Morning News Digest: February 9, 2012

Morning News Digest: February 9, 2012

By Missy Rebovich

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In remark rumpus, NJEA accuses Christie of revisionist history and salary inflation

Is N.J. Education Association executive director Vince Giordano stepping down per Gov. Chris Christie’s request? “Not likely,” said a spokesman, but the teachers’ union said today that Christie’s record on education and his statements about Giordano’s salary need correcting.

NJEA was responding to a call made earlier in the day by Christie for Giordano to resign immediately in light of remarks Giordano made concerning education options for low-income families.  (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)



Leak of judicial questionnaires potentially criminal, says Christie

It was a breach of confidentiality, Gov. Chris Christie said of leaked Supreme Court nominee questionnaires – so much of a breach it may have been a crime.

“The actual leaking (of questionnaires) never happened before,” he said. “That, by the way, could be a crime…The underlying leak of the documents to the press (could lead to) civil and criminal penalties.”

But Christie said, “That’s up to law enforcement to decide what they want to do.” In the meantime, he is urging state Sen. President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), West Deptford, to take the appropriate action. “We didn’t write these rules,” he said regarding the chamber rule that bars release of the internal documents used for vetting candidates. “I take great encouragement in Sen. Sweeney’s response.”  (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)



Christie tees off on NJEA exec: ‘He should resign today’

Gov. Chris Christie today jumped on a comment made by N.J. Education Association Executive Director Vince Giordano in response to the plight of low-income residents who cannot afford options outside the public school system, calling on Giordano to resign immediately.

“He should resign today,” Christie said. “Life should get a lot more unfair for Vince Giordano today, and he should resign.” Christie was steaming today following his town hall about the remarks, “that level of arrogance, that level of puffed-up rich man baloney.”   (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)



Christie defends his ethic reform commitment

Gov. Chris Christie has been accused in the media – and today at his town hall – for letting ethics reform, a centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign, fall by the wayside midway through his first term in office.

Christie continued a he-said-she-said with the Democratic Legislature over which party was the most silent on ethics reform; each side said it was the other who never mentioned it.

“Wait a second,” Christie said: his administration rolled out an ethics reform package in September 2010. The package included an omnibus ethics bill ending dual government employment and dual office holding; requiring pension forfeiture by convicted public officials; prohibiting campaign fund use for criminal defense; and redefining conflict of interest for legislators by making recusal mandatory for direct financial conflict.  (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)



Christie: N.J. lawmakers ‘have all the information they need’ on embattled Supreme Court nominee

Gov. Chris Christie Wednesday swatted away calls from Senate Democrats that a state Supreme Court nominee release tax returns for a wine and liquor store owned by his family that was the subject of a federal investigation, saying lawmakers “have all the information they need.”

“I’m not responding to their calls for anything from these nominees,” Christie said at a news conference in Westfield after a town hall meeting.

Democratic sources said last week that senators planned to ask the nominee, Phillip Kwon, the first assistant state attorney general, to turn over the documents in an effort to shed more light on a nearly $160,000 civil settlement reached in December between the government and the business, KCP Wines & Liquor Corp. of Mount Vernon, N.Y.  (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)



Christie to take part in ‘Teacher’s Village’

Gov. Chris Christie is due to be among the dignitaries attending a groundbreaking ceremony for the mixed-use “Teacher’s Village” complex in Newark.

Officials hope the project , which will feature new schools and housing for teachers , will help revitalize the downtown of New Jersey’s largest city and draw new teachers to its struggling schools.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Goldman Sachs CEO and Chairman Lloyd Blankfein are also scheduled to take part in Thursday’s event, which is due to start at 10 a.m.  (Associated Press)



Christie, Democrats spar over income tax cut plan

Though nearly two weeks remain before Gov. Chris Christie pitches his budget plan to lawmakers, the two sides are already staking out positions over the governor’s intention to cut income taxes by 10 percent over three years.

Christie told more than 600 people at a town-hall meeting at a National Guard armory that he is “going to continue to fight as hard as I am to cut your income taxes,” while in Trenton, the Democratic chairman of the Senate budget committee told mayors property taxes should take center stage.  (Symons, Gannett)



Lawmakers from N.J. and N.Y. outraged over Port Authority spending, call for rollback of toll hike

Citing an audit critical of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, lawmakers from the two states are calling on the two governors to back bills intended to boost accountability at the agency.

The lawmakers — New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and New York State Senator Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) — are also calling for a rollback of the Port Authority toll hike imposed in September.

“Yesterday’s report on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is nothing short of an indictment of Port Authority operations,” Lanza said in a statement Wednesday.  (Strunsky, The Star-Ledger)



Senator: Local officials created dilemma of sick-time payouts

A Bergen County senator scolded some of the mayors attending a conference at the Statehouse Wednesday, saying many have themselves to blame for sick-time cashouts, which can mean a $1,000 whack for the average property taxpayer in the worst-case towns.

State Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said local officials created huge taxpayer liabilities to public workers for unused sick pay.

“The Legislature — Republicans and Democrats — did not create this problem. Many of you, the mayors out there, through collective bargaining agreements allowed these practices to happen,” Sarlo said during the New Jersey State League of Municipalities conference, attended by about 150 local officials.  (Jordan, Gannett)



N.J. taking steps to make state more inviting to businesses, Lt. Gov. Guadagno claims

New Jersey is slashing through red tape and removing repetitive rules in an attempt to make the state more inviting for businesses, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said today.

Guadagno unveiled the first report of a commission created in 2010 to identify unnecessary rules and regulations that litter the Jersey lawbooks.

“We’re creating smaller, smarter government,” Guadagno told about 100 mayors at the annual League of Municipalities Mayors’ Legislative Day. “Get us here in Trenton out of your way.”  (DeMarco, The Star-Ledger)



Poll: US Senate race off to lackluster start in NJ

A new poll shows potential liabilities for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and for a Republican who hopes to take his seat.

The Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll out Thursday finds voters are lukewarm to Menendez, the incumbent Democrat seeking a second six-year term. It also shows 80 percent of respondents don’t know GOP challenger Joe Kyrillos (KIR’-ill-ohs), the veteran state senator from Monmouth County who launched his campaign last week.  (Associated Press)|newswell|text|NewJerseyNews|s



N.J. Senate committees to consider ‘fracking’ ban, mandating fluoridated water on Thursday

Bipartisan legislation that calls for a permanent ban on natural gas drilling (fracking) in New Jersey, will be considered by the Senate Environmental and Energy Committee at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Statehouse Annex in Trenton. The bill is (S-246).

The Senate Labor Committee will receive testimony from state labor officials on the status of the state-run unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund. The panel will also consider legislation to prohibit employers from discriminating against job candidates on the basis of a credit check. The hearing is also set for 10 a.m. in the Annex.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Dems want former Giant Harry Carson to run against Garrett for US House seat

House Democrats are envisioning another Giants victory — not by the professional football team, but by Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson in a congressional run.

Officials with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are recruiting the 58-year-old retired New York Giant for a race against five-term Republican Rep. Scott Garrett in a northern New Jersey district.

Carson said Wednesday he’s interested.  (Associated Press)



Rep. Frank LoBiondo scrutinized for earmark spending

The long-standing but controversial congressional practice of “earmarking” appropriations for particular projects has put two South Jersey representatives in an unwanted spotlight.

In an ongoing series on congressional ethics, The Washington Post listed New Jersey Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd Dist.) among 33 members who in recent years have directed more than $300 million in federal funds into areas where they own commercial or residential property.  (Tyrrell, New Jerey Newsroom)



More Andrews trips in question

Rep. Rob Andrews used political contributions to make multiple trips to Los Angeles that coincided with recording sessions there for his teenaged daughter, campaign records show.

The Haddon Heights Democrat traveled to the Southern California city five times in 2011 — staying at the Beverly Hills Plaza Hotel in February, June, July, August and November, according to campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Andrews’ daughter Josie, an aspiring pop singer, had recording sessions during at least three of those trips, according to online postings from a Los Angeles production company.  (Walsh, Gannett)



AP: Study finds NJ teachers open to new evaluation

New Jersey teachers believe the current teacher evaluation system is subjective and does not help them do their jobs better, a study commissioned by two education reform groups concluded following an unprecedented series of focus groups with nearly 300 teachers.

The teachers identified potential pitfalls to proposed reforms and they were leery of evaluations in which student progress would account for half of their own grades. But they said that a new system could make them more accountable for how much students learn, and indicated they were generally open to change.  (Mulvihill, Associated Press)|newswell|text|NewJerseyNews|s



Arsenic, lead standards in fruit juice sought

The next time your kid reaches for more apple juice, think twice.

Recent reports have found that fruit juices, such as apple and grape, contain arsenic and lead at levels that far exceed the federal bottled and public water standards.

The problem is that there are no federal standards for how much lead and arsenic is too much. Reps. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., want to change that.

The House Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday that would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to establish standards for arsenic and lead in fruit juices.  (Herman, Gannett)



Education Department extends teacher evaluation pilot to as many as 30 more districts

New Jersey’s teacher evaluation pilot has gotten off to a mixed start, by most accounts. Now the Christie administration is tweaking its plans for next year and extending the pilot to a limited number of districts — rather than statewide as originally planned.

In a memo distributed yesterday, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf said that up to 30 more districts would be chosen to test a teacher evaluation system that uses student performance, among other criteria, as a measure of teacher effectiveness.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Minimum-wage proposal in N.J. stirs debate, especially in farm sector

They’ll start showing up next month on farms across New Jersey. Thousands of seasonal workers will plant fields and trim trees, then tend and harvest crops during the spring and summer.

Up to 180 work at Joe Marino’s Sun Valley Orchards in Swedesboro, Gloucester County, and many – including migrant farm hands from Mexico – earn $7.25 an hour, the state and federal minimum wage.

They would see their paychecks increase under a proposal by Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D., Essex) to boost the state minimum rate to $8.50 and to tie it to the consumer price index, which measures the cost of living.  (Colimore, The Philadelphia Inquirer) plans 2 N.J. warehouses, the world’s biggest online retailer, is in talks to open two warehouses in New Jersey in a deal that could bring 1,500 full-time jobs to a state where unemployment has hovered around 9 percent.

State Assembly Democratic Leader Louis D. Greenwald, who has been involved in the talks, said Amazon was seeking a 22-month sales-tax holiday – opposed by some retailers and at least one lawmaker.

The Seattle-based online retailer is not required, as brick-and-mortar retailers are, to collect the 7 percent state sales tax for purchases. That has led to what Greenwald and others believe is an unfair advantage for Internet-based sellers, because they can sell their products more cheaply than local merchants.  (Delli Santi, Associated Press)



Residential developers aim for piece of proposed $1B Urban Transit Hub expansion

Residential real estate developers are playing a key role behind the push to pump another $1 billion in incentives into the Urban Transit Hub tax credit program, according to people familiar with the process.

“The one question I have (of this bill) is how much of the added tax credits will go to residential development, since the majority of the approved credits are going to commercial,” said George Vallone, president of Hoboken Brownstone Co. and builder vice president of the New Jersey Builders Association. Adding more tax credits “is a great idea, but I hope the new credits will be allocated to urban multifamily developments — which our cities could use.”  (Burd and Eder, NJBIZ)$1B-Urban-Transit-Hub-expansion



New generation breaks ground just as NJ reels in aging plants

As Gov. Chris Christie yesterday celebrated the groundbreaking of a new power plant in New Jersey, the administration simultaneously ordered scores of other power plants to close down or make major upgrades to reduce air pollution.

The actions may undermine the primary aim of building a new 738-megawatt power plant in West Deptford, which aims to drive down steep prices residents and businesses pay to keep the lights on in their storefronts and homes, according to some energy analysts.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



Survey: Time to hire is ripe, but few employers creating jobs

With the improving economic climate, the stage is set for small-business owners to hire new employees, but a large majority is cautious to do so, according to a Wells Fargo and Gallup quarterly survey that polled 600 small-business owners in various industries nationwide.

“Small-business owners’ future expectations for hiring in the next 12 months are stronger and more optimistic than they’ve been in the last three years, and projections for firing have decreased,” Wells Fargo small-business segment manager Doug Case said. “But if you look at the present, it’s not so strong. Something is keeping business owners from pressing the hiring button.”  (Eder, NJBIZ)



South Jersey marijuana farm and dispensary set for fall debut

South Jersey’s first pot farm and dispensary is expected to open in Egg Harbor Township in the fall, 2 1/2 years after the state legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

None of six dispensaries authorized by the state has yet opened for business.

The Atlantic County town recently issued the facility a zoning permit, a prize that proved to be elusive in a string of other South Jersey towns after residents packed local meeting halls to protest.  (Hefler, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



NJ foundation extends grant program for nonprofit health centers

The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey is extending its grant program for nonprofit community health centers by two years, but this time it is specifically looking to fund “patient-centered medical homes,” particularly those led by nurse practitioners.

The foundation, the philanthropic arm of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, has awarded more than $5 million in the past five years to community health centers that treat the state’s uninsured and underserved populations. It plans to commit another $2 million to the program, funding it to 2014, when the federal Affordable Care Act will take effect. ACA will provide health coverage to thousands of uninsured by expanding Medicaid and awarding federal subsidies to defray costs.  (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)



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Administration wants nitrogen oxide emissions cut; ground broken for new plant

A new plant in South Jersey will be created and up and running by 2014 that will produce fewer emissions than older ones, according to the state.

The groundbreaking of the new 738-megawatt LS Power Company natural gas-fired and electrical power plant occurred today in West Deptford, and is expected to create some 600 construction jobs.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



Medicaid hearing canceled; commissioners won’t attend

The Assembly Budget Committee that was scheduled to examine Medicaid issues Thursday has been canceled.

The commissioners of Human Services, Jennifer Velez, and of Health and Senior Services, Mary O’Dowd, had been asked to attend but will not.

Chairman Vincent Prieto, (D-32), Secaucus, expressed disappointment this afternoon that the Christie administration declined an invitation to address issues related to the Medicaid program revisions.  (Mooney, State Street Wire)



Sweeney’s sick leave bill makes Christie happy

Took a while, but Gov. Chris Christie is finally excited about the prospects of sick leave reform. A bill submitted by state Sen. President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), West Deptford, split the difference between Christie’s proposal – which ended the cash value payouts, but also required a drawdown of banked time – and that of state Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), Wood-Ridge, which capped the payouts at $7,500 and did not require a future drawdown.

Sweeney’s bill zeroes out the cash value, but has no requirement for usage of banked time off in the future.  (Carroll, State Street Wire)



Christie: We’re righting the shipwreck that is the Port Authority

Tuesday, a bi-state audit was released on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which found a “challenged and dysfunctional” bureaucracy that “obscured full awareness of billions of dollars in exposure.”

The audit was ordered by Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, and today Christie said his administration is righting the ship, not causing the shipwreck.

“We are now turning the page in this chapter,” he said, with the audit to be used as a “roadmap” to recovery.  (Carroll, State Street Wire)



From the Back Room 



An argument for ‘fair funding’ plan?

Much is being made over an appearance this weekend on N.J. Capitol Report by NJEA Executive Director Vince Giordano, where Giordano, asked about the prospects for poor kids in failing schools, quipped “Life’s not always fair and I’m sorry about that.”

The comment, was bad, but what followed is arguably more interesting.

The question from host Rafael Pi-Roman concerned the Opportunity Scholarship Act sponsored by Sen. Ray Lesniak and Sen. Tom Kean Jr.  Giordano was objecting to the tax breaks afforded private companies under the bill and said he thought allowing children to leave the public school system was wrong.  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)






Harris and Kwon—get on with it

Chris Christie announced his Supreme Court nominations on January 23. He asked that they be confirmed by March 1, a five-week window. That seems like sufficient time to arrive at a decision on the two nominees.

I remember that January day well. Christie walked out of his back office to introduce two astonishing nominees. One was gay and African-American. His partner of 32 years stood nearby. The other was Asian-American and born overseas.

Mike Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary, had already told me, “You’ll wanna be there,” when I asked about the hastily called press conference. He was right.  (Aron for NJ Spotlight)



Accounting is a post art at the PA

Isn’t math a wonderful thing? More importantly, let us all praise that noble mathematical device: the calculator.

And now, let’s apply some common sense.

Today’s lesson focuses on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. And the question before us is as simple as using E-ZPass at a tollbooth:

How is it possible that so many smart people at the Port Authority could forget to add up the numbers for so many years as a mountain of bills piled up on the World Trade Center construction project?  (Kelly, The Record)



Norcross seeks balance in higher ed

George Norcross III has spent considerable time and political energy trying to balance resources between the northern and southern parts of the state. His advocacy of a plan to even the playing field in South Jersey’s education and research communities has earned him barbs on both sides of the political divide.

Gov. Chris Christie has endorsed a proposal under which Rowan University in Glassboro would take control of Rutgers University-Camden, which includes a nationally recognized law school. Rowan has a respected engineering school and is opening a medical school which is allied with Cooper University Hospital in Camden. The chairman of Cooper’s board is Norcross, who has been a power in Democratic circles for years.  (Ingle, Gannett)


  Morning News Digest: February 9, 2012