Morning News Digest: February 16, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Assembly Dems fire back at GOP
The Assembly Democrats fired back after Assembly Republicans today urged Democrats to support the governor’s policies.
The Democrats criticized the Republicans’ stance on issues that they say have dragged the state down and have hurt middle-class families.
“By embracing (Gov.) Chris Christie’s New Jersey, the Assembly Republicans have embraced tax cuts for millionaires, a net 20 percent property tax hike, 9 percent unemployment and less access to health care for women,” Assembly Democratic spokesman Tom Hester said in a release. (Hassan, PolitickerNJ)
Sources: Trouble on WNY commission for Rodriguez
Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez finds herself at ground zero of a political taffy pull between Mayor Felix Roque and the forces of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) , a tussle that went into overdrive when Roque endorsed state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-13) last week.
Left for road kill in the aftermath of redistricting, Rodriguez regenerated on Roque’s local renegade ticket, an extended political life that right now appears to have turned very precarious.
A longtime ally of U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-13), Rodriguez allegedly endorsed Menendez as a counterweight to the mayor. Sources say Roque didn’t like the commissioner issuing an endorsement without first consulting him and the other commissioners. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Assembly GOP exhorts Dems to back Christie
Standing under a banner reading “Welcome to the New New Jersey: Creating Jobs and Lowering Taxes,” the Assembly Republican leadership called on Democrats this afternoon to support the policies they and Gov. Chris Christie advocate for.
The litany of policies is a familiar one: passage of sick leave and vacation payout reform, an across-the-board income tax cut of 10 percent, giving Christie veto power over the functions of the independent authorities, and education reform, such as the passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act.
With the governor’s annual budget address scheduled for Tuesday, a couple of new themes were mentioned today, such as improving tourism and creating more opportunities for women to remain in the work force and balance a home life raising young children. (Hassan, PolitickerNJ)
Christie on WNY appearance: ‘It’s not driven by politics’
At the broiling center of Hudson County politics, Gov. Chris Christie found a polished gym Memorial High School floor and a bleacher full of school kids in black shirts, khaki pants and sneakers to announce an allocation of $675 million to urban projects overseen by the Schools Development Authority (SDA).
“It is not driven at all by politics, which is what we saw in the selection of state vendors (in the past),” Christie said of the SDA. “It should be based on the needs of the children and the demands of that school district.”
The governor’s remarks prefaced a grunted hail of laughter a little more than a week after West New York Mayor Felix Roque endorsed Christie’s GOP pal, Joe Kyrillos, over local hero, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in the U.S. Senate contest. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Gov. Christie announces new plans for 20 N.J. schools across the state
Standing in the gymnasium of the aging Memorial High School in West New York, Gov. Chris Christie announced plans today to move ahead with 20 school construction projects serving students in some of New Jersey’s poorest cities.
Christie unveiled a list of projects to be built by the Schools Development Authority, including the long-stalled construction of a new Phillipsburg High School and a replacement for Memorial High School. Eight of the projects represent an investment of $675 million, he said; no cost estimates were available for the others.
The governor said the projects are a continuation of his reform of the state’s long-troubled school construction program, “in a way that’s smart and that’s not driven at all by politics.” (Portnoy and Rundquist, The Star-Ledger)
Christie under fire for flag tribute to Whitney Houston
Should flags fly at half-staff to mark the death of Whitney Houston?
That question has become the center of the latest Internet-inspired storm cloud to hover over Gov. Christie.
Christie announced Tuesday at a news conference that U.S. and New Jersey flags would be lowered for one day – Saturday, the day of Houston’s funeral – to honor a New Jerseyan who was “an important part of the cultural fabric of this state.”
As word spread via social media, response was fast and often furious. A pop star with a history of drug abuse does not deserve an honor more typically given to a service member fallen in the line of duty, many said. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Christie to announce WrestleMania coming to Meadowlands
New Jersey has lured WWE‘s WrestleMania event to MetLife Stadium, and Gov. Chris Christie will make an announcement about the April 2013 event Thursday at the sports complex, NJBIZ has learned.
The Connecticut-based World Wresting Entertainment considered multiple venues for its annual top event that New Jersey officials expect will draw 70,000 people to MetLife Stadium, according to two sources. (Waters, NJBIZ)
DeCroce’s widow to take over seat today
BettyLou DeCroce is scheduled to be sworn in today to fill the state Assembly seat of her late husband, the same day a Senate panel is due to vote on an enhanced crime victims’ rights law named after Alex DeCroce.
BettyLou DeCroce, 59, of Parsippany, is scheduled to be sworn into the office representing the 26th Legislative District at about 1 p.m. in Trenton by Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver.
Rich Savner, spokesman for Assembly Republicans, said that DeCroce’s assignments to legislative committees are made by Assembly GOP Leader Jon M. Bramnick and are expected to be announced after the swearing-in. Through Savner, DeCroce said she would decline comment until the ceremony. (Wright, Gannett)
Gay marriage bills head toward votes in New Jersey, Maryland
Bills to permit gay marriage in New Jersey and Maryland face key legislative debates and votes on Thursday, highlighting a hot-button issue that is one of several social matters gaining prominence in the election year debate.
In New Jersey, the Assembly takes up the “Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act,” which passed the Senate on Monday. The bill is expected to pass the Democrat-dominated lower house as well, but faces a promised veto by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican often talked about as a possible vice presidential candidate. (Popovici, Reuters)
Assembly GOP puts tax cuts, vouchers on agenda
Republicans in the New Jersey Assembly said Wednesday they wanted to push for lower income taxes and local government reforms, echoing calls made earlier by Gov. Chris Christie.
New GOP Minority Leader Jon M. Bramnick, in a news conference, called for passage of Christie’s proposed income tax reduction, a school voucher program and civil service reform.
“What are our priorities? They’re really simple: create jobs, lower taxes, work on education reform, work on tourism,” Bramnick said. (Method, Gannett)
As protesters rally at Rutgers-Camden, consortium, not merger, discussed
Meetings of the Rutgers Board of Governors are usually staid affairs. The February 15 convocation was anything but: Hundreds of students and faculty — some bearing signs and banners — were there to protest the proposed merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University.
Inside the Walter K. Gordon Theater at Rutgers-Camden, university President Richard L. McCormick addressed the same issue.
“We argued that severing Rutgers-Camden from the rest of the university was not a good idea,” McCormick said to applause from over 600 members of the school community, referring to meetings with the Barer committee before its overhaul recommendations were released last month. (Bonamo, NJ Spotlight)
Environmental advocates: Christie pact pull-out will cost N.J. hundreds of millions of dollars
New Jersey is passing up hundreds of millions of dollars in future revenue if it doesn’t get back into a regional cap and trade program, environmental advocates said today.
Environment New Jersey issued a report outlining how New Jersey would benefit from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative over the next several years.
In May, Gov. Chris Christie called the program — a regional agreement between 10 states — a failure and began pulling out of it.
A bill to get the state back into the program cleared an Assembly committee two weeks ago, is scheduled for a vote in the full Assembly Thursday and has been introduced in the upper house by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester). (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
New Jersey study says taxing plants for carbon emissions creates jobs
Taxing power plants for their carbon emissions doesn’t kill jobs, it creates them, according to a report issued Wednesday by a New Jersey environmental policy group.
New Jersey’s participation in a regional effort to decrease greenhouse-gas emissions brought the state $151 million in economic benefits, including nearly 1,800 jobs, over three years, according to the study issued by Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center.
The nonprofit group urged Gov. Christie to support a bill that would have the state rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a consortium of nine mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states that aim to reduce carbon emissions by 10 percent in their states by 2018. Christie pulled New Jersey out of the program last year, saying the cap-and-trade-system burdened businesses and did not work. (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
New Jersey’s overlooked superfund sites
Long saddled with the dubious distinction of having the most toxic waste sites on the Superfund National Priority list, it actually might have been a lot worse for New Jersey.
At least 27 sites in the state scored high enough on the numerical ranking system used to qualify for federal funding and assistance for cleanups, but were not added to the list by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to agency documents obtained by an interest group under the Freedom of Information Act.
New Jersey currently has 144 toxic wastes sites on the National Priority List, many of which have been awaiting cleanup for decades. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Affordable housing fight gets center stage in court
The court battle over the fate of the Council on Affordable Housing continued today, with the Fair Share Housing Center arguing a move by the Gov. Chris Christie administration to bring COAH’s duties under gubernatorial oversight is unlawful.
Christie in June announced COAH would be abolished, and its functions transferred to the Department of Community Affairs — effectively giving the governor authority over affordable housing responsibilities.
In its appeal in Superior Court today, Adam Gordon, an attorney with Fair Share Housing Center, said that transfer was unlawful. (Eder, NJBIZ)
Redd, education chief to meet
Mayor Dana Redd is meeting in Trenton today with acting Department of Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf to “discuss deficiencies” in the city’s school district.
Redd, who has recently said it may be time for the superintendent, Bessie LeFra Young, to resign, said she will discuss additional details later today, but added she “was looking to partner with the governor.”
A message seeking comment from the Department of Education was not immediately returned Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, Camden school board member Barbara Coscarello will call for a no confidence vote in Young when the board meets next Tuesday evening. (Shelly, Gannett)
Anderson’s meeting with Newark teachers: Civil and a little nervous
These are the quieter meetings for Cami Anderson, the ones where the Newark school superintendent doesn’t face what has become the familiar wrath of community and parent activists.
This one was for Newark teachers, more than 60 of them, who traveled after school yesterday to the Harold Wilson School in the Central Ward to talk with Anderson about how they will be evaluated in the classroom — and whether they will have a job next year.
“We don’t know what will happen next, a lot of teachers feel that way,” said Eunice Mitchell, a teaching coach at Newark Innovation Academy. “The uncertainty is very scary.” (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Rail line study gets approval
New Jersey lawmakers, civic leaders and representatives of the region’s medical and academic communities attended a Delaware River Port Authority meeting Wednesday to show support for the proposed Glassboro-Camden rail.
Even though the project is years away from construction and there is no funding in sight to pay the estimated $1.5 billion cost, leaders rallied around a relatively small, but positive step towards linking Camden and Gloucester counties by rail. (Stilwell, Gannett)
Just what the doctor ordered: Help with medical education loans
Claudia Clarke, an aspiring pediatric MD, will be loaded down with $210,000 in loans when she graduates this June from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey with plans to practice medicine in depressed areas where doctors are scare.
“I don’t think that where you live should determine what kind of medical care you get,” she said.
Clarke’s idealism is getting some financial affirmation from the federal government. Clarke is one of 77 medical students nationwide — and the only student in New Jersey — chosen in this year’s round of grants from the National Health Service Corps, which provides incentives to increase the number of primary care doctors serving communities in need. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Hospital admits mishandling communication over transplant
A Philadelphia hospital apologized publicly Wednesday for a controversy over its alleged refusal to transplant a kidney into a developmentally disabled Stratford girl.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said no decision has been made on a transplant for 3-year-old Amelia “Mia” Rivera, and that it does not disqualify transplant candidates “on the basis of intellectual ability.”
But a CHOP executive faulted the hospital’s communications with the girl’s parents, Joe and Chrissy Rivera.
“As an organization, we regret that we communicated in a manner that did not clearly reflect our polices or intent.” Dr. Michael Apkon, CHOP’s chief medical officer, said in the statement. (Walsh, Gannett)
Citizens group pursues possible Scotch Plains/Fanwood consolidation
A citizens group has submitted an application to the state to set up a commission to study the possible merger of the Union County municipalities of Scotch Plains and Fanwood.
The group, Courage to Reconnection Scotch Plains/Fanwood, submitted the petition to the Local Finance Board on Wednesday.
Creating a study commission is the first step in the often-lengthy process of getting towns to merge. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Latino Action Network endorses Marriage Equality Act
On the eve of the Assembly vote on same-sex marriage, the Latino Action Network endorsed the measure.
“Marriage Equality is an important civil rights issue and we believe it is long overdue in the state of New Jersey,” Frank Argote-Freyre, Latino Action Network president, said in a release.
The Senate passed the Marriage Equality Act on Monday. Assembly passage is expected, as is a gubernatorial veto. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Environment N.J. report seeks to qualify consequences of leaving RGGI
A new environmental report claims New Jersey is missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars that could create more green energy jobs, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and improve clean energy efforts.
A report released today by Environment N.J. claims that the governor’s decision last year to pull the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative was based on misinformation that RGGI hurt the economy and was failing in its green goals. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Two N.J. highway rest stops to have solar panels
The state Transportation Department has formed a partnership with a technology company, Adopt-A-Watt, to install solar panels along rest stops, which could save money for the state.
The two rest areas that will have the panels are the Knowlton rest area on Interstate 80 in Warren County and the Carney’s Point rest area on I-295 in Salem County.
DOT Commissioner Jim Simpson said in a statement that the partnership “creates private-sector business opportunities, generates new revenue, reduces energy costs and benefits the environment by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.” (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Gifts help Christie forge bonds with Democrats
As the corruption-busting U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Chris Christie sent several Democratic Party barons to jail, wreaking havoc on their home turf with the subpoena, the wiretap and the indictment.
It paved the way for his 2009 election victory.
Now Governor Christie is wreaking a new round of havoc on Democratic turf, but with a different, yet powerfully persuasive, tool: government pork.
Christie arrived Wednesday at Memorial High School in West New York, located in the land of Bob Menendez, the U.S. senator and de facto Democratic Party baron of Hudson County. And he awarded the school district manna from Trenton — money to buy a vacant building from a Catholic high school across the street. (Stile, The Record)
University merger idea spurs opposition
When they talk merger, whether it be an airline, grocery chain or fast food outlets, among the issues usually not getting a lot of attention are the cultures involved. Too bad. Culture clash can make or break a joint venture.
As long as I’ve been writing under New Jersey datelines, few issues have crowded my mailbox as much as the proposal to merge Rowan University of Glassboro with Rutgers-Camden. People are passionate on both sides. A new poll shows only 22 percent of registered voters approve the merger, while 57 percent are opposed.
South Jersey needs a more unified higher education environment and expanded research capabilities. Rutgers has a more nationally recognized name than Rowan. Beyond that there are lots of details lost on us not in the university environment that need to be looked at. That’s what both sides should be doing. (Ingle, Gannett)