Morning News Digest: November 16, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Let the sports commence: the most buzzed about potential 2013 gubernatorial challengers
An insider buttonholed PolitickerNJ.com the other day and said, “It’s all about 2013.”
We don’t accept that view. There’s plenty to get excited about in the coming days, including the results of Congressional redistricting and the presidential and U.S. Senate intrigues of 2012, not to mention the machinations of local municipal elections in places like Paterson next year.
But we don’t discount the growing buzz around those potential challengers to Gov. Christie in 2013.
In frantic phone calls and backrooms, players are making moves. We’ve identified some this week and assessed their prospects, especially in light of last week’s legislative contests… (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Gov. Christie’s approval rating remains high, poll shows
Gov. Chris Christie remains popular with New Jersey voters.
A Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows 56 percent of Garden State registered voters approve of the governor, while 38 percent disapprove. That’s a statistically insignificant change from last month, when 58 percent approved and 38 percent disapproved.
“Gov. Christopher Christie got a big bump in his job approval last month after he told New Jersey voters they were stuck with him because he wasn’t running for president,” said poll director Maurice Carroll. “Whether it’s his handling of the October snowstorm or just momentum, he’s still flying high. Women don’t like him as much as men, but his one-time huge gender gap has shrunk.” (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Christie pushes for specific legislation by year’s end
Gov. Christie wants some bills on his desk.
The full-time Republican governor laid out his vision Tuesday for what legislation he wants to sign in the next two months.
The problem? He’s waiting on part-time Democratic legislators who aren’t revealing their specific plans for the lame-duck session of the Legislature, which begins in earnest in two weeks.
There could be room for compromise, with Democrats sponsoring some of the bills Christie endorses. But such bipartisan cooperation was not on display Tuesday. Christie’s office slammed legislators – some of whom are in Atlantic City this week for the League of Municipalities annual convention – for not working hard enough. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Tenure, charters, vouchers: Lame duck session’s big three
Now that New Jersey’s midterm election is over, with little changed in the legislature, it’s back to business in the Statehouse — and that means education reform.
Gov. Chris Christie yesterday put out his now-familiar call for the Democratic-controlled legislature to act on what he said are the state’s priorities, starting with his package of proposals on teacher tenure, charter schools, and school vouchers.
The Democratic leadership, for its part, put out its schedule for the next two months, starting next Monday.
And for all of Christie’s prodding, which is expected to continue today with an education event in Secaucus, the legislature is actually pretty far along on several of the governor’ core proposals. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
NJ gov to speak at alma mater in Delaware
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is giving two major speeches Wednesday.
In the morning, he’ll be in Secaucus to talk about his education agenda and in the evening, he’s heading to his alma mater at the University of Delaware to talk about the challenges facing governors.
Christie graduated from the sc
hool in 1984 but still returns often for football games.
The 49-year-old governor got his political start as student body president there and met his met his future wife.
Christie has given two commencement addresses, one in 2004 while serving as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey and one last year as governor. He was elected to the Alumni Association’s Hall of Fame last year and received an honorary degree. (Associated Press)
Christie seeks federal disaster aid for counties hammered by Oct. 29 snowstorm
Gov. Chris Christie announced Tuesday that the state is seeking a federal major disaster declaration for 11 counties that sustained damage from the unseasonable storm that brought early snow, heavy rain, and high winds to the state on Oct. 29.
The storm led to coastal flooding, downed trees and power lines, and widespread power outages.
A letter requesting the disaster declaration for Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren Counties, was sent to President Obama through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
N.J. lawmakers vow to address eligibility for public workers to receive accidental disability pension
Senate Democrats said Tuesday they plan to introduce a bill before the end of the year that would make public employees undergo far more scrutiny before receiving an accidental disability pension.
Democrats said they had planned to introduce the measure next year, but stepped up their timetable after an article appeared Tuesday in The Star-Ledger focusing on how looser eligibility requirements have led to a record increase in the awarding of pensions.
“There are certainly appropriate times when someone deserves an accidental disability pension, but it shouldn’t be abused,” said State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Atlantic), who plans to co-sponsor the legislation with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Burlington). “It harms taxpayers and those who depend on pensions.” (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
State granting a record number of accidental disability pensions
New Jersey is granting a record number of accidental disability pensions this year for public employees as a result of recent changes in law that make it easier to collect.
The Statehouse Bureau of The Star-Ledger of Newark and The Record reported Tuesday that records show the state made $91.5 million in payments to police and firefighters in 2010, a 35 percent increase from 2007, when it paid out $68 million.
This year, the state will grant the most accidental disability pensions in its history, having approved 537 through August, compared with 402 in 2007. (Associated Press)
Pulling out of greenhouse gas initiative an expensive mistake, study suggests
New Jersey is losing the opportunity to create jobs and spur growth by pulling out of a 10-state initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a new study suggests.
In an economic analysis of the impact of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a study commissioned by utility regulators claims that a cap-and-trade program initiated by Northeast states resulted in the creation of 1,772 jobs and $151 million in economic value in New Jersey and a total of 16,135 jobs and $1.6 billion in economic value throughout the region.
Gov. Chris Christie, in a decision that drew sharp criticism from clean energy advocates and Democratic lawmakers, announced in May that New Jersey would pull out of the program at the end of this year, calling it ineffective environmentally and nothing more than an electricity tax. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
League of Municipalities Convention underway in Atlantic City
A spotless new garbage truck greets people at the door of the Atlantic City Convention Center exhibit hall, which seemingly stretches on for miles with smiling vendors.
One booth advertises new red light cameras. Another shows beautiful green turf football fields. A twinkling Christmas tree accompanies a stand touting downtown holiday decorations.
But for most local officials attending the annual League of Municipalities convention, buying a new garbage truck or ramping up holiday decorations in this tough economy was the furthest thing from their minds today. (DeMarco, The Star-Ledger)
Port Authority responds to news of hidden executive perks
In his first public appearance as the Port Authority’s top administrator, Pat Foye said Tuesday that the agency “should have been more transparent” about the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hidden perks it gives executives each year.
“On this, frankly, we should have been more transparent,” Foye said in response to a report in Tuesday’s Record that revealed some executives get as much as $70,000 in salary add-ons that are not disclosed to the public. Agency lawyers said releasing the information would be an “unwarranted invasion of privacy.”
Echoing Governor Christie’s comments a day before, Foye, a New York appointee, said “Governor Cuomo’s position is exactly the same. I think transparency is critical to any public agency.” Christie and Cuomo jointly steer the bi-state agency, which operates the region’s bridges, tunnels, airports, seaports, and the PATH train system. (Boburg, The Record)
Poll: Strong majority of New Jerseyans believe Occupy Wall Street camp should be allowed to stay
On the heels of Tuesday’s early morning removal of Occupy Wall Street protestors from Zuccotti Park by New York City police, a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll shows that nearly two-thirds of New Jersey registered voters who are aware of the movement believe the protestors should be allowed to maintain their camps and demonstrations. Only 23 percent say officials should shut down the camps and arrest those who will not leave.
The poll, taken Wednesday through Saturday before the police crackdown, asked those who have heard about the protest whether the actions of police in other cities were appropriate. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Carl Lewis got 150 write-in votes, beating out perennial favorite Mickey Mouse
Now that the Burlington County clerk has tallied all of last week’s votes, it appears Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis made it on the ballot after all: as a write-in.
More than 150 voters added his name Tuesday when confronted with a ballot that gave them only one choice for New Jersey state Senate in the county’s Eighth Legislative District.
It didn’t matter. Republican Sen. Dawn Addiego, who ran unopposed, was the clear victor with more than 16,000 votes.
In September, a federal judge disqualified Lewis, a Democrat, saying he did not meet the state’s residency requirement for a Senate seat. Lewis, who has homes in Medford and on the West Coast, voted as late as last year in California. (Hefler, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Frank Lautenberg, Rodney Frelinghuysen among ‘1 percent’ in Congress
“We are the 99 percent” has become a rallying cry for protesters at Occupy Wall Street and similar demonstrations across the country, calling attention to the disproportionate wealth controlled by the top 1 percent of American households.
Congress’s top 1 percent include Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. (estimated net worth: $448.1 million); Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas ($380.4 million); and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. ($231.7 million); Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. ($192.7 million); and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. ($143.2 million).
In New Jersey, they are Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., whose estimated net worths are $85,572,116 and $42,900,594, respectively. (Associated Press)
Holt tours Old Bridge Superfund sites
Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) visited two toxi
c waste sites in the township to check on the progress of cleanup work and to highlight the need to require polluting industries to pay the costs of cleaning toxic waste, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported.
“A few years ago, these sites were toxic dumps — unsafe for anyone to live or work,” Holt said after his recent visit. “Now, they’re on track to be fully restored. That is evidence of the remarkable work of the EPA and a testament to the potential of the Superfund.”
Holt, who was guided on his visits by EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck, visited the Evor Phillips and CPS/Madison sites. Both are being restored using the Superfund, a federal fund established to clean up abandoned industrial waste sites. (Staff, Gannett)
Landfill removed from Superfund list: Cleanup at Sayreville site has reduced threat to health
The borough landfill has been removed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites, it was announced on Tuesday.
A former municipal landfill, the soil and groundwater at the closed 30-acre landfill once were contaminated with volatile organic compounds, cadmium, lead, benzene, arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Volatile organic compounds can evaporate into the air and potentially impact people’s health. Lead is a toxic metal that can cause damage to a child’s ability to learn and a range of health problems in adults. Excessive exposure to cadmium can cause cancer, and benzene is a known cancer-causing chemical. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage or other organic substances. They can cause cancer. (Staff, Gannett)
Bankrolling New Jersey biotechs
Over the past decade, Chip Baird has regularly relied on a state incentive program to help fund PTC Therapeutics, a biotech that does not yet sell any medicines but is developing a handful of treatments for various cancers, infectious diseases, and genetic disorders. By his estimate, PTC has garnered about $5 million, which he calls “real money” that would, otherwise, be hard to come by, especially when the sour economy has sent venture capital firms running in the other direction.
“All totaled, we’ve raised over $500 million [over the years], with about $200 million from venture capital and a little over $200 million from collaborations [with large drug makers], and roughly $100 million from grant funding,” says Baird, who is the chief financial officer at the South Plainfield biotech. “But this is an important piece. It’s somewhere between a small bridge loan and a major piece of financing . . . And it provides more funding to keep the kind of jobs we create, which are really the kind of jobs the state wants to retain — people with advanced degrees.” (Silverman, NJ Spotlight)
Montclair approves medical marijuana dispensary
A New Jersey medical marijuana dispensary has approval to open in Montclair but is still awaiting the final go-ahead from the state.
Greenleaf Compassion Center announced Tuesday that it had received zoning-board approval about two weeks ago for a storefront in the North Jersey town.
It’s the first medical marijuana alternative treatment center in New Jersey to announce that it has a local zoning board approval.
In March, the state approved six nonprofit organizations to operate the clinics to sell marijuana to patients with certain medical conditions such as glaucoma and terminal cancer. (Gannett)
Comptroller audit finds New Jersey developer got tax breaks simply by asking
A North Jersey developer was granted property tax reductions on more than 100 condominiums, costing residents nearly a half-million dollars and exposing a potentially huge flaw in how municipal reassessments are granted statewide, a new comptroller’s report found.
The report, released Tuesday, shows that the condominium developer secured lower tax assessments in 2008 and 2009 simply because his lawyer asked. Individual condo owners in the same complex who appealed their assessments did not get as good a deal.
“If you’ve ever suspected that not all property taxpayers are treated equally, here’s your evidence,” Comptroller Matthew Boxer said. (Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Charter-school founder addresses critics in Cherry Hill
For weeks, Cherry Hill school officials and residents have campaigned to block a charter school from opening in the township, arguing that the redirection of state education funds would harm the top-ranked district.
On Tuesday, charter founder Amir Khan, pastor of the township’s Solid Rock Worship Center, attempted to answer his critics after the district this month filed a challenge to the school’s approval.
“The schools today are exactly the same as they were 100 years ago, when we were an industrial economy,” he said in a speech at the church. “You have so much time for math, this much time for reading. The world has changed, and how we educate our children needs to change, too.” (Osborne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Jon Corzine firm ‘nefarious or illegal,’ regulator says
The former brokerage firm of former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine was engaged in activity that was “either nefarious or illegal,” said a U.S. futures regulator Tuesday.
“It looks suspicious as heck to me. It is either nefarious or illegal, in my personal opinion. That’s why we have an investigation. The money should be there, it’s not. That money should be sacrosanct. It’s really troubling,” said Bart Chilton, a commissioner at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, on CNBC’s Squawk Box.
Asked whether MF Global’s customers will get their money back, Chilton replied, “It depends on what’s there.” (Mak, POLITICO)
11 states seek relief from ‘No Child’ provisions, in return for raising standards
Eleven states applied for waivers exempting them from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind law by the federal government’s first deadline, promising in return to adopt higher standards and carry out other elements of the Obama administration’s school improvement agenda, the Department of Education said on Tuesday.
Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee asked the department for relief from some No Child provisions, including the requirement that all students be proficient in English and math by 2014. In their applications, the states outlined plans to develop their own locally designed school accountability systems, create new educator-evaluation systems and overhaul their lowest-performing schools, the department said. (Dillon, The New York Times)
ELEC hopes OMB will restore $15,000 in compensation funds
Election Law Enforcement Commission Executive Director Jeff Brindle said today the commission will try to convince the Office of Management and Budget to restore $15,000 in compensation funds for its governing body. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Dispatches from the League: Dressel worried about tax appeals and hard times
At the annual gathering of government officials here, N.J. State League of Municipalities Executive Director Bill Dressel told State Street Wire he’s concerned about the long-term effects of the economic downturn like tax appeals.
Toeing the faux sea-and-sand carpet of the Atlantic City Convention Center, Dressel worked the second-floor mezzanine, ground zero for city planners, construction code officials, ribbon-wearing small town mayors, and politicians of all ilks. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
ELEC: Over $36M raised in N.J. for campaign 2011
With Election Day 2011 receding in the rear-view mirror, the Election Law Enforcement Commission surveyed the financial mileposts today.
Data compiled by the ELEC showed more than $36 million was raised this year by the two major political parties and independent groups.
The Democrats outraised the Republicans by more than a 2-to-1 margin, raising $26.2 million to the Republicans’ estimated $10 million. All but one incumbent won in last Tuesday’s election. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Why are our wallets lighter? Two must reads
Two must reads, one from The Record of Bergen County and one from the Star Ledger shed a bright light on why most of us have a few less bucks in our wallets these days. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Are millionaires really fleeing New Jersey?
Yesterday brought a new study showing millionaires are fleeing New Jersey because of high taxes. Yet it also proved that the data on taxing the rich can be crunched in many ways – giving both Democrats and Republicans proof of their competing agendas.
The New Jersey study, by the state’s chief economist for the Treasury, Charles Steindel, looked at he impact of the New Jersey’s 2004 tax hike, which raised the income-tax rate to 8.97% from 6.37% for those making more than $500,000.
The study found that by 2009, the tax increase had lowered the number of taxpayers by roughly 20,000 and the state’s aggregate adjusted gross income by $2.4 billion. The study found that the associated loss of over $125 million in state income tax revenue would “offset a small but noticeable fraction of revenue gains.” (Frank, The Wall Street Journal)
Two Princeton towns to merge
The seventh time was the charm. Half a dozen times previously, referendums on combining Princeton Borough and Princeton Township had failed, in a series of votes that spanned decades.
To pass, both towns had to approve. The first time, the borough approved and the township voted no. Subsequently, the voting was reversed. This time, with an assist from Governor Christie, the proposal passed last week.
A merger had long seemed overdue. There was general agreement on that. The borough and township are similar in socioeconomic makeup, affluent and well-educated. The borough has a smaller population, 12,307 as of the 2010 census, compared to the township’s 16,265. (Ahearn, The Record)