Morning News Digest: May 31, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
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GOTV operations underway in Paterson’s 6th Ward, where Pascrell was raised
The front screen door swung open on the squat brick Cape Cod in the 6th Ward and a woman appeared complaining about a call from the Mitt Romney campaign.
“What are they doing, calling me here?” she wondered, and 6th Ward Councilman Andre Sayegh, new shoes gleaming on her front porch after wearing out his last pair on his successful re-election campaign last month, told her they had to be kidding.
There was a Pascrell sign in the yard. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie rejects housing advocates’ complaints about settlement funds
Gov. Chris Christie today rejected claims of lawmakers and advocates who accused the administration of misusing mortgage foreclosure settlement funds as general funds.
“They’re wrong,’’ he said at a press conference today. Earlier, state lawmakers and housing advocates said the administration is going to take $75 million of the multistate settlement and use it to balance the budget rather than spend it on housing. (Mooney, PolitickerNJ)
Tax cut proposal moving forward despite revenue gap
Gov. Chris Christie wouldn’t say Wednesday if he’s nearing a tax cut comprise with members of the Legislature, but left little doubt about whether a proposal would ultimately emerge
During an afternoon news conference announcing the planned opening of two Amazon.com warehouses in the state, the governor was asked whether New Jersey could afford cutting taxes amidst disappointing revenue figures that were announced last week. (Arco, PolitickerNJ)
Gov. Christie expects lawmakers to pass ‘user fees’ bill
Railing against the size of local governments, Gov. Chris Christie said tonight that he expects the Legislature to pass a bill that would include so-called user fees within the state’s 2 percent property tax cap.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) introduced the bill (S1914) to reign in towns that tried to skirt the cap by levying fee on services like garbage collection. A vote it set for tomorrow and Christie said he will sign it.
“The towns have to come to Jesus on this one,” he said during a monthly call-in program on 101.5 FM. “They have to cut the size and scope of their governments.” (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Gov. Christie says he wouldn’t bash Romney-Trump team
Gov. Chris Christie was uncharacteristically diplomatic today when asked to discuss the wisdom of his buddy Gov. Mitt Romney’s perceived coziness with another friend — Donald Trump.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s decision to fundraiser with The Donald dominated cable news Tuesday, but Christie wouldn’t bite on the political implications.
“Any advice I have for Gov. Romney, I give to him,” he said at a Statehouse news conference. (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Christie stands by Supreme Court nominee
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he is standing by his nominee to the state Supreme Court, as the openly gay black Republican prepared to face wary Senate Democrats at a confirmation hearing set for Thursday.
A number of Democrats have questioned bond lawyer Bruce Harris’s qualifications for the state’s highest court, including Sen. Nick Scutari, who will chair the hearing, and the Legislative Black Caucus, which failed to endorse Harris even though he would restore an African-American presence to the court.
Christie on Wednesday implored Democrats to allow Harris, 61, to make his own case without predetermining the outcome. (Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Governor Christie sees hopeful sign for confirmation of his second state Supreme Court nominee
Governor Christie said no senators have personally warned him that his second Supreme Court nominee is doomed, a “hopeful sign” the governor said on the eve of Thursday’s confirmation hearing.
The silence on the fate of Bruce Harris before the Senate Judiciary Committee differed from the forecast Democrats gave Christie before his first court pick, Phillip Kwon, was rejected in March.
Several Democrats, however, have openly questioned Harris’ qualifications and cast doubt on his odds of clearing the committee. (Patberg, The Record)
Amazon agrees to pay sales tax to New Jersey, Christie says
New Jersey stands to see as much as $40 million a year in sales-tax revenue from Amazon (AMZN).com Inc., the biggest online retailer, Governor Chris Christie said.
A deal the Republican governor disclosed today will bring to New Jersey $130 million in investments and 1,500 full-time jobs. Amazon will start collecting the 7 percent tax July 1, 2013, Christie said at a Trenton news briefing. Work on two new warehouses in the state may begin next year, he said.
“Today’s announcement marks a first step toward a long- term relationship with Amazon,” Christie, 49, told reporters. “With this agreement, Amazon is stepping up and making a real commitment to our state and to our people.” (Dopp, Bloomberg)
Christie joins opening of Newark’s first waterfront park
With the Red Bulls soccer arena and the Passaic River in the backdrop, Governor Christie joined Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo is celebrating the opening of the city’s first waterfront park Wednesday.
Christie, who was on hand to announce the project in April 2010, said the former industrial site was “almost unrecognizable.”
Christie stood alongside DeVincenzo, Booker and other state, county and local officials to cut the ribbon on Essex County Riverfront Park. The bright green turf replaces tall stacks of shipping containers and contaminated soil that once blocked the public view of the Passaic River. (Hayes, The Record)
Feds want $30 million back from NJ for Medicaid
Federal officials are asking for a $30 million refund from New Jersey after an audit found that adult mental health services providers in the state did not make Medicaid claims in accordance with state and federal standards.
The report from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general is being released Thursday. It examines services provided in group homes, supervised apartments and family care homes. (Duffelmeyer, Associated Press)
Rutgers restructuring: Behind closed doors
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) are working to introduce legislation next week that would retain Rutgers-Camden within Rutgers University, while establishing a joint governing board to share funds and fiduciary responsibilities between Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University.
The bill will be the culmination of a series of closed-door meetings between Sweeney, South Jersey political power broker George Norcross, representatives from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, and others who met to work out a compromise between the status quo and a full merger of the two South Jersey schools – an idea that was initiated by a Christie-appointed task force in January. (Nurin, NJ Spotlight)
Department of Education plans to release report cards for all N.J. schools
The state Department of Education today plans to release report cards for every school in the state’s nearly 600 districts, a spokesman for the department said.
The report cards give parents and teachers a thorough picture of a school’s academic and fiscal performance, giving them a tool to compare schools. The report cards include information on state test score achievement, per pupil spending and graduation rates among other statistics.
Last year’s school report cards revealed that per pupil spending had increased slightly between the 08-09 and 09-10 school years. (Calefati, The Star-Ledger)
Debate over NJ’s education budget quietly focuses on funding formula
While the public discussion about New Jersey’s budget has largely turned on whose proposed tax cut is better and whose revenue estimate more accurate, quieter debate has also surfaced over the distribution of the largest piece of that budget: school funding.
Christie has called for a $213 million increase in school funding, to nearly $9 billion in direct state aid — by far the biggest piece of the budget. But while some have said the increase should be more and fully fund the state’s school finance law, much of the discussion has been around particular details in how the administration plans to distribute the money it has. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Essex County lawmakers to present demands regarding N.J.’s higher education overhaul
A group of Essex County lawmakers plans to present a laundry list of demands to Senate President Stephen Sweeney Thursday that must be satisfied before they support a controversial overhaul of the state’s higher education system, the Star Ledger has learned.
The long and potentially expensive list — which includes granting Rutgers-Newark unprecedented autonomy and pumping millions of state taxpayer dollars into Newark’s University Hospital and medical school — was laid out in a conference call headed by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, according to sources familiar with the plan. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. two-year colleges paid for presidents’ cars, golf
New Jersey community colleges padded their presidents’ compensation with perks, including housing allowances, country-club memberships and airfare for spouses to travel to conventions, Comptroller Matthew Boxer said.
Three of the 19 community colleges paid their presidents more than $300,000 a year, and 12 covered housing costs as high as $3,500 a month, according to a report from Boxer’s office. Brookdale Community College reimbursed its president more than $41,000 in 2010 for the cost to send his children to four universities, while Bergen County College’s boss charged the school credit card $16,600 that year for meals, liquor and entertainment. (Young, Bloomberg)
Pet relocation for community college president covered in N.J.
New Jersey’s Essex County College paid $680 to relocate the incoming president’s pet. The state’s Brookdale Community College reimbursed the now-retired president $41,000 for his childrens’ university tuition.
Governing boards at New Jersey’s community colleges agreed to augment presidents’ salaries with those perks in recent years, along with housing allowances, country-club memberships and airfare for spouses to travel to conventions, according to a report yesterday by state Comptroller Matthew Boxer. They also paid for country-club memberships and automobiles. (Young and Dopp, Bloomberg)
Advocates urge Christie, foreclosure funds for housing not budget relief
Dozens of community, labor, and religious organizations are calling on Gov. Chris Christie to use New Jersey’s share of money from the national foreclosure settlement for housing programs rather than to plug holes in his proposed budget.
“We’re appealing to his heart,” said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, as she flourished a letter to the governor signed by representatives of groups such as the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, Habitat for Humanity, the NAACP, and Jewish Family Services. (Tyrrell, NJ Spotlight)
NJ lawmaker defends bill that would allow payments for woman who bear children for others
Legalizing contracts between couples and women who bear children for them is “about giving life,” according to the state senator aiming to make it law in New Jersey.
But he’s facing growing opposition from a group of social conservatives and women’s advocates who say the bill amounts to legalized surrogacy.
State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, said Wednesday that his plan to allow payments to New Jersey women who bear children for third-party parents would be designed to cover spiraling medical bills and to accommodate “reasonable” living expenses — not “living at the Ritz-Carlton.” (Fletcher, The Record)
Rep. Bill Pascrell blends pragmatism with passion
Rep. Bill Pascrell revels in going on television news shows, especially Fox News, to argue with conservatives.
“If you can’t go on those shows, you shouldn’t be in Congress,” Pascrell said.
He had such a reputation for barking at what he calls “true believers” during hearings and floor speeches that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi named him to the House Budget Committee last year just so he could get in the face of Tea Party members.
Yet while the 75-year-old former Paterson mayor and state assemblyman is emphasizing his credentials as a fighter in his battle for the 9th District Democratic nomination against Rep. Steve Rothman, Pascrell also has close friends in the GOP. (Jackson, The Record)
Five Latino leaders in Paterson supporting Rothman
When the time came Wednesday for five Paterson Latino leaders to endorse Rep. Steve Rothman in his primary battle with Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., supporters turned off the fans in a sweltering storefront so that Rothman’s newfound political allies could be heard.
But they still had to raise their voices over the minivan parked right outside with a loudspeaker on its roof that blared radio ads featuring former President Bill Clinton endorsing Pascrell. (Ensslin, The Record)
FEC prods Kyrillos on missing report
Boosted by a visit by likely Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, U.S. Senate candidate Joe Kyrillos raised more money in the from the start of April to mid-May than incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., according to summary pages of a campaign finance report provided by Kyrillos’ campaign.
Kyrillos’ total receipts were just over $600,000, compared with$529,850 for Menendez. But Menendez has been raising money since 2007, and had $9.4 million in his campaign accout on May 16, while Kyrillos’ balance was $1.6 million.
Romney headlined a fund-raiser in April that was said at the time to raise $400,000 for Kyrillos, a state senator from Monmouth County who served as state chairman of Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. Menendez has a major fund-raiser on Friday, with former President Bill Clinton as the headliner. (Jackson, The Record)
Candidates: U.S. Congress Democrats District 1
There’s a reason why virtually nothing has been written about the Democratic primary in New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District this year.
“This is one of the most boring districts in the state this election cycle,” said David Wasserman, House editor of The Cook Political Report.
Boring, he says, because the race pits 21-year incumbent Rob Andrews against Francis X. Tenaglio, a retired teacher who last held public office in 1978. (Nurin, NJ Spotlight)
Candidates: U.S. Congress Democrats District 9
In some ways, Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman seem to come from the same place. The grandsons of European immigrants, they studied philosophy in college and later became mayors of North Jersey cities. They started as freshmen in Congress together in 1997 at the beginning of Bill Clinton’s second term and then won seven more elections through George W. Bush’s administration and into Barak Obama’s historic presidency.
Moreover, their Congressional records show striking similarities. From 2007 through 2011, they voted the same way 97 percent of the time, according to OpenCongress, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group. (Mallnconico, NJ Spotlight)
Candidates: U.S. Congress Republicans District 9
By just about every expert’s account, New Jersey’s newly drawn 9th Congressional District was carved out to be a stronghold for Democrats.
But that hasn’t stopped three hopefuls from running in the district’s Republican primary. The field includes a professor, a rabbi, and an eye doctor. It almost sounds like the setup of a joke.
But the three Republicans — Blase Billack, Shmuley Boteach and Hector Castillo — are serious-minded candidates who say they are committed to providing voters with a solid alternative in November to the winner of the Democratic death match between incumbents Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman. (Mallnconico, NJ Spotlight)
From N.J., lawmaker aids China activist
In his journey from house arrest in Beijing to a televised appearance in New York on Thursday, Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng had an unusual ally—a devoutly Christian House Republican from central New Jersey.
Rep. Chris Smith, a 16-term incumbent considered one of Congress’s most conservative members, has developed an international reputation as a defender of human rights, particularly in China, a country he has visited several times.
Mr. Chen specifically asked for the congressman’s help in April after escaping house arrest and finding refuge in the U.S. Embassy. Last Friday, the two men had a 90-minute private chat on the New York University campus where the blind activist is now studying law and living in faculty housing with his wife and children. (Haddon, The Wall Street Journal)
With ratepayer subsidies for new plants revealed, many critics are outraged
Well, that did very little to settle the debate.
When the state finally released the subsidies that ratepayers would fork over to power plant developers, the expectation was that it might quell the bitter controversy over the pilot program, which proponents argued would lead to lower energy bills for consumers and businesses.
Not surprisingly, that view triggered widely varied responses from critics of the program, some of whom continue to challenge it in federal courts. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Details of LCAPP contracts provide fuel for opponents of power subsidy
Contracts released by state energy regulators this week are providing fresh ammunition for opponents of a program to subsidize new power plant development in New Jersey.
The Board of Public Utilities on Tuesday night released details of its agreements with two generators that could receive payments under the Long-Term Capacity Agreement pilot program, or LCAPP, which was launched early last year. The contracts show the state could soon owe tens of millions of dollars to the two companies — Hess Corp. and Competitive Power Ventures — to make up the difference between price guarantees offered by the BPU and what utilities will pay the firms for electricity generation. (Burd, NJBIZ)
NJ transportation chief taking on trash
State Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson said the amount of trash strewn along the state’s highways was one reason one businessman wanted to leave.
On Wednesday, he recalled the conversation he had with the North Jersey real estate CEO more than a year ago. Part of the issue was high taxes, Simpson said, “but just as important was that New Jersey was becoming a real filthy area and he was embarrassed when he’d have customers come to Newark Airport and travel up to Parsippany.
“It didn’t seem like we were the rich, great, Garden State.” (Rouse, The Record)
N.J. organizers again reject charge that F1 schedule is off track
The international head of Formula One is once again casting doubt on whether New Jersey will host its first race next year, but local event organizers say nothing has changed, and that preparations for the race are still “precisely on schedule.”
A spokesman for Grand Prix of America at Port Imperial, the promoter of the New Jersey race, said today the group is “still on track for a June 2013 race.” That includes “course engineering and construction (that is) progressing precisely on schedule.” (Burd, NJBIZ)
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Prieto proposes fee on ticket purchasers for MetLife Stadium events to fund Meadowlands Commission
Jets and Giants ticket buyers could pay 5 percent more for future games at MetLife Stadium under proposed legislation.
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, (D-32), Secaucus, is sponsoring a bill that would provide a funding source for the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, which serves as the zoning and planning agency for a more than 30-square-mile area along the Hackensack River. (Arco, State Street Wire)
Christie wants Hendricks to follow up on Comptroller’s community college findings
The Comptroller’s report that exposed spending excesses on community college presidents drew a sharp response from the governor today.
“This is ridiculous stuff,’’ Gov. Chris Christie said of the expenditures disclosed in the report, which included items such as country club memberships and airline trips for spouses. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Lesniak: No on Harris; probably no on tax cuts
Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-28), of Elizabeth reiterated on Tuesday that he will vote no on the nomination of Bruce Harris to the state Supreme Court, citing Harris’s decision to recuse himself on a marriage equality case that would come before the court.
He added that he hadn’t spoken to any of his Senate Judiciary Committee colleagues concerning Thursday’s hearing. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Resume not only problem for Harris, Dems say
While virtually all of the discussion about Chatham Mayor Bruce Harris’ nomination to the state Supreme Court has focused on his qualifications, privately some Democrats say his fate hinges as much on his Republican voter registration as it does on his resume.
If confirmed to the court, Harris would be one of six justices currently seated. The administration of Gov. Chris Christie contends that his confirmation would put the court makeup at three Republicans, two Democrats and an independent. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Little camp says failure to file campaign paperwork an ‘oversight’
With less than a week until Tuesday’s primary, former Highlands Mayor Anna Little has not yet filed the required federal paperwork for her 6th District Congressional run, according to online records and a spokeswoman for the Federal Election Commission.
A spokesman for the Republican challenger said the failure to file was an oversight and would be corrected immediately. Little initially filed paperwork in February for a U.S. Senate run, said her husband Rob Little, but when she pivoted to a congressional run, the account was never amended. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
A change in the Electoral College math that benefits Romney
Based on recent polling trends, I have made the following two changes in my Electoral College projections:
1. I have moved New Hampshire and its four electoral votes from my toss-up classification and placed it firmly in the Obama column.
2. I have moved Wisconsin and its ten electoral votes from the Obama column and placed it in toss-up status. (Steinberg for PolitickerNJ)