Morning News Digest: February 21, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Poll: Support for – but misunderstanding of – income tax cut
A majority of registered voters are in favor of Gov. Christie’s call for a 10 percent income tax cut. But many respondents to a new poll have major misconceptions about how much an income tax cut would save them. And regardless of their perceptions’ accuracy, most people want property taxes cut first.
According to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, although 52 percent of respondents support Christie’s income tax cut proposal, three-quarters of respondents prefer a property tax cut before an income tax cut. (Mooney, PolitickerNJ)
CV for Marriage Equality
As expected, Gov. Christie has issued a conditional veto of the Marriage Equality law.
Christie had promised to veto the bill allowing same sex marriage, which passed Thursday in the Assembly by a vote of 42 to 33 after having been approved by the Senate on Monday.
But while advocates of the proposal rejoiced, they knew the bill was likely dead on arrival in the governor’s office. (Mooney, PolitickerNJ)
Dems condemn Marriage Equality CV
Reaction to the governor’s conditional veto of the Marriage Equality law was swift from Democrats.
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald issued harsh criticism, saying Gov. Christie has violated his oath of office and is not defending the rights of all residents.
“Thousands and thousands of New Jersey families are denied financial security, health security and fundamental equal rights every day because of a failed civil union experiment,” Greenwald said in a statement he issued about why the Marriage Equality Act was necessary to replace the Civil Union law. (Mooney, PolitickerNJ)
Winners and Losers: Week of Feb. 13
It was a momentous week here in Trenton with the passage of same sex marriage and its chief proponents top our winners list. But as always, the capital city was not the only place where news was made. State Sen. Brian Stack may be in hot water, while Gabriela Mosquera lost but still won.
So with that here are your winners and losers…
Christie faces obstacles in state budget proposal
Chris Christie will lay out a state budget proposal on Tuesday amid lagging tax collections, a ballooning pension payment coming due and a proposal already made to trim personal income taxes.
The first-term Republican and nationally known fiscal conservative faces another tight year as he announces a spending plan for FY2013, which starts July 1.
Christie’s roughly $30 billion budget comes with built-in pressures: tax collections are off $325 million through the first six months of the current year, a pension payment of nearly $500 million is required to be included in the next budget and the first year of Christie’s 10 percent across-the-board income tax cut would sap $150 million in revenue in its first half-year. Plus, Democrats, who largely gave the governor what he sought in his first two budgets, may be less likely to go along again. (Associated Press)
NJ’s smallest school districts share big worries about Christie’s budget
They are a big part of New Jersey’s notorious abundance of more than 500 separate school districts, the scores of tiny districts of a few hundred students in just a single school or two.
These days, many of them feeling a bit like an endangered species, the fodder for regionalization talk and almost universally tight finances in the lead up to another budget year, starting with Gov. Chris Christie’s budget presentation today. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Gov. Christie’s N.J. schools construction plan unlikely to conclude his term in office
Thirty schools are now slated for construction or renovation by the Christie Administration in the state’s poorest cities, but it’s unlikely any of those buildings will open their doors to students by the end of the governor’s term in office, law makers and school officials said.
Last week, Christie announced plans to start construction on 20 projects serving students from New Brunswick, Phillipsburg and West New York among other districts. Progress on 10 projects he announced last year, however, has been sluggish, leaving the time line to complete the new projects in question. (Calefati, The Star-Ledger)
Christie’s brash words on N.J. Supreme Court may be undermining state’s judicial branch
Gov. Chris Christie’s public display of contempt last week for the routine review of judicial nominees by the state bar association shocked many.
It shouldn’t have. Christie’s tenure has been marked by tirades against individual judges, threats to ignore the court’s most anticipated rulings and the occasional second-guessing of when judges should and should not recuse themselves on specific cases.
Christie has refused to cooperate with the bar association on an agreement to review judges that he himself had signed and also attacked the unwritten custom of senatorial courtesy when it comes to home-county senators having to sign off on the governor’s nominees before they can come up for a hearing. (Fletcher, The Record)
Christie, Sweeney look to rekindle ‘bromance’ as important N.J. business lies ahead
Will the “bromance” come back to Trenton?
Seven months after an angry Senate President Stephen Sweeney used some choice words to describe Gov. Chris Christie when he slashed programs for the poor from the state budget, Trenton’s top two political leaders appear to be in harmony again — at least on some issues.
Sweeney (D-Gloucester) endorsed the Republican governor’s plan to remake higher education, saying Christie showed “true leadership.” He even defended it last week before a hostile crowd of more than 600 at Rutgers’ Camden campus, where students protested plans to have it taken over by Rowan University. (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Federal officials signal they may agree to Gov. Christie’s Medicaid change
The Christie administration got welcome budget news Friday as federal officials signaled they were close to accepting the governor’s plan to dramatically change the Medicaid program and save $300 million in state funding this year.
But precisely how the Obama administration will allow Gov. Chris Christie to achieve that savings remains a matter of negotiation, state and federal officials said.
The federal government last fall said it did not have the authority to repay New Jersey $107.3 million for decades of federal costs the state had picked up. Christie anticipated the savings for the current budget year, which runs through June 30. (Livio, The Star-Ledger)
Congress approves payroll tax cut, but concerns in N.J. over Medicare decision
An extension of the federal payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits passed today by U.S. Congress won applause in the House of Representatives, but representatives of New Jersey’s health care community said they were discouraged that no long-term solution was included to handle Medicare reimbursements.
Dave Knowlton, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said Congress should have recalculated the sustainable growth rate a long time ago to move away from a Medicare reimbursement model and avoid overburdening hospitals. (Eder, NJBIZ)
Increase minimum wage or not? N.J. legislative panel to debate issue
A New Jersey legislative panel will consider a measure this week that would raise the state’s minimum wage by $1.25 per hour to $8.50.
The measure going before the Assembly’s Labor Committee also calls for annual adjustments in the minimum wage based on the Consumer Price Index.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver says boosting the minimum wage would have an immediate, positive effect on spending habits and quality-of-life. Both she and state Senate President Steve Sweeney have made increasing the minimum wage a Democratic legislative priority. (Associated Press)
Poll: Voters’ VP picks are Rubio, Santorum, and then Christie
Gov. Chris Christie’s name keeps coming up as a possible vice presidential candidate, but a new poll shows the unabashed New Jersey governor isn’t voters’ top choice for the job.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll out Monday finds Florida Sen. Marco Rubio mentioned most often by registered voters when asked who should be the GOP’s vice presidential nominee. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum comes in second, and Christie’s third in the open-ended survey. (Associated Press)
Christie endorses pal Kyrillos for US Senate
Gov. Chris Christie has wasted no time endorsing longtime friend Joe Kyrillos (KIR’-ill-ohs) for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey.
Christie made it official while campaigning with the GOP state senator in Union County this week. The governor says New Jersey “would be extraordinarily well-served” if residents were represented by Kyrillos in Washington.
The 51-year-old is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez in November. Menendez is better known and better financed, having amassed nearly $7 million for the race. (Delli Santi, Assocaited Press)
Tea Party member seeks Republican nomination for U.S. Senate
The race for the Republican U.S. senate nomination has picked up a little heat, with the official entry of Tea Party member Bader Qarmout into the contest.
Qarmout kicked off his candidacy at a rally with about 80 supporters at Homer’s Restaurant in Sparta. In his remarks, he said his conservative views are what will be needed to beat Democratic incumbent Sen. Robert Menendez. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Change in N.J. Assembly helps fuel new push to sell alcohol in supermarkets
A bill that would make it easier for supermarket chains and big-box stores to put booze on their shelves is getting renewed interest in Trenton, thanks largely to a switch in Democratic leadership that sent the measure’s biggest opponent to the back benches of the Legislature.
Supporters say the move would make life easier for consumers who would be able to buy six-packs at their grocery stores — and help convince chains to open supermarkets in cities like Camden and Newark, where residents lack easy access to nutritional food. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
Port Authority gets no-confidence vote as it faces a daunting task to reform
Is there a new order at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and can it inspire confidence it will bring order and fiscal discipline back to the agency?
So far, the Port Authority got a vote of no confidence from five New Jersey lawmakers who announced they’ll introduce legislation to grant an Assembly committee subpoena power to get answers after agency officials were no-shows at a legislative hearing, and from a finance expert who studies toll authorities. (Higgs, Gannett)
New Jersey pension lawsuit continues in federal court
The federal lawsuit brought by state government worker unions in an attempt to overturn New Jersey’s landmark pension reform law continues to grind away, even as other state courts have decided in favor of pensioners recently.
The state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, and other unions filed a brief Feb. 7 that argued why they believe the case belongs in the U.S. District Court, rather than the state Superior Court.
The brief says that because pensions are paid out of the state’s pension fund and not out of the state treasury, at least not directly, then the federal court can hear the matter as a violation of the Constitution and the pensioners’ contractual rights. (Method, Gannett)
Business school dean: Rutgers-Rowan merger ‘started off with the wrong question’
The dean of Rutgers University School of Business-Camden said the state can set the standard for a national model of education only if leaders start asking the right business questions.
“Trying to merge two very different entities with different plans together is a very simplistic solution to a complex problem,” said Jaishankar Ganesh, also professor of marketing at the school. “I think we started off with the wrong question — should we be merging Rutgers and Rowan is the wrong question. Given the goal, the question should be how can we create a situation where we maximize value and educational opportunities, and lifetime earning potential, in South Jersey.” (Caliendo, NJBIZ)
Land-use plan shifts to investments
New Jersey’s municipal land-use laws traditionally have governed development by challenging builders to prove whether land is suitable for a proposed use, with some flexibility allowed for economic factors.
Now state planners are more eager to make room for projects that first and foremost promise robust fiscal results, as attendees at the ongoing State Strategic Plan public hearings are learning.
With the economy improving but not yet healthy, and unemployment still high, state officials are thirsting for business investment, underscored when Dan Kennedy, deputy director of the state’s Office of Planning Advocacy, called economic development the “core tenet” of the draft plan. (Jordan, Gannett)
Red tape holding up redevelopment of Camden
Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd created a “one-stop” growth team last year to try to attract businesses and development to increase the city’s low tax base – $22.7 million for the $173 million 2011 budget.
Despite Redd’s proclamation last week in her “State of the City” address that the ombudsman and Business Growth and Development Team – comprised of city planning, development, code and legal officials, and nonprofit developers from the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership – had made about 200 contacts, only a few projects have come to fruition. (Vargas, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Rally aimed at mobilizing urban NJ voters
A longtime northern New Jersey anti-violence activist is organizing a voter mobilization rally aimed at energizing the urban electorate.
National United Youth Council Director Salaam Ismial says the rally will focus on issues and concerns for voters in New Jersey’s urban areas, including jobs, housing, education and violence.
Ismial says the Rev. Al Sharpton will give the keynote address Tuesday at the rally in Elizabeth. (Associated Press)
At healthcare conference, class and race are recurring themes
The wide disparities in health between black and white Americans are more a matter of place — where people live — than of race.
That was one of the recurring themes at “Taking Good Care: A History of Health and Wellness in the Black Community,” a day-long conference held at Rutgers-Newark last week.
It was sounded implicitly by former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who delivered the 32nd annual Marion Thompson Wright lecture. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Charges dropped in N.J. corruption case
A federal judge has dismissed all charges against a defendant in New Jersey’s largest corruption case.
It was the second major legal victory in the case for former state Assemblyman Louis Manzo, who had run unsuccessfully for Jersey City mayor when he was arrested in July 2009. He was among 44 people charged in a sweeping federal investigation into international money laundering and political corruption. (Associated Press)
Rebate bill – withdrawn last session – will return in March, sponsor says
A sponsor of the one bill that did not pass in last week’s Assembly session said it will be back on the voting board next time the full Assembly convenes, which is scheduled for March 15.
John Burzichelli, (D-3), West Deptford, said that A1511, which deals with consumer protections concerning posted rebate notices, became a casualty last week of the confusion and hubbub on the Assembly floor in the immediate aftermath of the momentous Marriage Equality bill vote. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Bramnick: Expect income-tax cut to be key part of budget address
In his past two budget addresses, Gov. Chris Christie struck a sobering but still optimistic tone, saying he wanted to make taxpayers part of a historic fight to bring the state back to solvency from its long-standing financial morass.
He called for “shared sacrifice” in his first budget address, cutting state aid for school districts, and rolled back a big chunk of the property tax rebates that had long been a part of the state fiscal formula. He replaced them with a direct credit program that was only a fraction of what taxpayers were previously receiving. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Gusciora laments Christie’s tactic of playing into anti-gay prejudices
The assemblyman who was a prime sponsor of the same-sex marriage law criticized Gov. Christie’s conditional veto of the bill.
“He has been taking care of all of the Tea-Baggers. I guess now he is trying to cater to the liberal wing of the Republican Party,’’ said Reed Gusciora, (D-15), Trenton, in reaction to the governor’s call late today for creation of a post of Ombudsman of Civil Unions. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Pallone wants answers from EPA on Superfund site exclusions
The fact that 27 contaminated sites in New Jersey have been left off the federal Superfund list does not sit well with one congressman.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) has sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson demanding to know why the toxic sites were not included in the agency’s Superfund program, which helps clean hazardous waste sites. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Menendez primary opponent hasn’t raised a dime
Gwen Diakos, who announced last summer that she planned to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez in this June’s Democratic primary, has yet to raise any money in her bid.
According to the federal Election Commission, Diakos has filed nothing with the agency since she opened her Senate account in September. Menendez, by contrast, is sitting on a war chest of $8.1 million for his re-election effort. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Here’s one vote Christie won’t get in the 2016 Michigan primary
A Michigan man whose son was killed in Afghanistan put a hurting on the New Jersey flag to protest the governor’s decision to fly flags at half mast in honor of Whitney Houston.
CBS News reports John Burri, whose son was killed by an IED in 2005, burned the state flag on his barbecue to protest Gov. Chris Christie’s executive order to lower flags to half mast to honor Houston on the day of her funeral. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
New Jersey’s 2012 Agenda
With Governor Chris Christie about to unveil his new budget, it’s a good time to reconcile the agenda items of various players in New Jersey’s policy process. Unfortunately, it appears that very few ledger entries line up.
The governor’s State of the State address last month laid out his key agenda items for the year. These include a 10% income tax cut, reform of drug sentencing laws, and education initiatives such as teacher tenure and charter school expansion. He is also pushing the recommendations of the Barer Report to merge units of the state’s higher education system, including Rutgers, Rowan, and UMDNJ. (Murray for PolitickerNJ)
Christie, Whitney Houston and substance abuse
Governor Christie has been both criticized and praised for ordering flags to be flown at half staff on Saturday February 18, the day of Whitney Houston’s funeral. The governor stated that Ms. Houston was not a “role model” because she had substance abuse problems, but a cultural icon from New Jersey. The governor said, “This is a disease that some people struggle with and conquer on a day-to-day basis, and some people succumb to it. And I don’t believe that that should diminish the other contributions they’ve made in their life.” (Sabrin for PolitickerNJ)
Christie managed to transform gay marriage into civil rights issue
Governor Christie’s civil rights gaffe earned him more than a few news cycles of bad publicity.
It also may have had the ironic, unintended consequence of helping convert fence-sitting African-American lawmakers into supporters of the same-sex marriage bill, which passed the Assembly last Thursday with just one extra vote to spare.
Without their votes, the bill — and the same-sex marriage crusade in New Jersey — would have gone down in flames.
This is one theory several Assembly Democrats and officials advanced in the wake of last Thursday’s vote. As I said, this is a theory, but there is no doubt Christie’s gaffe set off a lobbying campaign that would enlist John Lewis, the civil rights-era hero and Georgia congressman, as its most prominent voice. (Stile, The Record)
Rigor of residency
Home may be where the heart is, but in New Jersey, home is wherever politicians and judges say it is.
From Congress to the Legislature, the quirks of residency laws have become the Garden State’s latest political sideshow.
Last week, Republican Gov. Christie’s acting education commissioner, Christopher Cerf, seemed to be on the verge of getting a long-awaited confirmation hearing.
The fact that Cerf lives in Essex County has allowed the Democratic state senator there, Ron Rice, to single-handedly block any Cerf hearing through a process known as senatorial courtesy. Rice opposes Cerf’s confirmation. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Agree or not, with Christie you know where he stands
When Gov. Chris Christie announced he was planning to order state flags lowered in honor of pop singer Whitney Houston, who died on Feb. 11, he said she was in the pantheon of great New Jersey musicians such as Count Basie, Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen.
Somewhere, Jon Bon Jovi fans were wondering why their guy wasn’t included.
But it wasn’t the omission of Sayreville’s finest that created an uproar. Instead it was that Christie dared to honor Houston at all. Much of the reaction was vented on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and much of it was ill-informed. People ripped Christie for not lowering the flag for soldiers who died in the line of duty, but the governor has done that for every soldier and Marine killed in battle. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
Who didn’t vote on New Jersey Assembly gay marriage?
Although activists were elated when the Assembly approved same-sex legislation on Thursday, they were, like jilted suitors, saddened by the ones who got away.
Take Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth), the only Republican strongly in favor of the measure, whom gay rights advocates are fuming at for missing the vote, even though the bill passed 42-33.
In an ironic twist, The Auditor hears she was in Jamaica celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary. Still, gay rights advocates had hoped she would shorten her vacation. Angelini could not be reached for comment and her staff did not return calls. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Republican tactics hurt changes for N.J. education reform
Gov. Chris Christie swears he didn’t know about the squirmy little college kids who were caught with video cameras in the parking lot of the teachers union’s office in Trenton last week.
Their aim was to embarrass Vince Giordano, the union’s executive director, with a YouTube moment, presumably as he wedged his considerable girth out of a luxury car.
But the kids didn’t do their homework: Giordano was on vacation.
Now the Republican State Committee says it may send these video geniuses back to try again. And the governor’s office says he has no objection. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie gay marriage veto shows hypocrisy on equal rights
Gov. Chris Christie just vetoed the marriage equality bill, as promised. And he’s trying to limit the damage by emphasizing that he supports equal rights for gay couples under the state’s civil union law, and is prepared to strengthen it if needed.
It is good to see that even conservatives like him feel the need to underscore their commitment to equal rights. But in the end, it’s a phony attempt to have it both ways.
There are plenty of documented cases of discrimination under the civil unions law, in hospitals, in insurance markets, and in workplaces. But even if you could magically eliminate them, it is still an insult to deny these couples entry into the club of marriage. It sends the message that their unions are something less than traditional heterosexual unions, something separate and different. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Gay marriage halo effect
On Thursday, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, announced tough new teacher evaluation standards. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post was so pleased that it put the news on its front page, with the headline, “Gov’s Class Act.” Liberal supporters of the teachers’ union, so far as I could tell, basically said nothing.
That same day, in neighboring New Jersey, the State Assembly passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage — something that Cuomo had fiercely championed in New York last year, and the passage of which brought him great acclaim from liberal and gay rights groups. In New Jersey, however, the reaction of the governor to the passage of the bill was altogether different: Chris Christie, the tough-talking conservative — who has been pummeling unions since he took office — vowed to veto the marriage bill. Which he did, the very next day. (Nocera, The New York Times)
Value our families
In the intensifying debate over same-sex marriage, what I sometimes find hardest to understand is why so many opponents don’t see gay people’s longing to be wedded as the fundamentally conservative, lavishly complimentary desire it is. It says marriage is worth aspiring to and fighting for. Flatters it. Gives it reinvigorated cachet, extra currency, a sorely needed infusion of fresh energy.
If those seem like odd phrases to attach to what is sometimes called holy matrimony, well, consider the unholy state the institution is in. Around the time last week that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was vetoing a same-sex marriage bill that the Legislature had passed, The Times published a front-page story by Jason DeParle and Sabrina Tavernise reporting that the country had reached an ignoble milestone: more than half of births to American women under 30 happen outside marriage. I doubt that a significant fraction of those babies’ parents are gay men or lesbians forbidden to wed. No doubt the huge majority are straight people who haven’t bothered to. (Bruni, The New York Times)
Amazon not worth the price tag for small retailers
New Jersey’s economic development incentives have earned an interesting reputation, following outsized awards to Panasonic, Prudential and Pearson. While you can make a case for each of these tax credits — all awarded under the lucrative Urban Transit Hub program — it was a much tougher sell when Amazon came knocking, and we’re pleased that so far, cooler heads have prevailed.
We first reported the state was in talks to develop a package of incentives to get Amazon to build at least one warehouse here; reportedly, among its requests is a nearly two-year holiday on paying sales tax. That’s a long time to be on holiday; just ask legislative Democrats, who’ve seemed to be in the Swiss Alps since Chris Christie took office two years ago. (Staff, NJBIZ)