Morning News Digest: Morning News Digest
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: Week of March 19
Thursday’s epic Supreme Court confirmation hearing dominates our Winners and Losers list this week. In a rare unified effort, Democrats stuck to their guns, scoring a political victory over the governor. As usual, our list includes an FBI investigation and a couple of winners on the campaign trail. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Pascrell wins the line in Passaic County
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell this morning formally won the backing of the Passaic County Democratic Committee.
“Congressman Pascrell has been a longtime fighter in the various elected positions he has held,” said Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie. “This committee feels that he has proven himself to be the best candidate to represent the entire geography of the 9th Congressional District.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Rothman camp attempts to turn Pascrell’s championing of public option into anti-Obama line
A Democratic Primary between Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman has turned into a sumo wrestling match to the left, with both campaigns ravaging each other as they try to lay claim to their party’s progressive mantle.
This week, Team Rothman tried to get around the wimp tag hung on them early by the Pascrell Camp by attempting to depict Pascrell as panic-stricken in the face of a 2010 Tea Party onslaught, straining credulity in the process. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Analysts: Kwon vote latest example of partisan enmity
While Gov. Chris Christie and fellow Republicans said Democrats caved in to special interest demands by denying Phil Kwon a seat on the state Supreme Court, political experts said today the Democrats’ vote was the latest maneuver from a playbook they’ve been following since the beginning of the year that shows the party won’t automatically accept the tough-talking governor’s wishes. (Hassan, PolitickerNJ)
Christie says U.S. fiscal crisis could hurt national security
Gov. Chris Christie today delivered a wonkish economic policy speech that was peppered with politics to an audience at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford University.
The Republican governor said the nation’s fiscal crisis has national security implications.
“America will always be admired for its freedom, its liberty and its economic power,” he said in the California talk, which was streamed live online. (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Christie urges go-slow approach on health reform
Gov. Chris Christie appears unlikely to sign a bill narrowly approved this month by Democratic lawmakers that would establish a state health insurance exchange, a key part of national health-care reform designed to go into effect in 2014.
At his town-hall meeting in Kearny last week, Christie reiterated that he won’t expend state funds to implement federal health-care reforms in New Jersey unless it is deemed constitutional. The bill would pay five public members of the exchange’s board $50,000 each, and the board would then hire and pay an executive director to head a newly created exchange. (Symons, Gannett)
Trading places: OLS gets to play the ‘conservative’ on tax growth
Last year, Governor Christie’s treasurer chided the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services for overly optimistic tax estimates. On Tuesday, the OLS gets to return the favor.
When the Senate Budget Committee convenes Tuesday, Republican Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, who has been consistently conservative in his revenue estimates for the first two years of the Christie administration, will have to explain why he is projecting the equivalent of an 8.7 percent increase in revenue in the fiscal year that begins June 30 – a robust $2.2 billion “New Jersey Comeback” that is not only the most optimistic revenue projection in the country, but twice as large as most other states are expecting. (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)
Unregulated funds flooded 2011 N.J. elections
Political spending from outside groups hoping to influence last year’s elections around the state increased substantially, indicating that this largely unregulated funding can become a major factor during next year’s gubernatorial campaign and state elections beyond that.
Most of the money came from a conservative group that wants lower taxes and opposes policies aimed at combating climate change, and from an education reform group led by wealthy Democratic and Republican hedge fund managers trying to counter the teachers union’s significant influence. (Jackson, The Record)
Dems may push to get increased taxes for millionaires referendum on 2013 ballot
When Gov. Chris Christie runs for re-election next year, there’s a good chance he’ll face a second foe in addition to a Democratic challenger: a ballot measure to raise taxes on millionaires.
Democrats have been trying to crank up the income-tax rate on the state’s wealthiest earners since Christie took office, but the Republican governor has vetoed their plans at every turn, saying businesses would suffer. (Rizzo, The Star-Ledger)
State Supreme Court to hear judge pension reform case Monday
A short-handed state Supreme Court will listen to arguments today over whether judges and even its own members must pay more toward their pensions.
Five jurists will hear the case, a judiciary spokeswoman said Friday, a bare minimum needed for a quorum for the seven-member panel.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has announced he will recuse himself because he had lobbied Gov. Chris Christie’s administration over the matter. Former Justice Virginia Long retired earlier this month after reaching the mandatory retirement age. A seat remains vacant, and Appellate Judge Dorothea O’C. Wefing has been temporarily assigned to the high court. (Method, Gannett)
In rejecting Supreme Court nominee Phillip Kwon, Dems send Gov. Christie a message
Gov. Chris Christie said his phone rang at 9 a.m. Thursday and the news was bad: His Supreme Court nominee, Phillip Kwon, was sinking at the hands of Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
About an hour later, Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset) was met by two Democrats as he emerged from a meeting of Republican lawmakers, and the message was the same.
“What?” Bateman said he replied in disbelief. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
Fine Print: Assembly’s Opportunity Scholarship Act bill
What it is: The proposed bill, A-2830, is the latest version of a long-running proposal to create a system of publicly funded scholarships or vouchers for students to attend schools of their choice, public or private. Sponsored by state Assemblymen Angel Fuentes and Lou Greenwald, both Camden County Democrats, the bill would limit the program to seven school districts and 20,000 students, the smallest number yet.
What it means: The proposal for the first time has in Greenwald a prime sponsor from the Democratic leadership team. Greenwald is the Assembly majority leader. That alone gives it the best chance yet in an Assembly that has been a formidable obstacle. Whether that’s e
nough to see it passed is another question. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Powerful medicine: How George Norcross used his political muscle to pump up once-ailing Cooper Hospital
In a city synonymous with failure, Cooper University Hospital is the grand exception.
Cooper’s new glass and metal pavilion rises 10 stories over downtown Camden. It cost $220 million.
The first class at its new $140 million medical school starts this summer. Nearby, rehabbed rowhouses on cobblestone streets create an oasis amid Camden’s burned-out buildings.
Behind it all is hospital board chairman George E. Norcross III, the insurance magnate who is now promoting Cooper with the same relentless focus that has made him very wealthy and arguably the top Democratic boss in New Jersey. (Osborne and McCoy, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Promise, obstacles in plan to merge 2 NJ colleges
They’re two state universities with campuses 20 miles apart. One has a law school and business school. One has schools of education, business and engineering and a medical school that will hold its first classes this year.
Neither did more than about $8 million worth of research per year.
But merge Rowan University and Rutgers University’s Camden campus into one school — as Gov. Chris Christie is pushing — and that figure nearly doubles. The new school would be one of about 70 in the country with all five of those major programs and would be New Jersey’s second public comprehensive research university with the potential to add new programs and educate more students in southern New Jersey, a place with a shortage of college seats. (Mulvihill, Associated Press)
Port Authority ordered to reinstate toll-free passes for retirees
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has been ordered to reinstate toll-free passage on its bridges and tunnels, along with free parking at area airports, for some agency retirees — benefits stripped from them more than a year ago after Governor Christie criticized the perk.
An arbitrator also ruled those retirees are entitled to reimbursement for the tolls and parking they’ve paid out of their own pockets since January 2011, according to an opinion issued earlier this week and obtained by The Record. (Boburg, The Record)
Loan initiative lures clinicians to practice, stay in Jersey
A state program that repays up to $120,000 in student loan debt for primary care clinicians who agree to work at least four years in medically underserved areas of New Jersey is having success recruiting and retaining healthcare workers in communities where they are needed the most, from cities like Newark and Camden to rural Gloucester County. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Trenton loses out on stimulus money due to reporting failures
A big green sign on the side of South Broad Street in the city’s Mill Hill neighborhood lets drivers know: The recent repaving of the road there was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic stimulus package passed by the U.S. Congress in 2009.
But as of last summer, the sign became inaccurate.
State and federal authorities confirmed last week that nearly $1.8 million in stimulus funds earmarked for three street projects, including the one on South Broad, were revoked from the city last year after contractors and Trenton officials failed to live up to specifications and meet reporting requirements. (Fair, The Times of Trenton)
Parsippany criticizes state in lawsuit against school superintendent
Parsippany school officials, even as they filed a lawsuit against Superintendent Lee Seitz, charged in cour
t papers that state officials asked them to take an illegal action against their schools chief and ignored requests for clarifications.
They allege that the state wanted so much money taken out of Seitz’s paycheck late last year that he would have been working for free for the month of December. (Koloff, Gannett)
Camden getting transitional housing for homeless veterans
A 30-bed transitional-housing program in Camden isn’t going to solve the homeless problem among military veterans at a time when a national survey has found tens of thousands of them need help.
But the Home for the Brave, a proposed facility that Volunteers of America Delaware Valley would operate, is part of a federal strategy to drive down those numbers.
The veterans “have sacrificed far more than we can ever repay,” said Dan Lombardo, president and chief executive officer of Volunteers of America Delaware Valley in Collingswood. (Colimore, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
$76M in grants to help towns maintain roads
The state on Friday said it will award $76 million in Local Aid Program grants to 376 municipalities to help them maintain their roads, which officials said will help keep property taxes from rising for such purposes.
The Local Aid Program helps towns move forward on various street improvements, rehabilitation and safety projects. Besides road maintenance, the funds could be used for such things as pedestrian and bike paths. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Bidding reopens in Christ Hospital sale
A bankruptcy judge reopened the bidding process in the fight to purchase Christ Hospital, according to a source close to the process as well as a Jersey Journal report.
The owners of Jersey City Medical Center (Community Healthcare Associates), as well as Hudson Holdco (a for-profit entity that owns Hoboken University Medical Center and Bayonne Medical Center) are competing to purchase Christ Hospital, a bankrupt, ailing facility in Jersey City. (Smith, State Street Wire)
Feb. home sales outpace year-ago rate, NAR reports
Existing-home sales declined in the Northeast in February, but nationwide homes are selling above their pace of a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Sales also declined in the West, but rose in the Midwest and South, and median prices rose slightly, according to NAR. (Staff, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Nemeth lands the Mercer line
Princeton Twp. Deputy Mayor Sue Nemeth today received the unanimous endorsement of the Mercer Democratic Committee in the LD 16 Democratic Primary.
Nemeth beat her rival, art teacher Marie Corfield of Hunterdon. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
More ‘splaining to do
Former Gov. Jon Corzine may be in more hot
The Washington Post is reporting that MF Global, the investment firm that collapsed with Corzine at the helm, transferred $200 million of customers’ money to J.P. Morgan Chase as the walls began to close in. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Kwon was a victim of a political drive-by
Governor Christie called it “political payback.” State Sen. Kevin O’Toole, R-Cedar Grove, called it “a lynching.” State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, said, “You can call it politics.” The bottom line is the Democratic majority on the state Judiciary Committee told Phillip Kwon to call it quits.
On Thursday, along mostly party lines — only Brian Stack, D-Hudson, voted with Republicans — Kwon’s nomination to the state Supreme Court was rejected. The hearing ran more than six hours, with too much of the time spent on Kwon’s family finances. (Doblin, The Record)
Approved N.J. permits deserve a further extension
The news of a week and a half ago that the Senate would not vote on lengthening the Permit Extension Act by another two years comes at a bad time for the building industry.
Of course, the building industry knows all about bad times. Since the recession, the industry has looked forward to things like funerals and tax-filing days, because at least they weren’t the only ones who were so blue. The foreclosures and credit problems effectively put a stop to residential development, and the permits secured by builders — in New Jersey, this represents the hardest part of the construction process — for projects would have expired if not for the original 2008 law, which was extended in 2010 when it became clear the market was turning around slower than an 18-wheeler on a two-lane side street. (NJBIZ)
N.J. lawmaker’s ‘lynching’ comment out of line
In any seven-hour meeting of a legislative committee in Trenton, you are bound to hear some pretty nutty statements.
But this week we heard a real whopper from Sen. Kevin O’Toole, who banged his fist on the table at the end of the confirmation hearing for Phillip Kwon, the governor’s nominee to the Supreme Court, and accused Democrats of conducting a “lynching.”
Easy, senator. Invoking lynching is almost always a mistake, like invoking the Nazis. It’s simply over the top.
What the Democrats did was grill Kwon about the illegal bank deposits made by his wife and mother, with cash proceeds from the family liquor store business. If Democrats didn’t ask about this, they would not have been doing their jobs. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
UMDNJ’s debt looms over proposed Rutgers takeover
Gov. Chris Christie’s determined and sometimes angry push to remake New Jersey higher education has collided with financial realities that include Rutgers University’s reluctance to take over nearly a half-billion in debt incurred by the state’s medical school.
Bruce Fehn, Rutgers’ chief financial officer, said the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey owes $450 million to bond holders for loans used to build campus facilities. If, as Christie has demanded, Rutgers immediately takes over the medical school and other facilities in Central Jersey, the university could be on the hook for the money. (Braun, The Star-Ledger)