Morning News Digest: November 25, 2011

Morning News Digest: November 25, 2011

By Missy Rebovich

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Governor and First Lady honor volunteer at Burlington food pantry

A day before Thanksgiving, Governor Chris Christie and First Lady Mary Pat Christie volunteered Wednesday at the Ladle of Love food pantry in Burlington City and honored the volunter service of eight-year old Aidan McManus.

Since the age of five, Aiden hs helped feed the homeless and those in need in Burlington County. According to the governor’s office, through writing, illustrating and selling comic books, organizing movie nights and giving speeches on how to make a difference, Aiden has successfully raised nearly $1,000 to donate to his local food pantry, Ladle of Love.  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)



Gov. Christie administration, public employee union yet to reach new contract deal

The Christie administration and the state’s largest public employees union have yet to strike a deal on a new contract despite months of negotiations, but both sides indicated this week that talks remain productive.

The Communications Workers of America, which represents about 50,000 state workers, have been working without a contract since their previous four-year deal expired in July.

“We are talking, and both sides are negotiating in good faith,” said Rae Roeder, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1033, which represents about 7,000 state workers spread out among various departments.

Roeder declined to go into specifics, but did mention a disagreement over the Christie administration’s decision to privatize mail sorting and data entry work within the Treasury Department that will cost 301 employees their jobs.  (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)



N.J. might owe federal government $35M for improper Medicaid bills, documents reveal

New Jersey may have improperly billed Medicaid as much as $35 million since 2005 for mental health services, raising the possibility that the state and various agencies will have to repay the federal government, according to state and federal documents.

An audit made public Nov. 4 by the inspector general of the federal Department of Health and Human Services have questioned $5 million the state billed Medicaid for administrative expenses to reimburse private agencies that provide counseling and other services, according to documents obtained by The Star-Ledger.

Maximus, a private company that the state contracted to scour the Medicaid program looking for ways to bring in additional money, included “unallowable” salary and overhead costs unrelated to serving clients, according to the audit.  (Livio, The Star-Ledger)



Christie opposes handgun leniency

Governor Christie opposes a push in Congress that would effectively override New Jersey’s strict laws against concealed handguns, even though the state’s entire Republican delegation in the House voted for it this month.

A bill providing “right-to-carry reciprocity” — allowing anyone who has a valid permit to carry a weapon in their home state to carry it any other state — passed the House on Nov. 16. A similar measure could come up in the Senate next week.

New Jersey makes it very difficult for anyone but law enforcement officers to carry weapons. Holders of carry permits from other states must lock their guns away when entering New Jersey.  (Jackson, The Record) 



N.J. treasurer: $1.2 trillion in federal savings would not significantly hurt state budget

State Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff said Wednesday the $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts triggered by a congressional committee’s failure to reach a deficit reduction agreement would not significantly harm New Jersey’s budget.

The bipartisan panel, which was established this summer, failed to reach an agreement earlier in the week, setting off a defaul
t plan to make across-the-board-spending cuts.

The reductions in spending will come from the military budget and a host of domestic programs. But Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps and other federal programs, which states rely heavily on, were spared from the budget ax.  (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)



N.J. Senate leader Sweeney’s advisers often come from outside political spotlight

Nothing becomes law in New Jersey without Stephen Sweeney’s OK.

As president of the state Senate – reelected unanimously to that position for a second two-year term – the Democrat decides which bills advance or die, determining the fate of Gov. Christie’s bold agenda.

And helping Sweeney with his agenda is a tight circle of friends and advisers, several from his home turf of Gloucester County. Some are lawyers, others current or former lobbyists. One is a pastor. They have advised him on issues such as picking judges, overhauling worker benefits, and rethinking education. 

Overall, it’s a group defined by loyalty – “the labor guy’s creed,” says Sweeney, an organizer with the ironworkers.  (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



As lameduck period begins, Assembly panel to consider ‘Back to Work NJ’ job training bill

The Assembly on Monday will begin what is scheduled as a three-week lame duck session with committee meetings where lawmakers will consider renewed legislation to create the Back to Work NJ job creation program and bills to help employers stave off layoffs, assist local governments repair Hurricane Irene damage, strengthen teen driver safety, promote the state’s wine industry, help juveniles forced into prostitution get services they need and protect the state from cyber terrorism.

The Labor Committee will consider legislation (A-4332) sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) to establish the Back to Work NJ program to help out-of-work residents receive job training from potential employers. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar bill earlier this year. A similar program is in effect in Georgia, and President Obama has included the concept in his jobs program.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



NJ lawmaker to consumers: Please shop locally

A New Jersey state lawmaker is reminding shoppers not to forget the local guy.

Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo is encouraging consumers to patronize community retailers as the holiday shopping season gets under way.

The Mercer County Democrat suggests that customers spend “Small Business Saturday” shopping locally. Small Business Saturday is the day after Black Friday and two days before Cyber Monday.

DeAngelo says the support helps small businesses stay in business in a tough economy.

The Small Business Administration estimates there are nearly 780,000 small businesses in New Jersey.  (Associated Press)



Christie picks Morris County lawyer, South Jersey mayor for bench

Gov. Chris Christie intends to nominate two new Superior Court judges, including the mayor of a Gloucester County township and a Morris County municipal lawyer, he informed the Senate this week.

The new judges would be Michael Hubner of Pompton Plains, whose law firm’s clients include local governments, many of them in Christie’s home county of Morris, and Timothy Chell of Sewell, who has been mayor of Mantua for 11 years and counsel for the Gloucester County Democrats, the political base of Senate President Stephen Sweeney.

“It’s fantastic,” said Chell. “It’s been a goal for a number of years, really, something that I’m very excited about.”  (Symons, Gannett)



George Gallup Jr., son of Gallup Poll founder, dies in Princeton at 81

George Gallup Jr., the so
n of the legendary founder of the Gallup Poll, who pushed the polling agency into conducting surveys on religion and the views of youth, died in Princeton, a year after being diagnosed with liver cancer, his family said Wednesday. He was 81.

The Gallup Poll, widely considered to be the premier polling service in the United States, gained fame for predicting President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s re-election victory in 1936. The poll is best known for presidential approval ratings but also gauges public opinion on many topics, including religion, health, jobs and economics.

Born in 1930 in Evanston, Ill., Gallup joined his father’s business in 1954. George Gallup Sr., died in 1984, and a few years later the company was sold to Selection Research, which held onto the well-respected Gallup name and kept both sons, George and Alec, on board.  (Goldberg and Brittain, The Star-Ledger)



Debt reduction: Automatic cuts could hurt N.J. for years

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 non-defense programs.  (Chebium, Gannett)



Syringe ban reconsidered in New Jersey

Capping a fight stretching more than two decades, New Jersey is on the cusp of joining nearly every other state in allowing syringes to be sold without a prescription to those looking for clean needles, including illegal-drug users and diabetics.

If the Legislature passes the bill and Gov. Chris Christie signs it, only Delaware would still require a prescription to buy syringes. Purchasers would have to be older than 18 to buy a package of 10 syringes under the New Jersey bill.  (Haddon, The Wall Street Journal)



Steve Rothman says it costs more to make a penny and nickel than the coins are worth

Penny-pinching holiday shoppers may be more thrifty than you think.

The U.S. Mint spends more to make coins stamped with portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson than the currency is worth, according to U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman.

“Currently it costs more than a penny for the U.S. Mint to make a one cent coin and more than a nickel to make the five cent piece,” Rothman (D-9th Dist.) said in a statement submitted to the Congressional Record on Nov. 2. Rothman’s statement called attention to an opinion article in the New York Times written by a Bergen County freeholder that suggested alternate materials  for penny production.  (O’Neill, PolitiFact New Jersey)



N.J. energy program improves homes

Owning her own home has been Denise Melendez’s dream since she left Puerto Rico more than a decade ago and moved to Camden.

After renting an apartment, the working mother and single parent of two boys eventually bought a house for less than $150,000 in East Camden. She soon discovered repairs were needed.

Through word of mouth from friends and family, Melendez contacted the Comfort Partners Program, a free statewide energy upgrade initiative for low-income families. Now she is saving thousands of dollars on materials, appliances and installation to make her house on Mitchell Street more energy-efficient.  (Comegno, Gannett)



Bill clarifying student loan obligations reintroduces in Congress

When the Bryski family of Marlton contacted their congressman in 2009, they told his staff about their son’s death and the burden of the student loan debt they had inherited. The next September, a bill named in honor of their son, Christopher, passed the U.S. House.

But then the bill’s shepherd, U.S. Rep
. John Adler (D., N.J.), was defeated in the November 2010 election. In the spring, Adler, 51, of Cherry Hill, died suddenly of an infection after heart surgery.

The House bill, which aimed to further clarify the student loan process to borrowers, expired in 2010, and a similar measure proposed in the U.S. Senate failed to become law.  (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Outrage over youth incentives

Camden County officials are outraged over a court program that rewards juvenile offenders with gifts such as computers and iPods for completing their probation, according to the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill.

Freeholders issued a news release this week demanding the state courts end the program, which is offered only in Camden County. The statement described the program as a “disgraceful expenditure of taxpayers’ funds” that sends the wrong message.

The freeholders said many other children are working hard in school to get good grades or to find jobs to help their families and cannot afford iPods, notebook computers, and similar items.  (Associated Press)



Local politicians gather to aid Lupus research

MSNBC host Willie Geist was staring at the giant whale hanging from the American Museum of Natural History’s ceiling, during this week’s “Life Without Lupus” gala. “Boy if I knew how that stayed up there,” he joked. “I’d be doing something else!”

The newsman was the evening’s emcee, cracking jokes for local politicians who came out to support the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation, which helps fund research to combat its titular ailment. Guests included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New Jersey Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.  (Vilensky, The Wall Street Journal)



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Dems offer $140M Transitional Aid bill

A bill that seeks to restore transitional aid and additional funds for program oversight has been submitted by Senate Democrats.

This legislation calls for $140.5 million for the Department of Community Affairs, of which $139 million would go to eligible municipalities experiencing financial distress in the current fiscal year. An additional $1.5 million would be available to pay for administrative costs associated with the Transitional Aid to Localities program and with the oversight of any municipalities.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



More than $10M headed to N.J. for storm-related highway-repair work

The Federal Highway Administration has awarded more than $10 million in grants for reconstruction and repair of state and federal roads in New Jersey that were damaged by Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and flooding in August.  (Staff, State Street Wire)



Passaic River Basin towns receive grant to help combat flooding

The Department of Environmental Protection on Wednesday said it has awarded a $350,000 grant to four towns in Morris and Passaic counties for efforts to prevent future flooding.

DEP issued the grant for the Passaic River Basin in an effort to improve water flow as well.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)






Political stories for which we give thanks

Before Trenton plunges into the politics of the “lame duck” session, it’s time to reflect on this year’s political turkeys, my col­lection of memorable blunders, bad decisions and episodes of bad taste that marked 2011.

Here are a few of my favorites….(Stile, The Record)



Cherry Hill tea party keeps the faith

As a tour guide at Independence National Historical Park in the 1990s, Barbara Davis would talk about the nation’s past while fearing for its future.

“Things were changing in our country,” recalls the Cherry Hill resident, 77. “I thought to myself, ‘These things I’m saying [to tourists] about liberty and freedom are not what’s happening now.’ It really made me very sad.”

Her feelings of sadness have given way to a sense of empowerment: Davis is cochair of the Cherry Hill Area Tea Party. The organization started two years ago with seven people in her living room and now has between 250 and 300 active members.  (Riordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



The future of UMDNJ in Newark: What’s behind curtain number three?

Two panels, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to sort out higher education issues, have recommended merging Rutgers University in New Brunswick (geography is important to this story) with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, in the New Brunswick area. Rutgers cannot be “great” without its own medical school, the task force reports said.

But what about Newark, where UMDNJ has medical, dental and nursing schools as
well as research programs. There is also a trauma center that consistently
brings ’em back alive from major accidents and mayhem. And Rutgers has a Newark
campus, with a law school, researchers and other components that should add up
to great.  (Whitlow, The Star-Ledger)

  Morning News Digest: November 25, 2011