Morning News Digest: February 17, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Rutgers-Eagleton: Obama at 60%, Christie at 47% favorability
Sixty percent of NJ respondents view President Barack Obama favorably, an increase of 10 points since October 2011, according to this morning’s Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
The president’s favorability rating here is at its highest point in more than 18 months, and only 33 percent of voters say they hold an unfavorable impression of him.
New Jerseyans also give the president higher grades on job performance. Nearly half (48 percent) give him an A or B, compared to 38 percent in October. Negative grades (D or F) have remained static at 30 percent, unchanged from 31 percent four months ago. Those in the middle, giving Obama a C, have declined by 10 points to 22 percent. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Assembly OKs gay marriage bill, heads to Christie’s desk
After more than two hours of passionate speeches, the state Assembly approved the marriage equality bill A1, by a 42-33 vote this afternoon, paving the way for the legislation to appear on the desk of Gov. Chris Christie, who has vowed to veto it.
The Senate passed the bill on Monday.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15) of Trenton, who is openly gay, said marriage has evolved over time and now is the time to vote for this legislation, which he sponsored. He added that civil unions are not good enough, since it leaves them as “second-class citizens.” (Hassan, PolitickerNJ)
Ex-deputy chief zaps Stack in letter to Christie over transitional aid application
A former Union City deputy chief wants a state Attorney General’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding Union City Mayor Brian P. Stack’s application for transitional aid.
Joseph Blaettler wrote a Feb. 14th letter to Gov. Chris Christie this week alleging that Stack last year filed a false certification with the state Division of Local Government Services.
Blaettler said in his letter to the governor that in September of last year Stack falsely informed government services that Union City has a pay-to-play ordinance. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
No immediate veto from Christie on gay marriage
Gov. Chris Christie will take no action Thursday night on a gay marriage bill OK’d by the New Jersey Assembly.
The Assembly passed the bill allowing same-sex nuptials by a 42-33 vote earlier Thursday. But the chamber isn’t required to send the bill to Christie’s desk until the close of business Friday.
Christie, a Republican who opposes gay marriage, has promised “very swift action” once the bill reaches his desk.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said no action on the bill would be taken before Friday. (Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Christie endorses Republican Joe Kyrillos for U.S. Senate
On Thursday, Gov. Christie endorsed his close friend and longtime political ally state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) for U.S. Senate.
The governor made the endorsement at a press conference in a diner in Springfield. Kyrillos is campaigning to defeat incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in the November election.
“We have been able to begin to turn things around in New Jersey because of reformers and leaders like Joe Kyrillos,” Christie said. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Senate committee approves Gov. Christie’s Secretary of Higher Education appointment
The Senate Judiciary Committee today unanimously approved the governor’s appointment of Rochelle R. Hendricks to be the Secretary of Higher Education.
At the committee’s urging, Hendricks pledged to delve into why so many New Jersey students attend colleges outside the state, and why tuition costs have climbed so astronomically.
Hendricks also said she was fully behind Gov. Chris Christie’s “bold and transformative” plan to restructure New Jersey’s university system. The plan would reconfigure and rename the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, and allow Rowan University in Gloucester County to take over the Camden campus of Rutgers University, including its law school. (Livio, The Star-Ledger)
BettyLou DeCroce sworn in to replace late husband Alex DeCroce in N.J. Assembly
Assemblywoman BettyLou (CQ) DeCroce (R- Morris), was sworn in Thursday at the Statehouse in Trenton as the newest member of the Assembly.
DeCroce succeeds her late husband, former Assemblyman and Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, who died unexpectedly on Jan. 9. She joins Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Morris) and Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris) in representing the 26th District serving the 26th District in Morris and Passaic counties. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Sen. Ron Rice re-elected chairman of Legislative Black Caucus
Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) was re-elected chairman of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus for the 2012-14 term Thursday at the group’s reorganization meeting in Trenton.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) and Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union) were elected as the vice chairpersons.
Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Passaic) was elected secretary, Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) was re-elected treasurer, and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) was elected sergeant-at-arms. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
N.J. Supreme Court dismisses assemblywoman’s win, citing state’s residency rule
The New Jersey Supreme Court invalidated Assemblywoman-elect Gabriela Mosquera’s November election on Thursday in a 4-3 decision that upheld the state’s one-year residency requirement for legislative candidates.
But it said Democratic officials could appoint Mosquera to the Fourth District seat, which has been vacant while the court considered the legal questions surrounding the election.
Enough time has passed that “Mosquera would meet eligibility requirements for appointment as interim successor, if she were selected,” according to the ruling. (Osborne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Battle heats up between NJEA and N.J. Republicans, with new tactic: video ambush
In its escalating war with the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s Republican Party recently turned to a new tactic: ambushing the head of the union with a video camera in the hope of capturing an embarrassing YouTube moment.
The association said Thursday that having videographers lurking outside their offices in hooded sweatshirts and knit caps showed the lengths to which Republicans would go in an effort to demonize educators.
“That’s as low as you can go,” said Steve Wollmer, an association spokesman. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
NJ rewarding 12 districts for improving special ed
Trying to spur improvement and innovation the old-fashioned way, the Christie administration will be sending checks to a dozen school districts that showed the strongest achievement among their students with disabilities.
Acting commissioner Chris Cerf is expected to announce on Friday a dozen “Special Education Recognition Awards,” totaling $1 million, to districts that last year had a combination of the highest scores among these students and those with the most improvement.
The districts each will be awarded between $50,000 and $100,000, depending on their enrollment, to be spent on programs for children with disabilities. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
$1B addition to Urban Transit Hub tax credits advances
A bill that would provide $1 billion in additional tax credits for state incentives to build near train stations advanced out of the Senate Economic Growth Committee today.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), who chairs the committee that advanced the measure; it would increase the amount of incentives available under the program from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion.
Projects must include $50 million in investment and 250 jobs to the state to be eligible for tax credits under the program. (Kitchenman, NJBIZ)
The politics of the budget
Despite being a Republican Governor with a Democratic-controlled legislature, Chris Christie got the budgets he wanted during his first two years in office. But if Democratic legislative leaders are to be believed, that’s going to change this year.
The Fiscal Year 2013 budget that Christie will unveil Tuesday poses less of a fiscal challenge than Christie’s first two budgets, but Christie raised the political stakes by calling for a 10 percent income tax cut heading into his reelection year.
Democrats quickly pounced on the proposal as a tax cut for the rich, with Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) pointing out that millionaires could go on an exotic vacation with their $7,265 tax cut, while a family of four making $50,000 couldn’t buy a cart of groceries with the $80.50 it would receive. (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)
Rush Limbaugh backs Chris Christie’s Whitney Houston flag tribute
Rush Limbaugh defended New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to order flags in his state to be flown at half-staff on the day of the late singer Whitney Houston’s funeral, as he briefly dipped his toes in the world of entertainment on his radio show Thursday.
“I have a question. If she did not have in her life a problem with drug abuse and alcohol … we don’t yet know what the cause of death was, but let’s assume that alcohol and drugs had nothing to do with it. Take that out of it. How many of you would be upset that the flag was lowered to half staff?” Limbaugh said. (Lee, Politico)
Bill transforming vacant houses to affordable housing advances
A bill that would encourage turning abandoned, foreclosed houses into affordable or work force housing was advanced today by the Senate Economic Growth Committee.
The bill received the backing of an unlikely coalition, from business groups to housing and environmental advocates.
“The ground did open up a little bit,” said Timothy J. Touhey, CEO of the New Jersey Builders Association, referring to the unlikely mix of advocacy groups that supported the issue. (Kitchenman, NJBIZ)
SBA pushes Obama proposal to expand tax-credit program on health care
President Barack Obama’s proposal to expand and simplify a small-business health care tax credit program could help some 150,000 small-business owners in New Jersey stave off rising coverage costs, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
“While the Affordable Care Act will bring down costs in 2014, something must be done to bring down costs right now,” said Karen Mills, Small Business Administration administrator, in a media conference call today. “The sooner (the proposal) is implemented, the more small-business owners will benefit.”
The tax credit extension is part of Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget plan. (Eder, NJBIZ)
Pallone asks EPA to explain 27 sites left off superfund list
Rep. Frank Pallone called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday to explain why it left 27 toxic sites in New Jersey off a federal cleanup priority list.
The letter from Pallone, D-N.J., comes a day after an environmental watchdog group released the list of 27 passed-over sites.
According to the group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), these sites scored high enough on the government’s hazard ranking system to be placed on the superfund priority list — but were left off the list, which means they aren’t eligible for federal funding for cleanup. (Herman, Gannett)
Muslim coalition appeals to Christie
A coalition of New Jersey-based Muslim and civil rights groups is asking Gov. Christie to investigate reports that the New York Police Department conducted secret surveillance of Muslim communities in New Jersey.
Sixteen organizations have signed a letter asking the governor to investigate the extent of the surveillance in New Jersey and whether local law enforcement agencies were involved.
Christie suggested Thursday through a spokesman that it would not be “appropriate” for his office to conduct an investigation and he would instead forward the request to the state Attorney General’s Office. (Henry, Associated Press)
Council’s OK routes pipeline through heart of Highlands
A proposed 7.6 mile natural gas pipeline that would cut through the heart of the New Jersey Highlands, including several state parks, cleared an important hurdle last night when the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council recommended the project go forward.
The approval came after a contentious and occasionally boisterous three-and-a-half hour hearing in Chester, where most of those testifying urged the project, the second leg of an expansion of an existing line already approved by the council, be rejected, or, at the least, be held. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Nordstrom gives up Morris freeholder fight; Democrats declare victory
Margaret Nordstrom said Thursday she has accepted an appeals court order that removed her from the Morris County freeholder board and will not appeal nor try to reclaim the seat at a GOP convention.
“It’s time for me to move on and for the county to move on,” said Nordstrom, a former Washington Township mayor and freeholder since 1999. “It’s been one wild moment after another, and I just have to take control of my life.” (Wright, Gannett)
NJ Turnpike Authority retirements surge with $15M in payouts
Last year, 372 New Jersey Turnpike Authority workers played their own version of the old TV game show “Beat the Clock” by retiring before anticipated reforms on payouts for unused vacation and sick time could take effect and reduce their final paychecks.
Those workers left at a rate nine times higher than the 40 workers who usually retire annually from the agency. For some of those retirees, the prize was a five- to six-figure check for unused sick and vacation time they banked over the decades, in addition to a separation bonus. (Higgs, Gannett)
Monmouth Democratic chairman won’t seek post again
Monmouth County Democratic Chairman Victor V. Scudiery announced Thursday he will not seek re-election in June to the political post he has held for more than two decades.
“After 23 years, I’ve decided to end my term as chairman,” Scudiery said in a letter to Democrat Party County Committee members dated Feb. 8 and publicly released Thursday. “But I know that, because of all the work of the dedicated, loyal Democrats like you, I will leave it in good hands.” (Sapia, Gannett)
Watchdog wants expanded review of Andrews’ spending
A watchdog group on Thursday asked a federal election agency to expand its review of campaign spending by Rep. Rob Andrews.
Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) wants the Federal Election Commission to scrutinize spending on a trip to California in November by Andrews and his teenage daughter, Josie. The trip, funded through more than $11,000 in political contributions, coincided with recording sessions in Los Angeles for Josie Andrews, an aspiring pop singer. (Walsh, Gannett)
Gusciora on same-sex marriage vote: Great day for all of N.J.
A celebratory mood was showcased following the vote on same-sex marriage, with Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15) of Trenton, describing it as “a great day for all of New Jersey.”
“Everyone can be part of the American dream,” he said. “I’m just thrilled to death.” (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Assembly passes roster of bills
After the landmark passage of the Marriage Equality law today, the Assembly still had quite a few other bills to address.
Here is how they broke down. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Vote breakdown on marriage equality
The Assembly passed S1, the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act today. The vote was along party lines with a few Democrats opting not to support the issue. No Republicans voted in favor of the measure, as the only two potentially supportive members – Mary Pat Angelini, (R-11), Ocean Township, and Declan O’Scanlon, (R-13), Little Silver – were out of the country to celebrate state Sen. Jen Beck’s, (R-11), Red Bank, wedding in the Caribbean. (Staff, State Street Wire)
McHose says Legislature should work on bills people care most about: jobs, taxes
Republican Alison McHose said this same-sex marriage bill is not about discrimination but about whether an issue such as this should be placed before the voters.
She said she has introduced a measure that put that basic question before the voters of whether marriage should be one man/one woman.
She reminded the Assembly that there have been only 12 complaints about the state’s civil union law. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Governor Christie, the American flag is not a prop
My Uncle Frank died in 1961. I was almost four at the time. He was a World War II veteran. He fought in Europe and was part of the D-Day forces that landed in France. He died of natural causes: a heart attack. No one lowered the American flag when he died.
One of my earliest memories is of his funeral. It was in a great big barn of a Catholic church in Hell’s Kitchen on the West Side of Manhattan. I clearly remember sitting with my parents looking at the flag-draped coffin. I didn’t understand much, but I understood this: The American flag is not a prop. (Doblin, The Record)