Morning News Digest: March 22, 2012

Morning News Digest: March 22, 2012

By Missy Rebovich

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Seeking LD 16 nod, Corfield beats Nemeth at Somerset Dems convention

Art teacher Marie Corfield of Hunterdon County defeated Princeton Twp. Deputy Mayor Sue Nemeth tonight to receive the formal backing of the Somerset County Democratic Committee to run for the Assembly in District 16.

Corfield received 61 votes to Nemeth’s 16.

Democrats conducted an open vote in the Manville VFW hall.

Competing for establishment Democratic Party backing, Corfield has defeated Nemeth in the Middlesex, Hunterdon and now Somerset portions of the 16th District.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



In CD 10, eyes again turn to Hudson County

A political taffy pull is underway in Hudson County, where allies of state Sen. Nia Gill (D-34), West Ward Newark Councilman Ronald C. Rice and Newark Council President Donald Payne, Jr. all want Hudson County Democratic Committee Chairman Mark Smith to back their individual candidates for Congress in the 10th Congressional District.

Fifty-seven percent of the new 10th District falls within the boundaries of Essex County, where sources say Payne has a bug leg up on gaining the coveted county line. The other 43% is divided between Union and Hudson counties.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Sources: Smith will not be present for Supreme Court hearings this week

When the Senate Judiciary Committee convenes tomorrow for hearings on Supreme Court nominees Bruce Harris and Phillip Kwon, don’t look for state Sen. Bob Smith (D-17) on the dais.

Sources say Smith has a scheduled five-day vacation starting tomorrow,  coinciding with the time when Gov. Chris Christie’s nominees are supposed to head before the committee.

The veteran senator’s expected absence has political observers wondering who will fill Smith’s chair to vote on the nominees at a time when Kwon, in particular, faces a tough crowd with Democratic committee members.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



NJ Supreme Court pick may not have votes

Democrats who control the Legislature finally scheduled a hearing for Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s two Supreme Court nominees, but there was no indication Wednesday that they had signed off on them.

At least one of Christie’s nominees may come up short of the needed votes to get past a Senate committee. Newark’s The Star-Ledger newspaper, citing two anonymous sources, reported that Phillip Kwon was one vote shy of approval.  (DeFalco, Gannett)|newswell|text|NewJerseyNews|s



Christie’s high-court nominees face heavy scrutiny from Democrats

Democrats who will vet Governor Christie’s nominees for the state Supreme Court today hope to hammer the nominees on their much-publicized flaws, as lawmakers grapple with the politics of challenging men who would be landmarks for diversity: the first openly gay justice and first Asian-American justice.

Getting the pair of nominees, Phillip Kwon and Bruce Harris, to take their places for the customary hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee originally seemed to be a long haul. Christie announced their names in January and almost immediately started to needle Democrats, pressing them to hear these nominations by early March. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, vigorously pushed back against that timetable, echoing his fight with Christie over an earlier nominee to the court that lasted more than a year.  (Fletcher, The Record)



Christie touts helping veterans at Hagedorn

New Jersey military veterans with no one to turn to, nothing to do and no hope in sight: Those are the people Gov. Chris Chistie says he hopes to help through his plans for the soon-to-be closed Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital.

The description sounded all too familiar to James Driesse, a 26-year-old from Sussex County and a resident of Freedom House, the nearby substance abuse rehabilitation center that’s partnering with the state to care for such veterans at Hagedorn.  (Spivey, Gannett)



Christie casino glut depresses Borgata bonds

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is failing to convince credit investors that Atlantic City will be able to sustain another casino as the bonds of its most profitable venue lose out on a record rally for gaming debt.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa bonds that were issued in May and traded as high as 105.5 cents on the dollar in July have since lost 4.5 percent while casino bonds gained an average 4.9 percent, Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data show. The $394.4 million of 9.5 percent notes due October 2015 dropped to 94.1 cents on the dollar yesterday to yield 11.6 percent.  (Perlberg and Abramowicz, Bloomberg)



Policy change in New Jersey is resulting in fewer welfare recipients

The number of general-assistance welfare recipients in New Jersey has plummeted, with thousands of applicants being denied enrollment, in part because of a controversial new policy of the Christie administration.

The July 1 change, which already has saved the state money, established a prerequisite to qualify for aid: attend job training or offer proof of an active employment search, for four consecutive weeks.  (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



N.J. senators hear pleas for increased funding in Christie budget

Library officials, researchers, and fishermen were among those who went to Burlington County College on Wednesday to tell a Senate panel what they thought of Gov. Christie’s proposed state budget.

Christie’s $32.1 billion spending plan provides many with more money than they received last year. But organizations are still reeling from deep cuts in Christie’s previous budgets, and his plan for fiscal 2013 won’t alleviate that. Libraries have closed, state psychiatric hospitals are crowded, and poor people can’t get lawyers even if they qualify for free help, advocates said.  (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



NY lawmaker blasts NJ governor on counterterror

New York Congressman Peter King says New Jersey’s governor should show more gratitude toward the New York City Police Department for its counterterrorism work.

King told Fox Business Network on Wednesday that Gov. Chris Christie is letting emotions get in the way of preventing attacks.

Christie has criticized the NYPD for doing surveillance of Muslim communities in New Jersey without notifying local police or the FBI.  (DeFalco, Associated Press)



Christie snaps back at N.Y. congressman who criticized Gov.’s response to NYPD muslim probe

In response to criticism from U.S. Rep. Peter King, Gov. Chris Christie fired back at the New York Republican, saying he’s using the flap over New York police spying on New Jersey Muslims to make headlines in a re-election year.

King told Fox Business Network Imus in the Morning that Christie “let his personal feelings get in the way of protecting us against terrorism” and resents Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for a past slight.  (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)



N.J. consumer affairs official steps down, will join Attorney General’s senior staff

The head of New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs, Thomas Calcagni, stepped down today to join the senior staff of state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa.

Calcagni confirmed the move this evening but declined to comment on what position he would assume.

Since his appointment in 2010, the 39-year-old former federal prosecutor has raised the profile of the division by more quickly responding to consumer complaints and more proactively targeting scam artists and fraud.  (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)



New Jersey narrows probe of erasures on standardized tests

State education officials will probe deeper into nine public schools after a preliminary investigation found higher-than-normal erasures in standardized tests.

Two schools in Newark and one each in Orange, Woodbridge, East Orange, Bloomfield, Bridgeton, Atlantic City and Union City will undergo further investigation by the Office of Fiscal Accountability, the state Department of Education’s investigative arm.  (Mikle, Gannett)|topnews|text|State



Soldier accused in Afghan killings deserves compassion, justice, Pascrell says

The soldier accused of going on a rampage and killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan deserves compassion as well as justice, while the Army needs to explain what treatment he got for a previous head injury, Rep. Bill Pascrell said Wednesday.

“We right now want to cradle this soldier in our arms [and] condemn the acts,” Pascrell, D-Paterson, said during a program in the Capitol for Brain Injury Awareness Day.  (Jackson, The Record)



State grills Verizon NJ about voice service, Internet access

Verizon New Jersey is facing new scrutiny from state regulators over the quality of its traditional phone service and its commitment to offer high-speed Internet service to the entire state.

In two separate orders, the state Board of Public Utilities has ordered the state’s largest local phone company to explain why the number of complaints about its traditional, or landline phone service, have risen and why it has still failed to provide broadband service to 50,000 residents statewide two years after it said it would.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



Fine Print: Voter approval on charter schools

What it is: The bill, A-1877, requiring a local referendum on any new charter school opening in a community was approved by the full Assembly last week on a largely party line vote, the furthest the controversial bill has progressed. The vote was 46-27, with all the Democratic leadership in favor.

What it isn’t: Likely to pass and be signed into law anytime soon. A companion bill in the Senate is not even posted for a hearing, and there is little enthusiasm so far from the Democratic leadership in that chamber.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Are NJ’s poorest children losing out at preschool?

They are the primary caregivers of New Jersey’s public preschool program in its poorest cities, hundreds of private centers that serve on the public’s behalf — and dollars — to educate tens of thousands of preschoolers in cities like Camden, Newark and Elizabeth.

Under the programs first ordered more than a decade ago by the Abbott v. Burke school equity case, more than 60 percent of the 44,000 Abbott preschoolers are in private centers under contract with their districts.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



NJ awards grants to HIV/AIDS clinics providing full menu of care

State Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd awarded $8.1 million in federal grants to healthcare facilities around the state for medical and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS, including the Henry J. Austin Health Center in Trenton, which she said exemplifies the kind of comprehensive HIV/AIDS care she wants to promote and expand.

New Jersey will dispense a total of $141 million in state and federal funds for HIV/AIDS in the current fiscal year, including $90 million for free drug treatment to 7,000 HIV/AIDS patients with low and moderate incomes.  (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)



Housing index puts N.J.’s market near bottom
The health of New Jersey’s housing market ranks near the bottom in the nation, according to the Healthiest Housing Index from online loan marketplace LendingTree LLC.

The health of housing markets was based on seven criteria, according to LendingTree: the unemployment rate, foreclosure percentage, debt-to-income ratio, home ownership and vacancy, percentage past-due, loan-to-value ratio, and equity.  (Tarbous, NJBIZ)



Study finds technology provides key assist to employee benefits administration

More than half of employers are expanding their use of technology to manage costs related to employee benefits programs, according to the results of a study by Prudential Financial.

“Employers are looking for their insurers to do more than pay claims,” said Joseph M. Hayes, chief information officer of Prudential Group Insurance, in an announcement. “They want a streamlined benefits process using technology that allows their employees and benefits administrators to connect directly with their insurers.”  (Tarbous, NJBIZ)



Supreme Court ruling could impact diagnostics firms

The nation’s highest court has ruled against a California diagnostics firm in a case that was closely watched in the biotechnology community.

In a unanimous decision, the court threw out two patents owned by Prometheus Laboratories Inc. The patents were tied to a process Prometheus developed for doctors to determine whether a gastrointestinal therapy was working in a given patient.  (Kaltwasser, NJBIZ)



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Tattooing, cosmetic make-up bills recommended by Sales Tax commission

Two bills that seek sales tax exemptions for medically appropriate tattooing and cosmetic make-up in connection with reconstructive breast surgery were recommended for adoption today by the Sales and Use Tax Review Commission.

The panel recommended the Legislature approve S374 and S1188, both of which deal with procedures deemed medically necessary.  (Mooney, State Street Wire)



Garden State Preservation Trust Fund bond re-funding aims to reduce debt services

The Joint Budget Oversight Committee unanimously approved a request today that called for refunding bonds for the Garden State Preservation Trust Fund in order to take advantage of lower interest rates.

By refunding the bonds, the state is projected to save some $20 million in debt service for fiscal year 2013, according to the Office of Public Finance.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



Medical advocates say funding now will pay off later

Representatives from health advocacy groups told the Senate Budget Committee today that funding projects now will result in long-term savings and a return on the dollar for the state in the future.

Mental health advocates rallied behind the same idea during the first Senate Budget Committee hearing last week in Montclair.  (Smith, State Street Wire)



Negative reception for UEZ proposals

The Sales and Use Tax Review Commission gave a thumbs down today to a group of new and old proposals to expand Urban Enterprise Zone designations.  (Mooney, State Street Wire)



From the Back Room 



Goldstein backs away from administration

As Gov. Chris Christie scrambled to corral the votes necessary to pass his two Supreme Court nominees through the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow, at least one supposed ally took issue with the governor’s rhetoric.

Garden State Equality President Steven Goldstein today said a release from the governor’s office that said the gay rights activist is “proud to stand” with the governor was misleading.  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)



Christie at Stanford Friday

Gov. Christie is Stanford-bound.

The governor’s office reported today that Christie will deliver remarks and answer audience questions Friday at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Christie’s appearance there will be streamed live on the Institution’s Facebook page.  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)






Aftermath of Illinois: Romney is the clear favorite, but race is not yet over

The headline of my column last week was, “If Santorum Wins in Illinois, He Becomes the New Favorite to Win the Nomination.”   Plain and simple, Rick Santorum didn’t win.  Mitt Romney won a decisive double-digit victory in Illinois, and he remains the clear favorite to win the GOP Presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August.  (Steinberg for PolitickerNJ)



Morning News Digest: March 22, 2012