Morning News Digest: November 23, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Democrats try to mold Hogan’s Bergen swearing-in into spring board for more wins
Visually, Bergen County Clerk John Hogan’s swearing-in ceremony carried the near grandeur of an FDR inaugural, as the county’s classic courthouse formed the enormous symbolic centerpiece for what Democrats say is the resurgence of their enfeebled party.
You’d never know the GOP still has the majority of freeholders here in this swing county.
Hogan’s win was enough for a day of sustained chest-thumping at the edge of rain.
“The significance of this race is really great,” said U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). “Although it’s chilly out there, it’s warm up here.”
In the company of Lautenberg, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), at least three buzzed-about potential gubernatorial candidates also stood on the steps of the courthouse amid the bunting, bagpipes and drizzle. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Trenton taking Christie’s millions shows mayors losing control
Trenton, the New Jersey capital that fired a third of its police force in September to help close an $18 million budget deficit, could ill afford to reject Governor Chris Christie’s offer of $22 million in aid this year.
The grant was about $13 million less than last year’s and came with a condition: Mayor Tony Mack would have to cede control of decisions, including hiring. Now Christie, a first- term Republican, is poised to keep watch over a Democratic mayor who faced a citizens’ recall effort and two whistleblower lawsuits after just 16 months in office.
Trenton, a onetime factory hub where 23 percent of residents now live in poverty, is among the half of U.S. cities that have had their state aid cut since 2009, according to a September survey by the National League of Cities. Mayors expect revenue to fall for a sixth straight year in 2012 as property- tax collections continue to decline, the group said. (Young, Bloomberg)
In praising Princeton merger, Gov. Christie calls for cuts to aid N.J. towns
Returning to the town that heeded his call and voted to merge, Gov. Chris Christie today hammered away at some more money-saving measures for municipalities.
Christie renewed his call to curb sicktime pay-outs for public workers and to alter the Civil Service system, saying collective bargaining removes the need for both protections.
In a town hall-style talk in Princeton Borough, the governor said Civil Service rules were implemented before public workers could collectively bargain, but that these days having both is redundant.
Civil Service rules govern the hiring and firing of public employees in about a third of the state’s 566 towns.
“The things that Civil Service were there to protect against can be grieved through the collective bargaining system, so why do we have both?” Christie said. “It seems to me you should have one or the other … It’s worse than a belt and suspenders.” (DeMarco, The Star-Ledger)
Christie: Merging isn’t for every town
Gov. Chris Christie threw state support behind the successful effort to consolidate the Princetons into one town, but says he isn’t sure how many more town mergers are in the forecast.
“This has been an effort in the works since 1953,’’ Christie said of the merger of Princeton Township and Princeton Borough, which is expected to be completed within a year and will reduce the number of New Jersey municipalities to 565.
“In New Jersey, as you know, it’s slow and steady. We eventually got there,’’ he said.
Christie held a town hall meeting at the Princeton Public Library, located in the borough, Tuesday, taking a victory lap two weeks after residents of the two towns approved a merger referendum. (Jordan, Gannett)
Disability pension numbers revised
State officials have restated pension disability numbers they had released two months ago because they mixed up the number of applications with the number of actual disabilities approved.
The new numbers from the state Department of Treasury still show, however, that disability pensions have climbed in the aftermath of state Supreme Court decisions in 2007 and 2008 that broadened the ability for workers to obtain accidental disability payments.
There were 288 accidental disability pensions awarded in the fiscal year 2011, which ended June 30. That’s nearly double the 154 awarded in fiscal year 2007.
There were 208 accidental disability pensions awarded in fiscal year 2008, 216 in fiscal year 2009 and 195 in fiscal year 2010. (Method, Gannett)
Powers of persuasion land town contracts
State rules meant to keep any personal influence out of taxpayer-funded contracts have done little to stop one market where businesses can reach the public officials who control the purse strings.
Those businesses flocked to the League of Municipalities Convention last week — as they do each year — where they paid upward of $1,200 for three days on the convention floor to attract the kinds of public contracts that add up to $12 billion in local spending by towns.
In the crowd of vendor booths — a mainstay at the state’s most prominent conference of locally elected politicians — vendors said they hoped mayors would decide to award certain contracts outright and not put them out to bid. Sales staff glad-handed state and local officials they knew, and offered candy and swag to those they didn’t. (Fletcher, The Record)
Spending cuts will harm N.J.
New Jersey faces years of lower federal payments under automatic spending cuts that will begin in 2013 unless Congress comes up with an alternative plan.
The automatic cuts are designed to compensate for a congressional debt-reduction committee’s failure, announced Monday, to agree on at least $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years.
The cuts will total about $1 trillion between 2013 and 2021, combined with $169 billion in lower borrowing costs. Half the cuts will come from defense programs and half will come from nondefense programs.
Officials fear they will have a devastating impact on New Jersey military bases and a host of programs and services fully or partially funded by Washington, such as special education and Community Development Block Grants. (Chebium, Gannett)
Andrews says he will repay campaign for wedding trip
One day after he defended a family trip to Scotland as a legitimate political expense, U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) said he would repay his campaign and redirect the money to homeless veterans.
But Andrews said he would not reimburse his campaign coffers for other events where personal and political have mingled.
In 2009, he spent $33,000 for a party to celebrate his inauguration to the 111th Congress and his daughter Jacquelyn’s Sweet Sixteen party, according to campaign-finance reports. In June, he threw a similar bash at his Haddon Heights home to celebrate his 20 years in Congress and Jacquelyn’s high school graduation. It cost his campaign $10,000, according to financial disclosures.
“Those are absolutely within the spirit and the letter of the law,” Andrews said Tuesday evening. Campaign funds were used solely for the political elements of the parties; he paid for costs of his daughter’s celebrations with his own money. (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
New Jersey workers won’t get post-holiday day off, Christie says
New Jersey state employees won’t be given the day after the Thanksgiving holiday as excused time off, Governor Chris Christie said, breaking with tradition.
Workers can only get a four-day weekend starting tomorrow if they use one of their days off following the holiday, Christie, 49, said yesterday. Governors since the 1960s have signed executive orders letting employees skip coming in the day after Thanksgiving each year.
“It’s time to get to work,” Christie said during his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio call-in show on WKXW-FM in Ewing. “People should have access to their state government.”
Christie tried to end the practice last year, yet was overruled by the Public Employment Relations Commission in Trenton. The panel said an agreement between Jon Corzine, the governor’s predecessor in the capitol, and state unions guaranteed workers the extra day off, said Michael Drewniak, a Christie spokesman. That agreement expired in January. (Dopp, Bloomberg)
Survey shows brighter business outlook, but continued weakness in employment
Businesses in New Jersey have reported a second year of improved sales, profits, spending and employment, according to the 2012 Business Outlook Survey conducted by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.
The survey, released today, also revealed a moderately improved outlook for sales, profits and spending in 2012, but the outlook for employment remains weak.
“New Jersey is making progress towards a full recovery, but we aren’t there yet,” said NJBIA President Philip Kirschner. “There is some improvement, but many businesses continue to struggle, and they are understandably reluctant to hire.”
Nearly twice as many companies reported laying off employees as reported hiring in 2011, leaving the survey’s current-employment indicator at a negative level for the fourth consecutive year. The forecast for 2012 shows only 15 percent of companies plan to hire, 13 percent will make employment cuts and 71 percent will remain stable. (Bourbeau, NJBIZ)
Healthcare drives private-sector employment in Garden State
Healthcare accounted for nearly half of the private-sector jobs created during the past 12 months, and this job creation engine has been rolling along for years. Between 1990 and 2009, three of every five jobs created in New Jersey were in healthcare “and that’s a pretty astounding number,” said Aaron Fichtner, assistant commissioner for labor planning and analysis in the state Department of Labor. “It’s safe to say healthcare has been our strongest industry in New Jersey overall,” he noted.
Numbers like these have inspired a major initiative to train New Jerseyans who receive public assistance for careers in healthcare. The goal of the Northern New Jersey Health Professionals Consortium is to help 5,000 people escape poverty by entering the healthcare industry over the next five years. Classes began at community colleges during the summer, and so far 368 have enrolled and 22 have finished school and landed jobs, according to Justin E. Doheny, project director. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Health Department recommends reopening Pascack Valley Hospital
Hackensack University Medical Center is one step closer to reopening a community hospital on the grounds of Pascack Valley Hospital.
The Department of Health and Senior Services issued its recommendation to the State Health Planning Board in support of Hackensack UMC’s bid to open a 128-bed hospital at the Westwood site, where the hospital currently is operating a satellite emergency department. The report said the plans to open HUMC North satisfy the certificate of need issued in February.
The recommendation from the Health Department is one of the required steps in the process of reopening the facility, which closed in 2007 after filing for bankruptcy. The planning board is scheduled to meet Tuesday, and Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd ultimately will make the final approval or denial of the project. (Caliendo, NJBIZ)
Putting a face to New Jersey’s homeschooled students
New Jersey has long been known as one of the least restrictive states when it comes to homeschooling, not only not requiring much of families that choose to educate their own children but also not even keeping track of who they are.
But reacting to a spate of child abuse incidents and other concerns, State Sen. Lorett
a Weinberg (D-Bergen) has moved to try to put in place some rules that she calls “minimal” to at least get some accounting of the children’s existence, along with their health and education.
Weinberg, the incoming Senate majority leader, on Monday introduced legislation that would require homeschooled students to register with their home districts, submit proof of schoolwork, and present an annual medical exam.
This has been a long-running issue for Weinberg, also chairman of the Senate health committee, who sought to place some rules on homeschooled students nearly a decade ago as an Assembly member. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Vineland mayor’s wife pushes for Christie visit
Gov. Chris Christie gave an on-air shout-out to his staff to schedule his January town hall meeting in Vineland during his live radio appearance on New Jersey 101.5 Tuesday night.
During the “Ask the Governor” show Tuesday evening, program director Eric Scott put “Ann from Vineland” on the air with Christie. She asked when the governor was coming to her city.
Although she wasn’t identified as such on air, The Daily Journal confirmed Tueday night the caller was Vineland Mayor Robert Romano’s wife, Ann.
Romano said she and her husband met Christie during his town hall meeting in Hammonton in March and were told then the governor would come to Vineland. (Marko, Gannett)
Park service may block Delaware Water Gap power line project
The much-contested Susquehanna-Roseland power line project plowed into another hurdle yesterday, when the U.S. National Park Service issued a draft environmental impact statement saying that the environmentally preferred alternative among six options is not to build the line at all.
While the NPS emphasized it had not yet selected a final alternative, its decision boosted hopes among environmentalists who oppose the project, which cuts through three units of the national park system, including the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
“For the NPS to choose the no-build alternative is a very big deal,” said Julia Somers, executive director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, one of several environmental groups that have gone to court to try and stop the project. “Will it count in the end? It’s certainly a hurdle they will have to get over,” she said. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
GOP candidate says website gaffe led to lawsuit by Dem councilman
Former Republican Councilman Gary Burns says defamation claims against him in a civil suit stem from miscommunication and mistakes that a contract employee made.
Burns also said Monday that he will contest the suit that his Election Day rival, reelected Democratic Councilman Mark Yampaglia, filed Oct. 21 in state Superior Court.
Yampaglia contends that Burns and Kirk Del Russo — his two Republican opponents in the November election — published false accounts of him being “indicted” over his association with the non-profit organization Project Freedom Fund, which had been subjected to a state investigation. (Hampton, The Record)
Town seeks FEMA aid for buyouts
At least 14 borough homeowners wearied by repeated flooding may have a light at the end of the tunnel now that efforts have been put in motion to seek federal funding to buy out their properties, officials announced this week.
Mayor Robert Sherr said he met with a dozen of those homeowners on Saturday, asking for signatures to proceed with funding applications through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Severe Repetitive Loss Program. That relief initiative exists to help residents who have four or more documented losses, each resulting in claims of no less than $5,000, Sherr explained. (Spivey, Gannett)
N.J. Sen. Doherty: Thousands of ineligible students enjoy free school lunches
New Jersey Sen. Michael Doherty (R-23) has his eye on trimming the fat from the state’s school lunch program. The first dilemma: How much fat is there?
ng before a group of Tea Party supporters on Nov. 3, Doherty, a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, insisted that 37 percent of all school lunch recipients are ineligible, according to The Star-Ledger.
After fielding criticism that his numbers exaggerated the potential fraud, Doherty recently said he stands behind his math. “The amount of fraud in the free and reduced school lunch program is massive and the cost to the taxpayers is enormous,” the senator stated, according to a statement on his website. “It runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars.” (Soltes, New Jersey Newsroom)
Retaining evidence at issue in battle for legislation
An advocacy group that works on behalf of wrongly convicted prisoners says New Jersey needs a uniform law to govern the storage of biological evidence so the rights of those prisoners are better protected.
But the attorney general’s office tells State Street Wire that there’s already an attorney general’s directive statewide covering evidence retention and that such a law is unnecessary. (Hooker, State Street Wire)
Christie: ‘RGGI will collapse up and down the Eastern Seaboard’
The talk on Tuesday afternoon at the Princeton Library was advertised as a discussion between Gov. Chris Christie and elected officials from Princeton Borough and Princeton Township about the consolidation of the two municipalities, after a referendum passed this month.
But it didn’t take long for the “conversation” to morph into another town hall meeting where Gov. Chris Christie is at his most animated. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Bill would address issue of tenured employees and shared services
The problem of towns sharing services and rendering certain employees redundant is addressed in a bill introduced this week.
Under S3104, dubbed the “Common Sense Shared Services Act,” sponsored by Sen. Donald Norcross, (D-5), Camden, the law would be revised so that a tenured, statutorily-required employee, such as a municipal clerk or a tax collector, could still be removed from their post in order to carry out a shared service agreement or a joint contract for the services of their positions. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Lesniak, Van Drew introduce sports betting bill
Two senators have introduced a bill to permit Atlantic City casinos and racetracks in the state to conduct betting on professional and collegiate sports.
Under S3113, sponsored by Sens. Raymond Lesniak and Jeff Van Drew, the Casino Control Commission would be allowed to grant licenses and the Division of Gaming Enforcement would regulate the operations. (Mooney, State Street Wire)