Morning News Digest: January 17, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
State’s failure to repay unemployment loan means higher tax for employers
State employers are being billed this month for an additional $21 per employee in 2011 federal unemployment tax as a result of the state’s failure to pay back a $1.7 billion loan from the federal government.
The tax, which will total more than $80 million for state employers, is a result of the state’s failure to repay a federal government loan granted to New Jersey to help foot the bill for unemployment insurance. The tax increase is charged only to states that have had a loan balance for two consecutive years. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Chamber limits speakers at annual D.C. dinner
The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce will limit the speakers at its annual Washington D.C. dinner to just Gov. Chris Christie, a move that does not sit well with some members of the federal delegation.
According to chamber President Tom Bracken, the move is in response to a survey of members who said they’d like to see the dinner shortened to allow more time for networking. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Potosnak ends CD 7 run to take job as ED of League of Conservation Voters
Democrat Ed Potosnak of North Plainfield ended his 2012 bid for the United States House of Representatives on Monday to lead the non-partisan, non-profit, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters (NJLCV) as the organization’s Executive Director.
“I am honored to join the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters as Executive Director,” said Potosnak. “This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. I look forward to building on the grass-roots energy of the diverse membership of NJLCV to promote non-partisan solutions to our environmental challenges.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Assembly Democratic leaders, Gov. Christie pause to remember Martin Luther King Jr.
Gov. Chris Christie and Assembly Democrats paused Monday to recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the holiday set aside to remember the great civil rights leader.
New Jersey, under Gov. Tom Kean, was the first state to establish a Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission in 1983 to ensure King’s life and work were continually recognized across the state.
“Today as we honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am proud New Jersey has long been at the forefront of efforts to honor and continue his work,” Christie said. “I encourage New Jerseyans to pause and reflect on his contributions to our society and to do their part to make his dream a reality for all Americans. Dr. King’s message is one that is deeply rooted in the same ideals that have made our state and our nation great — equality, freedom, faith, and opportunity for all.” (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Chris Christie to address House Republicans
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to speak to House Republicans at their annual retreat in Baltimore this week.
Christie is a favorite of the House GOP, and helped raise roughly $10 million for the party’s re-election arm at a 2011 fundraising dinner.
Christie’s attendance is scheduled to be announced by both the governor’s office and the House Republican Conference later this week.
The two-day retreat, which will take place at a waterside hotel in Baltimore, will come as the GOP is dealing with a dose of internal turmoil. The party is trying to rebound from a tough December, which had them wrestling over the payroll tax holiday — a fight they’ll reprise in a few weeks when Congress will attempt to extend the break the rest of the year. Many members of the conference are piping mad at House Republican leadership for a series of compromises in 2011 and an uncertain 2012 agenda — sentiments that are sure to be dominant at the two-day retreat. (Sherman, Politico)
Gov. Christie orders complete review of N.J. purchasing laws, public contracting processes
Gov. Chris Christie has ordered a complete review of state purchasing laws and the public contracting processes, prompted by a report that showed one in five multimillion dollar purchases made by governments in New Jersey broke the law.
He said he intends to simplify the rules, leaving less room for errors and therefore less cover for violations.
The Record and Herald News reported last month that previously confidential figures from the Comptroller’s Office showed errors and illegal provisions in one out of every five contracts worth $2 million or more. (Fletcher, The Record)
Gov. Christie tells Oprah he’ll be ‘much more ready’ in 2016
Gov. Chris Christie told Oprah Winfrey in an interview broadcast tonight on OWN that a lot depends on whether he’ll run for president in 2016, but one thing’s for sure: “In terms of me, I’ll be much more ready four years from now,” he said.
Christie, who called politics a “contact sport,” said there’s no doubt he’s attracted to holding positions of power, but has so far foregone the ultimate test for a simple reason. (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Christie gets in digs at Obama with Oprah
There was push and pull between Oprah Winfrey and Gov. Chris Christie on President Barack Obama’s job performance during an interview aired Sunday night.
Christie attempted on several occasions to blame Obama for gridlock in Washington. Even after Winfrey walked the Republican governor away from the topic, Christie came back to get in some shots on the Democratic president.
Winfrey was a prominent supporter of Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign. (Jordan, Gannett)
Christie still considering school election changes
Gov. Chris Christie said in Camden on Thursday that he had yet to decide whether he would sign a bill that allows for school board and budget elections to be moved to November.
Christie said the bill would have been better if it moved all school elections to the November general election, rather than creating an opt-in provision.
Christie said he believed that special interests would pressure school boards and municipalities not to move the election. (Method, Gannett)
Democratic legislators to put Christie in tight spot with gay marriage, minimum wage
As Gov. Chris Christie prepares to give his State of the State address Tuesday, Democrats have already drawn their battle lines.
Last week, Democratic legislative leaders announced that they will put gay marriage at the top of their agenda, forcing Christie to either make good on his pledge to veto it or change his mind. They also plan to push for an increase in the minimum wage, from $7.25 to $8.50 — a move almost certain to be opposed by the Republican governor. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Carol Jackson Murphy, 78, was N.J. assemblywoman, Morris County freeholder
The family of Carol Jackson Murphy will hold a memorial service for the former Republican assemblywoman later this week.
Murphy represented Morris County in the 26th Legislative District from 1993 to 2001. She was re-elected in 1995, 1997 and 1999 with her running mate, the former leading GOP Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, who served the district 23 years. DeCroce died last Monday.
“They were cut from the same cloth,” said Morris County GOP chairman John Sette, who had served alongside Murphy as a freeholder. (Lee, The Star-Ledger)
Assembly vacancy to be filled Thursday
Republican committee members from four counties will conduct a special election Thursday to fill the vacancy of the late Assemblyman Peter Biondi, who died in November, days after his re-election.
The vote tally that night, however, may signal the beginning of a hard-fought primary battle over the legislative seat.
Vying for the spot are Readington Township Committeewoman Donna Simon, Princeton Township political operative and real estate executive Bill Spadea, and South Brunswick health official and business owner John C. Saccenti. (Bichao, Gannett)
New session, charter school law still broken?
The Christie administration is preparing to announce a new round of charter schools this week, but a big question remains. What is the state going to do about a charter law that even supporters are calling one of the nation’s weakest?
The latest criticism came from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which in its annual report released yesterday placed New Jersey’s law 31st out of 42nd overall. It cited the lack of strong accountability measures tied to performance, weak funding, and limited approval and review process. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Reprieve for N.J. school leaders over criminal check
The more than 180 New Jersey school board members and charter school trustees who were sent notices that they were being stripped of their posts for failing to comply with a new criminal background-check requirement were given a reprieve Friday.
Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf “granted an extension to board members that received a letter of ineligibility earlier this week,” said Justin Barra, a state Education Department spokesman. “Any board member that completes the fingerprinting requirement within two weeks – by Jan. 27 – will be eligible to remain on their board if they are cleared through the background check.” (Giordano, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
A make or break year for A.C.?
You know that all-in moment, when you push most of your pile of chips out onto the table and wait to see where the little white ball lands to know whether you’re a winner or a big loser?
The year 2012 is looking a lot like that for Atlantic City.
Pummeled by a half-decade losing streak brought on by unrelenting competition from casinos in neighboring states and worsened by the sluggish economy, the resort has been anxious for 2012 and the $2.4 billion Revel casino-hotel that is expected to bring in new gamblers and new money. (Parry, Associated Press)
How N.J. plans to put a lid on pain pills: Officials to announce program that will track prescriptions
All it took was a single pill.
A friend encouraged her to try it, then a doctor prescribed it, no questions asked. A single pill of the painkiller OxyContin and Brenna-Ann Haase was hooked, so much so that she stole cash, jewelry, DVDs, anything she could use to feed her addiction. Once an energetic fifth-grade teacher, Haase ended up a felon, locked up for more than two years in state prison for robbery. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
NJ may call on electric utilities to revive solar sector
It appears more than likely that the state’s electric utilities will play a key role in trying to revive New Jersey’s sagging solar sector.
Under a staff proposal developed by the Office of Clean Energy at the Board of Public Utilities, the two options now under consideration both envision the electric utilities expanding existing programs that help promote solar through long-term contracts with businesses and homeowners. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Awaiting state on wind farm
The company planning to build what could be the nation’s first offshore wind farm says it’s ready to start construction on the multimillion-dollar project as soon as New Jersey officials give their approval.
Fishermen’s Energy of Cape May wants to build the wind farm about 2.8 miles off Atlantic City. It plans to erect five wind turbines that would produce up to 25 megawatts, capable of powering about 10,000 homes. (Associated Press)
Assemblyman Mainor apologizes for calling Philadelphia Eagles ‘gaybirds’
Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles don’t need Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-Hudson) — or his friend — to call their team a nasty name, let alone one that could be considered homophobic.
Eagles’ fans can do all the name calling that needs to be done themselves, thank you Assemblyman.
Mainor apologized Monday for calling the Eagles “those Gaybirds from Philly.” on his Facebook wall Sunday during the New York Giants-Green Bay Packers playoff game and said a friend wrote most of it. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Group takes state to task over crumbing schools
Installing new sprinkler systems and repaving pockmarked parking lots are among nearly 100 repair and maintenance projects identified by the city’s public schools this year as needing immediate attention.
The projects are languishing, though, due to funding cuts to the state’s Schools Development Authority (SDA), which finances emergency repairs in the state’s poorest districts. (Fair, The Times)
Medical marijuana farms could get quicker OKs under a Monmouth County lawmaker’s bill
A New Jersey assemblyman, saying he feels a “moral obligation” to help alleviate the pain and suffering of “deathly ill” people, plans to introduce legislation to make it easier for medical marijuana businesses to get local zoning approvals.
Since October, governing bodies in Maple Shade, Westampton, Upper Freehold, and Camden have rejected plans for pot farms and marijuana dispensaries. The votes were taken after crowds of residents at town meetings expressed fears of increased crime and a stigma against their communities. (Hefler, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Neighbors blunt about medicinal marijuana dispensary plan
A proposal to bring production of medical marijuana to a Camden site has sparked debate among the public and city officials.
The predominant opinion so far seems to be to keep the pot out of the city. Medical marijuana is permitted to be manufactured legally only by six nonprofit groups under a relatively new state law.
“We have problems enough already,” Cramer Hill resident Jose Santiago said. “Maybe if Camden was quieter, but not with the problems we have. You can buy pot on any corner.” (Murray, Gannett)
Shore towns target unemployment benefits for seasonal workers
Grumblings about people who manipulate the New Jersey unemployment system and collect unemployment checks while surfing in Hawaii are not new.
What is new is the source of some recent complaints.
Two Cape May county mayors want the state to refine its unemployment system, so seasonal workers at the Jersey shore are not allowed to collect. If those workers are bounced out of the system, Cape May Point — the fourth smallest town in New Jersey with a year-round population of 249 — could save $15,000 a year, according to Mayor Carl Schupp. (Stilwell, Gannett)
N.J. business advocates cautious on Obama’s planned reorganization
Executives with two prominent New Jersey trade groups say they would support President Barack Obama’s proposal to merge six federal business and commerce agencies — as long as their services to the state’s industries don’t suffer as a result.
Michael Egenton, senior vice president with the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the group has always stood behind the idea of streamlining the federal government, but is approaching this latest plan cautiously. If an agency like the popular Small Business Administration is at risk, he said, the proposal would do more harm than good. (Burd, NJBIZ)
Barnegat Bay declines further, scientists believe
On a warm, crystal clear summer’s day, adults sprawled in beach chairs as children raced around Windward Beach — without ever actually stepping into the water.
On their stand, lifeguards presided over an empty swimming area, ringed by a net — not to keep kids inside, but an unsuccessful attempt to keep stinging jellyfish outside.
Clad in full-length wetsuits to protect themselves from jellyfish stings, field technicians Nina Sassano and Jen Barney ventured into the water to learn more. Wading three feet deep into the Metedeconk River, a major tributary of pollution and jellyfish to the bay, they slowly walked back to Windward Beach, pulling a 50-foot wide scientific collecting net packed with translucent globs of nettles. (Moore and Bates)
Education advocate claims New Jersey officials “have not started or completed one single school project” in the last two years
Public school students are “trapped” in unsafe buildings, but state officials have been doing “nothing” to address the needed repairs. Even broken-down boilers and collapsing roofs are not being fixed.
David Sciarra, executive director of the Newark-based Education Law Center, made that claim while criticizing the New Jersey Schools Development Authority during his Jan. 5 testimony before the Assembly Budget Committee. (Wichert, PolitiFact New Jersey)
School Administrators head lauds Christie’s ongoing education initiatives
The head of the state’s school administrators group said he appreciates Gov. Chris Christie’s interest in reforming the public education system, adding that reforms are needed and a “critical dialogue” between both sides must continue.
Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said during an interview on former New York Gov. David Paterson’s radio show on Monday that school districts in urban areas could particularly use reforms, given their generally spotty performance. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
As driving habits change, laws work to keep up
If it seems as if people spend more time behind the wheel doing tasks other than driving – working, texting, – then it should come as little surprise that more laws are being passed to address such things.
The Legislature passed a revised version of the graduated driver’s licenses (GDLs) legislation after it was released by the respective Transportation Committees late last year. The revisions were fueled by an unusually high number of accidents by young teen drivers, and the bills passed last week as the session drew to a close. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Leadership PACs fly south for new session
A yet to be reported byproduct of last year’s leadership battles in both houses of the Legislature gives South Jersey control of both leadership PACs and the millions of dollars they dole out.
The Senate Democratic Majority PAC, which last year raised and spent more than $1 million on legislative elections, is controlled by Senate President Steve Sweeney. That Sweeney controlled the PAC and not former Majority Leader Barbara Buono was said to have beeen a bone of contention between the two as Buono was criticized for providing only superficial aid to aspiring candidates, but never had control of the PAC that would have given her more juice. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Misery loves company
After the Star Ledger reported Sunday that state Sen. Dick Codey was being evicted from his office by Assembly Democrats, another beleaguered member of the upper chamber offered to come to his rescue.
State Sen. Barbara Buono, who was herself evicted from her role as Senate Majority Leader, offered to share her office with the former Democratic governor. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce’s know-how evident to the end
Even in the last moments of his life, Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of the lower house’s rules and how to wield them.
During Monday night’s legislative session, less than an hour before he collapsed and died in the Statehouse, DeCroce (R-Morris) noticed something was amiss with the proceedings.
“Madam speaker, may I have a point of order, please?” he said. “Could I have a quorum call? Are all the members in this house sitting in their seats?” (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
DeCroce – Above all, a gentleman
The State Legislature lost a senior statesman last week. Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, had served 23 years in the state Assembly, having been elected by his Morris and Passaic County constituents 12 times. Assemblyman DeCroce also had served as mentor to another Morris County politician, Governor Christie, who got his start politically as a freeholder there back in 1994.
Christie delivered a moving tribute to his “family friend and mentor of two decades” in lieu of the State of the State address on Tuesday, and in his tribute to DeCroce and description of the well-regarded legislator, one could not help but compare the political styles of mentor DeCroce and mentee Christie. (Harrison, The Record)
If it’s Rothman country, who invited Pascrell to the dance?
Bergen Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato is expected to proclaim Bergen County “Steve Rothman country” during the county party’s Victory Dinner Dance at the Rockleigh Country Club on Jan. 25. But one guest will likely restrain his applause — Rep. Bill Pascrell, Rothman’s rival for the newly configured 9th Congressional District.
Pascrell, whose Jan. 3 appearance at the Bergen County freeholder’s reorganization meeting pitted him in a drama-bereft, yet symbolic, stage with Rothman, was invited by Michael J. “Jerry” Breslin Jr., a onetime Bergen Democratic Party chairman who endorsed Pascrell last Thursday. (Stile, The Record)
Demand for top N.J. charter schools exceeds available seats
The dreaded night came on Thursday this year. The grim weather — a chilly drizzle as night fell — seemed fitting for what was sure to be a grim evening.
This was lottery night at Learning Community Charter School in Jersey City. The K-8 school had 30 openings to fill.
The problem: Roughly 1,000 families applied to fill them. Hundreds of them streamed into the auditorium to watch the process live, even though results soon would be posted online.
On stage, a volunteer pulled orange tickets out of a wire basket, one by one, after spinning it to assure the audience that this was indeed random. Nearly all of them were destined to go home disappointed. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Expect glass-half-full address from Christie
Swallowed by the shock and grief over Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce’s sudden death last week, Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature decided to postpone the annual State of the State address to this coming Tuesday.
But, Christie, who was constitutionally mandated to “communicate to the Legislature, by message at the opening of each regular session … the condition of the State,” did give us a brief preview at the beginning of his eulogy for DeCroce at Tuesday’s joint session. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
Menendez judge flap brings to light intriguing legal question
Sen. Robert Menendez’s decision to block the nomination of a New Jersey judge to a federal appeals court exploded in his face like a trick cigar, and so he changed his mind. Still, the flap inadvertently revealed another sticky issue that doesn’t go away with the senator’s “Never mind”:
What happens when a federal judge and a federal prosecutor are, well, what the judge has called “significant others,” and others might call live-in lovers? (Braun, The Star-Ledger)
State moves to help non-profits
It took nearly two years after legislation proposing a one-stop state website for non-profits was introduced — and eight months after Governor Christie conditionally vetoed it.
But New Jersey has set up an Internet page where non-profit organizations can find relevant links when they apply for government grants or need to learn about state services available to them, volunteering opportunities and government regulations. (Lipman, The Record)
Redd works hard for Camden but may get no payoff
My late father, a skilled tradesman who ended his career pushing a broom, often said there was no shame in honest labor.
He and my mother raised six kids while holding down a total of three jobs, which taught me something about the necessity – and dignity – of hard work.
That life lesson is one reason I admire Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, who is devoted to a job that’s among the toughest of its kind anywhere. (Riordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
No merit to lawsuit over EDA award
Ask any kid on the playground, and he’ll tell you paper beats rock. Now, with a major employer’s headquarters in the balance, the Economic Development Authority is about to find out if that’s true in real life, too.
The rock in this case is the Rock, Prudential Financial, the recipient of a whopping $250 million in tax credits under the EDA’s Urban Transit Hub incentive. It gets those credits if it builds a new headquarters in Newark and creates 400 jobs, both conditions the insurance giant says it’s prepared to meet. (NJBIZ)