Morning News Digest: July 16, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: The slowest week of the year
It was a painfully slow week in Trenton with the governor out of town and the legislature in full vacation mode. As usual, our losers list is littered with the detritus of the court system, while our winners role is graced for the first time with a bastion of political insiderdom.
It’s a short one, so don’t blink. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Affordable housing trust injunction denied, but munis can contest transfer of funds
An appellate court judge has ruled that an injunction blocking the transfer of affordable housing trust funds from municipalities to the state is not warranted, but will allow local governments to contest the transfer before it occurs.
Judge Mary Catherine Cuff ruled that the injunction was not warranted because municipalities have known for four years that the July 17, 2012 deadline was in place.
“In light of the record presented, we are satisfied that a global preliminary injunction restraining COAH from transferrring funds held in trust by municipalities to meet their affordable housing obligations is not warranted,” Cuff wrote. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie mulls impact of appeals court ruling that towns may appeal seizure of affordable-housing funds
Governor Christie’s staff will meet with attorneys Monday to discuss how to respond to an Appellate Court decision that Trenton must give municipalities an opportunity to appeal before absorbing as much as $200 million in affordable-housing funds into the state budget.
Christie’s spokesman Michael Drewniak said Saturday it was too early to say whether the state would appeal the decision.
“I will not be taking it up with our attorneys till Monday,” he said in an e-mail. (Hayes, The Record)
Gov. Christie to push for immediate tax relief effort during shore visit
As promised, Gov. Chris Christie will turn up the heat this afternoon on Democrats who he blames for taking a wait-and-see approach to cutting taxes.
The Republican governor will travel to the Pavilion at the Manasquan Inlet in the first of what his office has billed as the “Endless Summer Tax Relief Tour: A Conversation at the Jersey Shore.”
“Governor Christie will call for Corzine Democrats to stop holding tax relief hostage and urge the legislature to continue the New Jersey Comeback and provide bipartisan leadership by delivering tax relief to our citizens, making our state more competitive and allowing us to put more New Jerseyans back to work,” according to a statement from his office. (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Gov. Christie backs out of plans to take over as vice chairman of National Governors Association
Gov. Chris Christie backed out of plans to take over as vice chairman of the bipartisan National Governors Association this weekend due to time constraints.
He is already juggling roles as governor, surrogate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association as well as planning for a potential re-election campaign.
“Considering all the pressing issues facing New Jersey right now, the governor felt it’s not the right time to take on another national obligation outside of being RGA vice chair,” said spokeswoman Maria Comella. (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Christie, Democrats reverse roles in tax fight
Governor Christie spent last summer telling Democrats who wanted to spend more on senior aid and grants for struggling cities that New Jersey didn’t have the money to indulge “fantasy budgeting.”
But this summer, it’s Christie, a Republican, who is urging the Democrats who control the Legislature to authorize more spending on one of his priorities: a new income tax credit he wants on the eve of the 2013 gubernatorial contest.
“We’re going to have a fight about this over the summer,” Christie said last Monday during a speech in Washington. “And I’m looking forward to it.” (Reitmeyer, The Record)
Other governors divided on Christie’s leadership style
Republican governors who gathered for an annual meeting in Colonial Williamsburg this weekend said Governor Christie’s tough-talking nature appeals to voters across the country.
Christie, who was in high demand among his peers during the one day he participated in the National Governors Association’s yearly meeting, had even won over at least one Democrat.
Not surprisingly, not every chief executive on hand was a Christie fan. Other Democrats said his signature brash style — on display most recently when he got into an argument on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights and when he called a reporter an idiot at a news conference — was not the hallmark of a good leader. (Hayes, The Record)
Democratic governors use new SuperPAC to unleash attack ads against Gov. Chris Christie
Democratic governors are breaking in a new SuperPAC by attacking one of their most prominent Republican colleagues, Gov. Chris Christie.
DGA Action, a group run by the Democratic Governors Association that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, is running ads on the Internet needling Christie. And it doesn’t plan to stop the campaign it began in April anytime soon.
So far the organization has spent $1,000 in media markets “in and around New Jersey,” according to a spokeswoman for the organization — a pittance compared with the millions of dollars spent by an advocacy group on behalf of Christie. (Rizzo, The Star-Ledger)
As Chris Christie rises to the national stage, his no-nonsense persona may be a liability
Straight talk. No nonsense. Tough guy.
The labels are practically clichés when talking about Gov. Chris Christie. His persona — part-shtick, part an authentic part of who his Sicilian-American mother raised him to be — has propelled the governor to the top tier of the national Republican Party, making him a sought-after speaker and fundraiser.
But recent clashes with a reporter and then a boardwalk heckler have some people saying out loud what many have wondered privately since his days as a Morris County freeholder: Could Christie’s greatest asset also be his biggest liability? (Portnoy and Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Assembly panel to discuss racetrack casino gaming
An Assembly committee will meet this week to consider the merits of bringing casino gaming to the Meadowlands, with legislators prepared to highlight both an opportunity to increase state revenue and the underperformance of Atlantic City’s casinos.
“Any option to bring additional revenue and create jobs deserves careful consideration, and this is where the discussion starts,” said Assemblyman Ruben Ramos, D-Hudson, chairman of the Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee. The committee will meet at noon Thursday in the Hamiltonian Room at Meadowlands Racetrack, East Rutherford. (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)
NJ lawmaker seeking hearings on medical marijuana
A New Jersey lawmaker is calling for legislative hearings on why it’s taking so long for the state’s medical marijuana program to get running.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat from Trenton, called for hearings last week. He says the state’s administration should explain the delays, but a schedule for his proposed hearings hasn’t been announced.
The medical marijuana program has mostly been delayed because it took time for officials to adopt regulations and for the nonprofit marijuana dispensary operators to get permission to open from towns. (Associated Press)
New Jersey seeks to regain edge in high technology
New Jersey’s formerly booming high-tech sector has a lower profile, battered by a series of corporate contractions over the last 16 years. But there are new efforts by state officials and business leaders to help the state recapture its once-dominant share of jobs in science, engineering and technology.
If it works, a thriving brain belt can power New Jersey’s economy back to prosperity, said Esther Surden, who has covered the technology industry for trade publications for over 30 years. (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)
Tax break nears end for online shoppers
Republican governors, eager for new revenue to ease budget strains, are dropping their longtime opposition to imposing sales taxes on online purchases, a significant political shift that could soon bring an end to tax-free sales on the Internet.
Conservative governors, joining their Democratic counterparts, have been making deals with online retail giant Amazon.com AMZN +1.41% to collect state sales taxes. The movement picked up an important ally when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—widely mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate—recently reached an agreement under which Amazon would collect sales taxes on his state’s online purchases in exchange for locating distribution facilities there.
Mr. Christie called taxation of online sales “an important issue to all the nation’s governors” and endorsed federal legislation giving all states taxing authority. (Langley, The Wall Street Journal)
Teachers’ union takes tough stance on new charters
The relationship between the New Jersey Education Association and charter schools has been a checkered one.
In the early 1990s, the powerful teachers union fought against the state’s charter school law before ultimately signing on. Since then, it has openly said it supports charters — and has organized unions in a dozen of them — while raising protests about some aspects of the alternative schools.
Now, the union is again mixing it up, as the Christie administration is about to announce the latest round of final charters for schools opening this fall, including possibly New Jersey’s first all-online schools. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
States focus on altering alimony laws
While New York’s efforts to overhaul its alimony laws may have stalled this summer, other states in the region are taking initial steps toward change.
Officials in New Jersey and Connecticut introduced legislation this year to help the states make significant changes to their alimony laws, spurred by advocates who are seeking to eliminate lifetime awards and make it easier to modify settlements if financial circumstances change. (Hollander and Haddon, The Wall Street Journal)
Federal energy standard could put demand response programs in hot water
By virtually all accounts, energy efficiency is a win-win situation: It reduces consumer and business electric bills at the same time that it eliminates the need to build capital-intensive new power plants that would drive up energy costs.
But an unusually diverse coalition of industry groups, including the operator of the nation’s largest regional power grid, say a new energy efficiency standard adopted by the federal government could kill one of the more effective programs designed to lower power bills at times of peak demand. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. comptroller takes aim at embattled Newark Watershed
The bad news keeps coming for the Newark Watershed, but officials running the city’s waterworks appear to be taking it in stride.
According to minutes of the May 21 meeting of the Newark Watershed Conservation Development Corp. — the independent agency that manages the Newark watershed — the New Jersey state comptroller is demanding reams of documents from the embattled nonprofit agency.
Yet despite months of criticism from residents and city leaders, a series of articles in The Star-Ledger detailing allegations of profligate spending at the agency and now a state investigation, the watershed corporation’s board of commissioners voted to give executive director Linda Watkins-Brashear a 2 percent raise, according to meeting minutes. (Giambusso, The Star-Ledger)
New Jersey beaches at center of environmental battle
A new river walkway. A launch for boats. Later evening hours on ocean beaches.
A series of plans to boost access to New Jersey beaches and waterways had been hailed by environmentalists as the fruits of stringent requirements set by former Gov. Jon Corzine and his environmental chief, Lisa Jackson. But many towns and businesses saw them as onerous and inflexible.
Now efforts by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration to scale back those requirements have become another flashpoint in an ongoing battle between conservationists and the Republican governor. (Haddon, The Wall Street Journal)
High-powered lobbyist and Jersey City deputy mayor is having city residents pay for his health benefits
When Raj Mukherji was sworn-in as a Jersey City deputy mayor in March, the 27-year-old lobbyist took pains to say he was accepting only a $1 annual salary and forsaking a city car.
Mukherji — whose counterpart, Deputy Mayor Kabili Tayari, made $110,056 in 2011 — said he wanted to save the city money due to the “austere economic climate.”
But taxpayers aren’t entirely off the hook.
In May, Mukherji, who state records show raked in more than $500,000 last year as a managing partner of lobbying firm Impact NJ, began accepting health benefits paid by the city. The premium costs taxpayers $796.55 a month. (McDonald, The Jersey Journal)
Roundtable: What’s next for the ACA and a health insurance exchange in New Jersey?
Now that the Affordable Care Act has been declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, states must scramble to implement the law by deadlines set forth in the legislation or risk being noncompliant and losing federal funding for many provisions. On Friday, July 13, NJ Spotlight hosted a roundtable discussion at Montclair State University with healthcare advocates to discuss the issues that now must be addressed, as well as the various positions of stakeholders and the requisite timetables. (Keough, NJ Spotlight)
Report: South Jersey office market sees improvement
Leasing and sales activity in the southern New Jersey office market improved in the second quarter of 2012 compared to the same period last year, though positive absorption is still minimal and vacancy is on par with the rest of the state, according to a quarterly report by Voorhees-based Wolf Commercial Real Estate LLC.
Commercial real estate activity had the highest concentration in Moorestown, Marlton and Mount Laurel, while the western part of the region hosted a large share of the market’s vacancies — pushing the office vacancy rate close to 20 percent in the second quarter of the year, the report said. (Eder, NJBIZ)
CEO: Pending legal review, Revel may roll dice on sports betting
Revel, Atlantic City’s newest resort and casino, could be among the few venues in New Jersey that seek to establish sports betting later this year, the resort’s top executive said.
With the state moving to establish regulations for the practice, Revel Entertainment CEO Kevin DeSanctis said “we’d be very interested in moving forward into sports betting” if the rules are not challenged by the federal government or a professional sports league. State gaming regulators have published draft guidelines, which are subject to a 60-day public comment period that will end Aug. 31, followed by a legal review. (Burd, NJBIZ)
Bill introduced to charge immigrants’ U.S.-born children in-state tuition rates
A Democratic lawmaker introduced a bill Friday that would guarantee in-state tuition rates for children of immigrants who were born in the Untied States.
Bill A3162, the “Higher Education Citizenship Equality Act”, which would allow college-bound students who were born in the United States and are New Jersey residents to apply for state tuition assistance they would otherwise be ineligible for because of their parents’ immigration status. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Lautenberg, Menendez join call for federal disaster declaration for South Jersey
New Jersey’s U.S. senators are urging President Barack Obama to approve the state’s request for a federal disaster declaration amid recent storms that hit South Jersey.
Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez sent a formal letter to the president Thursday requesting the declaration for areas affected by severe thunderstorms late last month in Atlantic, Cumberland and Salem counties. (Arco, State Street Wire)
Health Department launches pilot program to test for lead poisoning quickly
The state Health Department on Friday said it will launch a pilot project where it will use portable screening devices to test for lead poisoning and get quick results.
Under the program, nine local and county health departments will use the LeadCare II Blood Lead Testing System to provide free tests to more than 2,000 children and identify those with lead poison and get them medical treatment. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Weinberg pressures DOE to disclose info on ‘outsider employees’
The state’s Senate majority leader is challenging the New Jersey Department of Education to disclose information on the role of departmental consultants underwritten by outside education organizations, the Senate majority party announced Friday.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), Teaneck, announced filing an Open Public Records Act request today following reports that the Education Law Center was refused full responses to multiple OPRA requests, Senate officials said. (Arco, State Street Wire)
TV could be alternative if Christie decides to skip second term
Governor Christie is the star of his own town hall theater, appearances carefully packaged for YouTube broadcast.
But some in Trenton are beginning to openly wonder: Will Christie leap to a bigger media stage and forgo a run for reelection next year?
A growing number of Democrats believe — perhaps, most fervently pray — that Fox News could make a lucrative offer that would lure him away from running for a second term in 2013.
A new career as a telepundit or the host of his own cable news show could be the smart escape route if Mitt Romney doesn’t choose him as a running mate or if a Romney loss in November dashes any hope of landing a Cabinet-level post. (Stile, The Record)
Bergen GOP can’t even agree on a Romney fundraiser
If New Jersey has served as a reliable bank of campaign cash for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, then Bergen County will soon be a well-tapped ATM.
The Bergen County Republican Organization sent out a blast email to party members last week inviting them to a $2,500-per-plate Women for Romney fundraiser in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday. Romney’s wife, Ann, will headline the event.
Seems like a predictable, ho-hum piece of fundraising. But because this tangentially involved the BCRO, the reaction was predictably cranky. One party veteran saw it as an example of misguided BCRO priorities. The party should be devoting the same energy and outreach for the upcoming freeholder race, the complaint went. (Stile, The Record)
Dressing sharp in Transportation
Some office workers at the state Department of Transportation are getting hot under the collar … for having to wear collars.
Commissioner James Simpson, upset over the appearance of some employees at the department’s main office in Ewing, has started enforcing a dress code that he says has long been ignored.
“They’d come to work with really worn dungarees, with T-shirts and sneakers hanging out. Flip-flops. It got really bad,” Simpson said. “T-shirts with Harley-Davidson, political opinions, all kinds of stuff.” (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Rutgers-Camden’s chief sees ties to build on
Rutgers-Camden chancellor Wendell E. Pritchett’s ever-ready smile gives him the look of an optimist, which he is.
But a rock star? He chuckles at the notion, despite the Springsteen-worthy reception he got from a campus rally in the winter, when Rutgers-Camden feared being absorbed by Rowan University upon orders from Trenton.
Even as hundreds of students, staff, and faculty cheered Pritchett’s vow to fight “the takeover . . . of our campus,” the chancellor already was convinced a compromise was possible. (Riordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer)