Morning News Digest: March 29, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Christie attacks Lautenberg’s ‘vindictiveness’ over Rowan/Rutgers-Camden proposal
The reaction to U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s criticism of the proposed merger of Rowan University and Rutgers-Camden continued late today, with the governor’s office responding to the federal lawmaker’s actions.
“The intention of the merger plan is to create medical and research centers of excellence in north, central and south Jersey that can compete with, even eclipse other education institutions competing for research dollars, prestige, top educators and top students,” Gov. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said via email. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Union County Dem Committee won’t back any single candidate for Congress in CD 10
The Union County Democratic Committee Wednesday night agreed to give no single candidate for Congress the edge in the 10th Congressional District
In short, it will be an open primary in Union County.
A source with knowledge of the deal said the candidates seeking to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-10) would be bracketed together, separate from the obvious Democratic Primary advantage that would be afforded by the alignment of one candidate under President Barack Obama on the organizational A line. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Lautenberg v. Norcross on Rowan deal
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and South Jersey Democratic Leader George Norcross III jousted today over the Norcross-backed and Gov. Chris Christie endorsed plan for Rowan University to take over Rutgers Camden.
Lautenberg is skeptical about the deal and said so in a letter Monday to federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“The senator stands with the people of South Jersey who are questioning the wisdom of this back-room deal, not a political boss seeking to expand his influence,” Lautenberg Spokesman Caley Gray said earlier today. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Against backdrop of investigation, Roque doubles down against Menendez, HCDO
Sources in West New York say federal investigators are interviewing people regarding their knowledge of a disabled website called recallroque.com and the possibility that Mayor Felix Roque and or his allies tried to hack the site.
Set up anonymously by the mayor’s political enemies, the website caught the attention of Roque and or his surrogates sometime in the February time frame.
A source close to the investigation said federal investigators confiscated the computer of Roque’s son. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Gov. Christie will travel to Israel, Jordan during Holy Week
In a trip billed as a “Jersey to Jerusalem Trade Mission”, Gov. Chris Christie will travel to Israel during Holy Week to expand business opportunities, experience the culture and meet with world leaders. He will also spend time in Jordan with King Abdullah II.
A delegation of business and religious leaders will join Christie, his family and staff, the administration announced this afternoon. The Republican governor will be in Israel from Sunday through Thursday and Jordan until Easter Sunday. (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
The numbers game: Christie vs. OLS
The governor could not control his anger: David Rosen, the budget officer for the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services, had just testified that he had a $383 million hole in his current budget and that his treasurer was overestimating next year’s revenue by $227 million. Thanks to Rosen, opposition legislators were rushing to issue press releases attacking his budget.
The furious governor? It wasn’t Chris Christie. No, it was the man he replaced, Democrat Jon Corzine. (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)
Republicans take softer approach after Gov. Christie blasted Office of Legislative Services
A day after Gov. Chris Christie lambasted the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, his fellow Republicans on the Assembly’s Budget Committee struck a much softer tone.
“I want to thank you for your professionalism. It has always been a pleasure dealing with you and your office,” Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) told David Rosen, the top budget officer with OLS.
The other Republicans echoed O’Scanlon’s comments throughout today as they questioned Rosen on his more modest snapshot of the state’s revenue growth, which he expects to fall $537 million — or 1 percent — short of Christie’s predictions. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
Menendez, likely GOP Senate opponent meet on Twitter
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and his likely Republican rival have met in cyberspace.
The Democratic incumbent held a Twitter town hall on Wednesday to discuss oil and gas prices, and state Sen. Joe Kyrillos joined in.
The town hall got off to a slow start before Menendez began fielding questions about fuel efficiency, foreign oil dependency and electric cars. (Associated Press)
Poll: N.J. voters want Gov. Christie’s help in finding lower-cost health insurance
As the U.S. Supreme Court finished hearing arguments in a challenge to the national health care reform law, a poll released Wednesday found a majority of New Jerseyans want Gov. Chris Christie to create a network that will help them shop for lower-cost insurance.
The poll, commissioned by AARP-NJ and released to The Star-Ledger, found 58 percent of voters believe the state should launch its own network or “health exchange” — a key component of the federal Affordable Care Act — regardless of how the court rules this summer. About 30 percent said New Jersey should let the federal government establish and run the exchange. (Livio, The Star-Ledger)
Senate panel considers NJ education budget
Gov. Chris Christie’s ideas for reforming public education will likely to be scrutinized when Democrats examine his proposed budget for schools.
Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf will testify before the panel Thursday.
Christie’s proposed budget includes a $213 million increase in school aid over last year, which reverses some cuts the governor made two years ago.
School aid overall tops $8.8 billion in the proposed budget. That figure includes aid for preschool and special education, charter schools and building aid. The biggest piece , $7.8 billion , comes in aid to public schools. (Associated Press)
War of words over Rutgers-Rowan plan gets ugly
The proposed takeover of Rutgers’ Camden campus by Rowan University has sparked off something of a Civil War in New Jersey — and kicked off the 2014 campaign for one of the state’s seats in the U.S. Senate.
In response to a request by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), that the federal education secretary review the potential merger, Sen. President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) — a possible challenger to Lautenberg — and the entire South Jersey Democratic delegation blasted the state’s elder senator yesterday for making “uninformed and vengeful remarks” about the plan. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Norcross: Lautenberg’s ‘cheap shots’ distract from higher ed
Power broker George Norcross III this afternoon entered the fray between a bloc of South Jersey elected officials and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, as a long-simmering standoff over the proposed higher education merger between Rutgers-Camden and Rowan universities boiled over today.
Norcross was all but named by Lautenberg (D-Cliffside Park) on Monday, when he asked the federal government to review the proposed merger of Rutgers and Rowan, characterizing motivations for the proposed merger as political and saying the plan was designed to benefit “political interests” rather than students. (Tarbous, NJBIZ)
Sen. Vitale has a plan (or two) ready if Supreme Court sinks federal healthcare reform
State Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex), New Jersey’s leading spokesman on healthcare issues and chair of the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee, is watching the Supreme Court very carefully.
But he’s definitely not waiting to see if the Court strikes down the federal healthcare reform law — or portions of it. He’s already making alternative plans to cover New Jersey’s million-plus uninsured residents. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Assemblyman calls for independent review of PMUA
Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green is asking the mayor and City Council to take immediate steps to protect residents from the impact of alleged mismanagement at the troubled Plainfield Municipal Utility Authority.
“From every report that I have seen or received, the PMUA is an agency that has been out of control for some time,” said Green, D-Union, in a letter to city officials. “Rates and fees for collection and disposal of garbage and for wastewater services are much too high. The city needs to undertake an immediate review of the agency’s operations and finances, and consider the possible dissolution of the authority.” (Staff, Gannett)
Grading teachers: More schools invited to join evaluation pilot
As the Christie administration expands and extends its pilot program for developing a statewide teacher evaluation system, it is also fine-tuning requirements for districts and adding some flexibility on how teachers are graded.
The state Department of Education yesterday put out its requests for proposals to join the pilot, expanding from 10 districts this year to up to 30 next year. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
NJ rep. using campaign money for Calif. trips
A New Jersey congressman has spent at least $97,000 in campaign money on at least 18 trips over the past five years to California, where his daughter has been pursuing a singing and acting career, The Associated Press found.
Campaign finance reports show U.S. Rep. Ro
b Andrews pulled in about $260,000 in donations from California residents and political action committees during the period, apparently holding major fundraising events during about a half-dozen of the trips. It’s impossible to tell from the records whether he met with donors on other visits. Federal campaign finance regulations allow campaign funds to be used for certain non-fundraising travel. (Mulvihill, Associated Press)
Port Authority to cut bonuses
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey plans to eliminate millions of dollars’ worth of bonuses and other benefits for its nonunion employees, a gesture of reform at an agency under pressure from two politically ambitious governors to rein in spending.
The move is expected to save $41 million over the next 18 months. It also marks an initial attempt to change the image of an agency long perceived as wasteful and disorganized. (Mann, The Wall Street Journal)
Up-front costs causing towns to hit brakes on consolidation
A lack of third-party consultants and a scarcity of state funding could put the brakes on municipal consolidation efforts, a panel of experts from the Princetons, Merchantville and Cherry Hill said today at an event sponsored by Courage to Connect New Jersey, a nonprofit that educates residents about consolidation.
“In the three previous efforts to consolidate the Princetons, the citizen commissions didn’t bring on an independent consultant, which we’ve found has taken the public fear factor out of the process and contributed to a large part of our success this time around,” Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner said. “But our consultant cost about $76,000, and the state only paid $37,500. We also applied for state funding for the projected $1.7 million transition costs after getting approved to consolidate, but we haven’t heard back from them yet.” (Eder, NJBIZ)
Poll: Worst Chris Christie-ism is ‘numb nuts’
In New Jersey, where Chris Christie is well-known for name-calling, voters say the worst word a politician could call someone is the Republican governor’s infamous “numb nuts” putdown — worse even than “ignoramus,” “jerk” or “fascist,” according to a new poll.
A whopping 87 percent of New Jersey voters say their politicians need to stop name-calling, a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll found. And one of the Republican governor’s most legendary blasts — dubbing a local politician “numb nuts” — tops voters’ least liked list, with 84 percent saying it’s never an acceptable word to use in political discourse. (Weinger, Politico)
NJ town’s CFO faces official misconduct charges
Official misconduct charges have been filed against Pleasantville’s chief financial officer, who allegedly stole thousands of dollars from the southern New Jersey town through a payroll scheme.
Ted Freedman, who also faces theft charges, turned himself in Wednesday to Atlantic County prosecutors and was later released on his own recognizance. (Associated Press)
Treasury takes heat for lack
The state treasurer was criticized for the lack of diversity within the Department of Treasury’s upper-level staff.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, (D-15), Trenton, pointed out during this afternoon’s Assembly Budget Committee hearing that Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff has failed to surround himself with a diverse group of administrators. (Arco, State Street Wire)
Prieto: Those earning more should pay more
Despite Gov. Chris Christie’s repeated promises to block any tax increase proposals, Assembly Democrats have indicated their plan to collect more from the state’s high earners will be an ongoing talking point.
In his opening remarks of this afternoon’s Assembly budget hearing, Chairman Vincent Prieto, (D-32), Secaucus, expressed support for the Democrats’ 20 percent property tax credit plan for New Jersey families with incomes up to $250,000. (Arco, State Street Wire)
Revenue projections remain sore point between branches of government
The issue of who does a more accurate job of predicting revenues – the Treasury or Office of Legislative Services – remains contentious between the Democrats and the Administration as legislative budget hearings heat up.
Although Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday dismissed OLS, a nonpartisan arm of government, as a tool of the Democrats, OLS Budget Officer David Rosen pointed out to the Assembly Budget Committee today that over the years the OLS and Treasury often have not been that far apart in the context of a multibillion-dollar budget. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
The Gill Playbook
The allies of state Sen. Nia Gill (D-34) this week are preparing for rejection by the three counties owning pieces of the Tenth Congressional District, but they take heart in the senator’s epic off the line effort in 2003.
Gill faced political extermination by the Essex County Democratic Committee that year and successfully ran and won. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie’s moves hint at ambition for VP spot
Governor Christie has been steadily and quietly building a just-in-case-I-get-the-call résumé for Mitt Romney.
Christie has downplayed the possibility of becoming Romney’s vice presidential running mate but never categorically closed the door on the idea.
“If Governor Romney were to come and talk to me about it, I’d listen, because I love my party enough and I love my country enough to listen,” he said last month on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “But … if you’re betting, bet on me being the governor of New Jersey into next year.” (Stile, The Record)