Morning News Digest: November 28, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Christie slow to eliminate part-time employees from troubled retirement system
The boards of elections in the state’s 21 counties have frequently been used as a coveted parking spot for the well-connected, attracting such political bosses as Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore and the wife of Essex County power broker Stephen Adubato Sr.
The part-time gig wouldn’t make someone rich, but it often came with gold-plated health benefits that could extend into retirement. It also allowed people to build up valuable time in the retirement system or cobble the job together with another public position for a higher pension.
That decades-old practice was supposed to change after Gov. Chris Christie joined with Democrats in March 2010 to pass legislation that would ultimately eliminate part-timers from the financially troubled retirement system, cutting off their access to health benefits and steering them into 401(k)-style plans. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
Christie administration considering ‘model curriculum’ for low-performing schools
The Christie administration is launching an effort to create a “model curriculum” for low-performing schools — its most aggressive step yet to dictate not only what is taught but also how and when it is taught.
As part of a new accountability system proposed to the federal government, the state’s Department of Education is beginning a year-long process that will see the first specific content outlines and school-based assessments in place for language arts and math by next fall, officials said.
Most of that initial effort will reflect the national Common Core State Standards already developed in those subject areas and adopted in more than 40 states, including New Jersey. But the state will do the same for other areas such as the arts, physical education, and world languages. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Vendor tactics prompt review
The League of Municipalities says it is reviewing guidelines for vendors and may require them to undergo training before they can make pitches to local officials at its annual convention.
The decision comes after The Record reported last week that many vendors hoped to bypass state contracting rules and sell directly to local officials during this month’s event in Atlantic City. League representatives say some vendors may have broken the law.
Vendors who spoke to The Record during the three-day event said they came there knowing that local officials could choose whether to put contracts out for public bidding. Some said they intended to persuade visiting officials from towns not to seek bids for certain service contracts and aimed instead to win the business directly. (Fletcher, The Record)
Christie nominates two to be judges
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.”
Hubner, 59, is Pequannock’s township attorney and a partner in a Riverdale law firm that provided legal sevices to 23 county and local governments in 2010. The firm’s partners include Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, who is among the Morris Republicans to have received campaign donations from Hubner over the years. (Symons, Gannett)
NJ Assembly takes up job-training bill again
A state Assembly panel is set to reconsider a job training bill that Gov. Chris Christie previously vetoed.
The measure before the Labor Committee establishes a program for residents to receive job training from prospective employers while still collecting unemployment benefits. Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, it’s modeled on a similar program in Georgia.
It would cost taxpayers $3 million.
The bill allows people to work up to 24 hours a week , for six weeks , for an employer who will soon be hiring for the position. It also provides up to $100 per week to defray training-related costs, including transportation and child care. (Associated Press)
N.J. Sen. Weinberg introduces measure opposing federal Right-to-Carry bill proposal
Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) announced Friday she has introduced a legislative resolution condemning the “National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011,” saying that the federal proposal would undermine New Jersey’s gun control laws and states’ traditional role in deciding the best gun control strategies for each individual state.
“Historically, states have been given the right of self-determination when it comes to gun control,” Weinberg said. “Regardless of how you feel about New Jersey’s gun control laws, the federal legislation which was recently passed by the House would set a terrible precedent, and opens the door for Second Amendment activists elsewhere in the country to override New Jersey’s own laws. Hopefully, Governor Christie and our Congressional leaders will stand up for our state and oppose this overreaching federal bill.” (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Bill introduced in N.J. Senate would require residents to be told where, when sewer systems overflow
The chairman of the state Senate’s environment committee has introduced a bill to require that residents be told when and where outdated sewer systems overflow and spill a dangerous brew into New Jersey’s waterways.
Under the legislation, cities and towns would have to report sewage spills to the state Department of Environmental Protection within 24 hours. State officials would then be required to alert nearby residents online, through a radio or television announcement, and in a local newspaper.
Cities and towns would also be required to submit written reports detailing each spill to the state within five calendar days. At places where sewage spills routinely occur, municipalities would have to post signs warning people about the risk of the raw or diluted waste.
The bill comes in the aftermath of an article that appeared in The Star-Ledger in September saying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pressuring the Christie administration to crack down on antiquated sewer systems, which dump more than 23 billion gallons of waste into rivers and the ocean each year. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. Assembly bill would make it easier for unincorporated businesses to operate
Assemblymen John J. Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) and Scott T. Rumana (R-Passaic) have introduced bipartisan legislation designed to make New Jersey more attractive for businesses and more competitive for good-paying jobs.
The bill (A-4359) modernizes the rules governing the formation of limited liability companies in the state.
Burzichelli and Rumana are both members of the state Red Tape Review Commission formed by Gov. Chris Christie to find ways to eliminate unnecessary regulation and help stimulate economic development.
The bill would modernize regulations for creating and operating LLCs – a form of unincorporated business organization that provides corporate-style limited liability to its owners with partnership-like capacity. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
How to win an Assembly seat without getting elected
The death earlier this month of Assemblyman Peter Biondi of the 16th District sets in motion what has become a common way to for politicians to gain a seat in the Statehouse without standing for election: The party convention.
It’s a process in which the county committee members of the party that had controlled the seat gather at a convention and pick a successor. That person will hold the seat until the term is up.
Once in Trenton and backed by the power of incumbency, the odds are any legislator, whether elected by voters or chosen b
y the party elite, will stay there for as long as he or she wants. That could be decades.
“Incumbency is definitely an advantage,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “That power of being an official in office and having all the trappings of the office, the ability to do all those ‘nonpolitical events,’ certainly have an added impact on voters, to get them to know who you are and like you.” (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Perth Amboy may become a hub of wind turbine industry
Perth Amboy officials are pursuing state help to turn a 100-acre waterfront site into a hub of wind turbine manufacturing, hoping to bring hundreds of green-energy jobs to the Middlesex County city.
A bill in the Assembly would expand a law that targets aid for a new port in Paulsboro, Gloucester County. Companies that set up wind energy facilities in Paulsboro can grab shares of up to $100 million in state tax credits.
The amendment would make other sites eligible for the tax breaks in support of offshore wind — including Perth Amboy, where green manufacturing companies would have easy access to major highways and rail lines as well as Newark Liberty International Airport, a city official said. (Jordan, Gannett)
Port Authority salaries climbed $5 million last year, despite job cuts
A Port Authority police lieutenant was the agency’s sixth-highest paid employee in 2010 at $236,564, earning more than the superintendent of police and the two deputy chiefs to whom he reports, thanks to $112,466 in overtime last year.
Three Port Authority police lieutenants and four sergeants outearned Superintendent of Police Michael Fedorko’s $215,098 because of overtime pay, according to Port Authority salary records. Two deputy chiefs who earn $157,558 each also were left in the fiscal dust by the seven officers’ total pay for 2010.
An examination of salary and overtime records for 2010 and 2009 obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the authority, which increased tolls and PATH train fares this fall, spent $5 million more on salaries in 2010 than it did in 2009. This happened despite boasts by authority officials that the agency trimmed its work force as a cost-cutting measure. (Higgs, Gannett)
Gambling on a comeback for Atlantic City
Six months after the state’s takeover of Atlantic City’s tourism district, a new man has been installed at the helm of the city’s powerful redevelopment agency, and state officials are working quickly to detail plans for reviving this ailing resort.
John Palmieri, a 30-year economic development veteran, began his job last month as head of the powerful Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), a state agency that has taken control of the planning, development and marketing of the city’s casino district. The zone, dubbed the Atlantic City Tourism District, encompasses the beach, boardwalk, casinos, Marina District, Gardener’s Basin, Bader Field, and downtown retail and entertainment districts. (Chesler, NJ Spotlight)
NJ considers options for developmentally disabled
The commissioner tried to explain why New Jersey needs to close one of its seven institutions for the developmentally disabled if it is to care for more of the 40,000 adults in the state who can’t take care of themselves.
But she was nearly drowned out by boos and catcalls from those in favor of the status quo: public employees with jobs at stake and families of residents at the Vineland Developmental Center who don’t want their loved ones relocated.
Nearly lost amid the throng at the raucous hearing earlier this year was the mother of Derek Legutko, a 26-year-old with autism who’s living at home while waiting for a community placement. It’s already been four years, and likely to be a lot longer.
Deborah Legutko of Ringwood and her husband, Michael, are both in their late 50s. They worry about their ability to keep up the care Derek requires and wonder whether the state will ever offer their son the kind of group-living arrangement they say he needs. (Lipman, Gannett)
By the numbers: New Jersey’s soaring infrastructure costs
Earlier this month, the New Jersey State Planning Commission adopted a sobering infrastructure needs assessment for the state over the next two decades. Although the assessment was based on implementation of the 2002 State Development and Redevelopment Plan, a point often cited by critics, it portrays a staggering requirement to invest in New Jersey’s transportation, environmental, and commerce infrastructure. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
In Newark, a more welcoming response to occupiers
The protesters attracted no drum circles but bobbed their heads to the rap music blasting from a passing sedan.
They have crossed paths with few one-percenters — the group assembles not near Wall Street but across from a moldering shop that sells striped pajamas for 99 cents.
And there has been no pepper spray. But protesters did receive a personal delivery of doughnuts and coffee from the mayor on a recent Saturday night. “It was cold,” Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark said. “I thought it would be nice.”
Indeed, the Occupy Newark protest has unfolded with disarming civility in one of the nation’s grittiest cities.
Since its formation over the past few weeks, beside a row of shuttered storefronts and discount shops in a plaza called Military Park, where a shoelace binds the gate protecting a commemorative cannon, the demonstrators have mostly gathered on weekends. “That’s the time most people can come,” one said plainly. (Flegenheimer, The New York Times)
Medical pot growers face a new hurdle
It took years for advocates of medical marijuana to sell New Jersey lawmakers on the idea of allowing certain patients to legally use pot.
An even bigger task, some advocates are now finding, may be persuading towns to approve places for them to do business.
Eight months after being selected by the state, only two of six groups approved to grow and sell marijuana to qualifying patients have firm sites. Others have run into stiff local opposition, including in Burlington County.
Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey, watched residents of Upper Freehold rally Tuesday against a proposed legal pot farm in their town.
“It struck me,” Wolski said, “as townsfolk with torches and pitchforks chasing them out of town.” (Mulvihill, Associated Press)
Audit: Record number of licensed N.J. accountants are lying about education
New Jersey officials say they have uncovered a disturbing trend this year: A record number of accountants — usually considered among the most honest and trusted professionals — have been lying about their education.
Worse yet, they’ve been lying about a class on ethics.
A recent audit of New Jersey’s licensed bean counters from 2006 to 2008 found that 4 percent of them — about 780 of 20,000 — falsely reported they returned to school for the course, which the state requires them to take every three years.
What’s more, many of those caught by the review were also lying about having taken other continuing education classes, required to keep accountants sharp in areas ranging from getting taxpayers the largest refunds to keeping tabs on millions of dollars in public money. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
Number of N.J. residents receiving food stamps doubled in last four years
The number of New Jersey residents receiving food stamps has doubled in the past four years and is at its highest level in more than a decade as the nation’s still sputtering economy continues to take its toll on the poorest residents of the Garden State, state and federal data show.
As of September, the most recent data released by the state Department of Human Services, more than 400,000 households and nearly 822,000 people were enrolled in the food stamp program, meaning nearly one out of every 10 residents in New Jersey receives assistance.
Larena Reed a 49-year-old Newark resident, has been on food stamps since 2007. The former county worker, nurse and security officer now spends much of her time tending to her elderly mother, and although she doesn’t like being enrolled in the food stamp program, it’s become a necessity. (Sagara and Stirling, The Star-Ledger)
Effort to keep the lights on in Camden
Instead of the Grinch, it could be scrap-metal bandits who steal Christmas this year from some Camden residents.
The big snowflakes that have decorated the Broadway and Ferry Avenue area in the Waterfront South section of Camden in recent years can’t be hung because of damaged light posts.
“We have our troubles,” said Ferry Avenue resident Cassie MacDonald, “but we enjoy beauty as much as everyone else.”
Hundreds of streetlights are out throughout Camden, a nine-square-mile city often ranked among the most dangerous in the country. The outages are mostly due to the theft of copper wires from the light posts, but sometimes an entire pole is gone or lightbulbs are shot out. (Vargas, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Layoffs deter law enforcement: Fewer arrests made for minor crimes
Police in Camden and four other New Jersey cities hit hard by police layoffs are making fewer arrests for minor offenses — a trend that experts fear could lead to a rise in the most serious crimes.
“People are committing crimes and they’re not suffering the consequences for it,” said Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk. “I think it has emboldened those who are committing the crimes. They do not get arrested and, consequently, they continue committing these crimes.”
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. (Mulvihill, Associated Press)
New Jersey Tea Party blames Barack Obama for unemployment of 540,000 blacks since January 2009
Black and recently unemployed? Blame President Barack Obama, says the New Jersey Tea Party.
“Since Obama took office, a net of 540,000 additional black Americans – Obama’s strongest supporters – have lost their jobs,” the Tea Party retweeted to its followers on Sept. 2. The original tweet came from Ken Gardner, a junior fellow for The Right Sphere, a conservative website, and was retweeted by Jeff Weingarten, president of Morristown Tea Party Organization.
Pinning a race’s employment status solely on the president of the United States seemed rather strong so PolitiFact New Jersey checked the statement. Turns out the unemployment statistic in the tweet is accurate, but blaming the president is less clear. (Shinske, PolitiFact New Jersey)
New Jersey public schools: a bottomless money pit
A new study by the Common Sense Institute of New Jersey, Misleading the Taxpayer: The Per-Pupil Expenditure Dilemma, confirms what some analysts have been asserting for years, namely, that the real per-pupil costs of New Jersey’s public schools are understated. In fact, the actual cost per pupil is as much as $14,000 more than the official data sh
ow. In other districts, the discrepancy is much less.
As the CISNJ study reports, “In 2010, New Jersey‘s local, state, and federal expenditures for its public Pre-K–12 system totaled $24.1 billion dollars…” Yes, thanks to one of the Supreme Court’s Abbott decisions, New Jersey has to pay for pre-K schools in so-called at risk districts even though the state constitution does not require public funds for such expenditures. In short, the Supreme Court overstepped its judicial duties by imposing on the taxpayers of the state a new financial mandate. (Sabrin for PolitickerNJ)
A rising stock market in 2012 could reelect Obama – and Christie
I am a diligent student of economics, but not an expert. Currently, I am reading a growing number of predictions for a rising American stock market in 2012; however, I am in no position to pass judgement as to their likelihood.
These predictions are based largely on two premises: 1) The collapse of the euro will result in a flight to the dollar and growing investment in American stocks, rather than Treasury bills, which may face another downgrade; 2) Corporate profits will continue to increase, enabling blue chip stocks to sustain higher prices levels. While these analysts opine that unemployment is unlikely to decline below eight percent, they also predict a gross domestic product growth of 2-2.5%, avoiding a recession.
If one assumes these predictions to have a good possibility of accuracy, the political consequences are more foreseeable. Such a rising stock market will 1) vastly enhance President Barack Obama’s reelection chances in 2012; and 2) virtually assure Chris Christie’s reelection as governor of New Jersey in 2013. (Steinberg for PolitickerNJ)
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Gov. Chris Christie’s honeymoon over?
Mayor Cory Booker of Newark said he and Gov. Chris Christie used to “text like teenagers.” Now, Booker can’t get Christie on the phone.
Booker, who was flanked by Essex County Democrats at a City Hall news conference last week, said he was looking for guarantees that any reorganization of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey would benefit the city of Newark and Essex County. He said he was unhappy with the responses he was getting from Christie.
“I have spoken to representatives from his office and I have not had adequate assurances,” Booker said — the first time The Auditor can remember Booker criticizing Christie.
The honeymoon may have ended when Christie and Oprah Winfrey planned an interview a few weeks ago at Hobby’s, Newark’s most famous place to grab a corned beef on rye, and Booker was not included. The gathering at the delicatessen was canceled hastily, leaving people scratching their heads. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Education expenditures are even worse than Christie stated
You may have noted that I am not the biggest fan of our governor. But I must come to his defense when he is unfairly attacked. That seems to be the case whenever the PolitiFact people take a shot at him.
Not long ago, for example, they gave a “pants on fire” rating to Chris Christie’s statement that Obamacare represents “a government takeover of health care.” That is a matter of opinion, not fact. To conservatives, Obamacare does indeed represent a government takeover. Liberals may feel otherwise, but that’s the sort of argument that cannot be settled by resorting to facts. (Mulshine, The Star-Ledger)
Outdated regulations stifle N.J. investment and growth
It is often said that good things take time. For several months, lawmakers in New Jersey have been considering reform bill S-2664, known as the Market Competition and Consumer Choice Act.
The African-American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey and the National Black Chamber of Commerce support the bill because it will modernize rules in the communications sector, and signal that New Jersey is a pro-business state by eliminating unnecessary red tape that continues to burden our economy.
Consumers and businesses in the 21st century cannot function properly utilizing 20th century technology. Similarly, communications providers cannot move forward if they are trapped in a regulatory environment designed for the last century. (Harmon for NJBIZ)
Oppressed city is not worth occupying
Over the past few weeks, friends and journalists from around the East Coast have asked, “Where’s Occupy Camden?”
A valid question considering this is a city with quality of life marred by murder, drugs and a homeless rate that’s among the highest in the country. Oh, and Camden’s unemployment rate is by far tops in New Jersey.
My initial answer: Camdenites have every right to occupy their city.
Mayor Dana Redd’s administration has failed on promises to attract new businesses and spark the redevelopment of thousands of abandoned buildings, including some owned by the city. Redd has ignored the city’s homelessness epidemic that plagues about 1 in 42 residents. She hasn’t laid out a specific plan to attack violent crime. (What does she do all day?)
But in a way, as I think about it further, I’d say Occupy Camden actually started informally a couple years ago — before the likes of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Philly or feeble occupy demonstrations in Trenton and New Brunswick. (Rosen, Gannett)