Morning News Digest: January 25, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
For NJ, State of the Union serves as backdrop to Pascrell v. Rothman
Even at the State of the Union address, the two Democratic congressmen from New Jersey’s newly configured 9th District were competing for attention.
First, U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman shot a hand in front of President Barack Obama’s face from the wings as soon as Obama entered the joint session.
Rothman had occupied the position nearest the door in a packed chamber and was ready to be the President’s first encounter. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Senate panel affirms S1, marriage equality bill
Democratic priority one, step one complete. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on party lines, 8-4, to advance the marriage equality law, S1, this afternoon.
There was a line to get into Committee Room 4, or even the adjacent overflow room, all day; still, the hearing was very respectful, if emotionally charged and somewhat tense.
Early on, committee chairman, state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, (D-22), Linden, said he was implementing timed testimony and cutting off the discussion at 2:30 p.m. for a final vote. (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)
Latest report sheds more light on DiVincenzo campaign charges
More details of campaign expenses charged to a personal credit card of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo became public today as the Democrat filed his most recent quarterly finance report.
The report, which covers the fourth quarter of 2011, details some $2,275 in purchases made to a credit card in DiVincenzo’s name and another $6,000 listed on the report as “debit card.” (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie upstages gay marriage bill
Gay and lesbian couples gathered on Tuesday to support state lawmakers who tried for the second time in three years to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey — but instead saw Governor Christie outflank them with a veto threat and an offer of a statewide referendum.
Voting along party lines, the eight Democrats on the state Senate Judiciary Committee revived a bill that would eliminate civil unions and allow gay and lesbian partners to be married. That legislation narrowly failed to pass in 2009, but Democrats had placed it atop their agenda this year, expecting stronger support from legislators of both parties who previously sat on the fence. (Fletcher, The Record)
Democrats make marriage equality their No. 1 priority
The Democrats drew a clear line Tuesday when they released the Senate version of the marriage equality bill (S1), honoring a promise to make the issue their first priority.
Gov. Chris Christie, in a political counterpunch, stole some of the Democrat’s thunder by arguing he believed the issue should be decided by public referendum.
He also reiterated his pledge to veto the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act if it crosses his desk. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Newark Mayor Cory Booker blasts proposed N.J. gay marriage referendum
In an unprecedented public divergence with Gov. Chris Christie, Newark Mayor Cory Booker said today he is firmly against leaving the question of gay marriage up to a referendum.
“I shudder to think what would have happened if the civil rights gains, heroically established by courageous lawmakers in the 1960s, were instead conveniently left up to popular votes in our 50 states,” Booker said in a statement. (Giambusso, The Star-Ledger)
Law professors: Civil union law unequal to marriage
More than 125 professors from 48 law schools around the country have signed a letter saying New Jersey’s civil union law cannot be fixed.
The professors, including New Jersey former Public Advocate Ron Chen, say the law granting gay couples the benefits of marriage without the title will never be equal to the right to marry. (Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Christie submits six nominations for Senate approval
Gov. Chris Christie has submitted six nominations to the Senate for approval. The governor would not have made the nominations public if he was not assured there would be no problems before the Senate Judiciary Committee or the full upper house. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Christie continues to be state’s top cheerleader
Nothing Chris Christie or anyone else said during the governor’s town hall meeting here Tuesday seemed to draw a louder burst of applause than a simple question from Adam Bernstein.
“When the Giants win the Super Bowl,” the 10-year-old student at nearby Hillside School asked, “is the parade going to be in New Jersey?” (Spivey, Gannett)
NJ politicians mixed on releasing tax returns
Candidates for statewide or federal office have been required for years to disclose details about their personal finances, but those disclosures only hint at a candidate’s actual income and reveal nothing about taxes paid.
For that information, it takes a tax return, and a candidate who thinks his or her chances of winning the race are increased by releasing it. (Jackson, The Record)
3 to vie for Alex DeCroce’s seat tonight
Three candidates — Larry Casha, BettyLou DeCroce and Louis Sceusi — are primed to convince voters at a special convention tonight that they should fill a state Assembly vacancy created by the death of Assemblyman Alex DeCroce.
Sceusi, a lawyer who has served as Rockaway Township mayor for 10 years, said he initially endorsed DeCroce but then certain concerns prompted him to declare he would seek the vote of GOP county committee members from the 13 municipalities that make up the 26th Legislative District. (Wright, Gannett)
N.J.’s failure to make full pension payments hinders fund
Public pension funds may have gotten a much-needed boost from Gov. Chris Christie’s landmark overhaul last year, but reports released today show the funds continue to be hampered by the state’s failure to make full payments into the plans.
Christie and Democratic leaders joined together last year and shifted a greater share of the pension costs on to public workers and cut out cost-of-living increases for future and current retirees. The move helped drive the state’s nagging unfunded pension liability from $53.9 billion to $36.3 billion when they revised 2010 figures, the report shows. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
Analysis: N.J. educators earn D+
New Jersey’s report card from a group that seeks to improve standards for the nation’s teachers is dismal: D-plus, 36th in the U.S. and making less progress than most states.
The report, scheduled to be published today by the National Council on Teacher Quality, could bolster parts of Gov. Chris Christie’s education overhaul agenda — though his critics say it shouldn’t. (Mulvihill, Associated Press)
Finger-pointing precedes teacher contract talks in Newark
The last time negotiators for the state-run Newark Public Schools met with the district’s teachers union, the $100 million Facebook gift was not yet national headlines and Superintendent Cami Anderson was still an administrator in New York City schools.
And it didn’t go well, either, ending with contract talks at an impasse ever since. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
NJ offers help to quit smoking, but health experts say it’s not enough
New Jersey is spending $1.2 million this year on anti-smoking programs through the state Department of Health. Public health experts say that’s not enough, and discussions are underway in Trenton to find more money to discourage the use of tobacco, whose annual statewide toll is estimated at more than 10,000 deaths and several billion dollars in healthcare costs. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Environmentalists: Water supply endangered by nuclear plants
Environmental activists said in a report Tuesday that nearly 3.3 million New Jerseyans drink water from supplies at risk of contamination if there’s a leak or accident at a nuclear plant.
Speakers at a State House news conference called for nuclear plants to be shuttered or phased out, with no new plants developed, in favor of renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar. In the short term, they want independent safety reviews, immediate upgrades and regular groundwater tests. (Symons, Gannett)
NJ’s inner cities ready, but waiting, to formalize Medicaid ACOs
Inner city hospitals and physicians have been waiting for months for the federal government to roll out regulations that will enable them to join together in Medicaid ACOs designed to cut costs while improving care primarily through reduced ER visits. Nevertheless, these medical officials are not simply sitting on their hands. Despite the fact that they don’t know the exact requirements the feds will impose, they are already forming organizations that are committed to improving healthcare for the poor. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Marriage equality: How would referendum work?
The process of getting a question on the ballot to amend the Constitution – such as for a referendum on marriage equality – is outlined by Article 9.
Gov. Chris Christie said at his town hall in Bridgewater today to let the voters decide on the future of same sex marriage via ballot question. He said he would veto a bill passed by the Legislature doing the same. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Dems: Christie’s GOP under his thumb on marriage equality
Three Democratic sponsors of S1, the marriage equality bill approved in committee today, believe there are more votes for the bill in Trenton, but that the votes are in the Republican caucus and being silenced by Gov. Chris Christie.
“A couple of them took a cop-out,” state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), Teaneck, said of the Republicans. She said that Christie’s referendum proposal in Bridgewater today was an easy out for GOP lawmakers on the fence or being silenced. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Minimum wage hike bills submitted
The bills seeking to increase the minimum wage in New Jersey have been introduced.
S3/A2162 would hike the state’s hourly minimum wage to $8.50 on July 1, and then require that, starting in calendar year 2013, the minimum wage rate be adjusted annually, based on any increase in the Consumer Price Index in the previous calendar year, with the adjustment taking effect on July 1 of each year. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Petty’s Run agreement approved
The state Capitol Joint Management Commission approved an agreement between the Department of Environmental Protection and Mercer County on the Petty’s Run excavation project.
Before it did though, some details were discussed regarding the future fence of the site. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Word cloud of the President’s State of the Union address
Check out the Word cloud of the presidents speech. The word cloud measures the number of times a word was mentioned in the speech. You think jobs are on his mind? (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie pulls a Broadway Joe in Bridgewater
Gov. Chris Christie today guaranteed a Giants victory in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
“They’re going to win,” Christie told the raucous crowd at the Jewish Community Center (JCC). (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
State of the Union: Obama’s plans are modest in face of Republican roadblock
It seems a distant memory now, but during President Obama’s first two years in office he achieved a great deal.
He passed his health care reform, and saved the auto industry from collapse. He signed Wall Street reforms that protect consumers and guard against another meltdown. He passed far-reaching education reforms over the objections of the teachers’ unions, cut middle-class taxes, and began regulating tobacco. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)