Weekly Roundup: Week of April 9

TRENTON – This week the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey remained a political football and the state Education Department moved forward with its plans to improve public education accountability standards.

The Assembly Transportation panel, in a party-line vote, approved a resolution that pushes farther along its ability to issue subpoenas to the bi-state agency, if need be. Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, a Gov. Chris Christie loyalist, accused the Democrats on the Assembly Transportation Committee of doing “a shakedown” on PANYNJ.

And Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak dismissed the Wisniewski hearing as nothing more than a “political sideshow.” 

But that charge against the chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, John Wisniewski, (D-19) of Sayreville, was not his only controversy this past week. Various media reports explored the actions of political action committees in Middlesex County involving possible attempts to bypass pay-to-play safeguards.

Christie said that Wisniewski and Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), of Piscataway, who is in charge of that county’s Democratic fundraising arm, should answer questions. Christie later called the Middlesex County Democrats a “corrupt organization.”

Wisniewski said regarding the donations that there was no connection to him. In another statement he released shortly after the contentious hearing focusing on the Port Authority, Wisniewski said he is simply doing the job he was elected to do.

Further complicating the issue was a report in the Star-Ledger that an engineering firm CME – a big donor to Wisniewski – met with a Port Authority official about possible work a day before the Port Authority was invited to send officials to appear before Wisniewski’s Transportation Committee.

Baroni questioned the timing. Wisniewski said he was outraged at the allegations being made.

Education labels

In the education sector, acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said a system of three designations will be applied to identify schools in need of progress or as models to follow for excellence. The designations are Priority, Focus and Reward schools.

Cerf described it as a welcome departure from the strict, one-size-fits-all approach that the federal No Child Left Behind Law attempted.

Flood-prone areas 

The Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday it plans to purchase 540 homes in flood-prone areas in the Passaic River Basin, not wanting to see the bad after-effects of Hurricane Katrina last August repeated anytime soon. The buyouts will be made possible with $121 million in federal grants.

What’s in a name?

A flare-up occurred when outgoing Rutgers University President Richard McCormick said the Rutgers name could possibly remain after the controversial merger involving Rutgers University’s Camden campus and Rowan University is completed.

Gov. Christie and several South Jersey Democrats, particularly that region’s power broker, George Norcross, support the plan as a way to stimulate that area’s economy and put in place a state-of-the-art research university there.

And Christie made it clear afterward that McCormick was off-base: the Rutgers name will disappear after Rowan takes over the Camden facility. 

Higher Education Secretary Rochelle Hendricks also said it was premature to reveal a specific cost regarding the merger, saying administrators from both institutions are still gathering that information.

Her comments did not sit well with members of the Senate Budget Committee who expressed frustration that a July 1 deadline is looming for a mega-project such as this one but no one can supply basic financial data regarding its cost.

Growing New Jersey 

Keeping up its record of providing tax incentives, the Economic Development Authority granted more than $100 million worth of tax credits through the new, bipartisan-supported GROW New Jersey program.

The credits will go toward several different kinds of businesses, including a dress maker, a pharmaceutical company, and  a winemaker, among others.


Weekly Roundup: Week of April 9