Morning News Digest: February 13, 2012

Morning News Digest: February 13, 2012

By Missy Rebovich

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U.S. Rep. Donald Payne announces he has colon cancer

U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-10) announced tonight in a press release that he is being treated for colon cancer.

Payne said he is expected to make a full recovery and does not expect to take a leave to battle the disease.

“I wish to inform my constituents of the 10th Congressional District of New Jersey, my colleagues in the United States Congress, and my many friends as well as supporters that I am under the care of an outstanding medical team for the treatment of colon cancer. They expect my full recovery, as do I,” Payne said in an emailed statement.  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)



Dem leadership bonds with lobbyists at the Marriott

Trenton insiders couldn’t help but notice the parade of lobbyists at the Marriott yesterday jockeying to get face time with Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6). 

The new look leadership team gave each West State Street lobbying team 20 minutes, said a source close to the action.

The lobbyists were Democratic Party friends – in the strictest political sense, another source told  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



CD9 Stage 1: Pascrell v. Garrett and Rothman v. generic Republican obstructionist

The interparty parries are muted in the early stage of the redistricting rumble between U.S. Reps. Steve Rothman, (D-9), Fair Lawn, and Bill Pascrell, (D-8), Paterson.

Overhearing either candidate on the street, one might catch nearly identical rhetoric about extending unemployment benefits, adjusting the Medicare rollback, and renewing the payroll tax cuts. It’s a GOP blockade, the Democrat says, and it won’t get better unless I’m re-elected.  (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)



NJ gov holds town hall in Caldwell

Gov. Chris Christie is headed to northern New Jersey for a town hall event as the Senate considers a bill to legalize gay marriage.

The 3 p.m. event at the Caldwell Community Center is set to be held just a few hours after the start of the Senate session.

Christie has said he will veto the bill but would support putting a referendum on the ballot.

A measure calling for a ballot referendum was introduced last week by GOP Sen. Christopher Bateman.  (Associated Press)|newswell|text|State|p



As Gov. Christie prepares 2012 budget speech, fiscal realities may jeopardize income tax cut

Gov. Chris Christie’s new state budget will likely feature a down payment on his signature income tax cut — but he also needs to pay for other promises, including more money for transportation, public employee pensions and last year’s business tax cut.

And he must come up with another $300 million — about twice what his income tax may cost in the budget — to pay down debt that’s left over from the last time New Jersey cut income taxes.

New Jersey taxpayers are still paying off the debt — and at an ever-rising rate — for the pension bonds issued in 1997 by then-Gov. Christie Whitman, who was the last governor to offer a major income tax cut.  (Reitmeyer, The Record)



Christie wants overhaul of sentencing for drugs

Gov. Chris Christie wants to overhaul how the courts handle substance abusers who commit nonviolent crimes, proposing that judges sentence offenders to treatment programs instead of prison.

The Republican governor says the change would save money — with the cost for a year of incarceration at $39,000, compared with $12,000 for drug treatment — and also provide low-level offenders “a second chance.”

“For those people who have lost their way, for those people who have gotten involved in drugs when they shouldn’t have and got addicted and now suffer from that disease, we have a way to help them,” Christie said. “Everybody deserves a second chance.”  (Jordan, Gannett)



Activists: Gay marriage an eventuality

Gay marriage proponents are confident they will win the right for same-sex couples to wed in New Jersey — eventually.

But not even the most ardent activists believe it’s on the cusp of happening, although a marriage equality measure will be voted on, and probably passed, in both houses of the Legislature this week.

State Democratic leaders who have been pushing gay marriage as priority No. 1 for this legislative session think they can round up enough votes to get the measure to Gov. Chris Christie. But Christie, a Republican who opposes same-sex nuptials, has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk, and everyone, especially those leading the fight for gay marriage, expect him to keep his word.  (Delli Santi, Associated Press)|topnews|text|State



Optimism on gay nuptials in N.J., despite a likely veto from Gov. Christie

Trenton will be packed with emotion this week as both houses of the Legislature are expected to pass a gay marriage bill, but leaders on both sides of the issue concede it will kick off a long political standoff between Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democrats.

Christie has pledged to veto the bill, and Democrats say they’re unlikely to quickly muster the two-thirds majorities needed to override him. Democrats also will ignore Christie’s proposal to instead put gay marriage up to voters in a November referendum.

Gay marriage opponents say such a stalemate will put New Jersey’s 10-year debate on ice for a long time. Supporters, however, will treat a vote by both houses as an important milestone in a fight they will continue to wage.  (Friedman and Spoto, The Star-Ledger)



Incumbent democrats in fight for a redrawn House district

The last time Representatives Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman spoke, the conversation ended like this:

“I love you, Billy.”

“I love you, too.”

Six weeks later, love looks like this: Mr. Rothman accuses Mr. Pascrell of double-crossing him. Mr. Pascrell has taken to calling Mr. Rothman a coward. And the men, two Democrats who once shared late dinners and commutes between New Jersey and Washington, avoid each other.

At the root of all this, New Jersey’s highest-profile split, is a simple dispute over turf. But it has roiled the Democratic establishment in New Jersey and Washington, and complicated the party’s hopes of winning back the 25 seats it needs to recapture a majority in the House.  (Zernike and Hernandez, The New York Times)



Israel issues echo in 9th District race

The leader of a pro-Israel political action committee that supports Rep. Steve Rothman says it’s not because Rep. Bill Pascrell has a bad voting record on the Jewish state.

“As an individual, I like him,” said Ben Chouake, a doctor from Englewood and president of NORPAC, the committee backing Rothman. “And in terms of our work on U.S.-Israel relations, [Pascrell] has an OK record. But he does stuff that sometimes is very upsetting to the pro-Israel constituency.”

Pascrell said he has never taken a stance against Israel’s security but is being criticized by Rothman’s backers for what he considers “building bridges” for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  (Jackson, The Record)



Menendez advocates shared appreciation mortgages at Plainfield hearing

State and federal agencies, as well as private lenders, could and should do more to keep people from being driven from their homes through foreclosures, witnesses testified at a hearing held by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in Plainfield.

The session highlighted Menendez’s new bill to encourage “shared appreciation mortgages” on homes that have plunged in value following the collapse of the housing bubble. The concept, which has been used by a few banks, involves a lender reducing the principal on a mortgage in exchange for a share of any future increase in value.  (Tyrrell, NJ Spotlight)



Civil unions criticized ahead of NJ marriage vote

In the fall of 2010, John Grant was rushed to Bellevue Hospital with a shattered skull after being hit by a car in New York City. Grant’s partner, Daniel Weiss, arrived at the hospital minutes later, frantic for an update on Grant’s condition.

But when Weiss explained who he was, and said that he and Grant had a civil union in New Jersey that effectively gave them the same status as a married couple, the response from Grant’s emergency room doctor was, “What is that?”

“In the midst of all of this chaos, this catastrophe, everything kept coming down to the status of our relationship,” said Weiss, who works as an immigration lawyer. Grant’s sister had to travel to New York from her home in Delaware to sign papers as Grant’s next-of-kin, authorizing a craniotomy.  (Honan, Reuters)



South Jersey power broker is stepping out from shadows

George E. Norcross III gazed out from the 10th-floor boardroom of Cooper University Hospital and pointed to where he could see the future.

The hospital chairman and longtime South Jersey Democratic boss motioned to where his hospital will install new brick sidewalks and street lamps, then to where a $100 million cancer center is expected to be under construction this year. Norcross shook his head dismissively at the Camden police station across the street. A regional police force, with his political backing, soon will likely replace the city police.

Up on Cooper’s helicopter pad moments later, Norcross surveyed the city from the other side of the building. Dressed in a black wool coat, he looked like a lord surveying his domain.  (Method, Gannett)



State Supreme Court nominee faces a vigorous vetting

Bruce Harris has tackled all the questions you’d expect to crop up for an elected official in a place like Chatham, a small borough in the well-heeled heart of Morris County where the average family makes $120,000 a year and 96 of every 100 residents are white.

Do residents really want a new dog park? How are we going to get control of these tattoo parlors? Are the awnings on Main Street businesses consistent with the feel of a Colonial village?

In eight years on the Borough Council and a brief spell as mayor, the record shows, Harris has been a stalwart steward for Chatham and all its charms.  (Pillets and Patberg, The Record)



Michele Siekerka and Robert A. Marshall named high posts at NJDEP

State Environmental Protection Assistant Commissioner Michele Siekerka Friday was named to lead the DEP’s Water Resource Management office and Robert A. Marshall, an assistant counsel to Gov. Chris Christie, was named the DEP’s assistant commissioner for Sustainability and Green Energy.

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin announced the senior management changes, stating he is redeploying people he described as effective administration leaders to critical posts to most effectively carry out the department’s five priority goals.

Siekerka, who has been an assistant commissioner for Economic Growth and Green Energy (EGGE), will replace current Assistant Commissioner for Water Resource Management John Plonski, who is leaving the department.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



New Jersey gets serious about sharing core services

Spending caps, rising property tax appeals, and a sluggish economy are spurring elected officials to push for police department consolidation, school district regionalization, and other shared services in a movement that promises to reshape the way government services are provided in New Jersey.

“The idea of merging police forces or school districts used to be the third rail of politics,” said Hunterdon County Freeholder Rob Walton. “That’s no longer true. It’s now part of the everyday discourse on how we govern ourselves as counties, municipalities, and school districts. It’s a big step forward.”

Hunterdon County is now debating a groundbreaking proposal to merge the county’s 30 school districts — and their 30 school superintendents, administrative staffs, and school boards — into a single countywide district, with potential tax savings in the tens of millions of dollars for Hunterdon’s 128,349 residents.  (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)



The tale of two troubled NJ school districts

New Jersey’s state control of some of its most troubled school districts saw an interesting contrast in the past few weeks.

In Newark, the state-appointed schools superintendent Cami Anderson launched her plans for reorganizing New Jersey’s largest district before a wary and sometimes hostile community audience.

A few days later in a suit initiated last fall, the first legal briefs were filed in state appellate court on behalf of two groups challenging the state’s 15-year-old takeover in Newark.

Meanwhile, Paterson proved a different story, at least for the moment. Once seen as probably the furthest of the state’s three takeover districts from regaining control, state officials were playing nice.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



$24M beach rescue funding critical to aid N.J. tourism, say stakeholders

A $24 million federal investment in beach replenishment, flood mitigation and storm damage reduction projects throughout the New Jersey coastline will give beaches the restoration they need to remain competitive during tourist season, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-Cliffside Park) said Thursday.

“Last year, Hurricane Irene and other storms wreaked havoc on our state,” Lautenberg said in a press release announcing the funding. “While we have more work to do, these funds are a critical investment (to) protect our coastal economy.”  (Eder, NJBIZ)$24M-beach-rescue-funding-critical-to-aid-NJ-tourism-say-stakeholders



Public will get chance to discuss strategic development plan

Public hearings on a new blueprint for statewide economic growth are slated to begin next week, marking one of the last steps state officials will take before adopting a plan to strengthen New Jersey’s key industries and most vibrant regions.

The first hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 13 at Richard Stockton College, in Galloway, one of six that will allow residents, businesses and stakeholders to weigh in on the state strategic plan before final adoption. A draft version of the plan, unveiled in October by Gov. Chris Christie, outlines the state’s ideas for spurring economic development while preserving the most environmentally sensitive areas.  (Burd, NJBIZ)



Poll: More Jerseyans open to diversity, see it as a boon

The Garden State has grown racially and ethnically in the last decade, and according to the results of a Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll, New Jerseyans are showing an increased level of comfort with that diversity.

Half of New Jerseyans say diversity is good for the state’s quality of life, up 7 points from a similar survey in December 2010. And the percentage of people who take a dim view of diversity fell to half, from 16 to 8 percent. Another 32 percent this year said diversity has no effect on the state’s quality of life.  (Serrano, Gannett)



State agency prepares to push CHP program

The state is gearing up a program to promote the building of combined heat and power systems, a top priority of the newly revised Energy Master Plan.

In the next few weeks, the staff of the Board of Public Utilities expects to present a proposal to the five commissioners to allocate $75 million to a fund to encourage development of power plants that generate electricity and heat simultaneously.

CHP, as it is sometimes called, is viewed by many as the lowest-cost way to add power generation and help the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The energy plan calls for building up to 1,500 megawatts of CHP generating capacity.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



NJ pioneers new standard for assisted-living facilities

Since 1993, New Jersey has licensed and regulated assisted living facilities whose senior citizen residents need help with many of the routines of daily life, such as mobility, housekeeping, and meals but who don’t generally need round-the-clock nursing care. Today about 17,000 elderly New Jerseyans live in 215 assisted-living facilities inspected by the state Department of Health and Senior Services for compliance with state regulations on health and safety, employee credentials, and staffing adequacy.  (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)



Camden schools’ failing grades

Almost a year after the Camden City School District gave itself highly favorable scores in a performance evaluation, the state Department of Education has come back with its own review, and the scores aren’t pretty.

In the latest Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) performance review, the district received failing grades in four of the five categories – instruction and program (7 percent); operations (47 percent); personnel (9 percent); and governance (33 percent).

It received 79 percent in fiscal management, which acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said was mostly because the district was checked daily by a state-appointed fiscal monitor.  (Vargas and Giordano, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Revisiting the issue of toll-paying for DRPA workers

A Pennsylvania commissioner of the Delaware River Port Authority is seeking to reduce commuting costs for the authority’s Pennsylvania employees.

David Simon, who was appointed last year to the DRPA board by Gov. Corbett, has asked DRPA management to look for a way to cut the costs for Pennsylvania residents who now must pay the $5 bridge toll every work day.

In the meantime, he asked the DRPA to delay allowing all employees to participate in a federal program to reduce commuting costs.

Simon said he was not seeking a return to the free rides that all DRPA workers got on the agency’s toll bridges until Gov. Christie banned them in 2010.  (Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Environmentalists miffed over Siekerka appointment

Lawyer and local business leader Michele Siekerka was named the state’s assistant commissioner of water resource management Friday, provoking outcry from environmentalists who said she lacks the necessary expertise and is beholden to commercial interests.

In her new role, Siekerka will represent the state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin in affairs of the Delaware River Basin Commission, DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said. The commission is expected to vote on draft regulations that would allow natural gas development by hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, within the river basin.  (Rosenau, Times of Trenton)



Medical marijuana group drops suit against NJ town

A group approved to sell medical marijuana has dropped its lawsuit against a southern New Jersey town that rejected its request to set up a dispensary.

The Compassionate Care Foundation had sued Westampton shortly after the Burlington County town’s Land Development Board voted last month to reject its proposed facility in a vacant warehouse.

Board members, who voted 4-3 against the plan, said a medical-marijuana outlet was not an “intended use” when a local zoning measure was enacted.  (Associated Press)



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BPU announces settlement with PSE&G over 2010 blast

A power company will pay $150,000 to New Jersey as part of a settlement over a natural gas explosion nearly two years ago.

The Board of Public Utilities reported today that it OK’d a settlement with Public Service Electric and Gas Co. over an explosion in Clifton on April 9, 2010.

In addition to the payment, according to BPU, Castlton Environmental Contractors of Nanuet, N.Y., failed to comply with the Underground Protection Act.   (Staff, State Street Wire)



Towns considering levy cap increases have deadlines to adhere to

The state is notifying towns on a calendar-based fiscal year that are considering exceeding the state-imposed levy cap that there are some deadlines to remember.

The state issued a Local Finance Notice for towns that may want to try and exceed the 2 percent municipal property tax levy cap or the 2.5 percent appropriation cap.

Towns that are considering a levy cap referendum must publish a display advertisement announcing that a referendum may be held.  (Staff, State Street Wire)



From the Back Room 



Alcoholic Beverage Control has new director

The New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control has a new director.

Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa this morning said that Michael I. Halfacre has been named to run the ABC.

Among other things, Halfacre, 45, of Fair Haven, ran his own law practice where he specialized in transactions, including transfers of ABC licenses.  In addition, he was a municipal prosecutor in Little Silver and Rumson, and was mayor of Fair Haven.  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)






21 votes don’t equal one marriage vow

The state Senate is expected to approve same-sex marriage today. The vote will come two years too late. In 2010, a similar bill went down to defeat, 14-20. In early January 2010, New Jersey’s governor supported marriage equality. In February 2012, New Jersey’s governor does not.

I have heard the arguments that the bill’s failure during the Corzine administration was Gov. Jon Corzine’s fault. Democrats blame Corzine for everything. I do not doubt that there is at least one Jersey Democrat who believes his or her digestive irregularity was directly attributed to the failures of Jon Corzine.  (Doblin, The Record)



Bergen GOP wants Garrett to show up to earn its backing

Rep. Scott Garrett of Wantage will have to compete for the Bergen County Republican Organization’s blessing at its convention next month instead of having it bestowed upon him by BCRO Chairman Bob Yudin.

That was the decision reached by a majority of the BCRO committee members in Hackensack last Tuesday night, despite Yudin’s arguments against it. It’s largely a procedural — and most likely, symbolic move — given that Garrett is likely to capture the BCRO-endorsement, anyway.

His only competition will be Michael Cino, a perennial candidate from Demarest who ran unsuccessful, off-the-line, challenges against Garrett in the 2002 general election contest and in the 2006 primary under the “Republicans for Lower Gasoline Prices” banner.  (Stile, The Record)



Will courtesy prevail at Cerf hearing?

When Gov. Chris Christie took a moment during the introduction of his two nominees to the state Supreme Court to discuss the new residence of Christopher Cerf, his acting commissioner of education, there was an audible chuckle from the gathered.

“Commissioner Cerf’s decision to move to shorten his commute is not to the benefit of Ron Rice or Dick Codey,” Christie said, referring to the two Democratic senators from Essex County.

Rice, in particular, had been using the tradition of senatorial courtesy — in which a senator from a nominee’s home county can block his path to confirmation — to stall Cerf’s nomination. Rice’s reasons for blocking have been myriad and in some cases ill defined, but under Senate rules, making Cerf pass through him first was Rice’s prerogative.  (Schoonejongen, Gannett)



Court responsible for N.J. fiscal woes

The Senate Judiciary Committee is playing games with Gov. Chris Christie’s two recent nominees to the state Supreme Court, making excuses and generally being obstructionist while pretending to do the work of the people, but a well researched article from the Manhattan Institute shows the governor is doing what he needs to for the good of New Jersey.

Steven Malanga, one of my favorite journalists because he gets it right and tells it well, wrote an article for the Institute’s quarterly City Magazine called “The Court That Broke New Jersey.” Every taxpayer should read it.  (Ingle, Gannett)



Christie’s comment on treating drug abuse stirs hope

On the front lines of the real war on drugs in New Jersey, people are heartened by five words in Gov. Christie’s State of the State address.

“The disease of drug abuse” was the phrase the governor used in proposing mandatory addiction treatment in cases of nonviolent drug-related offenses.

“The governor gets it,” says Stephanie Loebs, vice president of treatment services at Seabrook House Inc., a rehabilitation center in Cumberland County that has helped addicts and alcoholics recover for nearly 40 years.

“The social stigma [is] that addiction . . . is an issue of morals, or a lack of intestinal fortitude, or a lack of willpower,” Loebs says. “Addiction is a chronic illness.”  (Riordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Must feed incentives to spur urban redevelopment

When the Urban Transit Hub tax credit program was signed by Jon Corzine, it raised a lot of eyebrows — both of interested business owners and skeptical critics — for the sheer size of the program’s $1.5 billion price tag. 

And along with its size, it’s become as malleable as a well-chewed piece of saltwater taffy, having been stretched by lawmakers to cover residential projects, projects near freight lines, projects outside the original geographic boundaries of the program and projects that are neither urban nor near train stations.
Imagine how high those eyebrows are going to go if a bill seeking to inject another $1 billion into the program is passed.  (NJBIZ)



Will master plan for state colleges relieve Camden’s despair?

A few blocks from the Miracle Center Church, where an inscription on a wall proclaims that God “delivered them from destruction,” Shakir Lane pondered another kind of destruction — that of his own neighborhood.

Three abandoned houses stood before him on Broadway, all of them crack dens now, said Lane, a 30-year-old construction laborer who hasn’t worked in two years.

He glanced at a lumpy pile of soiled clothes and blankets that a homeless man had left on a porch, then pointed to six more abandoned houses around the corner on Lansdowne Avenue.  (Kelly, The Record)



Morning News Digest: February 13, 2012