Morning News Digest: May 10, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Now or next year? Middlesex conundrum
Dented by headlines exposing a web of vendor-driven fundraising PACs tied to his political allies, Middlesex County Democratic Committee Chairman Peter Barnes heads toward a June intraparty reassessment of his chairmanship as his entrenched Democratic rivals gutcheck the future.
That troubled county party organization is split between a power grid of state Sen. Bob Smith (D-17)/Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) on one side, and Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac and state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-19) on the other. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
SCI: Paid leave abuse occurred throughout state
Places where paid leave for union business occurred include the Department of Human Services, state and county corrections departments, and in several municipalities throughout the state, including Atlantic City, Bayonne, Brick, Camden, Elizabeth, Jersey City and Lakewood, according to a state report released today.
While a statute was passed in 2006 that required unions to reimburse employers for the costs, it included a loophole in which the statute didn’t have to be followed if another arrangement was made between union officials and local governing bodies, the State Commission of Investigation said. (Hassan, PolitickerNJ)
If he loses to Rothman, would Pascrell run against Jones in local mayor’s race?
There is speculation on the ground in Paterson about U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell’s (D-9) political future if he loses the Democratic Primary next month in his increasingly brutal mano-a-mano with U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).
He’s not losing, say the members of his inner sanctum.
But if he does, the congressman’s political allies say the hard-nosed Patersonian even at 75 won’t be able to stand down from politics, and will be faced with looking at life again from the same local vantage point of the Great Falls that once schooled the young ward captain. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
N.J. union-work leaves cost taxpayers more than $30 million
New Jersey paid more than $30 million over five years for labor representatives to conduct union business while on leave from government jobs, according to a State Commission of Investigation report.
One teachers union official in Brick received $1,375 in “perfect attendance” bonuses “even though he devotes all of his work time to union business,” the report found. Eleven officers with the state Corrections Department don’t report to prison jobs and still qualify for overtime. (Young, Bloomberg)
NJ donor pleads guilty; Menendez to give $19K away
A northern New Jersey insurance broker pleaded guilty Wednesday to tax violations and to using straw donors to make nearly $100,000 in illegal campaign In a hearing in U.S. District Court, Joseph Bigica admitted failing to pay taxes on several million dollars of income from his insurance business and trying to conceal assets from the IRS. He also admitted recruiting straw donors, including family members, to make $98,000 in illegal contributions to a federal candidate between mid-2005 and mid-2009.
The candidate was not identified in court. Federal election finance reports show that Bigica and at least four relatives donated about $30,000 to Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez’s campaigns between 1998 and 2009. (Porter, Associated Press)
Savings in benefit reform delayed, treasurer says
New Jersey will have to wait until next year to see the savings Governor Christie predicted his benefit reforms would bring, the state treasurer testified Wednesday, saying public workers balked at buying into lower-cost plans.
Moving workers to lower-cost health plans became a key plank in Christie’s vision for reforming public-worker pensions and health care benefits to reduce massive state deficits. Selling the policy at town hall-style events, Christie originally argued that his changes could save the state at least $10 million in the first year alone. (Fletcher, The Record)
Supporters now see opening to break deadlock in Trenton
President Obama’s decision to support same-sex marriage brings new attention to the issue that Governor Christie sought to end in New Jersey with his veto earlier this year.
A bill to allow same-sex marriage in New Jersey cleared both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature in February. But Christie, a Republican who opposes same-sex marriage, quickly issued a conditional veto to block the legislation.
Now Democrats in the Legislature and advocates for same-sex marriage are hoping Obama’s announcement adds pressure not only on Christie, but on others who are reluctant to legalize gay unions. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
Former N.J. Gov. McGreevey hails Obama’s support of gay marriage, calling it ‘a moral turning point’
Former Gov. Jim McGreevey whose secret affair with a male aide led to the downfall of his administration, said President Obama’s position marked a turning point in American history.
“The President’s decision today represents a moral turning point that civil liberties and the basic dignity of all persons ought to be respected,” McGreevey told The Star-Ledger just moments after Obama publicly re-staked his position in support of gay marriage. (Giambusso, The Star-Ledger)
Sweeney swings ‘big stick’ to push towns to share services or lose state aid
To Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), nothing underscores the need for the state to take a tough approach to shared services to cut property taxes more than what happened in his home county when Wenonah looked into consolidating police services with neighboring Mantua.
“Wenonah has the highest property taxes in Gloucester County, and residents would have saved $400 a year in property taxes,” Sweeney noted at a recent New Jersey Conference of Mayors seminar in Atlantic City. Furthermore, the police chief and sergeant in Wenonah’s seven-member police department were about to retire, so merging with Mantua’s 29-member force should have been easy. (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)
Democrat calls Christie’s economic comeback campaign ‘a myth’
The head of the Assembly’s Budget Committee said Wednesday’s report that revenues failed to meet expectations in the critical month of April shows that Gov. Chris Christie’s “New Jersey Comeback is a myth rather than a reality.”
“With unemployment at 9 percent and property taxes higher than ever, Gov. Christie needs to put this ‘comeback’ silliness aside and confront the harsh reality of his fiscal policies and the burden they’ve placed on New Jersey’s middle-class and seniors,” Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), chair of the budget committee, said in a statement. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
State Police official summoned to ‘Death Race 2012’ hearing to explain escort protocol
One of the state’s top-ranking Democrats today summoned State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes to a hearing next week to explain how troopers decide when to grant escorts to private citizens.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), chairman of the state Democratic Party and the lower house’s transportation committee, said he would consider legislation changing the way escorts are authorized. (Baxter and DeMarco, The Star-Ledger)
Diverted clean energy funds prove ‘use it or lose it’ adage
Use it or lose it.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) gave that advice to Board of Public Utilities President Bob Hanna during an appropriations hearing yesterday, referring to the Christie administration’s diversion of more than $210 million of clean energy funds to help balance the proposed state budget.
“That should be a lesson,” Burzichelli said at a hearing in the Statehouse Annex. “If you don’t spend it, the treasurer is going to take it.” He wasn’t blaming the current treasurer, saying he would probably do the same if tempted. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
State: 26 charter schools apply
State education officials have announced 26 qualified charter school applicants for 2012, including five candidates in Camden.
The state this year has sought applications from charter school operators from around the country in an attempt to encourage “successful and replicable” models.
Two of the Camden schools also would serve students from the Pennsauken district, according to a list released by the state Department of Education. (Staff, Gannett)
Study: Pushing patients from ER to primary care could save $400M in N.J.
More than $400 million could be saved in New Jersey each year by treating nonemergency primary-care ailments in a doctor’s office or medical center, instead of a hospital ER, according to a report released today by the New Jersey Hospital Association.
In the study, funded by a $4.8 million grant from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the NJHA, the state Department of Human Services and the New Jersey Primary Care Association examined the use of emergency departments in Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Monmouth Medical Center from September 2008 to April 2011. (Eder, NJBIZ)
Keeping patients in the know about medical fees
Anyone who has had a serious illness or injury is familiar with the dizzying array of medical bills that seem impossible to decipher, replete with codes and charges that are supposed to explain financial liabilities, deductibles, in-network charges, out-of-network fees, and the like. How is a layman expected to figure out what’s really owed, what costs could have been avoided by using in-network care, and whether or not there have been overcharges.
A bill aimed at addressing this problem will be up for discussion today in the legislature. Called the (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight), it requires patients to be made aware of potential financial liabilities, before they decide to seek out-of-network care.
Expert: Tax credit won’t get small businesses to offer health insurance
While more than 95,000 small employers in New Jersey are eligible to receive a tax credit from the Affordable Care Act to offset the cost of their workers’ health insurance, according to a report, an employment expert said the credit will not increase small businesses’ participation in providing insurance.
Small businesses with fewer than 25 full-time workers and average wages of less than $50,000 must cover at least 50 percent of each employee’s health insurance premiums to qualify for the tax credit — which covers up to 35 percent of costs of the insurance they provide to their workers, increasing to 50 percent in 2014. (Eder, NJBIZ)
U.S. casinos slowly coming back from recession woes, but Atlantic City still weakened
The nation’s commercial casinos continued their slow-but-steady comeback from the recession last year, with revenues up 3 percent nationwide and jobs holding nearly steady, according to a report released Wednesday.
The American Gaming Association’s annual report noted the nation’s 492 non-Indian casinos or other legal gambling halls paid nearly $8 billion in taxes to state and local governments, a 4.5 percent increase over 2010. (Associated Press)
Revel’s 1st-month $13M win near bottom for Atlantic City
Atlantic City’s newest casino won about $13 million from gamblers in its first month of operation, ranking it near the bottom of the city’s gambling halls.
Revel CEO Kevin DeSanctis told The Associated Press the $2.4 billion resort began a preview period aimed more at testing out systems than generating revenue.
“The first month was, well it was nice to get it behind us,” he said. “When you open anything this size there’s an awful lot of work to do and a lot of things to fix. We’re still not at a point where we’re totally comfortable with everything, particularly the technology.” (Associated Press)
Survey shows more caution from top executives
As the economy plods through its slow recovery, many middle-market companies are taking a more cautious approach than they were a year ago, according to a survey released this week by the national accounting firm Deloitte LLP.
Fewer businesses plan to hire or invest in technology, respectively, than last year, as companies continue to focus on the health of their balance sheets and improving their cash positions while investing, according to the survey, “Mid-Market Perspectives: 2012 Report on America’s Economic Engine.” (Tarbous, NJBIZ)
Spotlight Q&A: The state of Facebook’s $100 million to Newark
Greg Taylor is nearing his first year anniversary as head of the Foundation for Newark’s Future, better known as the organization that is distributing the $100 million given to Newark by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
NJ Spotlight sat down with Taylor in his Newark office yesterday to talk about the progress so far, his thoughts on the fundraising to date — including a required $100 million match — the community’s role in the foundation’s work, and even current teacher contract talks and where Foundation for Newark’s Future could play a role. And he shared a little from a recent meeting in California with Zuckerberg, a trip he made with Cami Anderson, Newark’s new superintendent. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Nicholas Katzenbach, N.J. native who worked under JFK and LBJ, dies at 90
Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, who famously faced down Alabama Gov. George Wallace on the steps of the University of Alabama, fought the FBI over wiretapping Martin Luther King Jr., was a trusted adviser to two presidents and enhanced the legacy of an already distinguished New Jersey family, died Tuesday night at his home in Skillman. He was 90.
He had been in failing health since breaking a hip last December, said his wife, Lydia Stokes Katzenbach. (Goldberg, The Star-Ledger)
DeAngelo poised to introduce recall reform measures
A Democratic Assembly lawmaker representing the district of embattled Republican Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo is pushing for recall election reform.
Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, (D-14), Hamilton, announced Wednesday his renewed push for recall election reform that would “put in place realistic recall election standards” for voters to hold elected officials accountable, DeAngelo’s office said in a news release. (Arco, State Street Wire)
Finance Board takes action on Bergen authority budget as case winds through courts
One state agency reversed a decision of another state agency today as part of an ongoing saga involving the Northwest Bergen County Utilities Authority.
The Local Finance Board reversed a decision of the state Division of Local Government Services regarding the authority’s budget. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Finance Board OKs Atlantic City budget
Atlantic City, which is overseen by the state because of its financial problems, had its budget approved today by the Local Finance Board.
The board approved the proposed budget of $231 million, an approximately $8 million increase from last year’s $223 million budget.
Almost all of the budget increase is related to debt service on casino tax appeals that have hit the gaming mecca hard. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Treasurer defends governor’s opposition to film tax credits
State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff defended the administration’s stance against New Jersey film tax credits, calling the incentives “a race to the bottom” for states.
The treasurer was prompted to discuss film tax credits by two Assembly Democrat lawmakers, who asked whether the incentives helped the state and questioned Gov. Chris Christie’s opposition to the program. (Arco, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
BuzzFeed: Obama hauls in $1 mil. after gay marriage announcement
BuzzFeed is reporting that President Obama’s reelection campaign took in more than $1 million in donations in the 90 minutes following today’s announcement that he supports gay marriage. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Pascrell fights back
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) responded with a cable TV ad this afternoon aimed at his CD 9 Democratic Primary opponent’s efforts to depict Pascrell as too cautious around the GOP. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Obama’s stance may be polarizing, but gay marriage won’t destroy anything
Reed Gusciora, the only openly gay member of the Legislature, believes President Obama’s personal endorsement of gay marriage, will “energize” gay supporters who will work for his re-election. Bishop Jethro James, pastor of Newark’s Paradise Baptist Church, believes the president just alienated “every Evangelical in the nation” and will lose votes.
“I think what he did was courageous,” said Gusciora, a Mercer County Democrat. “But it also makes good political sense.” (Braun, The Star-Ledger)
Running to continue a political legacy
When Democratic congressional candidate Shelley Adler bumps into ex-Eagle-turned-U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan in a Bordentown TV studio, the exchange is reminiscent of the first time Rocky Balboa got a look at mountainous Russian foe Ivan Drago.
Only instead of the South Jersey Republican’s towering 6-foot, 7-inch frame, it’s Runyan’s noticeably slimmer figure that stuns Adler, the 52-year-old upstart.
“He loses weight,” she asks incredulously, “and I gain it?” (Kinney, The Philadelphia Inquirer)