Morning News Digest: December 21, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Quiet at the Heldrich, but Palatucci in the house
The Congressional redistricting teams are clamping down in secrecy today as they continue their decennial line-drawing and district-shifting exercises. Sources said Democrats were upset at the Republican team for supposedly leaking information to the press yesterday.
Neither side has made any momentous changes in maps submitted to 13th member John Farmer Jr. last night, one source said, and the teams receive feedback on those maps this afternoon, with new maps likely to be requested again by the end of the night. (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)
In aftermath of failed payroll tax vote, Rothman unleashes on Tea Party Republicans
With buzz building out of Heldrich negotiations concerning the possibility of a redistricting-induced matchup between U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) and U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5), Rothman went into vigorous campaign mode, emphasizing his opposition to the Tea Party wing of the GOP.
That happens to be the Garrett wing of the party.
Rothman voted against the House Republicans’ rejection of the bipartisan Senate compromise on the payroll tax cut. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
N.J. poll: Voters want Mitt Romney as GOP candidate, but favor re-electing Obama
Republicans in New Jersey want Mitt Romney to be their party’s presidential nominee, but voters in the state overall would rather re-elect President Obama, according to a poll made public today.
The Rutgers-Eagleton poll of 260 registered Republicans found Romney, whom Gov. Chris Christie supports and has campaigned for vigorously, leading former House Speaker Newt Gingrich among New Jersey Republicans and Republican-leaning independents 28 percent to 20 percent.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas comes in third at 5 percent, while the remainder of the Republican hopefuls barely register. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Who rules in Trenton? Apparently, ‘Seinfeld’
Were Thursday’s legislative sessions really all about nothing?
In a preemptive strike on Thursday morning, Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate sent out statements indicating their displeasure with what was not on the board list for voting that day.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, and Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, said the nearly 100 bills up for vote in the Senate and Assembly did not contain action on the major issues of the day — sick-leave and civil service reform among them. They called the gathering of the Legislature that day the “Seinfeld Session.” (Staff, Gannett)
Transitional aid restored to Camden and other cities
Nearly six months after Gov. Chris Christie removed $139 million in transitional aid from the state budget, the municipalities, including Camden, slated to get that cash will finally be receiving it.
Christie on Tuesday signed the supplemental spending bill that restored the money he cut from the budget by line item veto in June. The governor said he cut the money because the Legislature had not provided funds for an oversight program he had demanded in exchange for the aid. (Staff, Gannett)
State aid still leaves Paterson $8M short
The city is expected to get an infusion of millions of dollars in transitional aid from Trenton, but the City Council still needs to plug an $8 million hole in its budget.
Governor Christie signed legislation on Tuesday providing the city with $21 million in transitional aid — part of an overall $139 million package approved by the Legislature for New Jersey’s distressed cities.
The aid was announced the same day the council had a scheduled public hearing on its spending plan.
Dr. Joseph Atallo, a city resident, said at the hearing that the city could not rely on the transitional aid to fix its fiscal problems. (McGrath, The Record)
N.J. officials look to limit number of towns represented by more than one congressman
Carolyn Franz of Linden isn‘t sure who her congressman is.
No matter where you live, that’s not unusual But in Linden, it can be forgiven because they have three of them.
“I’m not very familiar with any of them,” said Franz, 78, who was outside of the Linden post office Tuesday.
This working class-city of about 40,000 is carved into three congressional districts represented by Donald Payne (D-10th Dist.) — who is responsible for the largest portion of the Union County town — along with Albio Sires (D-13th Dist.) and Leonard Lance (R-7th Dist.). (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
NJ signs 30-year lease to save Meadowlands track
A New York real estate developer signed a long-term deal that will ensure harness racing will continue at New Jersey’s Meadowlands Racetrack.
Gov. Chris Christie announced the deal with Jeffrey Gural, who owns Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs in upstate New York and two horse farms. The governor also announced an agreement between the state and its Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association to run a full schedule of races at Monmouth Park in 2012 without subsidies to racing purses. (Associated Press)
N.J. personal income growth was weak in third quarter
Personal income of New Jersey residents grew by 0.1 percent from July through September — a weakening of the pace from the previous two quarters, according to federal statistics.
The state matched the national growth rate for the third quarter, according to a U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report released today. Personal income in New Jersey had grown by 0.8 percent in the second quarter and 2.3 percent in the first quarter.
While the largest component of personal income — wages — grew in the quarter, this was offset by a decline in transfer payments like unemployment insurance and Social Security. Wages increased by 0.4 percent, while transfer payments fell by 0.6 percent. (Kitchenman, NJBIZ)
Got (raw) milk? NJ’s surprising split over pasteurization
Passions are running high in Trenton and throughout New Jersey these days over a topic that would not normally inspire strong feelings: milk.
Advocates of a bill () that would permit the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk in the state have been pushing for its final passage before the end of the legislative session next month. Opponents have been equally vocal.
Both sides packed a hearing last week of the Senate Economic Growth Committee, which needs to vote the bill out to get it to the floor of the upper house and then to the governor. Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), committee chair, announced at the start that the bill did not have enough votes to pass. After hearing a number of speakers on both sides of the issue, he promised to hold another hearing and call for a vote before time runs out. The Senate has called sessions for January 5 and January 9, but no committee hearings are scheduled yet. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Task force to decide Vineland Developmental Center’s fate
The year has brought a lot of uncertainty about the Vineland Developmental Center, but with just a few weeks left in 2011, Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill that puts the center’s fate in the hands of a state-appointed task force.
The governor’s budget called for shuttering the Landis Avenue facility by June 30, 2013, but state Sen. Jeff Van Drew had proposed a bill that became a lifeline for the Vineland Developmental Center. It called to establish a task force to conduct a comprehensive review of all seven of the state’s developmental centers and determine which center or centers to close. (Funderbunk, Gannett)
Despite new guidelines, anti-bullying law still a matter for the attorneys
It speaks both to the state’s new anti-bullying law and to the reactions of many school districts to it, that Piscataway’s anti-bullying coordinator is also its school board attorney.
David Rubin has been the board’s attorney for decades. Who better to oversee implementation of a new law than someone who knows all about legal rights and liability?
So when the state released this month its long-awaited guidelines for dealing with the landmark but contentious law, the Metuchen attorney was quick to look for the legal details as to what defines bullying and spells out the district’s responsibilities. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
The ‘peaking plant’ trade-off: Cleaner air vs. lower prices
At a time when the state worries about having enough capacity to keep the lights on, New Jersey could see the retirement of a group of generating units that provide electricity at times when it is most sorely needed — hot, summer days when peak demand is at its highest.
The units, known as peaking plants, are generally older, inefficient, and high-cost stations that rarely run but are needed during periods of high demand. Many, however, do not comply with tougher state pollution standards aimed at reducing nitrogen oxide, a main ingredient in the smog that blankets much of New Jersey during summer months. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Medicaid changes on track to revamp long-term care
New Jersey’s efforts to revamp Medicaid are on track, according to the governor’s policy advisors who spoke Tuesday at a conference presented by the Common Sense Institute of New Jersey, a public policy think tank.
New Jersey is seeking sweeping changes to the $11 billion state and federal Medicaid program, which provides healthcare to about 1.3 million low-income residents.
In its “comprehensive Medicaid waiver” submitted in September, New Jersey seeks to provide more care to the elderly and the developmentally disabled at home and in the community rather than in nursing homes and other residential institutions. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
South Jersey town moves toward hiring special officers
The city’s police department wants to add more special officers to its staff to increase manpower and reduce officer overtime.
The current city ordinance allows only eight Special II law enforcement officers while the state allows the city to have up to 36 such officers based on its total police force, Vineland police Chief Timothy Codispoti said.
“We need to use any means at our disposal to augment our manpower and subsidize our manpower to the benefit of the community and this is one way we can do that,” Codispoti said. (Funderburk, Gannett)
New Jersey American Water seeking a 15 percent rate hike
New Jersey American Water is seeking an average 15 percent rate increase for 2012, prompting one local official to call the request “obscene.”
The Voorhees-based company, which has 640,000 customers in 188 municipalities in South Jersey and across the state, says it needs the increase to help pay for the more than $300 million it has invested in infrastructure this year.
Burlington County Freeholder Director Bruce Garganio is calling on officials of other counties and mayors to join forces to fight the proposal. (Helfer, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
NJTV operator adds five board members to build business ties
A quintet of Garden State business leaders has joined the board of the nonprofit operator of NJTV.
Public Media NJ Inc., a nonprofit affiliate of New York’s WNET and the operator of NJTV, announced the additions to its board of trustees Tuesday afternoon. The board held its first meeting Friday.
WNET President and CEO Neal Shapiro, also a PMNJ board member, said the goal is to add board members who have a good grasp of New Jersey issues and deep ties to the state. He said the business community is a good place to look for those qualifications. (Kaltwasser, NJBIZ)
Governor signs Transitional Aid bill
Gov. Christie today signed into law the Transitional Aid measure that was the source of so much political wrangling this year.
Christie signed S3118/A4373, which also includes oversight measures in the program.
Christie’s office said that the legislation meets his long-standing call for transitional aid and accountability to go hand in hand in order to prevent abuse and politicization of the program. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Developmental centers task force bill signed into law
The governor has signed the law to create a task force to conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s seven developmental centers and to develop recommendations for their future.
The bill, S2928, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Van Drew, (D-1), Dennis Township, arose in part out of concerns over the future of the Vineland Developmental Center, which was targeted for a shutdown earlier this year as part of the budget. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Warren Hospital bond-sale approval meeting set
A state agency will meet early next year to consider a bond sale approval involving a hospital whose sale may be completed soon.
The state Health Care Facilities Financing Authority will meet Jan. 12 at 10 a.m. to consider giving its OK to a bond sale on behalf of Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Court upholds $260,000 in penalties, fees against companies that sold banned toys in N.J.
More than $260,000 in state-imposed fines and fees have been upheld today by an appellate court over the sale of banned toys.
The state’s assessment of penalties against two companies over the sale of a banned product – Yo Yo Waterballs – was affirmed by the court. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Expert stops short of definitive finding in Sacco tapes case
The attorney representing the former North Bergen recreation department employee who last week filed a sexual harassment complaint against state Sen. Nick Sacco (D-32) today said an expert authenticated the audio tapes on which the mayor is heard denigrating his client.
Attorney Mario Blanch said he received a letter from Professional Audio Laboratories of Park Ridge, Inc. President Paul Ginsberg.
“After some experimentation to optimize intelligibility, I produced an anhanced copy, and proceeded to do a preliminary examination,” said Ginsberg, referring to a copy of the tapes he received from the Star-Ledger. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Should N.J. honor gifted but flawed talent?
Two New Jersey Assembly members, one a Democrat and one a Republican, have mounted a campaign to deny a place in the New Jersey Hall of Fame to 19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast.
The legislators complain that some of Nast’s drawings depicted Irish Catholics in offensive, demeaning ways. One, for instance, drawn in 1871, was captioned “The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things.” It showed a drunken man with the face of an ape, sitting on a keg of gunpowder, a bottle in one hand, a flaming torch in the other. (Ahearn, The Record)