Morning News Digest: March 5, 2012

 Morning News Digest: March 5, 2012

By Missy Rebovich

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Winners and Losers: Week of Feb. 27th

It was a light week in Trenton, at least as far as who stood tall and who took a knee. Our Winners list includes a couple of promotions, a winner by default (again) and a lucky legislator.  As usual, our Losers include an arrestee (again).  So grab a cup of coffee and check it out and thank your lucky stars you’re not on the losers list. Unless you are…  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)



McQueeny withdraws CD5 candidacy

A day before he planned to launch, Jim McQueeny decided against running for congress in the 5th congressional district, citing work demands.

“It is with much regret and great sadness that I must withdraw my name from consideration for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District,” McQueeny said in a statement.

“I have always believed that service is the ultimate responsibility and I embraced the opportunity to represent my community in Washington. However, the suddenness of the opportunity, with events propelled further by the enthusiastic response to it, just didn’t allow for the proper time for me and my business partners to transition the work of our company’s customers; locally, nationally and internationally,” added the public relations executive and News 12 Power and Politics host.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



O’Leary pleads guilty in money-funneling scheme

Thomas J. O’Leary, the former executive director of the South Amboy Housing Authority, admitted his role in a scheme to funnel illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic primary election campaign of Joseph Vas for U.S. Congress in 2006, as well as one count of evading taxes, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)



Ex-blogger is Governor Christie’s eyes, ears inside Port Authority

For a decade, he was a faceless force in New Jersey politics, an Internet blogger who delivered scoops while keeping his identity a closely guarded secret.

Now, David Wildstein, formerly known by the pen name Wally Edge, is playing a key behind-the-scenes role in Governor Christie’s effort to get more control over the Port Authority, the bi-state transportation agency that has come under increased scrutiny since raising bridge and tunnel tolls in September.

The Port Authority, criticized as wasteful and dysfunctional, is the largest and most complex agency yet to be singled out by Christie as being in need of reform. And in Wildstein, an experienced political strategist who went to high school with the governor, the Christie administration may have found the perfect instrument to help shake things up, some say.  (Boburg, The Record)



8 who could run against N.J. Gov. Chris Christie: Democrats to watch

State Sen. Richard Codey, a funeral director with a disarming sense of humor, is racking up miles on his Cadillac these days as he crisscrosses the northern part of the state attending fund-raisers and parades in crucial swing districts.

Barbara Buono, a state senator and lawyer from affluent Metuchen, recently tapped an unlikely outsider for political advice — the Chicago-based firm that helped put Barack Obama in the White House.

Louis Greenwald, a snappily dressed lawyer from South Jersey and newly anointed Assembly majority leader, has darted up the northbound lanes of the turnpike more and more in recent weeks to meet and greet leading Democrats.  (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)



Different styles, but Christie’s words are rubbing off on Mitt Romney

Their styles couldn’t be more different, but Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney takes Gov. Chris Christie’s advice on everything from wording used on the campaign trail to policy arguments made in debates.

“We’re exactly the same,” Romney joked in an interview after a campaign rally at the Cole Center at Cleveland State University this evening. “It’s always fun to be with Gov. Christie. He speaks straight from the heart, spares no emotion and has the strength of character that stands behind the strength of his words.”

The few hundred people who packed the center will have to take Romney’s word for it. His most outspoken surrogate had planned to attend the rally, but canceled due to high winds and rainy weather.  (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)



Legislature plans budget hearings

The process of crafting a state budget in the Legislature will begin in earnest next week with the first of a series of hearings on specific topics being held by the Assembly Budget Committee in Trenton.

“New Jerseyans are struggling daily to keep their homes, educate their children and afford quality health care,” said Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, a Hudson County Democrat and chairman of the budget committee. ” We need their input … and we will stay at each and every hearing until everyone who wants so speak is heard.”

The Trenton hearing will be held at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the in Committee Room 11 on the fourth floor of the Statehouse Annex on West State Street. Topics to be considered at the hearing will be health, human services, senior, family and children’s issues.  (Staff, Gannett)



In New Jersey, a battle over a fluoridation bill, and the facts

For all its renown as an engine of pharmaceutical and biotechnology progress, New Jersey has long lagged in what public health officials call one of the 10 biggest health advances of the last century: fluoridating its water.

While 72 percent of Americans get their water from public systems that add fluoride, just 14 percent of New Jersey residents do, placing the state next to last, ahead of only Hawaii, and far behind nearby New York (72 percent), Pennsylvania (54 percent) and Connecticut (90 percent).

A bill in the Legislature would change that, requiring all public water systems in New Jersey to add fluoride to the supply. But while the proposal has won support from a host of medical groups, it has proved unusually politically charged.   (Zernike, The New York Times)



State tells 2 failing charter schools to shut down, reapproves 16 others

Two charter schools, one in Trenton, the other in Pleasantville, have been denied the right to operate by the state Department of Education for performing in the bottom 5 percent of schools for each of the past five years.

DOE officials Friday identified the schools as Emily Fisher Charter School in Trenton and PleasanTech (CQ) Charter School in Pleasantville. The schools were even performing below the poor public schools in their districts and had fiscal and leadership problems, officials added.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Fine print: Charters not renewed

What happened: The state announced Friday that it would renew the charters of 16 charter schools, but not the charters of one school in Trenton and another in Pleasantville. The letters sent to the two schools laid out a myriad of problems at each school, two of the oldest in the state.

What it means: The Christie administration has gone out of its way to show how tough it can be on charter schools that aren’t performing. It has been a sensitive topic, as the administration has been a big cheerleader for the alternative schools since Gov. Chris Christie took office and angered communities where the schools are seen as a financial drain. But in this climate, the closing of the two schools also raised worries over how the state was making its decisions.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Norcross brothers diverge on fate of Rutgers-Camden

Five weeks after Gov. Christie announced his intention to combine Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University as part of an overhaul of New Jersey’s public universities, setting off fierce opposition, a key actor in the drama held out the prospect of a compromise last week that aroused both hopes and suspicions.

In an opinion piece that some found enigmatic, State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), brother of a powerful backer of the merger, Democratic leader George E. Norcross III, wrote that it was “vital that the Rutgers brand stay in Camden.”  (Osborne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



7 N.J. towns to share $21M in federal aid to buy out or elevate flood-prone houses

New Jersey will receive $21.6 million in federal aid to buy-out or elevate properties in seven towns that sustained heavy flooding from the heavy rain of Tropical Storm Irene between Aug. 27 and Sept. 5.

The communities where the state government will be spent the Federal Emergency Management Agency aid are Pompton Lakes, Cranford, Denville, New Milford, Parsippany-Troy Hills, Paterson, and Westwood.

“We continue to aggressively pursue long-term solutions which will break the cycle of flooding, rebuilding, and additional flooding that prevents our communities and our residents from fully recovering from disasters like Irene,” Gov. Chris Christie said.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Making energy efficiency the law at state facilities

If you listen to some energy experts, New Jersey could be easily saving tens of millions of dollars a year by investing in energy efficiency projects to retrofit antiquated systems at dozens of state-run facilities.

But it hasn’t happened. At least not yet, even with a three-year-old law that one energy lawyer calls on paper probably “one of the best energy bills passed by the legislature” in recent times.

Today, the Senate Economic Growth Committee aims to help the legislation live up to its promise, by overhauling the law and removing impediments advocates say are in the energy savings improvement program (ESIP), a bill passed into law in 2009 and signed by former Gov. Jon Corzine.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



Legislation brewing to help state’s small brewers

When Ocean Township native Mark Edelson opened Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Maple Shade almost three years ago, he hired 100 employees to prepare and serve food, clean dishes, work the bar, and brew his nationally award-winning beer. As owner of eight other Iron Hill locations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, Edelson dreams of spreading his concept and his beer across New Jersey. But he won’t be able to do that. State law limits him to two brewpubs and prohibits him from selling or sampling beer outside his always-bustling establishment.  (Nurin, NJ Spotlight)



Assembly bill would help neighbors grow old together

With more older adults aging in their own homes, a number of naturally occurring retirement communities have evolved in New Jersey –essentially neighborhoods or apartment buildings where long-time neighbors are growing old together.

These communities, or NORCs, as aging experts call them, provide supports that allow seniors to remain in their homes, instead of uprooting them to retirement communities or nursing homes.

“Seniors want to stay in their homes, but if the social supports or the safety net is not in place, it is difficult for them to remain,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Hunterdon/Mercer).  (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)



NJ school board elections?  These holdouts are sticking with spring

They have become the holdouts, the handful of New Jersey school districts that have gone against the grain and decided to keep their school elections in April, at least for now.

Under a law passed this winter, districts were allowed to move their elections to November as a way to boost voter interest. What started as a trickle quickly became a torrent: 468 districts — nearly nine in 10 — have made the move.

The big lure was that those making the switch would not be required to put their annual budgets to the voters, as long as they stayed below the state’s 2 percent property tax cap.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Strategic plan’s comment period ends on favorable note

Business owners and trade groups have turned out in recent weeks to voice their support for the Chris Christie administration’s plan for economic growth and environmental preservation, the head of the state’s planning agency said today.

Thursday marked the end of public hearings on the state strategic plan, which the governor unveiled in October as a blueprint to bolster key industries and regions, but also realign government agencies. Gerry Scharfenberger, director of the state Office of Planning Advocacy, said merchants and chamber of commerce leaders “were happy to see that it addressed concerns that they’ve had over the years.”  (Burd, NJBIZ)



Gay couples in NJ face costly tax hassles

Few taxpayers look forward to tax season, but the annual obligation is particularly laborious for tens of thousands of same-sex couples who live in states such as New Jersey that recognize gay marriage or civil unions.

Some have to put together four tax returns. Others have to prepare five. Preparation fees can cost thousands of dollars, and refunds may be delayed for months.

The reason: Most states that recognize same-sex marriage or domestic partners allow couples to file a joint state tax return. State tax returns, though, are based on the taxpayer’s federal tax return. And because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, these couples can’t file jointly with the IRS.  (Staff, Gannett)



Feeling overburdened, N.J. residents keep eyes on tax-cutting talk in Trenton

As the income tax cut Gov. Chris Christie included in his budget plan, and a competing property tax credit proposal from Democrats, get more coverage in the state, an overwhelming majority of registered voters have finally recognized New Jersey as one of the highest-taxed states in the nation, though their concerns about not getting their money’s worth from the taxes they pay is nothing new, according to a poll.

“Historical data show that state and local taxes in New Jersey have been among the highest in the nation for at least the past 40 years,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, in prepared remarks. “But it took a while for people to fully recognize that fact, even though complaints about taxes have been around as long as taxes themselves.”  (Staff, NJBIZ)



NJ Muslims, officials discuss NYPD surveillance

New Jersey’s attorney general told Muslim leaders Saturday that he was still looking into the extent of New York Police Department surveillance operations in the state, yet stopped short of promising a formal investigation during a meeting that both sides characterized as productive.

Leaders from different New Jersey Muslim organizations met with Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa and state and federal law enforcement officials for nearly three hours in Trenton to discuss concerns over the NYPD’s activities in the state.  (Associated Press)



NY congressman attacks Christie for comments about NYPD surveillance of Muslims

In an escalating war of words, a New York congressman attacked Governor Christie on Friday for comments he made criticizing the New York Police Department’s surveillance of New Jersey Mus­lims as “arrogant” and an “aban­donment of the core lesson of 9/11.”

Christie on Thursday slammed the NYPD for conducting secret surveillance in Muslim communi­ties in New Jersey without notify­ing state agencies, saying the lack of information and coordination could endanger law enforcement officers. But Rep. Peter King, chair­man of the House Homeland Se­curity Committee, fired back at the governor Friday.  (Adely, The Record)



Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s State of the City: 2012 to see more jobs and construction

Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker, in his annual State of the City Address, accentuated his administration’s accomplishments and reflected on the effort to further the Brick City’s economic recoveries.

The mayor spoke at length about the improvements to Newark, categorizing the speech in several major sections, including police and local safety, education, land and public space, business partnerships, the budget, city governance, and Newark’s handle on its water resources.  (Kim, New Jersey Newsroom)




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Daily State House Schedule



Weekly Advance: Week of March 5



Weekly Roundup: Week of Feb. 27



DCA, HMFA offering historically low mortgage rates for first-time homebuyers

The Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA) announced a new, 30-year, 3.75 percent fixed interest rate mortgage for qualified first-time homebuyers and Urban Target Area borrowers.

The HMFA has $170 million to lend at this historically low interest rate, which will fund an estimated 1,000 mortgages.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



Government transparency bills up for hearing Monday

Giving the public more access to the workings of government will be the primary topic at a Monday afternoon State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee meeting.

There are 11 bills on the agenda, several dealing with government transparency.  (Smith, State Street Wire)



Sweeney: Sunoco settlement doesn’t excuse company’s actions

Senate President Steve Sweeney made it clear today that despite Sunoco’s settlement with West Deptford over environmental clean-up issues at a disused refinery, the company must be held accountable for its actions.

“Sunoco bilking taxpayers out of $15 million instead of $20 million or $30 million or whatever they wanted still doesn’t change the fact that they cut and run from the people of West Deptford, leaving behind an environmental disaster,” Sweeney said.  (Mooney, State Street Wire)






Too many fannies, not enough seats

Last week, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, met with The Record’s editorial board. The veteran congressman discussed domestic spying by the NYPD, the insertion of religion into political campaigns and Rep. Steve Rothman’s fanny.

Pascrell said Rothman is not challenging Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage, because Rothman wants to “preserve his fanny.”

Later this month, Rothman, also a veteran congressman, also a Democrat and seeking the same congressional seat as Pascrell, is scheduled to meet with the editorial board to talk about much the same things. Because New Jersey lost a congressional district after the 2010 census, one incumbent will soon be without a job. Rothman of Fair Lawn is challenging Pascrell in the newly configured 9th District. There is only one seat for two contenders. Fannies are important.  (Doblin, The Record)



Senator, satisfied nothing else ‘hit the fan,’ signs off on court nominee

Republican Sen. Gerald Cardinale of Demarest finally signed off on Supreme Court nominee Phillip Kwon last week, putting an end to a holdout that raised a few eyebrows in Trenton.

Cardinale said he interviewed Kwon, the state’s first assistant attorney general and a Closter resident, a few weeks ago. But Cardinale — the normally reliable foot soldier for Governor Christie — dragged his feet on Kwon, creating a potential road block to a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under the “Senatorial Courtesy” tradition, senators who live in the same county as a gubernatorial nominee can block a nominee by refusing to sign off. Senators are not required to publicly explain their reasons.  (Stile, The Record)



On drug offender plan, Chris Christie shows (again) political prowess

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman is not normally in the cheering section for Gov. Chris Christie.

A black woman and a liberal Democrat, she has almost no common ground with him. She’s been the target of some of his most piercing attacks, and she’s fired back just as hard, calling him a “schoolyard bully” whose behavior was “reprehensible.”

But there she was Thursday morning, in the front row as the governor spoke at a drug treatment center in Trenton about his plans to divert nonviolent drug offenders from prison into treatment.

“He seems sincere on this,” she said. “He recognizes that there really is value in every human being.”  (Moran, The Star-Ledger)



Gov. Christie’s communication director head for Tinseltown?

Might Maria Comella, Gov. Chris Christie’s communications director, become smitten by the allure of Hollywood?

A tipster directed The Auditor to the Internet Movie Database page for the coming HBO movie “Game Change,” based on the best-selling book about the 2008 presidential campaign.

Although Comella, who was a spokeswoman for the Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, and his vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, is not in the book, she is listed as a character in the movie.  (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)



For-profit ownership can treat ailing N.J. hospitals

The Health Department’s decision to reopen shuttered Pascack Valley Hospital is an opportunity to finally move on and go about the business of rebuilding a hospital in Westwood.

Of course, the last week has been anything but that, as Valley and Englewood hospitals vowed to continue a legal fight that has offered so much predictability, Rob Reiner has optioned the rights to a romantic comedy version of it. But we’re even sorrier to see the for-profit-hospital-as-boogeyman storyline resurrected as ailing hospitals continue seeking treatment for flatlining finances.  (Staff, NJBIZ)



Predictions for Super Tuesday, March 6, 2012 –Ohio will determine the future of the GOP race

1.  Mitt Romney will win primaries in Massachusetts, Virginia, and Vermont, and the caucuses in Alaska, Idaho, and North Dakota.

2.  Newt Gingrich will win the Georgia primary.

3.  Rick Santorum will win the primaries in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

4.  Ohio primary is too close to call.

I vacillate on Ohio.  Santorum has the advantage of hailing from nearby Western Pennsylvania and having a continuing lead over Romney among blue collar workers and specifically among families who earn between $20,000 and $75,000 annually.  Romney does better than Santorum among high income voters, but Ohio is a decidedly blue collar state.  Edge:  Santorum.  (Steinberg for PolitickerNJ)



Morning News Digest: March 5, 2012