Morning News Digest: February 29, 2012

Morning News Digest: February 29, 2012

By Missy Rebovich

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The ravages of Elizabeth: Mayoral election pits Bollwage against ex-ally, and Board of Ed

Ravaged in the aftermath of arrests at the Elizabeth Board of Education, the once vaunted and now attorney general-haunted political operation treads carefully at a time when its leaders had wanted to unleash hell.

Intent on trying to rid the city of longtime Mayor Christian Bollwage, the Board of Ed can’t get the traction they want, with 2011 images of BOE President Marie Munn under arrest still fresh.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Connor Strong responds to comptroller report

A principal of South Jersey insurance brokerage Connor Strong & Buckelew today defended his company’s handling of local government insurance contracts  after a state comptroller’s report pegged brokerage fees as one reason private insurance is often more costly than the state sponsored plan.

Joseph M. DiBella, managing director in the firm’s benefits practice, said the firm evaluates all options, including the state-sponsored plan fairly, and recommends the option best suited to the client, regardless of potential commissions.  (Isherwood, PoltickerNJ)



Local government could save $100 million per year in state health plan, audit contends

Local governments around the state could save more than $100 million per year by joining the state operated healthcare plan, according to an audit released today by the state comptroller.

Comptroller Matthew Boxer studied four local governments – Essex County, Brick Township, East Brunswick Township and Haddon Township – and found that together the four could have saved $12.5 million over two years – about $1,000 per enrollee – by joining the state health plan.  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)



NJ gov travels to Westwood for town hall 

N.J. – Gov. Chris Christie will be pitching his 10 percent across-the-board income tax cut plan on the road and on the air.

Christie travels to Westwood on Wednesday morning to pitch his plan at a town hall event.

The Republican governor is also taking to the radio with a new one-minute ad, in which he says failing to enact his budget proposal would stand in the way of a “New Jersey comeback.”  (Associated Press)



Poll: Even with Gov. Christie as running mate, Romney would still lose to Obama in N.J.

Gov. Chris Christie remains popular with New Jersey voters, but not enough to win the state as GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate.

Fifty-five percent of registered voters approve of the job Christie’s doing in Trenton, while 38 percent disapprove – barely changed from October, when he peaked at 58 percent approval.

While Christie would help Mitt Romney sway more New Jersey voters, Romney would still lose to President Obama in New Jersey. Without Christie as his running mate, Obama leads Romney 49 percent to 39 percent. With Christie, Obama’s margin over Romney narrows to 49 percent to 43 percent.  (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)



N.J. Democrats propose property tax credit program to counter Christie’s income tax credit

Democratic lawmakers will counter Gov. Chris Christie’s income tax cut proposal next month with a package that delivers financial relief for the state’s middle class through a new property tax credit program, according to people familiar with the proposal.

But the public won’t get to see the critical details until Democrats settle an internal squabble over whether the package should include a special tax on millionaires, a measure that Christie has vetoed twice and vowed to do again. Polls show that the tax is popular, but its inclusion would likely jeopardizes the party’s effort to deliver tax relief to middle-class families, said the sources who are not authorized to speak publicly about the proposal.  (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)



N.J. senator will reschedule hearings for state Supreme Court nominees if Dems do not receive proper info

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said this evening that hearings on Gov. Chris Christie’s two state Supreme Court nominees will begin on March 22 — but there’s a catch.

Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) said he will reschedule the hearings if Senate Democrats do not receive additional information that they have requested, but not yet received, from the nominees.

Scutari declined to specify the information requested, but said it generally deals with the “financial holdings and liabilities” of the nominees. He said the information was first requested on Feb. 15.  (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)



Assembly, Senate committee to examine Christie’s Medicaid and state budget proposals

The Assembly and Senate budget committee face a busy schedule over the next 23 days as they begin examining Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed $32.1 billion 2012-13 state budget.

The lower house Budget Committee will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday to obtain an update from the Christie administration on its Medicaid waiver plan.

The administration booked $300 million in savings in the current 2011-12 budget from revising the Medicaid health care program for low-income New Jerseyans.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Senate hearing to refocus attention on tenure reform

The debate over tenure reform in New Jersey is likely to be back on the front burner next week, as a high-profile bill goes before a key Senate committee — with some key questions far from resolved.

The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), would revamp how teachers receive and lose tenure. Titled “Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of NJ” (TEACHNJ), the bill has been scheduled for hearing by the Senate education committee on Monday.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Dems at odds with Christie over cap-and-trade

Democrats in the Legislature are trying to turn the tables after Gov. Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of a greenhouse gas coalition last year. They are advancing a bill to restore the state’s standing in the cap-and-trade program intended to limit carbon emissions.

Both houses have committee-cleared measures ready for votes that would require New Jersey’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which was reduced to a nine-state combine when the Republican governor in May 2011, to the dismay of environmental advocates, deemed the program ineffective.  (Jordan, Gannett)



Report: N.J. municipalities overpay for health insurance

The New Jersey state comptroller said Tuesday that local and county governments are wasting more than $100 million a year by enrolling employees in private health-insurance plans — some of them politically connected — instead of the state health plan.

Among the local governments Comptroller Matthew Boxer faulted was Essex County, which for 14 years has purchased insurance from Conner Strong, the company run by George Norcross III, the chairman of the Camden County Democratic Party and an influential force in state politics. Norcross is aligned with Essex County Executive Joseph DiVencenzo, another influential figure who exercises power in the northern part of the state.  (Haddon, The Wall Street Journal)



Back to back polls show Menendez up double digits over Kyrillos

A second poll in as many days shows Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., with a solid lead over Republican state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, with the new survey, from Quinnipiac University, showing Menendez at his highest-ever approval rating and approaching the critical 50-percent threshold among registered voters.

Menendez leads Kyrillos, 49 percent to 34 percent, according to the Quinnipiac poll, which was released early Wednesday. Fourteen percent of voters are undecided. Among the crucial bloc of independent voters, Menendez leads, 44 percent to 33 percent.  (Shepard, National Journal)



NJ lawmakers try again on set-asides for veteran-owned businesses

State legislators once again are sponsoring a bill designed to help businesses owned by veterans get government work.

This latest effort would give municipal and county governments permission to create set-aside programs for veteran-owned businesses.

The Senate version of the bill recently was approved by that chamber’s Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The Assembly bill currently is before its military affairs committee.  (Bowman, Gannett)



Booker assails Santorum on role of religion

Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker said Tuesday that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has “warped our path” in arguing that faith should have an influential role in American governance.

The issue surfaced with Santorum’s remarks on ABC’s “This Week” television interview show Sunday. Santorum said he “almost threw up” when he first read a famous 1960 speech by John F. Kennedy in which the then-Democratic candidate for president assured Americans that his Catholic faith would not affect his decisions as president or undermine the separation of church and state.  (Shilling, The Record)



Newark mayor vows to fight plan to dismantle University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Newark Mayor Cory Booker vowed Tuesday to “consider every option” – from lawsuits to legislative action – to “trip up” the plan that dismantles the city-based University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Booker voiced his strongest opposition yet to the proposal unveiled by Governor Christie late last month that would reorder public higher education in the New Jersey.  (Alex, The Record)



Another setback for offshore wind farm near Atlantic City

For the second time this month, a consultant retained by the state has determined that an offshore wind farm proposed three miles off the coast of Atlantic City has failed to justify the economic benefits of moving forward.

The findings place big new hurdles in front of the Fishermen’s Atlantic City wind farm, the most advanced of several offshore projects vying to build wind turbines to produce pollution-free electricity along the coast of New Jersey.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



NJ hopes to pilot ‘multi-payer’ coordinated care initiative

New Jersey could be among a handful of states chosen in March to participate in an innovative pilot that will partner Medicare and private insurers in a coordinated model for healthcare. The Medicare initiative will increase the payments made to primary care practices so they can set up “medical homes” that coordinate patient care, makes sure preventive screenings are performed, and cut down on hospital readmissions.  (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)



Majority of New Jerseyans give their hometowns, schools positive ratings

Two in three New Jerseyans rate the state as either an excellent (15 percent) or good (47 percent) place to live, a figure that is down slightly from an October survey, according to a Monmouth University Poll made public Tuesday.

However, ratings of residents’ own towns stand at 33 percent excellent and 41 percent good. The 33 percent excellent number matches the prior three-decade high for this measure.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Attorney General reviewing NYPD spying complaints

Months after receiving complaints about the New York Police Department’s surveillance of entire American Muslim neighborhoods, the Justice Department is just beginning a review to decide whether to investigate civil rights violations.

Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress the status of the review Tuesday.

The announcement bothered some Democrats, who said they were under the impression the Justice Department had been reviewing the matter since last late last year.  (Associated Press)



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Studies show minimum wage hike has little to no negative impact on employment

The major economic policy priorities were laid out last week by Republicans and Democrats.

Gov. Chris Christie and Republicans are united behind the three-year, 10 percent income tax cut for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Also, Christie wants to keep the business tax cuts in place that were instituted last year.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



State audit discloses data security issues at some colleges

A state audit of data security at college and university computers found some room for improvement in certain instances.

While generally concluding that state higher-education computer networks have adequate security, the state audit had some recommendations.  (Mooney, State Street Wire)



DOE picks Rutgers University to critique teacher evaluation pilot program

The state Education Department on Tuesday said it selected Rutgers University Graduate School of Education to conduct an independent evaluation of the Excellent Educators for New Jersey (EE4NJ) teacher evaluation pilot program that is currently being conducted in 10 school districts it selected in August.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)


  Morning News Digest: February 29, 2012