dramatic changes in New Jersey’s energy policies over the past two years, is stepping down from his post. His move, however, is unlikely to lead to any major changes in the effort to drive down high energy bills.
The state is expected to press its fight with federal regulators to build new power plants in New Jersey, despite Solomon’s departure by the end of the year to return to his job as a judge of the Superior Court. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Ahead of expected Christie proposals, NJEA unveils school reform plan at annual Atlantic City convention
The New Jersey Education Association has a new message for Gov. Chris Christie, the man who has relentlessly hammered the teachers union over the past year for opposing his education policy proposals.
“When it comes to education reform, educators are taking the lead,” NJEA President Barbara Keshishian said today at the union’s annual convention in Atlantic City.
This week, for the first time since Christie took office and made education reform a top priority, the union released its own comprehensive set of reform proposals, such as increasing students’ access to high-quality preschools and making it harder for teachers to earn tenure. (Calefati, The Star-Ledger)
At $15 million, virtual charter causes a real case of sticker shock
With two virtual charter schools approved in New Jersey and a third proposed, legislators and advocates are pressing the state to bring its laws up to date with the technology.
The latest development involves questions as to how the schools are to be funded — and by how much, given the potential savings in brick-and-mortar costs.
The district of Teaneck would like to see both questions resolved ASAP. It received notice from the state this week that it should set aside more than $15 million to pay for up to 1,000 students who would attend the proposed Garden State Virtual Charter School housed in that community. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Unsuccessful Wayne candidate files suit against conservative Lonegan
An unsuccessful Democratic candidate for state Assembly who has filed numerous lawsuits on public issues is suing conservative firebrand Steven Lonegan over taxpayer support in his 2009 campaign for governor.
William J. Brennan of Wayne is seeking to require that Lonegan repay $2.7 million in public matching funds awarded by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, plus damages.
Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota who is state director of the group Americans for Prosperity, lost the 2009 Republican primary to now-Governor Christie. (Jackson, The Record)
Administration eyes public-private partnerships, plan-driven funding
Officials in Gov. Chris Christie‘s administration are close to recommending New Jersey join 23 other states in passing a law authorizing public-private partnerships, a senior official said today.
The partnerships would include transportation projects and other areas, according to Wayne Hasenbalg, Christie’s deputy chief of staff for policy and planning.
Hasenbalg also told the infrastructure advocacy group New Jersey Alliance for Action in a brief speech that the administration is preparing significant changes in support of the state growth plan announced by Christie. (Kitchenman, NJBIZ)
Initiative aims to win contracts for minority-owned businesses
The African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey has launched a $50 Million Challenge aimed at winning corporate contracts for its member businesses. The organization began in July by m
eeting with corporations in New Jersey and encouraging them to consider more minority-owned and women-owned businesses as suppliers when they buy services.
“We discovered that Johnson & Johnson has already instituted a program to ensure diversity among its contractors,” said John Harmon, president of the chamber. “Johnson & Johnson has become the first healthcare company to become a member of our Billion Dollar Roundtable, made up of a small group of corporations that have spent at least $1 billion with minority owned businesses and suppliers.” (MacKenzie, Gannett)
Bernardi renominated for county prosecutor post
Gov. Chris Christie Thursday nominated Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi to another five-year term as the county’s highest law enforcement officer.
Christie submitted the fellow Republican’s name for consideration to the state Senate Judiciary Committee for a third term. If the committee approves the reappointment, the full Senate will vote to confirm the Mount Laurel resident’s appointment. (Camilli, Burlington County Times)
In reversal, UMDNJ endorses plan to merge parts of school with Rutgers University
The presidents of Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey said today they are now working together on a merger between parts of the schools — signaling that a decade-long standoff on the controversial proposal may be over.
The announcement marked a sudden reversal by UMDNJ, which had long opposed any move to combine the schools. (Sherman and Heyboer, The Star-Ledger)
U.S. Senate says no to blocking EPA air pollution rule
The U.S. Senate today rejected an effort to block an Environmental Protection Agency rule that would limit polluted air from crossing state lines and affecting downwind states.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation would require coal plants in New Jersey and 26 other states to cut polluted emissions that drift across state lines.
Advocates say New Jersey has reduced its own emissions but suffers from pollution drifting in from other eastern and Midwestern states. (Chebium, Gannett)
Biomass: New Jersey’s unrecognized resource
New Jersey is ignoring all sorts of resources that could be converted to renewable fuels to power vehicles or run power plants, ranging from yard waste, to trash in garbage dumps, to livestock manure, to name just a few.
At least that is what a special panel advising the Christie administration suggested, recommending the state target resources to develop public and private partnerships to build renewable biomass facilities to produce electricity or fuel in the next two to three years. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Green groups planning rally to contest new fracking
Environmental groups are planning a large rally later this month in Trenton, an attempt to influence a regional agency’s action on rules that could open the door to exploration and drilling for natural gas in the Delaware River watershed.
The Delaware River Basin Commission will vote to adopt draft regulations covering Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at its Nov. 21 meeting at the War Memorial auditorium. (Jordan, Gannett)
2010 Uniform Crime Report finds N.J. murders spiked 16 percent, increased in all corners of the state
Murders in New Jersey were up 16 percent last year, and they increased in all corners of the state, from rural town
s to the largest the cities, according to statistics released today by the State Police.
The number of killings increased 10 percent in cities with more than 50,000 people. But they also increased 8 percent in the suburbs and 21 percent in rural areas, the State Police’s Uniform Crime report shows. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
Making primary care a primary concern
In an attempt to ease New Jersey’s shortage of primary care doctors, the state’s teaching hospitals are increasing the number of residencies they offer in that discipline.
It’s a necessary effort. But with fewer than 20 new positions all told, it’s nowhere near to making a dent in the 1,500 primary care physicians needed in the state by 2014. That’s when 600,000 currently uninsured New Jerseyans will be eligible for government-subsidized coverage under the Affordable Care Act — and will start looking for doctors. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Judges reject Foxwoods’ appeal of its casino license revocation
A Commonwealth Court panel has rejected an appeal by Foxwoods investors seeking to overturn the state Gaming Control Board’s revocation of their license for the long-stalled South Philadelphia casino.
The 6-1 ruling, released Thursday, caps a tortuous four-year journey for the Foxwoods investor group, Philadelphia Entertainment & Development Partners L.P., which includes three high-profile friends of former Gov. Ed Rendell – Lewis Katz, a New Jersey entrepreneur; Center City developer Ron Rubin; and Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider. (Parmley, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Hackensack Police Dept. awarded bulletproof vest grant
The Hackensack Police Department was awarded state funding to purchase bulletproof vests as part of a grant state officials announced on Nov. 1.
Dozens of police departments in Bergen and Passaic counties will share approximately $412,000 to buy vests, with the funds coming from $3.6 million in grants from the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Body Armor Replacement Fund. (Bonamo, Hackensack Chronicle)
Senators want to provide aid to hurricane victims
Sens. Linda Greenstein, (D-14), Plainsboro, and Bob Gordon (D-38), Fair Lawn, introduced legislation on Thursday creating a program to help low- and moderate-income families and business owners recoup property losses they suffered from flooding following Hurricane Irene and subsequent tropical storms. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Christie takes action on bills
Gov. Christie vetoed bills today that dealt with court-reporting firm regulations and surgical technologist qualifications.
In addition, the governor signed bills regarding green-job certification and cooperative purchasing agreements. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
State study of high-income earners exiting N.J. to be discusses at forum
The state said that next week its chief economist will outline the effects of high-income taxpayers leaving New Jersey.
The Treasury Department said that economist Charles Steindel will provide details of a study and survey during the Garden State Economic Forum Monday at the State Museum here. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Sen. Allen submits resolution to place judicial pension question before voters
Sen. Diane Allen, (R-7), Edgewater Park, submitted today the upper-chamber version of the resolution to allow voters to decide whether to amend the New Jersey Constitution to apply pension and benefits reforms to members of the Judiciary.
On the day that the state Supreme Court said it would hear the appeal of the pension/benefits reform measure as it applies to judges, Allen said in a release: “As I’ve said from the beginning, if the Court’s interpretation of the state Constitution prohibits the reforms we passed to save the pension system from applying to judges, then the Constitution needs to be changed.” (Staff, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
See you at the Aqua room
Defrocked state Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-18) still has a scheduled cocktail reception at the Aqua Room at the Water Club in Atlantic City next week at the League of Municipalities.
It’s scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. for Wednesday, November 16. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
N.J. elections empower Democrats at Christie’s weaknesses are exposed
Gov. Chris Christie, the bully on the playground, doesn’t have much of a punch after all.
And for any bully, exposing that weakness creates grave dangers. Because people stop being scared. And then they start dreaming about how nice it would feel to punch back.
“He did robocalls in my district and it had no effect at all,” said Sen. Joe Vitale, a Democrat from Middlesex. “We have to get more aggressive with him.”
Democrats have spent two years in a scattered panic before the Christie juggernaut. He’s divided them, ridiculed their ideas, and even heaped a steady stream of personal insults at them. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Sports betting is still illegal, but New Jersey doesn’t care
New Jersey voters only faced one state question this Election Day, and they voted for it in a big way: 64% approved sports betting at casinos and racetracks. But hold your bets, Garden Staters, because federal law still prohibits it.
Neither the ballot language nor the interpretative statement provided to voters indicated that the question was subject to a federal ban on sports betting in all but four states.
State Senator Raymond Lesniak (D., Union) told the Star-Ledger that he’s going to introduce legislation today authorizing the Casino Control Commission to issue licenses for sports betting to casinos and racetrack operators, and he hopes to get it to the governor by the end of the year. Then, he said, the state attorney general can go to federal court and ask that the ban on sports betting be declared unconstitutional. (Favate, The Wall Street Journal)
Sometimes, a place of broken dreams
Monday morning broke blue and glorious at Paterson’s Great Falls, where dignitary after dignitary came forth to extol the beauty of the place, and its wonder, and to offer hope in possibilities for the future. Listening to the speeches, on the occasion of the naming of the Falls as America’s 397th national park, one could not help but be drawn in by the infectious spirit present:
The promise of schoolchildren hoisting colorful, hand-painted signs that read “397 is No. 1” or “We rise for our Falls.” (Lowry, The Record)