Morning News Digest: December 2, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Christie files nominations and appointments, including Warren Co. prosecutor, seven judges
Gov. Chris Christie announced a round of nominations and appointments to various posts across the state today, including Richard Burke as the Warren County prosecutor. Burke is a former municipal prosecutor in Hackettstown, where he lives and runs a private law practice. (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)
Success in a hardscrabble city, one student at a time
The high school graduation rate at this inner city school is 100 percent. Ditto for kids going on to college.
Oh, and scholarships for those colleges?
How about 48 kids splitting $6 million toward those hefty college bills, including some of the top schools in the country, like Princeton and Cornell universities.
That’s the track record at St. Mary of the Assumption High School in the city of Elizabeth, a hardscrabble place like virtually all the rest of New Jersey’s cities and among the 13 that would be covered by the Opportunity Scholarship Act.
“We work hard at it,” says Janet Malko, principal of the school for the past 23 years. (Hooker, PolitickerNJ)
Feds charge Serrano with mail fraud
A Newark grand jury today charged former Jersey City Council candidate Lori Serrano with mail fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The charge arises from Serrano’s alleged acceptance of $10,000 from disgraced developer Solomon Dwek and failure to report the money as required on Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) forms.
The feds tossed another charge against Serrano based on recent court precedent. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Education reform limps along in lame duck
The legislature’s lame duck session that was expected to be busy with education reform debate is looking sleepier by the day.
Senate committees yesterday met in the Statehouse amid a lively rally outside for a proposed school voucher program, but there was little movement on that or any other key education bills that had been high on the agenda.
That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of meetings behind closed doors that could quickly change the landscape. State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who is seeking to shepherd through a tenure reform bill, was party to many of them, and late yesterday was not giving up hope for this month — for her bill at least. She said long-awaited amendments would be filed in the next week. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Supporters of Christie-backed school bill rally in Trenton
Dead or in jail.
That’s how Camden resident Bendiga Rodriguez says many city children will end up unless New Jersey lawmakers approve legislation that would ease the way for students in struggling urban schools to attend better-performing institutions.
Support for the bill, known as the Opportunity Scholarship Act, was on display Thursday as hundreds of children, parents, and other advocates rallied outside the Statehouse.
The demonstration was a counterpoint to one held Wednesday in Jersey City by parents and activists opposed to the bill.
Gov. Christie, a Republican, and other supporters want the measure passed in the lame-duck session, but leaders of the Democratic-majority Legislature oppose it, and it is unclear whether they will post it for a vote in the Assembly and Senate. (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Senate committee votes to allow sports betting at N.J. casinos, racetracks
Sports betting in New Jersey came a step closer to reality today, with a Senate panel approving a bill to allow casinos and racetracks to apply for licenses to offer it. The Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee voted 4-1 in favor of the legislation, which would allow New Jersey residents to be able to place bets online as well.
It is the latest step in a long process to approve sports betting in the state. Voters overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding referendum on Nov. 8 legalizing the wagering at casinos, racetracks and former racetrack sites. Betting would still be prohibited on college sporting events in the state or on New Jersey college teams wherever they play. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. Senate panel approves bill preventing trafficking of tigers and their body parts
A Senate panel has approved a measure intended to serve as an international model to prevent trafficking in tigers and their body parts.
The bill (S3061) would establish strict reporting and registration requirements for captive tigers in New Jersey to prevent their illegal trade. It cleared the Senate Economic Growth Committee unanimously.
“This bill will send a message throughout the country and indeed the world that this illegal trade in tiger parts is horrible,” said its sponsor, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union). (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. lawmaker demands probe of Port Authority’s toll-hike discrepancy
Saying he feels “lied to,” a North Jersey legislator is asking Gov. Chris Christie to investigate why the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey seems to have told different versions of why it needed a toll hike.
“I believe I’m being lied to, that is unacceptable,” Assemblyman Gary Schaer, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Bergen and Passaic counties, said in an interview. “No one has ever said that government (always) operates effectively. But government must be run with honesty and transparency.” (Strunsky, The Star-Ledger)
‘Fake farmers’ get property tax break
Some New Jersey corporations, developers — and even a few politicians — get a tax break for growing as little as $500 worth of crops such as Christmas trees, using a law that critics say means higher property taxes for everyone else.
So-called “fake farmers” were faulted for taking advantage of a farmland tax break at a Senate Environment and Energy Committee hearing Thursday where lawmakers discussed doubling the minimum sales needed to qualify for the state’s farmland assessment.
“Time and again, we hear stories of this program being abused by owners of large, valuable residential properties to avoid paying their full property tax bill,” said Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
Grow New Jersey advanced by Assembly committee
The Grow New Jersey Assistance Program, which will provide tax credits to businesses that make capital investments, was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
The bill launching the program, S-3033 and A-4306, would allow tax credits for businesses that make $20 million in capital investments and add or maintain 100 jobs in certain designated areas. (Kitchenman, NJBIZ)
Occupy Wall Street gets rare Democratic support from N.J. Sen. Shirley K. Turner
Occupy Wall Street demonstrators got some rare public support from a Democrat Thursday when Sen. Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer) introduced a resolution in support of their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and speak.
The resolution comes in the wake of forced evacuations of Occupy protest sites by police in Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles. The Occupy movement began on Sept. 17 and Turner and its supporters see it as representative of the growing discontent with the influence of money in politics and the economic disparity that is widening the income gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and the other 99 percent of the population. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
State board questions JCP&L earnings
Is Jersey Central Power & Light earning too much and investing too little in its distribution system?
The state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) has decided to initiate a proceeding to look into allegations that the state’s second-largest utility is earning significantly more than what the agency has established as a reasonable return on its investments.
The proceeding was initiated based on a petition filed by the Division of Rate Counsel, which argued that Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) is earning a 12.37 percent rate of return, far in excess of the 8.5 percent approved by the state. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Municipal revenue struggles continue as Washington is slow to modify tax laws
The still-weak economy continues to squeeze state and municipal governments, which have less to work with as long-established revenue streams dry up in the prolonged recovery.
According to Tim Burley, partner in charge of the tax practice at WiserMazars LLP, in Edison, fixing antiquated tax loopholes like sales tax collection for online retailers will help bring the tax code more in line with the way the U.S. economy works, but can only be done at the federal level. (Caliendo, NJBIZ)
N.J. congressmen seek changes in fishing laws
A federal law designed to prevent over-fishing and regrow fish stocks is hurting commercial and recreational fishing industries in New Jersey, two lawmakers told a congressional committee Thursday.
Reps. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., and Frank Pallone, D-N.J., testified before the House Natural Resources Committee about their proposals to change some provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
The 35-year-old law, which Congress last updated in 2006, created eight regional fishery management councils and set yearly catch limits for various species such as black sea bass, an important species for New Jersey’s fishing industry. Industry groups say some catch limits are too stringent. (Chebium, Gannett)
Head of New Jersey charter school office steps down
New Jersey’s charter school director, on the job for less than a dozen months, will be stepping down at the end of this year to take a new job in Chicago public schools.
Carly Bolger, director of the state Department of Education’s charter school office, said her decision was “100 percent personal,” since she is moving because of a relationship in Chicago. Finding the right job as director of Chicago’s New Schools Office helped determine the timing, she said.
“My time here has been an incredible experience,” she said yesterday. “I have worked with great people and created a great team, and I think really charted the course for where New Jersey is heading with charter schools.” (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Son of a prominent GOP donor named DRPA spokesman
The son of a prominent Pennsylvania Republican political donor is to be named spokesman for the Delaware River Port Authority. Timothy Ireland, a public relations executive, former journalist, and political operative, is to start Monday in DRPA’s communications office.
Timothy Ireland, a public relations executive, former journalist, and political operative, is to start Monday in DRPA’s communications office. (Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
N.J. black bear hunt upheld by state Appeals Court
A state appeals court Thursday ruled a state-approved week-long black bear hunt can be held in Northwest Jersey beginning Monday.
Animal rights advocates brought the appeal, arguing the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy was not valid.
“This ruling affirms the science- and fact- based policy that we have adopted as part of a comprehensive approach to managing black bears in New Jersey,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. “The plan is a legitimate response to deal with a large black bear population and a resultant increase in public complaints about bear and human encounters. This is a public safety issue that requires responsible action by the state.” (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Medicare adds free obesity screening and counseling to preventative services
The federal government estimates that about 30 percent of its Medicare population is obese, and obesity contributes to chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease that are widespread among the elderly — driving up the government’s healthcare bills. In an effort to get obesity under control, Medicare this week added obesity screening and up to a full year of weight-loss counseling to the list of preventive services it will cover in full, at no cost to members.
Obesity coverage is just the latest step in a movement by Medicare in the direction of preventive care, said Dennis J. McGowan, public awareness coordinator for the New Jersey Division of Aging and Community Services in the state Department of Health. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. National Guard leader resigns over a dalliance
The longtime commander of New Jersey’s National Guard is resigning after being caught having a physical relationship with a woman who works for him, government officials told the Associated Press on Thursday.
Maj. Gen. Glenn Rieth and the aide, both of whom are married, were discovered in his office last month touching each other, officials familiar with the matter said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
Rieth, a prominent member of Republican Gov. Christie’s cabinet and a childhood friend, will retire effective Dec. 15, the governor said. (DeFalco, Associated Press)
Romney ramps up in Iowa
With barely a month until the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney is beginning to get serious about a state that he once appeared to be shunning.
While the Republican presidential candidate himself was fundraising in Texas on Thursday, where he hobnobbed with “good friend” former President George H. W. Bush, one of his most high-profile and outspoken endorsers, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, held a tele-townhall with Iowans. Christie is planning a campaign trip to Des Moines next Wednesday with his wife, Mary Pat Christie. (Boxer, National Journal)
Corrections reorganization to plan: Efficiencies created or attack on union?
The state Corrections Department reorganization plan to create corrections majors to replace the titles of chief and captain is touted by department officials as an efficient move that will save $1.5 million annually, streamline the department and provide more career advancement opportunities. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Stender wants hearing into $39M ‘parachute’ from Medco/Express Scripts deal
Assemblywoman Linda Stender, (D-22), Scotch Plains wants a hearing held concerning the proposed merger of two prescription benefit managers and the nearly $39 million one exec is likely to receive as a result.
Stender wants the Assembly State Government Committee to hold a hearing to shed light on reports that Medco Health Solutions chief executive David Snow stands to receive nearly $39 million if his company’s proposed merger with Express Scripts is approved. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Panel approves law prohibiting pain med substitutions
Strongly opposed by healthcare insurers and puzzling to a few lawmakers, a bill restricting health insurers from limiting access to pain medication passed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee today.
The measure, A3968, sponsored by Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7), of Delanco, governs the issuance of prescriptions for pain medication under coverage from health insurers, including the State Health Benefits Program and School Employees’ Health Benefits Program. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Lautenberg casts 9000th vote
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg cast vote number 9,000 in the senate tonight when he voiced an “aye” for the Defense Authorization bill.
At 87, Lautenberg is the oldest member of the senate and is serving his fifth term in the upper chamber. No other Senator from New Jersey has ever served five terms.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave tribute to Lautenberg for his quarter of a century in the upper chamber. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Downey to leave state Dems
State Democratic Party Executive Director Sean Downey is planning to step down from his post as soon as a replacement is found, he said today.
Downey, who came to the party from Boston just under a year ago, said he is leaving to pursue other opportunities in New England.
“This has been an amazing year to be in New Jersey,” Downey said. “I’ve always wanted to run a state party and I’m grateful to Chairman (John) Wisniewski for allowing me to do it in a state as important as New Jersey.” (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Is anti-tax movement coming to an end?
California, the land where the tax revolt was born in the 1970s, is facing several ballot initiativesthat would increase taxes, most heavily on the rich, to prevent more savage cuts in programs like education and health. Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is mulling a tax hike as well, and again placing a larger burden on the wealthy.
Keep in mind, too, that national polls show huge majorities of Americans supporting higher taxes on the rich. In some polls, a majority of Republicans agree.
Let’s hope this is the start of something big. Because we are cutting too deeply, across the board. It’s landing hardest on the middle-class and the working poor, and it’s killing any chance that we can tackle big jobs, like rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, or weening ourselves from dependence on foreign oil by rebooting the energy industry. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Mitt v. Newt: A political Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran match-up
The contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is now a two person race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. I often make analogies between political contests and boxing matches. The Mitt-Newt contest is a political duplicate of the Sugar Ray Leonard – Roberto Duran bouts of the 1980s.
Mitt Romney is the perfect political counterpart to Sugar Ray Leonard. Leonard was a finesse fighter, and Mitt has established himself as a finesse debater. Like Sugar Ray, Mitt is quick on his feet and knows how to use sharp jabs against his opponents. He constantly changes his positions on key issues; thus, Romney has become the political equivalent of Leonard by being elusive and most difficult to corner. (Steinberg for PolitickerNJ)