Morning News Digest: November 21, 201
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: Week of the League
Political insiders, hangers-on and state party leaders found a way in out of the rain this week to gravely and soberly consider the future of the state – while partaking of the hedonistic delights of Atlantic City.
With that combination we have absolutely no doubt we are going to work this out. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
ELEC: No jurisdiction on Elizabeth School Board complaint
The Election Law Enforcement Commission Friday said it has no jurisdiction over a complaint from state Sen. Ray Lesniak alleging that former members of the Elizabeth School Board used board employees to solicit donations and that they did it on school property.
In a letter to Lesniak, who filed the complaint against former Democratic 20th District Senate candidate Jerome Dunn and Assembly candidates Tony Monteiro and Carlos Cedeino, ELEC said the current law prohibiting soliciting campaign contributions on state property does not extend to schools.
“In making its decision, the Commission examined several state statutes, none of which hold that boards of education are included under the rubric of “State agency” or “State Property,” ELEC Director of Review and Investigation Shreve Marshall wrote. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Essex united: We will ‘use every power we have’ to keep UMDNJ in Newark
From state to county to city, Newark and Essex are united on one front: keeping the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and the university hospital in the Brick City.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker led a panel of more than a dozen elected officials in voicing in synchrony their five principles that they are prepared to defend as the state moves toward merging UMDNJ into Rutgers University.
“We will not allow this process to move forward unless we are sure that our principles are adhered to.” Booker told reporters in City Hall today that he is concerned that “the haste at which this is moving will undermine the security and the strength (of these institutions).” (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)
State lawmakers go back to work
Lawmakers kick their post-election, lame-duck legislative session into gear today with committees considering 68 bills and two new members being sworn into the General Assembly.
Though the Assembly hasn’t met in five months, outside of a few summer hearings to critique Gov. Chris Christie budget vetoes, six of 13 committees whose turn it is to meet won’t convene today. Nor will three of seven committees in the Senate, which did meet sporadically this summer and fall.
Troy Singleton, 38, will be sworn into office to complete the term that became vacant when Assemblyman Jack Conners resigned in August and took a job as Camden County director of veterans affairs. (Symons, Gannett)
N.J. disability pensions facing legislative action
Both Republicans and Democratic state legislators want to tighten rules for police disability pensions, which have risen sharply after two state Supreme Court rulings had loosened qualifications.
A Republican proposal, expected to be introduced Monday, would reduce accidental disability payments to as low as 40 percent of salary, from the two-thirds of salary that it is now.
It would also require police and firefighters to undergo further medical review in order to obtain disability benefits. If disabled workers are able to earn extra income in a new job, they will capped from making more than they did previously. (Method, Gannett)
OSA continues to be a lightning rod for controversy
Advocacy groups for and against the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA) have begun to mobilize as talk gets louder that the controversial school voucher bill could come for legislative vote soon.
The legislature will return this week with its first meetings since the midterm election, with a range of education bills expected to be under debate in the coming weeks. But few draw the rancor of the OSA bill, a pilot program that would use state corporate tax credits to fund school vouchers for low-income students in a select number of districts.
And with that, a number of groups — both familiar and new — are preparing to say their piece on the topic, with protests and other public displays aimed to catch the legislature’s attention. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Food stamp usage, child poverty on the rise in N.J.
The national poverty rate is at 15.3 percent, the unemployment rate is around 9 percent, and people are continuing to feel the pinch in New Jersey. According to just released census figures, about one out of 15 state households received food stamps in 2010.
NorthJersey.com reported that while New Jersey came in at No. 2 in household income last year, 215,000 households got food stamps, an increase of 23.2 percent from 2009. Also, in 2010, one of every seven children was determined poor.
The US recession started back in 2007, and the number of people living in poverty has reached an all-time high. According to PressTV, child poverty rates are now at 25 percent or higher in ten states. (Holt, New Jersey Newsroom)
In NJ, police layoffs lead to drop in arrests
Police in five New Jersey cities where departments have had deep layoffs are making fewer arrests for minor offenses — a trend that experts fear could lead to a rise in the most serious crimes.
Newark, Trenton, Paterson, Atlantic City and Camden, all densely populated cities with significant crime problems — all faced with precarious tax revenue and declining aid from a state government that is also cash-strapped — have all made deep cuts in their police departments since the start of 2010.
An Associated Press analysis of municipal court data shows that when police are laid off, department priorities shift: Arrests and summonses of all kinds drop, with enforcement for minor crimes and traffic violations suffering the most as police focus their remaining resources on more serious offenses. (Associated Press)
Gas drilling opponents to rally in NJ capital
Opponents of natural gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed have scheduled a rally in New Jersey’s capital on Monday.
The activists will gather outside Trenton’s War Memorial, where the Delaware River Basin Commission had been set to vote on regulations regarding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The DRBC abruptly canceled the meeting Friday after Delaware’s governor said he would oppose the draft rules. New York previously announced its opposition. (Associated Press)
Protecting solar subsidies for homes and small businesses
Here’s some good news for homeowners and small commercial firms. It appears likely they will not be shut off from the subsidies that promote development of solar systems on their homes and businesses.
In the latest effort to stabilize New Jersey’s unsettled solar market, the state Office of Clean Energy has floated a proposal that would extend utility-sponsored loan programs to residential and small business customers. Existing programs are due to expire at the end of this year. That would quash concerns from some solar advocates the Christie administration is pulling out of the residential and small commercial market. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Troubled Jersey City hospital hopes for $35 million transfusion
Christ Hospital in Jersey City is the latest New Jersey hospital to seek a merger with a larger, financially stronger system, looking to survive the new normal for healthcare, in which government, employers, and health insurance companies are trying to clamp down on the double-digit growth in spending. These financial pressures are most critical for safety net hospitals like Christ, which each year rack up huge deficits caring for the poor and uninsured — hospitals that would be very deep in the red without millions of dollars in state aid. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Lawyer: Public school districts have right to be heard in charter school battle
The lawyer who represented the three school districts that won a legal battle today against a Princeton-area charter school said the districts achieved a key victory.
“They want to continue to have the right to be heard,’’ lawyer David Carroll said of the Princeton Regional, West Windsor-Plainsboro, and South Brunswick districts. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Assembly committee poised to move ahead with a ‘personalized’ needle exchange program
The next step in the state’s battle against the spread of HIV-AIDS is headed toward what one supporter says is a kind of individualized needle exchange program.
Under legislation that’s scheduled for a hearing before the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee Monday, the state would remove the prescription barrier to buying hypodermic needles in pharmacies. (Hooker, State Street Wire)
Judge sides with three school districts in opposition to Princeton area charter school
An effort by a Princeton area charter school to prevent three school districts from using public money to oppose it has been rejected by an administrative law judge.
The Princeton International Academy Charter School had sued three districts – Princeton Regional, South Brunswick and West Windsor-Plainsboro – arguing that they should be prevented from using taxpayer money in their efforts to oppose the charter school’s opening. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
State names new chief information officer
The state has a new chief information officer.
The Treasury Department announced that E. Steven Emanuel, former CIO for Montgomery County, Md., and Amtrak, will coordinate New Jersey’s information technology policies.
“He has a strong record of managing overhauls of complex information systems successfully and delivering capital projects on time and within budget,” Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said in a release. (Staff, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Medford doc mulling Runyan challenge
Sources tell PolitickerNJ.com that medical Dr. Thomas Sacks-Wilner of Medford is mulling a 2012 challenge of freshman U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R-3).
Since 2008, Sacks-Wilner has personally donated at least $13,800 to Democratic candidates, including U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), former U.S. Rep. Joseph Sestak (D-PA.) and the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Scudiery to retire
The anticipated retirement announcement next week of long-time Monmouth County Democratic Committee Chairman Vic Scudiery ends a two decade plus term of service for the Newark native who built his business career on the Bayshore.
On his retirement at the end of the year, Scudiery will have served 22 years as party chair. His political pinnacle was short-lived, as Scudiery finally built a majority on the freeholder board with the Obama wave in 2008. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
NJ state workers won’t get Friday after Thanksgiving off anymore
State workers will have to suffer through their turkey hangovers while sitting at their desks.
Unlike last year, they won’t be getting the Friday after Thanksgiving off.
And unlike last year, the largest state workers union, the Communications Workers of America, isn’t pressing the issue. “I’m quite sure we’ll end up working,” said Hetty Rosenstein, the union’s state director. “I can’t imagine Christie’s giving us the day off.”
A 2009 agreement with former Gov. Jon Corzine allowed state workers last year to trade Lincoln’s Birthday — normally a day off — for Black Friday. Gov. Chris Christie tried to reverse that agreement last year, but he was overruled by the Public Employment Relations Commission. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Unity, division on school reform
IT IS something that both sides finally agree on: The education system in New Jersey needs to be reformed. How the sides propose to go about doing that is another matter indeed.
Last week, at its annual meeting, the New Jersey Education Association announced its broad education reform agenda. But because of the acrimonious relationship between Governor Christie and the state teachers union, because the NJEA is in the midst of a domestic dispute with many Democratic legislators who supported the governor on state employee pension and benefit reform, and because the agenda comes without a recommendation of funding source, most view the NJEA agenda as dead in the water. (Harrison, The Record)
N.J. lets wealthy executives live in Pennsylvania, at a big cost
At the end of the working day, you can see the helicopters lift off from Merck and Johnson & Johnson, their happy executives aboard, heading west to their homes in Pennsylvania.
William Weldon, the CEO at J&J, has a helicopter pad near his home in Bucks County. At Merck, a helicopter shuttles executives back to Doylestown Airport almost every day — a sensible move given that the firm’s top three executives all live in Pennsylvania.
The reason they are flying the coop each night is simple: They are taking advantage of a quirk in the law that lets them pay income taxes to the state in which they choose to live, not the state in which they work. So they shopped for homes in Pennsylvania. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Winning county clerk race gives Bergen Dems new hope
Swearing-in ceremonies for newly elected county clerks rarely become pageants, replete with programs, on the steps of the county courthouse. But then again, clerks rarely have two U.S. senators invited to deliver remarks.
But that’s what is planned Tuesday for Bergen County Clerk-elect John Hoga
n. Rep. Steve Rothman will conduct the ceremonial swearing-in, and Sen. Bob Menendez, who is running for reelection next year, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, will deliver remarks.
State Sen. Barbara Buono of Middlesex County, a likely candidate for governor in 2013, is attending. And so is Democratic State Chairman John Wisniewski, an assemblyman from Middlesex County. (Stile, The Record)
Chris Christie scores points on sick-leave abuse
One issue on which I agree 100 percent with the governor is on the need to eliminate payouts for unused sick pay for public employees.
He made that point in this lunch-time speech to the League of Municipalities last week. It looks like he got their attention. The guy on the right stopped eating lunch, not like in the prior clip I posted. (Mulshine, The Star-Ledger)
In Princeton, a chance to share a new yoke
There’s Princeton, and then there’s Princeton.
After Princeton Borough and Princeton Township merge, only one Mercer County municipality will officially claim the famous name.
Voters on Nov. 8 approved consolidating the urbane village and the handsome suburb, which already are entwined by geography, history, shared services – and the powerful presence of the Princeton University campus, on the borough’s Nassau Street.
Elections next November will select a single mayor and council to head the blended government of a bigger, and perhaps better, Borough of Princeton. (Riordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Don’t believe the hype about ‘free’ health care
When you hear the U.S. government now requires all health insurance plans to cover a certain medical procedure, it may feel like a win for consumers. The part they don’t tell you is what this new mandated coverage is actually costing on the back end — hence driving up premiums.
One mandate in New Jersey allows coverage for four cycles of in-vitro fertilization (per lifetime) for employees of companies with more than 50 employees, which can cost the carrier upwards of $40,000; the costs don’t stop there. With in-vitro fertilization, mothers often have multiple births, premature births and/or high-risk pregnancies requiring more monitoring, and more costs all around. (Ebner for NJBIZ)
Journalist ignored the stereotypes
In the late ’60s there was a brand of cigarette marketed to young professional women with the slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” At the time we said yeah, women have made so much progress they can now get lung cancer at a rate equal to men.
This came to mind Thursday at the meeting of Women In Municipal Government at the annual League of Municipalities convention here. In the room were women who headed state departments, led cities as mayors and otherwise rose to leadership challenges.
One of the participants pointed out that although New Jersey has elected a female governor and had women leading the courts and Attorney General’s Office, just 79 of the state’s 566 municipalities have women at the helm. That’s like 14 percent representation of a group that is more than 50 percent of the population. (Ingle, Gannett)
In case you missed it
Christie wants to borrow billions to fix roads, bridges
Governor Christie is seeking the Legislature’s permission to borrow several billion dollars for transportation projects, even though New Jersey voters said in 2008 they want final say over new state debt.
The governor — a fiscal conservative who once said new debt should not be issued without voter approval — needs the borrowed money because he wants to spend $8 billion over the next five years to upgrade Ne
w Jersey’s aging transportation infrastructure, and he won’t have enough funds coming in just from the state budget or outside sources such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to do so. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
N.J. politicians gather in Atlantic City for networking event that dates back to ‘Boardwalk Empire’ era
Josh Pruzansky’s head was spinning by the time he entered the Aqua Room at the Borgota on Wednesday night. A lobbyist for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, it was his first time at a League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” Pruzansky said as drink-wielding politicians and hangers-on swirled around him. (Megerian, The Star-Ledger)
Appeals court denies stay, keeps judge pay intact
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday lost the latest round in his fight to compel state judges to pay more for their pension and health-care benefits, after a panel of appellate judges refused to stay a lower court’s ruling declaring the increased deductions unconstitutional.
The three-judge panel denied the state’s motion for a stay, which would have allowed the state to continue deducting additional funds from the jurists’ paychecks throughout the appeals process. (Golson, Reuters)
Newark pols urge caution on UMDNJ-Rutgers merger
Officials in Newark said that it’s important the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey remain a major presence in the city if the school is merged into Rutgers University.
Mayor Cory Booker, State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, and other local officials held a news conference Friday to express their concerns over the consequences of a merger. (Associated Press)
Nearly 160,000 students in New Jersey’s school lunch program are ineligible, state senator says
The school board president and two other individuals connected to the Elizabeth school district have been accused of illegally signing up their children for the federal school lunch program, but according to state Sen. Michael Doherty, that’s just the “tip of the iceberg.”
Standing before members of the East Jersey Tea Party, Doherty suggested the state auditor had determined that nearly 160,000 students across the state were receiving free or reduced-price meals when they shouldn’t be. (Wichert, PolitiFact New Jersey)
South Jersey congressman spent $9,000 from campaign funds on donor’s wedding
A three-night stay at a five-star hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, for a wedding: $7,725.
A set of china from Bloomingdale’s for the bride and groom: $463.
Cab rides, meals, tips and airline baggage fees: $953.
Expensing it to your campaign account: Priceless.
In June, U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1st Dist.) and his family visited Edinburgh for a wedding — part of a larger European vacation. There, Andrews, his wife and two teenage daughters stayed at the Balmoral Hotel in the center of town, which bills itself as a “luxury hotel in the true sense of the word.” The price was indeed five-star: Two rooms for three nights cost $7,725. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Moody’s keeps negative credit outlook on Turnpike Authority
A Wall Street ratings agency is maintaining the New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s negative credit outlook, citing Go
vernor Christie’s decision to divert money from the authority to prop up state transportation spending as a factor.
Moody’s Investors Service did not lower the authority’s overall credit rating, but kept a negative credit outlook for the authority’s $8.4 billion in debt in place, saying in a report issued this week that high unemployment and a poor economy in general mean less forecasted traffic and revenue. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
Economists say New Jersey, region positioned for recovery
Prominent economists say New Jersey is a bit better positioned for the slow recovery facing the nation, and two see additional reasons for optimism about the shore tourism economy.
An impressive roster of experts brought together for the state’s first Economic Forum on Monday were in broad agreement that the U.S. recovery will be a long slow grind, but New Jersey differs in ways that are mostly positive. (Post, Press of Atlantic City)
Group takes on N.J. education policy
A new organization is seeking to become an authoritative voice in the debate over how to improve New Jersey schools, giving Republican Gov. Chris Christie a deep-pocketed, well-connected and bipartisan ally and the state’s biggest teachers union a new foil.
The group, Better Education for Kids, made its presence known in politics spent about $400,000 to boost four legislative candidates. For the past few weeks, it’s been holding meetings with teachers and education reform proponents to try to find some common ground. (Mulvihill, Associated Press)
Delaware River watershed fracking: Panel’s support for drilling falls apart
Support on a regional commission to open up the Delaware River watershed to gas drilling has fallen apart.
The four-state Delaware River Basin Commission has postponed a key Monday vote on allowing a trial period for the drilling technique known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, the third time action on the issue has been delayed.
The latest postponement was announced shortly after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell declared his state would vote against the plan, saying he was unable to “conclude that the water resources in the basin will be adequately protected.” (Jordan, Gannett)
Charging electric cars in New Jersey about to get easier
Drivers of plug-in electric vehicles will soon find it easier than ever to charge up in New Jersey, which is at the center of a regional plan to install charging stations across the eastern seaboard.
In this northern New Jersey suburb alone, four public stations are slated to open in municipal parking lots by the end of November.
Last month, New Jersey signed a pledge with nine other states and the District of Columbia to create a regional network of charging stations for electric vehicles so drivers can eventually travel the eastern seaboard from Maine to Maryland and recharge anywhere along the way. (Kaysen, Reuters)
N.J. Indonesian immigrants facing deportation for overstaying tourism visas
For Harry Tuwo, home is a second-floor apartment in Edison, where Disney characters dance on the television and his wife, Rita Pauned, clips coupons to save money. The couple’s wedding picture, taken by a lake near Stone Mountain in Georgia, hangs above the couch, across the room from the Last Supper.
Home is where Tuwo returns after double shifts as a hibachi chef at a Japanese restaurant. It’s where their 9-year-old daughter Angela’s artwork is tacked to the wall and where their daughter Georgia, 2, receives regular therapy for Down syndrome. (Megerian, The Star-Ledger)
NJ beach replenishment project focusing on safety
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already proved it can create a wider beach at America’s oldest seashore resort.
Now it will attempt to prove it can create a safer one.
A new $9 million beach replenishment project has begun that will include the traditional and the innovative. In the coming weeks, the 305-foot dredge Texas will pump in 620,000 cubic yards of sand from a borrow area 3.4 miles offshore. That’s the traditional way of doing things. (Associated Press)
Homes under pressure
Those looking for signs of a recovery in New Jersey home values may need to take the long view, as more than 100,000 homeowners are dealing with foreclosures that are stalled in court and another 48,000 are way behind on mortgage payments.
The numbers were among the results of a national mortgage delinquency survey released this week that suggest a backlog of unresolved foreclosures in New Jersey could be a drag on home prices for years to come. (Barbanel, The Wall Street Journal)