Morning News Digest: November 15, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Christie on ‘forcing’ compromise with Democrats: ‘It’s harder to hate up close’
Sitting down for a Facebook Live interview this afternoon in California, Gov. Chris Christie said he’s made such reform strides in New Jersey with an opposition Legislature by “forcing” meetings and compromise with the opposition.
“We’ve gotten a ton of things done with the Legislature,” he told Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg. He said his town halls drew in public support, and pow-wowing with the Dems in his office forced the issues. “It’s harder to hate up close,” he said.
Christie made some candid remarks about teacher merit pay, calling on science and math teachers to be paid higher than physical education teachers. (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)
Mack recall effort falls short
The effort to recall Trenton Mayor Tony Mack has failed, according to a release issued this afternoon by the recall committee.
Residents of the beleagured city have been trying for months to collect the required 9,680 signatures to force a recall election, but fell about 1,400 short.
“Clearly, the residents of Trenton have demonstrated their enormous dissatisfaction with this administration, and despite the many forms of harassment and intimidation displayed by Mack supporters; the people set aside their fears and put the City first,” said David Ponton, chairman of The Committee to Recall Mayor Tony F. Mack. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Bollwage targets Justice Stein in fiery letter
Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage opened up another battle front on the Elizabeth Board of Education today, firing off a letter to retired Justice Gary Stein that slams Stein’s stated efforts to audit the embattled board.
Following an investigation by the Star-Ledger suggesting political patronage machinations, the board hired Stein to determine the extent to which its 4,000 employees receive top-down pressure to contribute financially to the organization’s political apparatus and to “volunteer” for political campaigns.
But amid news reports today that the FBI is questioning board employees on top of an ongoing state Attorney General’s investigation related to the arrest of School Board President Marie Munn, Bollwage openly accused the judge of protecting the board – and by extension Stein’s son – as part of an otherwise pointless exercise. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Funeral service for N.J. Assemblyman Peter Biondi held in Somerville
Funeral services were held Monday for Assemblyman Peter Biondi (R-Somerset) who died Thursday, two days after he was elected to his eighth term in the lower house.
Biondi, 69, of Hillsborough, passed away after a year-long battle with cancer.
The funeral service at the United Reformed Church in Somerville drew a large number of New Jersey Republican Party activists, including Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and legislators.
Biondi’s widow, Joan, their children, Peter and Jennifer, and two grandsons, Jason and Matthew, occupied the front row. Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex), Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset) and Assemblyman-elect Jack Ciattarelli (R-Somerset) were in attendance. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Chris Christie: Barack Obama will be tough to beat in 2012
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says it’ll be tough for the Republican nominee to unseat President Barack Obama in 2012.
The Republican says it’s possible for his party to take the White House next year – especially if unemployment remains high. But he caut
ioned against underestimating the Democratic president’s political savvy.
“Anyone who underestimates the president underestimates at their own peril,” Christie said, according to the Star-Ledger of Newark. “[Democrats] know how to campaign, they know politics. … People who believe he’s a shoo-in loser are wrong.”
Christie was asked to handicap the contest Monday during an interview on Facebook that was streamed live from the social networking site’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. (Associated Press)
Chris Christie talks taxes, vice president pick in Facebook chat
Gov. Chris Christie said taxes have been lowered in New Jersey and that he will propose income-tax reductions next year in a Facebook Live interview conducted Monday at the social-media network’s California headquarters and streamed online.
“We’ve already lowered your taxes in New Jersey,” Christie said in response to a question posted online by Sonia Mercado Ramos, apparently of Salem. He then said to Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg: “She wants them lowered further, and guess what? So does everybody.”
Christie said growth in property taxes has now been capped at 2 percent a year, under a law that exempts growth in spending on pensions and health care — the cost of which for public workers has also been changed under separate legislation. Business taxes have been cut. (Symons, Gannett)
Chris Christie job growth plan draft accepted by NJ planners
Gov. Chris Christie’s blueprint for New Jersey economic and building growth picked up steam Monday when state planners accepted his administration’s draft State Strategic Job Growth Plan, though critics panned the document for what they said were weak protections of the state’s natural resources.
The action taken at the meeting of the State Planning Commission is part of a lengthy process to adopt a final plan.
The Republican governor rolled out the draft plan Oct. 19, saying it was a sorely needed update on the 2001 state plan. Similar documents have been drawn up dating back 25 years. (Jordan, Gannett)
Data blast is sign of fight over taxes
The Christie administration pushed back on Democrats’ efforts to revive a tax surcharge on New Jersey’s wealthiest residents by releasing data Monday indicating that higher taxes help drive top income earners out of the state.
Charles Steindel, the Treasury Department’s chief economist, said a survey of national economic data showed that higher taxes caused an out-migration among residents earning more than $125,000 a year, including small-business owners. The number who leave is modest, he acknowledged, but the effect occurs every year, so the result is cumulative.
“There is a relationship between the state’s tax rates relative to the rest of the nation and the net amount of out-migration of both people and income from the state,” Steindel said. “The higher the tax rate the state has, generally the more people it will lose every year.” (Delli Santi, The Associated Press)
NJ economy remains dismal with poor housing market, not enough jobs
Economics is called the dismal science, and there was no shortage of dismal at a forum to discuss the New Jersey’s economy Monday.
A steady stream of experts took the stage to say several times: The housing market stinks, there are not enough jobs, taxes are too high, and the state and federal governments still face tight budgets.
Meanwhile, state officials outlined reasons why New Jersey should avoid higher taxes and reduce them for corporations in an effort to keep businesses and residents here.
Higher taxes on high-income earners and expensive housing are forcing current residents to leave the Garden State and keeping people from moving into it, a report released Monday showed. (Method, Gannett)
Grim portrait of recovery at New Jersey economic summit
Slow, steady, and grinding: That’s the read on the recovery offered by economists gathered at yesterday’s Garden State Economic Forum.
It may take the state four years to get back on track, said Loretta Mester, director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia.
“There is pain here,” she said of New Jersey’s high unemployment rate.
The economists who took the stage Monday presented data to help shape public policy on jobs, taxes, and spending at a time when economic growth is not expected to rise above 3 percent. Despite overall high unemployment, however, patterns emerge when the data is analyzed, including sectors where there are jobs, especially for workers with advanced degrees. (Lehren, NJ Spotlight)
Agency approves strategic growth plan without specifying where the growth will be
The Christie administration’s revamped strategic plan for targeting growth in New Jersey won speedy approval yesterday from the State Planning Commission, despite concerns of smart growth advocates that the draft plan lacked any details about where the growth would be directed.
In a meeting in the Statehouse Annex, the commission unanimously approved the plan with little debate and without hearing any comments from the public — much to the annoyance of people who showed up to talk about the initiative.
The plan is a radical reworking of a State Plan and Redevelopment Plan put in place a decade ago that failed to be reflected in policies carried out by governmental agencies. It was unveiled last month by the administration after a process criticized by some for excluding their involvement. It now will be the subject of public hearings in which critics and advocates can weigh in on how the draft plan should be improved. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno hails role of small businesses in being jobs generators at Jersey City kickoff of Global Entrepreneurship Week
The state is counting on budding entrepreneurs to help officials reduce unemployment rates, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno told roughly 80 business people yesterday as the fourth annual Global Entrepreneurship Week kicked off at Jersey City City Hall.
“So long as we continue to collaborate like this . . . I am certain we will be able to put all of our people back to work,” Guadagno said.
“I am absolutely positive that over the next several years we will be able to outpace our neighbors in job growth and job creation.”
Yesterday’s “Start Something New Jersey” event kicked off a week of a activities organized by the Jersey City-based nonprofit Rising Tide Capital and its corporate and community partners. (Hack, The Jersey Journal)
N.J. SIDS legislation proposed
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr. on Monday unveiled legislation designed to find the cure and raise awareness about sudden unexplained infant deaths and stillbirths. The two New Jersey Democrats made the announcement during a visit to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
“There is no greater tragedy than when a parent loses a child — but when that child is an infant, the pain is unbearable,” Lautenberg said in a news release. “This bill will improve the way we collect data about these deaths so that researchers have the information they need, and it will provide families with the information and support they deserve. It’s time to finally unravel the mysteries behind these deaths.” (Staff, Gannett)
Police, lawmakers urge funding for cop hiring program
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. and U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez joined local police and officials outside City Hall on Monday to call on lawmakers to fund a program that would allow police departments to hire more officers.
Pascrell and Menendez, both Democrats, urged House and Senate members to include $200 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Program when finalizing the Justice Department’s spending bill. Federal lawmakers are expected to finish and vote on the bill this week, before sending it to President Obama to sign.
The COPS Hiring Program is critical at a time when retirements and layoffs have depleted local police departments, Pascrell said. “I firmly believe that fewer cops on the beat mean more crime on the streets,” he said. (Adely, The Record)
Officials criticize decision to let accused students play playoff games
A state senator says the schools superintendent misread the law when he decided not to bar the nine Wayne Hills High football players charged with aggravated assault from participating in playoff games.
“To say that state law prohibits them from suspending the students is an absolute falsehood,” said Sen. Kevin O’Toole, who said he’s been flooded with e-mail and calls from Wayne residents. “What people should know is that [district administrators] are not handcuffed by state law.”
O’Toole, R-Cedar Grove, said interim Superintendent Michael Roth either misunderstood or misread state laws on school administrators’ rights to discipline students. The senator, whose district includes Wayne, said he’s urging the district to review its decision and to conduct disciplinary hearings for the students. (McGrath, The Record)
Sustainable Jersey honors carbon footprint reduction efforts of 6 towns
Sustainable Jersey, which works with cities and towns in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, announced Monday that Woodbridge, Summit, Cape May City, Hoboken, Princeton Township and Jersey City are the 2011 winners of the coalition’s best effort awards.
The awards are made in four categories: Sustainability Champion, Innovation, Leadership and Collaboration. The winners were selected from the 28 municipalities that achieved sustainability certification this year.
Woodbridge is cited as the large municipality winner, Summit as the medium-size municipality winner, and Cape May as the small municipality winner. Hoboken won the leadership award, Princeton the innovation award, and Jersey City the collaboration award. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Anti-fracking groups pressure Christie
Environmental groups ramped up pressure Monday on Republican Gov. Chris Christie to oppose gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed, delivering a letter co-signed by New Jersey lawmakers and a petition from thousands of citizens calling for a continued region moratorium on fracking.
The Delaware River Basin Commission will vote to adopt draft regulations covering Marcellus Shale drilling next Monday at the War Memorial auditorium. The environmental groups promised that commissioners arriving that morning will be greeted by protesters against fracking.
Christie’s representative has a seat on the commission. The governors of three other basin states — Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York — also have seats and there is a federal representative on the five-member panel. (Jordan, Gannett)
DEA pilot offers safe way to dispose of dangerous prescription drugs
Many New Jerseyans remember October 29 as the day a freak snowstorm toppled trees, tore down power lines, and left thousands stranded in the cold and the dark. It was also the day the federal Drug Enforcement Agency collected 4.5 tons of prescription drugs at 365 locations statewide, part of a nationwide DEA drug “take back” designed to keep addictive painkillers like Percocet out of a prescription drug pipeline that officials say rivals heroin and cocaine.
Yesterday, the DEA and New Jersey Attorney General Paula T. Dow held a press conference in Newark to announce a permanent version of operation Take Back, called Project Medicine Drop. The police departments of Little Falls, Vineland, and Seaside Heights are piloting the program, and now have metal boxes installed in their headquarters. They resemble mailboxes, and anyone can anonymously drop off unused prescription drugs, 24/7. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Judge freezes Cherry Hill’s affordable-housing funds
Cherry Hill had its affordable-housing funds frozen Monday and was ordered to have a plan for spending the money approved by Superior Court.
The order by Judge Robert G. Millenky followed allegations by the Fair Share Housing Center, which has been in litigation with Cherry Hill since 2001, that the township broke state rules about spending development fees intended for affordable-housing projects.
“Fair Share has uncertainty” about use of the funds, “and the court finds reasonably so,” Millenky said. “This requires a very specific accounting of the monies expended.”
Fair Share, New Jersey’s most prominent affordable-housing advocacy group, had
asked the court to appoint a forensic accountant to review Cherry Hill’s books. The township informed Fair Share last week that it had not put the money into an independent interest-bearing account, as required. (Osborne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Contracts awarded for coalitions to prevent addiction
The Department of Human Services has awarded $3.65 million in addiction prevention contracts to 17 regional coalitions, including three in Central Jersey, to develop regional, evidenced-based addiction and substance-use prevention strategies that target at-risk groups, according to a news release.
The coalitions will focus efforts on reducing rates of use and abuse among youths and adults across the state. It is estimated that one in nine New Jersey residents — about 1 million — are abusing prescription drugs or illegal substances. This includes youths ages 12 through 18, the release said.
Contracts ranging from $149,776 to $204,500 were awarded to 17 organizations around the state, including the Hunterdon Prevention Resources of Flemington for Hunterdon County, NCADD Middlesex County Inc. in East Brunswick for Middlesex County and Prevention Links in Clark for Union County. (Staff, Gannett)
Sources: State Police Supt. Rick Fuentes losing support of largest union
Troopers in the largest State Police union have sent a scathing message to top brass: You’re losing our support.
The State Troopers Fraternal Association issued the warning after its members voted overwhelmingly to tell Supt. Rick Fuentes they have no confidence in his leadership, four sources with knowledge of the proceedings said.
Complaints ranged from unfair disciplinary actions to “dangerous shortages of personnel” and the “complete lack of unbiased testing” for promotions and hiring, according to a copy of a ballot obtained by The Star-Ledger.
Although the vote was symbolic and represents the feelings of about a quarter of all troopers, it shows the deepening divide between the rank-and-file and the State Police leadership, particularly Fuentes, who has led New Jersey’s largest law enforcement agency since 2003. (Baxter and Megerian, The Star-Ledger)
Moody’s refuses to rescind Collingswood downgrading
Collingswood’s financial troubles continued Monday when the credit-rating agency Moody’s did not back off its decision to lower the borough’s rating to junk status and warned that a further downgrade was possible.
The agency, which issued its rating in September, acknowledged that analysts had miscalculated the borough’s liability on an $8.5 million loan for a struggling redevelopment project.
But it said Collingswood’s financial position remained perilous because the $4.5 million the town owes is more than a quarter of the municipal budget and more than four times its cash reserves.
Mayor Jim Maley, who had assured residents he could persuade Moody’s to adjust the rating, called the agency’s decision “an outrage” and accused analysts of changing the criteria by which the town’s finances were judged. (Osborne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Myers misses council meeting in Medford
Words like embarrassing, sad and distracting were thrown about during Monday night’s Medford Township Council meeting concerning the situation surrounding the alleged sex-for-cash scandal of Mayor Chris Myers.
Only the Republican mayor wasn’t there to hear them.
The married, 45-year-old father of two previously denied an allegation that he paid $500 and promised a car and other favors to a male escort while on a trip in California.
Members of the township council offered their take on the matter after hearing a handful of community members call for Myers to step down. Prominent among the public’s points was the mayor’s attendance at meetings. (Murray, Gannett)
Helicopter test flight fails to ease fears
A helicopter descended from the Evesham sky Monday to hover 200 feet above a section of quarantined parking spaces, its propeller and engine thundering so loudly bystanders couldn’t hear each other speak.
It did not land on an otherwise serene morning. Instead, the chopper circled upward, as spectators turned their heads and shielded their eyes from wind-whipped leaves and dirt.
“They’re going to rock my house,” said Michael Cooker, who lives in a Country Squires condominium, yards from a Conner Strong & Buckelew helistop planned at Lake Center Executive Park off Route 73. (Rosen, Gannett)
Rescue chopper gets panel approval
An emergency response helicopter staffed by Cooper Hospital medical personnel is free to transport critically injured people around South Jersey despite objections from Virtua, an Appellate Court panel ruled Monday.
Virtua sued the New Jersey Health Department in February for allowing Atlantic Air to operate a rescue helicopter from the Millville Airport without issuing a certificate of need. Atlantic Air provides the aircraft for the Atlantic Health system, but Cooper provides staffing and medical control.
Like ambulances, helicopters and some other health-care services should be exempt from the “intricate regulatory requirements for obtaining a certificate of need” in order to be more responsive to market changes, the three-judge panel said. (Stilwell, Gannett)
Cherry Hill: Charter school uses 64% of cap
The cost of funding a controversial charter school next year will take more than half of the cap space in the Cherry Hill district’s budget, officials say.
That expense “is the No. 1 reason” being cited by the district in a legal bid to overturn state approval for Regis Academy, according to district Superintendent Maureen Reusche. She previously has said the charter school funding could lead to layoffs for 29 teachers and to larger class sizes.
But Regis Academy’s organizer on Monday described the district’s arguments as fear tactics. Pastor Amir Khan of Solid Rock Worship Center said he will hold a press conference today to address “slander and abuse” aimed at his planned school in the township’s Ashland area. (Walsh, Gannett)
Cape May rejects ban on smoking
The city council in Cape May has rejected — for now, at least — a proposed ban on smoking on all its beaches, public parks and its oceanfront walkway.
The City Council in the resort city at New Jersey’s southern tip voted 2-2 Monday night on a ban. The fifth council member was absent from the meeting.
Opponents of the ban told the council they worried about infringing on people’s personal liberty and about driving business away from the tourist spot.
But Alan Kantz of Global Advisors on Smoke-free Policy, said he’s hoping the council will reconsider the measure soon. If so, he said, his group can answer those concerns. (Associated Press)
Liquor license process under way in Moorestown
Township council announced Monday night a series of administrative steps required to implement the two liquor referendums voters approved Nov. 8 for the first sale of liquor here in almost 100 years.
However, no formal action was taken at council’s meeting.
Moorestown Mayor John Button said he does not anticipate council will be able to seek bids for liquor licenses for the tableside sale of liquor at the Moorestown Mall until after the first of the year.
“We want to move the process along efficiently for sure, but it will be well into next year before we will be able to issue licenses,” he said before the meeting. (Comegno, Gannett)
‘Believers’ in Newark have roots in city
After Thafer Hanini and Samer Hanini bought their first commercial property in Newark, the brothers found the Washington Street building had deep roots in the city — from a three-story tree that was growing inside.
The discovery came soon after they had scrounged together $315,000 from “uncles, friends, family and some credit cards” to purchase the property in a 2004 auction, Thafer Hanini, 39, said. But the brothers, who knew the value of a hands-on approach, got to work on their first of many rehab projects at dilapidated properties in the city, paving the way for the creation of their company. (Burd, NJBIZ)
Corzine’s fortune could invite more lawsuits
The millions that former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine amassed as head of Goldman Sachs have become an alluring target for investors who were crushed by the collapse of MF Global, the brokerage firm he led until earlier this month.
And Corzine isn’t the only one who may be financially vulnerable after the eighth-largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. Others include MF Global’s other top executives; its auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and some big Wall Street banks.
Even MF Global itself, which can’t be sued while in bankruptcy protection, could sue its former executives.
Corzine and other senior executives likely share a liability-insurance policy to cover potential lawsuits against them. But experts say potential damages sought could well exceed the limits of their policy. (Gordon, Associated Press)
Division of Consumer Affairs launches medicine drop
The Division of Consumer Affairs launched “Project Medicine Drop” on Monday as part of an effort to prevent prescription drug abuse.
The “prescription drug drop boxes” at the Little Falls, Seaside Heights, and Vineland police departments. Resident can dispose their unused and expired prescription drugs any day. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
DHS funds $3.6 million worth of regional programs to prevent drug and substance abuse
The state Human Services Department received a $3.65 million federal government to help 17 coalition groups put in place addiction prevention programs to combat drug and substance abuse among individuals between ages 12 and 18.
Some 1 million youngsters abuses drugs or alcohol. The hopes is to reduce youths’ access to so-called gateway drugs that could lead to use of harder drugs. To help, groups of government officials, police schools, nonprofit group, houses of worship, and other will collect information to identify problems. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Opposition building to drilling in the Delaware basin
The state’s leading environmentalists, the Delaware Riverkeeper and other groups are stepping up the pressure on Gov. Chris Christie, the chief executives of surrounding states, and the federal government to reject an energy industry push to drill for natural gas in the Delaware River basin using a controversial process that fractures shale deep underground. (Hooker, State Street Wire)
New bills land in post-election Trenton
As the post-election lame duck seasons begins, the Senate and Assembly both opened the quorum call this week, allowing for new legislation to be introduced.
e Senate, a few interesting bills hit the table. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
High Court to hear health care challenge
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the Obama Administration’s health care overhaul, specifically the portion requiring all residents to maintain medical coverage.
The challenge was brought by Attorneys General and governors in 26 states.
To date, rulings from lower courts have been mixed, with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the Obama Administration and three other courts ruling in favor of the law’s constitutionality. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Short-list time in Monmouth as Curley eyes freeholder director spot
Monmouth County Republicans took a dominant 5-0 control of the county freeholder board with the defeat of incumbent Democratic Freeholder Amy Mallet last week, winning by over 8,000 votes in a historically low turnout election.
Democrats had control of the freeholder board for one year during the past thirty, in 2009, but slowly watched that evaporate with back to back defeats three years in a row. To add insult to injury, the Democrats’ lone freeholder director Barbara McMorrow became a Republican in 2010 and won a seat to the Freehold Township Committee. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
How vote affected politicos’ power
Last week’s low-turnout election still produced high-stakes outcomes for some North Jersey politicos who invested their energy, money and power into the legislative contests. Here is a rundown of the winners and losers of last week’s campaign and a post-election leadership shuffle that occurred in Trenton two days later.
Winner: Sen. Loretta Weinberg. The Teaneck Democrat nabbed the Senate majority leader post, which now places her at the nerve center of Trenton power. Weinberg auditioned for the part as a quasi-diplomat during the campaign, persuading public employee union leaders to hold their fire against a South Jersey Democrat. Will Weinberg use her new post to successfully advance the “core” Democratic (read: liberal) agenda, or will she become window dressing for a Democratic Party still dominated by boss rule? (Stile, The Record)
The Dow departure: Exorcizing the Ghost of Christie Past
The stores are gearing up for the holidays. The sound of carols is in the air. The other day, my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas.
I’m not sure yet, but I’ve got a good idea what the governor will be getting this holiday season: a brand-new attorney general.
The Star-Ledger reported over the weekend that it seems likely the current occupant of the office, Paula Dow, will be stepping down by the end of the year to take a judgeship in Essex County. Chris Christie is reported to be ready to replace her with his chief counsel, Jeff Chiesa. (Mulshine, The Star-Ledger)
Fudging facts on Facebook
Gov. Christie just wrapped a unique interview from the headquarters of Facebook in Palo Alto, Ca. Unique in two ways: 1) It was carried live on Facebook, with commentators posting their love and hatred of the gov underneath the video. 2) Christie hasn’t seen that many softballs thrown his way since he was on CNN’s Piers Morgan earlier this year.
As Christie’s national media grows, the follow-up questions seem to decrease.
On taxes, Christie got away with saying: “We’ve already lowered your taxes in New Jersey.” That isn’t completely true, at least not for income and property taxpayers, even if Christie has made considerable hea
dway by capping property tax increases, forcing public employees to pay more for their benefits and cutting some business taxes. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)