Morning News Digest: April 18, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
State making progress on medical marijuana, governor says
Appropriate safeguards must be in place before the long-awaited medical marijuana program goes live, Gov. Chris Christie said today, adding that the operator of the first facility granted a permit to grow the plant should “stop complaining.”
The state Monday issued a permit to Greenleaf Compassion Center to begin growing medicinal marijuana with an eye toward beginning to dispense the plant later this year. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
CD 10: The June race to watch
The Combatants: Newark City Council President Donald Payne, Jr.; state Sen. Nia Gill (D-34); West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice; Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith; Dennis Flynn; Cathy Wright.
Background: Befitting a legend, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-10) was dominant.
But that didn’t mean the state’s first African-American Congressman didn’t have at least one gathering threat on the political horizon in the form of West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie: Replacement for Kwon still in the works
Gov. Chris Christie said today he’s unsure when he’ll be ready to announce a Supreme Court nominee to replace Phil Kwon, adding that his staff is working to vet potential nominees.
Christie said he expects his second nominee, Chatham Mayor Bruce Harris, to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee later this month or in early May, but may not be ready to announce his second candidate by then. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie receiving closer scrutiny
Governor Christie’s budget and tax policies, his recent trip to the Middle East and longtime support of Mitt Romney can all make national news these days. But so can his weight and even reports of sleeping at a recent rock concert.
And some of Christie’s prior decisions and statements are getting a much closer look now that Romney appears the likely GOP presidential candidate, with Christie probably on the short list for Republican vice presidential running mates. (Reitmeyer, The Record) http://www.northjersey.com/news/politics/national_politics/147870675_Christie_receiving_closer_scrutiny.html
Christie: $40,000 bill for Middle East trip security was appropriate
Governor Christie said the $40,000 spent on security while he was touring Israel and Jordan earlier this month was an appropriate expense for taxpayers given the safety risks in the region.
“I was surprised that it cost that little, going to one of the most dangerous places in the world,” Christie said of the trip, billed by his office as a “Jersey to Jerusalem” trade mission. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
Mayors: Show us the money; Gov: Share services
Give us more money and we’ll lower property taxes and be able to stop laying off police officers.
That was the message Tuesday from some two dozen mayors and municipal officials, who came to Trenton to demand that New Jersey provide $330 million in additional local aid that they said should be coming to all municipalities from energy taxes. (Method, Gannett)
Commuter-tax notion dismissed by Christie
Manhattan borough President Scott Stringer’s proposal to bring back a tax for suburbanites who commute to work in New York City got a cold greeting on Tues
day from the other side of the Hudson.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the idea was “penny-wise and pound-foolish” and would hurt the region’s economy. (Associated Press)
Gov. Christie tours Bedminster autism center
Gov. Chris Christie today toured an autism treatment center that is using public education funds and private donations to teach life skills to 28 students and their families. Christie visited Somerset Hills Learning Institute during the campaign and returned to tout the Bedminster center’s research-based approach.
“Of all the visits I made as candidate for governor in 2009 no place affected me personally more than this place,” he said in a news conference in the center’s lobby, adding: “It’s places like this that are helping students and their families every day acquire the necessary skills to live and work as productive citizens of their communities.” (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Christie fires another salvo at ‘corrupt’ Middlesex Democrats
Gov. Chris Christie doubled down Tuesday on his criticism of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization, calling it a “historically corrupt” organization.
Christie first slammed the committee last week during a visit to Bridgewater, where he was asked to comment on reports that political action committees controlled by Middlesex County power brokers were circumventing pay-to-play laws by funneling funds to candidates in municipalities that ban contributions from businesses with public contracts. (Bichao, Gannett)
Gov. Christie asks again for six-month extension on filing personal tax returns
For the third consecutive year, Gov. Chris Christie has asked for a six-month extension on filing his income tax returns, according to spokesman Michael Drewniak.
In previous years, Christie has released the documents in October. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno filed her and her husband Michael’s taxes on today’s deadline, but Drewniak said she won’t release her documents until Christie does. (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Officials: N.J. holding out on towns
The state is standing in the way of property-tax relief and forcing budget cuts by withholding energy tax money due municipalities, local officials said Tuesday.
Members of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities argued at a Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting that municipalities should receive a greater share of revenue collected from utilities that pay to locate in the cities. (Duffelmeyer, Associated Press)
More energy tax money sought
Local officials in New Jersey said Tuesday the state is standing in the way of property tax relief and forcing budget cuts by withholding energy tax money due municipalities.
Members of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities argued at a Senate committee meeting that municipalities should be getting a greater share of the revenues collected from utilities that pay to locate in the cities. (Duffelmeyer, Associated Press)
Sen. Codey admonishes Gov. Christie for not filling empty Essex County judge seats
State Sen. Richard Codey today sought to shift blame squarely onto Gov. Chris Christie’s shoulders by reigniting a long-standing political dispute when he demanded the governor fill judge vacancies that have reached historic levels in Essex County.
The shortage of judges recently led to a four-month suspension of complex civil and all matrimonial trials at the state’s busiest courthouse in Newark, delaying thousands of cases and frustrating countless litigants. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. comptroller: State Police internal investigations take too long
When State Police Trooper Rangy Pangborn compl
ained last month that he was under investigation by internal affairs because he refused to toss out Assemblyman Nelson Albano’s speeding ticket, he said the matter could take years to review and slow his rise through the ranks.
He had a point, a new report shows.
New Jersey Comptroller Matthew Boxer said in a report made public today that internal State Police investigations take too long to complete, potentially allowing problems to fester and holding up trooper promotions. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
Latest efforts begin to revamp New Jersey’s ‘priority schools’
A week after identifying the state’s lowest performing schools for stronger state interventions next year, the Christie administration will start laying out exactly what that intervention could look like, from redirecting staff to replacing principals.
The state Department of Education will hold its first webinar today with effected districts and schools and already has begun reviews of each of the 75 schools to determine next steps, officials said. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
New Jersey gears up to fight healthcare fraud
Healthcare fraud siphons off tens of millions of dollars a year in New Jersey — and billions nationwide. Fighting it is a collaborative effort that calls on the resources of law enforcement agencies and fraud units at insurance companies.
Now, both these groups are gearing up for a potential spike in fraud in 2014. That’s when federal healthcare reform will extend coverage to thousands of currently uninsured New Jerseyans, provided the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn the Affordable Care Act this June. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Andrews retains powerful D.C. law firm
Rep. Rob Andrews, who’s faced criticism over his campaign-spending practices, has retained a Washington, D.C., law firm that touts its “tenacious defense” of political figures.
Andrews’ campaign committee has paid almost $45,000 in recent months to Brand Law Group, a high-powered firm led by a former general counsel for the House of Representatives. (Walsh, Gannett)
Bramnick says small-business owners need attention, too
The Republican leader in the Assembly said Tuesday he wants to find out if the state is doing enough to help small businesses.
“If a major company is going to leave, that makes the front page,” said Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield). “You don’t see on the front page that a mom-and-pop store in New Providence is closed or had to cut back.” (Kaltwasser, NJBIZ)
Senate spending bill blocks closure of Sandy Hook lab
A key Senate subcommittee approved language Tuesday that would block the closure of the NOAA fisheries lab in Sandy Hook.
President Barack Obama’s budget plan had proposed closing the James J. Howard Marine Sciences Laboratory to reduce administrative costs and improve efficiency, saving $200,000 when its lease expires in late 2012.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., pushed the measure to save the lab in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, which oversees the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (Herman, Associated Press)
Ruling on Monmouth Park lease could come Thursday
Officials from the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority will consider whether to reopen bidding for its plan to privatize Monmouth Park Racetrack after a hearing Monday that centered on one losing bidder’s protest of the state’s current agreement.
Agency officials heard arguments from an attorney for John Brunetti, a New Jersey developer and Florida racetrack owner, who is protesting the state’s deal with the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. The attorney, Paul Josephson, of Hill Wallack, argued the sports authority’s bidding process gave the horsemen a “competitive advantage” because of their involvement in an earlier deal that fell through late last year. (Burd, NJBIZ)
Online educator adds two Newark charters to portfolio
Two proposed Newark charter schools once in doubt of ever opening have gotten a second life with the nation’s largest provider of online education, K12 Inc.
A week after announcing enrollment was underway at one online-only charter school out of Newark, K12 Inc. this week announced it had added two more charter schools to its growing New Jersey portfolio. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Tiny Garden State utility tops solar power nationwide
Not many may have heard of the Vineland Municipal Utilities Authority, but it is the nation’s leader in providing solar-powered electricity to its 25,000 customers, according to a study released yesterday.
The analysis, compiled by the Solar Energy Power Association, reflects just how much solar has taken off in New Jersey, with three of the state’s four electric utilities ranking among the top 10 nationwide in the amount of electricity generated from solar units installed or the number of watts produced from solar during 2011. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
CEO says PSEG spending $6.7B on reliability, other projects
The chief executive of Public Service Enterprise Group says the company is spending $6.7 billion to boost grid reliability and control pollution.
Ralph Izzo addressed the annual meeting in Newark this afternoon.
The spending comes in a number of different areas. PSEG’s utility, PSE&G, is spending $3.5 billion on transmission projects to boost the reliability of the region’s power grid. The utility will spend another $307 million on energy efficiency programs and $700 million on solar energy projects. (Kaltwasser, NJBIZ)
Medford votes to exceed N.J. property-tax cap
With the rest of the state watching, voters in Medford Township swarmed the polls Tuesday and approved a significant tax increase that community leaders said was needed to prevent the town from sinking into a default.
The measure passed with about 57 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns – a stunning turnaround in a Republican-leaning town that last year defeated a similar tax-increase proposal by a 5-1 ratio. (Hefler, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
DRPA police sue, seeking binding arbitration
Police officers for the Delaware River Port Authority have filed suit against the DRPA, asking a federal court to order binding arbitration to settle their long-running contract dispute.
The 131 patrol officers, sergeants, and corporals have been working under terms of a contract that expired Dec. 31, 2009. Their duties include patrolling the PATCO commuter rail line and the DRPA’s four toll bridges – the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross, and Commodore Barry. (Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Judicial vacancies present challenge, court administrator tells lawmakers
The state’s acting administrative director of the courts told the Senate Budget Committee today that judicial vacancies present a challenge.
Judge Glenn Grant tallied some of the figures from around the state. Until recently, Cumberland County had a 27 percent vacancy rate. Essex is at 22 percent; Middlesex is at 19 percent; Union is at 26 percent; and Mercer is at 24 percent. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Courts administrator: Despite unknown costs, drug court expansion needed
New Jersey’s Judiciary cleared 7 million cases last year using 500 fewer personnel and while dealing with 50 to 55 judicial vacancies, the court system’s acting administrator told the Senate Budget Committee today.
Judge Glenn Grant, while touting successes such as the drug court program that debuted in New Jersey in 1995 (and which Gov. Christie wants to expand), also said that the increased use of computer technology will be key to the Judiciary’s success in years to come. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
ARCO oil agrees to $832K settlement with Gloucester
An oil company that operated a facility out of Gloucester has agreed to an $832,000 remediation settlement with the city and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, state officials said.
The Atlantic Richfield Company, ARCO, agreed to the settlement as part of ongoing efforts to restore the city of Gloucester’s Southport, according to the DEP. The oil company operated in only a section of the 120-acre tract of land along the Delaware River. (Arco, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Christie no “birther”
The continuing flap over the birthplace of President Obama is “ridiculous” and should be put to bed, Gov. Chris Christie said today.
Christie was responding to a question about Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, who earlier this month told the Star Ledger that a new book disputing Obama’s residency raised interesting points and convinced him the issue isn’t going away. Bucco had attended a talk by author Jerome Corsi that was sponsored by the Morris County Republicans and several Tea Party groups. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Two stars shine in New Jersey politics
When Newark Mayor Cory Booker ran into a burning building to save his neighbor last week, New Jerseyans were instantly reminded that they have more than one up-and-coming politician in the state.
Over the past year, most of the air has been sucked out of the room by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican whom party leaders practically begged to enter the presidential race.
But Christie’s success has not dulled Booker’s sheen. Young, energetic, enthusiastic and smart, Booker exudes a sense of competence and destiny that remind people of another politician — President Barack Obama. But that comparison, based in part on the fact that both men are black, would be a mistake. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
Christie throws Medford Republicans under the trash truck
Back in 2010, Gov. Christie signed a bipartisan measure to cap annual local property tax increases at 2 percent — with the caveat that, if necessary, a town’s residents could vote for a bigger increase.
Medford’s all-Republican township council is seeking to do just that, asking voters in a local election today to approve a tax increase beyond the cap. The council members, all newcomers, are facing a $6 million deficit after previous councils failed to cut spending or raise taxes, they said. Cops have already been laid off, and they warn that if the refendum fails, municipal trash pickup would go. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)