Morning News Digest: February 27, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: Week of Feb. 20th
Gov. Chris Christie unveiled his $32.1 billion budget, the state Attorney General’s Office served subpoenas on the North Bergen Department of Public Works, 9th District Democratic Party rivals U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) debated for the first time, and another week of Winners and Losers entered the books… (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Pascrell challenges Rothman to debates
A day after U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) charged Team Pascrell with redistricting tinkering that would have sacrificed Rothman, the Pascrell Campaign again blistered Rothman for running from U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5).
Pascrell said he wants to settle the deepening differences in a debate format.
“Bill Pascrell has spent his entire career fighting for New Jersey’s middle class and working families, and has been a leader against the Tea-Party backed Republican budget that raises costs for seniors and slashes education while it cuts taxes for the wealthy and corporate special interests,” said Pascrell Campaign Manager Justin Myers. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Former Guttenberg councilman gets 41 months
Former Guttenberg councilman and police officer Vincent Tabbachino was sentenced today to 41 months in prison for attempted extortion and bribery as well as for laundering approximately $125,000 in funds that he believed were criminal proceeds, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Tabbachino, 70, of Fairview, pleaded guilty in April 2011 to one count of money laundering before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Politics in Pascrell v. Rothman spills into religion
A commonly contentious issue continues to nag at Pascrell v. Rothman: religion.
Someone in the audience of an African American ministers’ forum Thursday night asked U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) why he is telling people in Passaic County’s Orthodox Jewish community to change their party affiliation to vote in the Democratic Primary. According to the Jewish Standard, 15 synagogue presidents endorsed Rothman in a letter that includes quotes praising the Bergen congressman’s support for Israel and for sanctions on Iran, and for disagreeing with President Barack Obama’s Israel policies. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Wall Street experts dissect Gov. Christie’s budget proposal
Financial experts on Wall Street picked apart Gov. Chris Christie’s $32.1 billion budget Friday, casting doubt on the state’s robust revenue estimates and warning that New Jersey would have trouble weathering economic setbacks.
The somber assessment by Standard & Poor’s — coming days after Christie unveiled his fiscal plan and then set out on a tour of talk shows and a town hall meeting — was in sharp contrast to the governor’s rosy view that the state’s “fiscal house is now in order.” (Rizzo, The Star-Ledger)
Christie says contested GOP convention possible
Governor Christie, national co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and one of his most forceful campaigners, said Sunday that if Romney loses the Michigan election this week, it could lead to a contested convention.
The governor said he fully expects Romney to pull out a victory in the close Michigan race Tuesday. But his comments on the CBS News program “Face the Nation” stand in contrast to the aura of inevitability that the Romney campaign tried to strike last month after an apparent win in Iowa and a decisive victory in New Hampshire. (Jackson, The Record)
Gov. Christie says talks at nation’s capitol have been constructive so far
Gov. Chris Christie is here this weekend for behind-closed-doors meetings with governors from around the country and President Barack Obama.
Among the topics of conversation at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association is the effect Medicaid cuts are having on state budgets.
“Good conversations, constructive conversations amongst everybody,” the Republican governor said this afternoon in the lobby of the JW Marriot on Pennsylvania Avenue. “Everybody seems in a pretty good mood. Not a lot of bickering so that’s good.” (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Christie and Maryland governor swipe at each other
Governor Christie said Sunday he expects Mitt Romney to win the Michigan presidential primary, but if he doesn’t, the Republican selection of a nominee could go all the way to the party’s convention in Tampa in August.
“I’m not going to deny the possibility exists,” Christie said on the CBS News program Face the Nation. “I still think it’s unlikely.”
Regardless of whether that happens, Christie said he will not change his mind about running for president. He also said that while he would listen if Romney asked him to be his running mate, he would recommend that anyone placing bets should bet on him continuing to be New Jersey’s governor. (Jackson, The Record)
Gov. Chris Christie: so what if Romney’s rich
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Sunday defended Mitt Romney against criticism that his wealth complicates his ability to connect with everyday folks, saying Romney’s wealth should be a positive factor in the race.
“I think that’s what we want in a president of the United States,” Christie told host Bob Schieffer CBS’s “Face the Nation,” saying that Romney’s wealth is a reflection of his success.
His defense came after Romney noted in a Michigan speech Friday that his wife Ann drives “a couple of Cadillacs.” (Slack, Politico)
The numbers game: Can NJ afford Christie’s tax cuts?
While Gov. Chris Christie took his campaign for a 10 percent income tax cut to CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday morning, trouble continued to brew in the wake of Standard & Poor’s thumbs-down verdict on Christie’s budget and revenue projections.
Standard & Poor’s questioned Christie’s assertion that a $2.2 billion surge in state revenue would swell the Garden State’s coffers in the upcoming fiscal year, enabling him to cut business and income taxes while paying for pensions, debt service, and other bills piled up by previous governors. (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)
The sound of musings
Check your local listings: The Christie Runs for President show returns this spring for a second season.
Like the Jersey Shore spin-off now being filmed, this one will feel familiar to any longtime viewer as it picks up where it left off, with cable-news graphics that say things like: “Will he or won’t he?”
Last season ended in the fall, when Gov. Christie told a packed news conference that he decided not to run. This season begins with a twist that, like any reality show, is borderline preposterous. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Cerf will pay to see progress on school reform agenda
Can financial rewards help bring about change in New Jersey’s public schools? Apparently, the Christie administration thinks so.
In the latest move to use money as an incentive, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration has added to its new school funding plan a multimillion dollar program to reward schools and districts that meet specific goals and implement targeted reforms.
Acting education commissioner Chris Cerf outlined the new “Innovation Fund” in last week’s 83-page report on school funding, which serves as the basis of Christie’s proposed system for distributing state aid to schools next year and beyond. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Acting N.J. education chief reconsiders using school free-lunch programs to measure poverty
Tucked into an 80-page report on Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to overhaul distribution of state aid to public schools is a proposal that could have greater implications on school funding than anything else the governor has pitched, experts say.
In New Jersey and across the nation, the number of students living in poverty is determined by how many of them qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, a federal program run by the Department of Agriculture. But the count is not just about the federally subsidized meals — schools with poor students in the lunch program receive up to 57 percent more state aid than their peers. (Calefati, The Star-Ledger)
More help urges for drug offenders
Camden County resident Patty DiRenzo says Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to launch a statewide mandatory drug treatment program is laudable but should be widened to bolster underfunded community help centers.
DiRenzo’s son, Salvatore, who was 26, died from a 2010 accidental overdose. The state has 63 residential drug treatment facilities, all with long waiting lists, and DiRenzo said she spent months trying to find a center that would admit Salvatore. (Jordan, Gannett)
Senate hears bill on health insurance exchange
A bill to create a New Jersey health insurance exchange — an online virtual marketplace where consumers and small businesses will buy health coverage — heads for its first hearing in the Senate today.
The legislation ( (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)) isn’t likely to have a smooth time of it: The state’s heath insurers oppose the bill, unhappy with the amount of power it vests in the insurance exchange’s governing board. They argue that the board will limit consumer choice stifle competition. Some consumer advocates, meanwhile argue that the board should have more power.
Proposal would end perks to Port Authority workers
A New Jersey Senate panel is considering a bill that would end the free tolls, sports tickets and other perks that have sometimes been given to commissioners and staff with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The bill being heard Monday by the Transportation Committee would impose new restrictions in the wake of reports of patronage and perks for Port Authority executives. (Associated Press)
Ex-Gov. Codey says he never authorized NYPD to conduct surveillance of Newark Muslims
Former governor Richard J. Codey Friday said he never authorized New York City police to conduct covert surveillance of Islamic Americans in Newark in 2007.
Codey, who is a Democratic state senator from Essex County, said two executive orders he signed as governor only allowed New York police to ride trains and ferries within New Jersey boundaries
“Executive Orders 43 and 44 that I signed while governor explicitly stated that any operation by New York law enforcement was authorized only on our railroad right-of-ways and ferry terminals,” Codey said. “These were signed amid the backdrop of the then-recent horrific London train bombings. My priority, as governor at the time, was to protect our citizens and without these executive orders, the NYPD, by law, was required to exit all trains and ferries before entering New Jersey. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
White House helps pay for NYPD Muslim surveillance
Millions of dollars in White House money has helped pay for New York Police Department programs that put entire American Muslim neighborhoods under surveillance.
The money is part of a little-known grant intended to help law enforcement fight drug crimes. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush and Obama administrations have provided $135 million to the New York and New Jersey region through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, known as HIDTA. (Sullivan, Associated Press)
Salary for Lake Hopatcong weed harvesters still an issue as state tries to take over program
The Lake Hopatcong Commission has inched closer to an agreement calling for the state to take over the lake’s weed-harvesting program.
Issues important to several commissioners have been resolved, but one issue still outstanding is the pay rate for commission employees who would work for the state.
The new language mandates the commission’s six harvesting machines can be used by the Department of Environmental Protection, but only for Lake Hopatcong and the equipment would be returned to the commission if the state can no longer honor the agreement. (Goldberg, The Star-Ledger)
Former Assemblyman Joseph Malone III to lead Burlington County College trustees
The Burlington County College Board of Trustees has chosen its newly seated member, former Assemblyman Joseph Malone III, as it new chairman.
Immediately after Malone joined the board at its meeting last week, it entrusted its leadership to Malone because of his long career history as an educator and his legislative and budget experience. (Comegno, Gannett)
NJ merchants say online-only businesses like Amazon have an unfair tax advantage
As far as local retailers are concerned, Web retailing behemoth Amazon.com and its other out-of-state online-only competitors should begin charging their New Jersey customers sales tax now. Right now.
The local shop owner has to tack 7 percent tax on top of every sale. So does any Internet retailer that has an office, be it a warehouse or a store, in the Garden State, such as Barnes & Noble. (Willis, Gannett)
Casino industry reflects on impact of Resorts owner’s death
The impact of Resorts Casino Hotel co-owner Dennis C. Gomes, who has died at age 68, will continue to be felt as momentum builds behind redevelopment and revitalization efforts in Atlantic City, friends and industry observers said Friday.
Gomes was passionate about marketing and restoring the city as a destination, said Don Marrandino, eastern division president for Caesars Entertainment. He noted Gomes’ role last year in bringing the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo event to the city. (Burd, NJBIZ)
PSEG Power may build new unit at Seawaren site
Faced with the loss of generating capacity due to more stringent air pollution rules, PSEG Power is considering building a 625-megawatt gas–fired power plant in Sewaren, according to company officials.
Although it says no final decision has been made to build the unit, the company is seeking an air pollution permit for the facility from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and is in the interconnection queue with PJM Interconnection, the operator of the regional power grid. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Experts consider cyberthreats to power grid
Power generators at a plant in New Jersey spin wildly out of control, then grind to a halt.
Other utilities step in to carry the extra load, but they, too, suffer internal malfunctions. Soon, cascading outages take out the power grid in the eastern half of the country — all carefully timed to happen in the dead of winter. The natural gas network is next.
But this isn’t like the week without power in parts of Central Jersey caused by downed limbs and trees felled by the freak October snowstorm. Power is out for much longer because the heavily damaged equipment is difficult to replace. (Serrano, Gannett)
Choose N.J.’s new home signifies growth
Choose New Jersey, the marketing arm of Gov. Chris Christie‘s three-part economic development group, took on its first independent space in Princeton after increasing its staff and expanding its strategic plan to bring more businesses to the state.
The nonprofit moved out of its temporary space offered by Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co., in Princeton, after Choose New Jersey grew its full-time staff from one to six people last year, its president and CEO Tracye McDaniel said. Choose New Jersey hosted an open house Wednesday at its new office. (Eder, NJBIZ)
Casinos offer helping hand to compulsive gamblers
As lost weekends go, this one was a doozy.
The woman and her longtime boyfriend, regular Atlantic City gamblers, lost $100,000 in two days in early January. She lost her job, and they now owe $205,000 to five Atlantic City casinos, with no realistic prospects of paying it back.
She picked up the telephone and called John Conklin, Resorts’ vice president of player development, whose job it is to keep gamblers happy — and coming back. (Parry, Associated Press)
In N.J., falling housing prices an opportunity for certain buyers, economist says
Treasury Department chief economist Charles Steindel expressed optimism about the state’s housing market rebounding, helping to strengthen the economy as a whole as other indicators also show positive signs.
“Houses now appear to be highly affordable — home prices have fallen much more than incomes, and mortgage rates are at record lows,” Steindel wrote in his monthly newsletter. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Realtors: Existing home sales continue upswing
Existing-home sales continued a healthy trend, according to the National Association of Realtors, rising in January for the third gain in four months.
The sales increased 4.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.57 million, NAR reported. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Norcross bill seeks to increase penalties for false police reports
Sen. Donald Norcross, (D-5), of Camden, is seeking to introduce a bill to increase penalties for those who make false police reports.
Norcross, who chairs the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, announced his intentions on Thursday. The bill was spurred by the case of a woman who gave fake information to police involving several sexual assaults in Camden. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Bergen GOP finally settles on convention date
Only in the Bergen County Republican Organization can the mere rescheduling of a party function avert another round of internecine warfare. But that’s what happened Saturday.
Chairman Bob Yudin relented to complaints from committee members and agreed to hold the party’s nominating convention on March 15, a day later than originally scheduled. Freeholder Rob Hermansen of Mahwah, who is running for a second term, pressed for the change. (Stile, The Record)
Rep. Scott Garrett’s possible opponent was recently (indirectly) a donor
Jim McQueeny, a public relations executive and local television host, is seriously considering a run against U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.). Yet, as recently as a few years ago, he was donating to Garrett’s campaign — if indirectly.
Since 2001, McQueeny has given $45,500 to the Winning Strategies political action committee. And the PAC’s treasurer, Michael Merola, is a partner at Winning Strategies Washington, a lobbying company affiliated with McQueeny’s firm. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Trenton battles: part altruism, part politics?
True to their words, Democrats in the state Legislature have advanced their own agenda so far in 2012.
With the votes to pass virtually anything, even if by sometimes slim margins, the leaders in both houses are pushing a progressive list of bills that includes same-sex marriage and an increase in the minimum wage. In addition, there has been more noise about another attempt at passing a millionaires’ tax. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
Newark Council’s high salaries should be source of shame
You can find politicians in any state who help themselves to all the goodies they can. Nothing special about that.
What makes New Jersey different is that ours aren’t ashamed of it. They believe they deserve all this stuff.
We have characters such as Sen. Nick Sacco (D-Hudson), who has three government jobs and talks about how lucky the public is to have him for a mere $279,000 a year. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Is it the Jersey Comeback, or Jersey Miracle on Ice?
The governor’s budget address typically opens with a welcome to the various dignitaries in attendance. But given how hopeful the year’s revenue projections are, maybe this one should have started with “Dear Santa.”
We’re pleased that Chris Christie is moving full speed ahead on his plan to slash income taxes across the board, and it’s critically important that he continue his commitment to business tax cuts.
There’s also good news in education, health care and transportation, which are getting critically needed money, and even though it’s far less than what’s required, the $1 billion commitment to the state pension fund is a step in the right direction. (Staff, NJBIZ)
A real loss for Atlantic City
At first glance, it seems unfair, if not disrespectful, that Dennis Gomes, the veteran casino executive who died Friday at age 67, might very well be best-remembered as the man who brought a tic-tac-toe-playing chicken to town when he ran what is now Tropicana Atlantic City in the late-1990s and early 2000s.
After all, Gomes, who was co-owner and CEO of Resorts Atlantic City when he died, was a successful and universally respected gaming-industry executive whose resume included top jobs at such major properties as the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. And before that, he was an official with Nevada’s gaming enforcement office who headed up the investigation that was the basis of Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film, “Casino.” (Darrow, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
The Arizona GOP Presidential debate – and four other presidential debates that mattered
The results of the Michigan Republican presidential primary election tomorrow, Tuesday, February 28 will have a determinative impact on the final outcome of the race for the nomination.
If Mitt Romney loses the primary in his native state of Michigan, he is finished. GOP center-right players, particularly governors, will call for a new center-right candidate to be substituted for Romney. While Rick Santorum will win in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania and Newt Gingrich will win Georgia, there will be a plethora of “favorite son governors” who will keep their delegations neutral until the convention in Tampa in August. No candidate will garner enough delegates for a first ballot nomination, and the GOP will experience its first brokered convention since Wendell Willkie’s triumph in Philadelphia in 1940. (Steinberg for PolitickerNJ)