Morning News Digest: November 17, 2011

Morning News Digest: November 17, 2011

By Missy Rebovich

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Buono fights back in the Borgata’s Aqua Club: ‘unwilling to budge on core principles’

Thrown out of Democratic Party leadership last week, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-18), Metuchen, showed no ill effects at her party tonight as the senator’s friends rallied around her in Atlantic City.

“It’s packed,” a source attending ths year’s League of Municipalities conference told “Spilled out into the hallway. All county chairs attending – except Norcross.”

Asked if the high attendance level at Buono’s function was surprising considering the senator’s fall last week, the source said, “Think that might be why. People wanted to show support.” 

Sources close to Buono said the senator remains on target for a 2013 challenge of Gov. Chris Christie.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Sources: Spadea mulling an LD16 Assembly run

A source close to Bill Spadea says the Princeton resident and political animal is considering pursuing the vacant 16th Legislative District seat.

President of the grassroots GOP political organization Building a New Majority, Spadea, 42, unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) in 2004, and served as a surrogate speaker in 2008 for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Over the past three years, Building a New Majority helped train a couple of hundred candidates.

Sources say Spadea would most likely compete against the county organizations in a GOP Primary.

A week after Princeton residents voted in favor of merging the borough and the township, Spadea forces are convinced of their prospective assembly candidate being able to drive the consolidation argument in a newly forged district.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



U.S. Attorney collects $137.5 mil. in civil and criminal actions

The U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey announced today the office recovered $137,538,596.82 in the last fiscal year related to criminal and civil actions.

In all, $42,460,184.32 was collected in criminal actions and $95,078,412.50 was collected in civil actions.

The office also collected $13,971,219 in criminal and civil forfeitures, which includes money deposited in connection with orders of forfeiture from prior years.  In FY 2011, court orders were entered for forefeitures totaling $32,213,481, some of which were deposited in FY 2011, and some of which are still in the process of being liquidated and deposited.

Nationwide, the U.S. Attorneys’ offices collected $6.5 billion in criminal and civil actions during FY 2011, surpassing $6 billion for the second consecutive year.  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)



Poll: Christie remains popular among N.J. voters

Gov. Chris Christie’s popularity didn’t translate into Republican gains in last week’s election for the Legislature, but he remains popular with New Jersey voters all the same.

A Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday showed 56 percent of the state’s registered voters approve of the governor, while 38 percent disapprove. That is 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 Maurice Carroll, the director of the poll. “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 onetime huge gender gap has shrunk.”  (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)



Christie: Taxpayers wait too long for reform

Gov. Chris Christie will tell municipal officials Thursday that New Jersey taxpayers are feeling ill over the Legislature’s inaction on sick leave payouts and civil service rules.

Christie plans to take the Democratic-controlled Legislature to task during a keynote address in Atlantic City for not reconsidering two bills he conditionally vetoed. The Associated Press obtained excerpts of the governor’s remarks before the speech, which will be given to hundreds of local officials at the annual League of Municipalities convention.

“There’s no more time for delays and no more excuses for inaction , I know you are all tired of waiting,” Christie will say in his prepared remarks.

One bill disallows public workers to cash out large amounts of accumulated sick days at retirement. The other updates civil service rules.  (Delli Santi, Associated Press)



Christie to speak before local leaders Thursday

Gov. Chris Christie heads to Atlantic City today to speak to state lawmakers and municipal officials at the annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities convention, at a time when education and the economy are jockeying with property taxes for the spotlight in the state capital.

The league’s executive director, William Dressel Jr., said he hopes the governor addresses “the lingering issue of property tax reform.” While the Legislature enacted a 2 percent cap on property tax increases in 2010, many of the related bills Christie sought — the so-called “tool kit” he unveiled 18 months ago — weren’t supported by the Democratic majority. 

“That’s not the only tool kit in town. They can fashion new tools to deal with the new issues,” said Dressel, pointing to foreclosures, property tax appeals and a diversion of energy taxes that were once paid directly to municipalities by utilities but are now collected, and siphoned away, by the state.  (Symons, Gannett)|head



Christie’s school accountability plan to focus on urban and suburban districts

The Christie administration’s new accountability system for public schools will save its strongest measures for urban districts like Camden, Trenton, and Newark. But there may be a few suburban names coming under extra scrutiny, too.

Gov. Chris Christie yesterday rolled out the accountability plan being proposed to the federal government as an alternative to the rules that have existed for a decade under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

It will be heavily focused on the lowest-performing schools, now to be called “Priority Schools,” offering assistance and often requiring changes at the threat of losing state or federal funding. Those changes could include everything from new teacher training to a longer school day to closure and replacement of all staff.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Christie, Cerf appear in Secaucus to push for education reform bills

Gov. Chris Christie today took his education reform show on the road, pressing the state Legislature to take swift action on four bills his administration supports during a visit to a Secaucus secondary school.

The comprehensive set of bills aims to change the way teachers earn and keep tenure; expand access to charter schools; offer vouchers for students in failing schools to attend private and parochial schools; and privatize some failing schools in the state’s five lowest-performing districts.

The legislation recognizes there is “no single solution” to fixing the state’s failing schools and that “a piecemeal, incremental approach” will not help the state close its achievement gap between wealthy and poor students, said Christie, who appeared alongside acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.  (Calefati, The Star-Ledger)



Christie says he doesn’t hate gym teachers after pay comment

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he has nothing against gym teachers, after the state’s education union criticized his comment that math and science teachers should earn more than those in physical education.

“Cut the crap,” Christie, a first-term Republican, said today when a reporter asked him to respond to comments by Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association.

The Star-Ledger newspaper quoted Wollmer as saying “What’s he got against gym teachers?” after Christie said science and math teachers should be paid more than gym teachers, during a live Facebook chat on Nov. 14. Wollmer confirmed those comments today in a telephone interview.  (Young, Bloomberg)



Christie blames former Port Authority official for hidden agency perks

An angry Governor Christie on Wednesday laid blame for hidden Port Authority executive perks at the feet of the agency’s former executive director, Christopher O. Ward.

“I think this is another example of the awful leadership of Chris Ward,” Christie said, later calling the New York-appointee’s management practices “a disaster.”

Christie said the undisclosed executive bonuses, revealed in a Record story earlier this week, are “another example of the secret deals (Ward) was making to reward his cronies.

“And it’s going to stop, and Governor Cuomo and I are absolutely committed to that,” he said.

Christie and Cuomo jointly steer the agency, which operates six bridges and tunnels, major airports, seaports and the PATH train system.  (Boburg, The Record)



N.J. Legislature scrambles to pass bills during final six weeks of 2011 session

The lame duck session of the state Senate and Assembly is shaping up to be anything but that.

Legislative leaders are hammering out a multibillion-dollar bond issue for the state’s colleges and universities, one of dozens of initiatives they hope to pass in the final six weeks of the session.

“We need to invest in higher education and our higher education facilities so we can keep our industries in the state,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said. “It’s a big one.”

Changes to the state’s public education system will be sought as well. Democrats say they also hope to work out a compromise with Gov. Chris Christie to restore $139 million in aid to struggling cities, and again pass about a dozen bills intended to create jobs that he vetoed in February.  (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)



N.J. officials debate budget cuts as state revenue continues to fall short of projections

New Jersey’s revenue collections continue to fall short of projections, but whether the decline is related to severe weather or a stormy economy – or combination of both – is still uncertain. But no matter the cause, the steady declines have raised the possibility that the state might have to consider painful mid-year cuts to pay its bills.

“I am not ruling that out, but it’s too early to say.” said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), the ranking Republican on the Assembly Budget Committee. “We just have to keep an eye on the numbers, and see if the economy and Wall Street bounces back, but we’ll be ready to act.”

October revenue collections fell 3 percent short of projections, the third consecutive month the state has missed its target, according to figures released yesterday. Overall, the state has $210 million less revenue than it expected to collect in the first four months of the budget year, figures show.  (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)



OPRA request reveals charter advocates’ role in application process

Over the past year, the Christie administration employed an array of national and state charter school experts, educators, officials, and other advocates to help review applications for new charters, according to documents released under a public records request.

Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) filed the request under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), and her office yesterday shared the state’s response of more than a dozen pages of names and emails.

Included in the first reviews were advocates from across New Jersey, including several charter school leaders. The latest round had a more national flavor, including top charter school officials from Colorado, Florida, and Washington, D.C.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



VP Joe Biden eats short ribs with N.J. campaign supporters

Vice President Joe Biden attended a $10,000-per-couple fundraising dinner Tuesday night, Nov. 15, in the small Bergen County town of Cresskill, N.J. The event, hosted by public-relations executive Michael Kempner, attracted 60 attendees and helped raise approximately $250,000 for the Ob
ama Victory Fund, a joint venture of President Obama’s re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee, according to The Associated Press.

Kempner, who held a similar get-together with Obama last year, heads the MWW Group, a public-relations firm that represents a variety of high-profile clients, including the American Museum of Natural History, The Hershey Company and Mack-Cali Realty Corporation. The Obama event last October had a $30,400-per-head asking price and raised an estimated $1 million for the DNC, according to news reports.  (Soltes, New Jersey Newsroom)



League of Municipalities warns convention attendees against gifts to avoid

raising ethics concerns

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities offered lessons Wednesday on applying for transportation grants and deciphering tax abatements.

But amid these technical discussions, the league also provided a refresher on right and wrong for hundreds of elected officials and public employees.

William Kearns, the league’s lawyer, presented “the do’s and don’ts of ethics.”

“Fruit basket, liquor, playoff tickets; the simple answer is, don’t give them, don’t accept them. Simple,” Kearns said.

New Jersey has a long and sordid history of corruption, perhaps especially in this week’s host resort, Atlantic City, which has seen several mayors hauled off in handcuffs throughout the decades.  (Miller, Press of Atlantic City)



N.J. sting indicts grocers who allegedly stole $1M from voucher program that helps low-income families

A dozen grocery store owners and two employees, most of them in Essex County, cashed in more than $1 million worth of fake vouchers meant to help needy women and children buy healthy food, authorities said today.

They allegedly bought the vouchers from three workers at the Newark office of the Women, Infants and Children program, known as WIC, who printed them and sold them by the stack, the Attorney General’s Office said.

“The stolen funds, which totaled well over $1 million, should have supplied vital nutrition for disadvantaged children,” Attorney General Paula Dow said in a statement. “Instead, the defendants fed their greed.”  (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)



Menendez among backers of bill to create Smithsonian American Latinos Museum

The art, history, and culture of American Latinos would be on display in a separate museum within The Smithsonian under a bipartisan bill introduced this week by several members of congress, including New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez.

The bill authorizes the establishment of the Smithsonian American Latino Museum within the Smithsonian Institution. The museum would be located in a new underground annex facility within the Arts and Industries Building located on the National Mall, according to the introduced bill.  (Alvarado, The Record)



Medford official resigns: Brown leaves council

The township council, already buffeted by calls for the mayor to step down, has lost another member.

Councilman David J. Brown Jr. filed a letter with the township clerk’s office on Tuesday to resign immediately. The 63-year-old Republican was in the middle of a four-year term, his second on council.

“My work schedule in the next year is going to incorporate additional travel which will require me to miss numerous meetings,” Brown said in his letter. “I want to thank everyone who has worked with me to make Medford Township the best community in New Jersey!”  (Rosen, Gannett)



Triple Five: Xanadu completion ‘not economically viable’ without wetlands development

The developer of the long-stalled retail and entertainment complex previously known as Xanadu continued to insist today that its plans for completing the project and rebranding it American Dream Meadowlands are “not economically viable” without its plan to build upon a 5.5-acre tract of wetlands.

Triple Five, of Edmonton, Canada, discussed in public hearings Tuesday and today the environmental impact of its plans on the wetlands site. The developer wants to put water and amusement parks on the wetlands tract, adjacent to the main structure. A final public hearing on the environmental impact will take place tonight at the Meadowlands Racetrack.  (Burd, NJBIZ)



Atlantic City to get new casino, while another site struggles

Expected jobs cuts at a struggling casino are likely to be more than offset if plans by Hard Rock International to enter the New Jersey gambling market advance, with company officials telling the Casino Control Commission Wednesday they want to build a new $465 million casino.

Under a new law the Hard Rock property would be Atlantic City’s first smaller “boutique” casino with a hotel having less than the previous minimum of 500 rooms. The Hard Rock hotel would start with 208 rooms but plans calling for adding more than 600 rooms in the future.

Hard Rock’s chief executive officer, James Allen, said construction could start next June “depending on access to capital markets,” he said. The first phase of building will take 21 to 23 months to complete, he said.  (Jordan, Gannett)



N.J. approves plan to keep casino open

ACH, the casino long considered to be at the greatest risk, can breathe a bit easier. New Jersey regulators Wednesday approved a plan to keep the struggling casino open and save the jobs of nearly 2,000 workers.

“The company, quite frankly, was running out of cash,” said Eric Matejevich, chief financial officer of RIH, parent company of the casino, known as the Atlantic City Hilton until the hotel giant ended a licensing deal over the summer.

Under the plan approved by the Casino Control Commission, the casino’s owner, Los Angeles-based Colony Capital, will pump $15 million into it to keep it afloat. In return, lenders will foreclose on and take ownership of two casinos in Mississippi that Colony owns, Bally’s Tunica and Resorts Tunica, and wipe out the mortgage debt for ACH.  (Parry, Associated Press)



Employers start to take an active role in employee healthcare

When the Toms River Regional Schools’ 5,700 employees and families get sick, they usually go to the Partnership Health Center, a clinic in downtown Toms River that opened two years ago for the exclusive use of members of the school health plan. The PHC is voluntary; members are free to use any of the hundreds of doctors in their health plan network. But there’s an incentive to use the PHC, since there are no co-pays or deductibles, and it&#8217
;s convenient: the PHC is open seven days a week and, members can visit during working hours, then return to their jobs. The 18-person staff includes three doctors and six nurses, and services include physical therapy, x-ray, lab, and pharmacy. Emergencies like wound care, splints and stitches can be handled at the PHC, instead of a hospital emergency room.  (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)



Plug-in electric vehicles: Where to charge, what to charge

With the rollout of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), New Jersey’s utilities and regulators face a range of decisions about building the infrastructure to allow drivers to easily charge their cars, a task conventional wisdom says will primarily occur at home while owners are sleeping.

Even widespread deployment of PEVs is expected to have little or no effect on the existing electric generation and transmission grid. But the transformation of a transportation system relying on petroleum to one in which electricity from local utilities fuels vehicle raises a myriad of questions.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



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Greenwald doesn’t accept Treasury’s reasoning on revenue collection drop

Lou Greenwald isn’t buying the Administration’s reasons behind lower-than-expected revenue collections.

“The treasurer blaming poor revenue collections on the weather is like a child blaming the dog for eating his homework,” Greenwald, the Assembly Budget chairman, said in a release. “That excuse wouldn’t fly with a teacher and it won’t work for taxpayers, either.”  (Mooney, State Street Wire)



Secaucus superintendent sees pilot evaluation program as timely, necessary

At Secaucus High School, Superintendent Cynthia Randina sees her Hudson County district’s selection as a participant in the state’s pilot program for teacher evaluations as timely.

“We were looking at revising our tools for evaluation anyway,’’ she said today after Gov. Chris Christie and acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said that in conjunction with the state’s application for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind program, the state would institute a pilot program of educator evaluations that the administration believes will be meaningful and fair.  (Mooney, State Street Wire)



NJTV to set up headquarters at Montclair State University

NJTV public television network will set up its news division offices and studio at Montclair State University.  

The network’s newscast, NJ Today, will be broadcast from Montclair University’s DuMont Television Center by the end of this year, university and network officials said on Wednesday.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



Is RGGI ‘working’—or is it ‘bogus’?

Two groups expressed starkly different reactions Wednesday on a report citing the economic benefits of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which enables participating states to levy a carbon tax to fund clean energy initiatives.  

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners report states that New Jersey’s participation in the 10-state pact, which Gov. Chris Christie wants New Jersey to exit, created thousands of jobs and stimulated the economy.  (Has
san, State Street Wire)



From the Back Room 



Rullo on the move?

More Monmouth Musings has a piece today on Joe Rullo, who has apparently declared his intent to run for U.S. Senate.

Rullo is an Ocean County Republican, who says he will focus on making the jobless employed, turning “foreclosures into home sales,” holding corporate and political leaders accountable to the people, redirecting financial and legal power to hard working “legal Americans,” and a host of other issues including handing government back to the people.  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)



Tavarez ready to run in 2012?

Paterson Fifth Ward Councilman Julio Tavarez plans to launch his re-election campaign on Monday, November 21 at the Hamilton and Ward Steakhouse.

A renegade who four years ago dethroned then-Mayor Joey Torres’s ally, Tavarez was the only other councilman who backed Ward 6 Councilman Andre Sayegh’s losing 2010 mayoral bid besides the candidate himself.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)






A message of love, but not with the NJEA

A low-octane Governor Christie was channeling an inner peacenick Wednesday in front of a Secaucus High School classroom.

Governor Smashmouth was now preaching a “Love Thy Political Enemies” mantra, or more precisely, a “Hate Thy Enemies Less If You Can Meet With Them Over Dinner” mantra.

“It’s harder to hate up close,” Christie said in front of a blackboard with posters promoting an anti-bullying rally, “bully busters” lessons and a “Week of Respect.”

“As human beings, our general demeanor is to be positive and to like someone and to care and not to hate. It’s easy to hate from a distance.”

If he broke into a “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” at this point, I would not have been surprised.  (Stile, The Record)



Sen. Joe Vitale to sleep on the street to help homeless kids

Sen. Joe Vitale will sleep outside on the streets of Manhattan tomorrow night, and he is neither broke nor mentally ill.

Vitale (D-Middlesex) is among 40 regional leaders who are doing this to help homeless teenagers. It’s a fund-raiser for the Covenant House, a charity now run by Kevin Ryan, the all-star former director of New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families.

In any given year, about 2 million American children wind up on the streets. Covenant House tries to rescue them, offering a sanctuary against drug abuse, prostitution, and the other evils that engulf so many.

This is God’s work in any religion, but its nowhere near enough. Covenant House serves about 50,000 kids a year. Yes, it is a candle in the darkness, but the sad fact is that most homeless kids are on their own.  (Moran, The Star-Ledger)



Growing divide between rich, poor neighborhoods toxic for N.J.

If you are looking for more alarming evidence about growing economic injustice in America, the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University have just provided it.

In this report, they find that middle-class neighborhoods are disappearing, as the middle-class shrinks and both rich and poor increasingly segregate themselves into separate neighborhoods.

There is a great deal that’s depressing about this trend. It means people of different means don’t rub elbows as much, their kids don’t play together as much, the parents don’t chat over the back yard fence. So people on both sides won’t know as much about the other, and can more easily embrace silly stereotypes. Rich people are g
reedy. Poor people are lazy. And so on.  (Moran, The Star-Ledger)



Red-light cameras: It’s all about the money

A report from the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group says some towns are willing to give up their authority to private companies in order to keep cash flowing from the notorious red-light cameras that issue traffic tickets based on photos.

The report says some officials are so stupid or greedy — or both — they let private companies make decisions for them. That’s the epitome of sell-out. If private companies make public decisions, we don’t need town officials. “Automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety,” Jen Kim of PIRG said.  (Ingle, Gannett)


  Morning News Digest: November 17, 2011