Morning News Digest: July 18, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Quinnipiac poll says Menendez widening lead over Kyrillos
The latest Quinnipiac Poll issued today gives incumbent U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) his biggest lead in months over challenger state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, (R-13), Middletown.
The poll gives Menendez a 46-32 percent approval rating and a 47-34 percent lead over Kyrillos, compared to a 45-35 percent lead in a May 16 survey.
While each candidate has a strong lead within their respective parties – Menendez leads 82-4 percent among Democrats and Kyrillos leads 77-10 percent among Republicans – Menendez also holds a 44-33 percent lead among independents, the poll showed. (Mooney, PolitickerNJ)
Andrews faces ethics investigation
U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews is the subject of a House ethics investigation, The Hill reported today.
The House Ethics Committee did not disclose the charges against the South Jersey Congressman but said it would announce its decision by August 31, The Hill reported.
In November, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint against Andrews with the Federal Election Commission alleging the Congressman spent more than $9,000 to pay for a trip to Scotland with his wife and children and more than $10,000 to host a graduation party for his daughter. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie continues Romney money tour
Gov. Chris Christie has three more out-of-state fundraisers for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney scheduled tomorrow, bringing the total of events the governor has attended this week to six.
The governor begins the day at 8 a.m. with a Washington D.C. event before heading into President Obama’s backyard for a noon fundraiser in Chicago. Christie will close the day with 6 p.m. appearance in Wayzata, Minn. on behalf of Romney.
Christie is arguably Romney’s most sought after surrogate and earlier this year helped raise $1.7 million for the nominee at two local fundraisers. Speculation over Christie as a potential running mate for Romney has waxed and waned in recent weeks, with the governor doing little to quell the conjecture. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Booker to appear in Philly with First Lady
It looks like all may be forgiven after a dust up earlier this year between the president and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Booker is scheduled to appear in Philadelphia tomorrow with Michelle Obama as part of the first lady’s Let’s Move! initiative to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.
Booker made national headlines earlier this year when during a spot on Meet the Press he called a television spot attacking GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s time with Bain Capital “nauseating” and criticized the negative tone the Obama campaign had taken. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
New Jersey cities abusing pension law may waste millions
New Jersey local governments failed to remove hundreds of contractors such as lawyers and engineers from pension rolls, which may cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year in improper payouts, a state audit shows.
Auditors identified 202 contractors who work for 134 communities and 25 school districts and participate in the Public Employees’ Retirement System even after a 2007 ban on their participation. Hundreds more probably are still enrolled by more than 1,100 other local government units, according to a report today from Comptroller Matthew Boxer. (Dopp, Bloomberg)
Ticking time bomb of debt: State budget crisis report says some problems ‘decades in the making’
New Jersey is a prime example of how states could be crushed by debt over the next few decades, according to a comprehensive report released by national economic experts Tuesday.
The study by the State Budget Crisis Task Force concludes that Gov. Chris Christie, who overhauled the state pension and health benefit system last year, still has his work cut out if he wants to implement financial reforms that will stand the test of time.
The report, which warns of a brewing storm headed for all the state capitals, uses New Jersey as one of six case studies of states where pension debts remain daunting, Medicaid costs are rising and yearly budgets are built with borrowed money and unsustainable sources of revenue. (Rizzo, The Star-Ledger)
Judicial veteran Lee Solomon favored for NJ Supreme Court
Governor Christie’s new choice for the state Supreme Court has served as a Superior Court judge — twice — as well as a state lawmaker, county and federal prosecutor and head of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which must sign off on gubernatorial nominees, endorsed him over the years for four different jobs.
As such, Lee A. Solomon’s résumé and his political pedigree stand in stark contrast to the backgrounds of Christie’s two recent nominees to the state’s highest court — both little-known candidates who were roundly rejected by the Democratic-controlled committee in a historic face-off with the Republican governor. Neither Phillip Kwon nor Bruce Harris — who would have been the first Korean-American and openly gay justice, respectively — had any judicial experience. (Hayes and Campisi, The Record)
Judiciary chairman says no hearing for Solomon unless Christie also taps a Democrat for court
The head of the Democrat-controlled panel that can approve or reject Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s nominees said today that he won’t hold a confirmation hearing if the governor taps Lee Solomon as a Supreme Court justice without also nominating a Democrat to fill the depleted court’s other vacancy.
The conditions by Senate Judiciary Committee Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) drew the ire of the panel’s ranking Republican and sets the stage for yet another battle over judicial nominees. (Spoto, The Star-Ledger)
NJ adds school districts to test new teacher, principal evaluations
As a new tenure reform bill awaits Gov. Chris Christie’s signature, his administration is moving ahead slowly with the system that could provide the centerpiece of the reforms: a new teacher evaluation system.
A few weeks later than expected, the state Department of Education yesterday announced another 10 mostly suburban districts would be participating in the pilot of a new teacher evaluation system this coming fall.
The state also had hoped to add an additional 10 districts from the pool of communities with high concentrations of poverty, but decided to reopen the grant process when the first round failed to come up with enough qualified districts, officials said. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
New Jersey now has a uniform standard for evaluating charter schools
When New Jersey approved nine new charter schools on Monday, it also announced a new accountability system aimed at setting uniform standards to evaluate the success of charters over time.
The annual “Performance Framework” will examine academic achievement, financial performance, and governance in the state’s 86 charter schools. Schools will do a self-review, evaluated by the state.
Previously, the state simply relied on each school’s initial application plan to hold the schools accountable, said Barbara Morgan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. (Vargas, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
The ‘other’ online charters get ready for new school year in NJ
They are the online charter schools that haven’t gotten much attention in New Jersey, the ones that will blend online tools with in-person teaching.
That lack of attention is likely to change soon, however.
Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf on Monday cleared the way for two of the so-called hybrid or blended charter schools to open out of Newark next month, offering students a full-day experience in the classroom, along with a heavy dose of online learning.
It’s a big distinction from the all-online programs that generated so much debate in the past month, where students would be taking classes out of their homes. The state on Monday postponed the opening of two such virtual schools for at least a year. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Legal for some, pot crops up in N.J.
For the first time in generations, marijuana is legally growing in New Jersey.
In a sign that the Garden State’s budding medical marijuana program is finally moving forward, the first crop has been growing hydroponically for about a month in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in an undisclosed location, officials said.
The first plants are about a foot high, said Joseph Stevens, president of the Greenleaf Compassion Center, the first licensed provider of medical pot. By mid-September, the center’s Montclair dispensary should be open and accepting patients to buy marijuana, he said. (Haddon, The Wall Street Journal)
Small brewers are fermenting hope for passage of brewery law
Artisanal beer brewers around the state are cautiously optimistic about the governor taking action on a bill passed in late June that would greatly expand their ability to market and sell their products.
Supporters say the bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate and by a vote of 64-13-1 in the Assembly, sets a rare example of cooperation and compromise within the alcohol industry. Initially, stakeholders in the wine and spirits distribution and retail sectors lined up to oppose multiple provisions in the original bill drafted by the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild. By the time it passed, only the New Jersey Restaurant Association (NJRA) remained — and continues to remain — opposed. (Nurin, NJ Spotlight)
Lt. Gov. Guadagno approves ‘Corrections Officer Day’
Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno signed a bill Tuesday to make July 30 of each year Corrections Officer Day.
The bill is called Fred Baker’s Law in honor of a corrections officer who was stabbed to death by an inmate on July 30, 1997, in Bayside State Prison in Cumberland County.
Policing jails and prisons is “a very, very risky business,” said Guadagno, who is filling in for Governor Christie as he campaigns out of state for presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. (Linhorst, The Record)
$1M federal grant to help Shore veterans
A $1 million federal grant has been awarded to a nonprofit organization to help low-income veterans in central and southern New Jersey who are at risk of losing their homes, announced Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.
The grant was awarded Tuesday to Soldier On, a nonprofit organization which works with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to provide veterans with both shelter and economic support. The money comes from a government-run program entitled Supportive Services for Veteran Families, administered by the federal agency. (Staff, Asbury Park Press)
States could leave millions of low-income people uninsured in a new Medicaid ‘doughnut hole’
For Gov. Rick Perry, saying “no” to the federal health care law could also mean turning away up to 1.3 million Texans, nearly half the uninsured people who could be newly eligible for coverage in his state.
Gov. Chris Christie not only would be saying “no” to President Barack Obama, but to as many as 245,000 uninsured New Jersey residents as well.
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling gave governors new flexibility to reject what some Republicans deride as “Obamacare.” But there’s a downside, too. (Associated Press)
NJ and other states may see loss of programs and tax increase due to federal spending cuts, task force says
Deep cuts to federal spending will threaten already stressed state budgets like New Jersey’s, putting health, transportation, education and safety programs at risk, financial policy experts said Tuesday.
A 10 percent federal cut would cost New Jersey $1.6 billion, and because fiscal stress also “rolls downhill,” local property taxpayers could end up paying more if states pass the problem on to municipalities and school boards, according to the State Budget Crisis Task Force in the first of a series of reports.
Governor Christie got some praise at the task force news conference for calling attention to the state’s serious problem with unfunded retiree benefits and enacting changes to retiree plans. But there was no endorsement of his call for a tax cut. (Jackson, The Record)
GOP governors won’t pay political price for rejecting Medicaid expansion
Now that they have a choice, thanks to the Supreme Court, many governors are saying no or delaying a decision when it comes to expanding Medicaid in their states. And while there is broad public support for Medicaid, chances are they won’t suffer political consequences as a result. In fact, it’s the safest path for conservative governors under pressure from the right to reject the new health law.
Twenty-five conservative leaders have written a letter urging all 50 governors to decline the Medicaid expansion and not to establish state-level health insurance markets or exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. The signatories of the letter include Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express, and conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. It is aimed particularly at Republican governors who have not committed to a position on the expansion, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Virginia’s Bob McDonnell. (Khan, National Journal)
States are using gimmicks to hide their budget woes, but their fiscal problems are here to stay
The aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis showed just how vulnerable state budgets are to economic swings. The major loss of revenue from income, sales and property taxes, combined with pressing Medicaid and pension obligations, created a major fiscal crunch.
States responded to the fiscal crisis by slashing government jobs and services, as well as passing temporary tax increases. They also received a temporary boost from the 2009 federal stimulus. But many also resorted to budget gimmicks, accounting sleights of hand and one-shot fixes to close the gap. In a new report, a group of budget experts explains that such measures are merely masking—and sometimes even exacerbating—the fiscal crises that states will continue to face even after the overall economy comes back. (Khimm, The Washington Post)
Plug-in electric vehicles continue to spark interest in New Jersey
Tom Moloughney pretty much hates the idea of importing oil to make other nations rich.
He likes to wear a T-shirt emblazoned with a gas pump with a huge diagonal black mark running through it. His license plate on his leased BMW electric car reads EF-OPEC. And now he has installed a public plug-in station for electric vehicles outside the Italian restaurant he has run on Valley Road in Montclair for the past 25 years.
“That’s just how I feel,’’ says Moloughney, who hands out business cards describing himself as an electric car enthusiast and advocate, when asked about the license plate. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
State’s 4th off-track betting parlor opens as lawsuit over future sites is halted
New Jersey’s newest off-track wagering parlor is officially open, and a lawsuit that could have impacted the development of other betting taverns in the state has been halted for the time being.
The new parlor, Winners Bayonne, opened its doors today at a ceremony hosted by Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural, who took over construction of the 25,000-square-foot facility last year. The $18 million project is the fourth such parlor to open in the state, part of a 10-year-old effort by lawmakers to build a network of 15 OTW sites and provide new revenue to the ailing horse racing industry. (Burd, NJBIZ)
Simon to introduce bill to combat pension abuses cited by Comptroller
In the wake of a Comptroller’s report today that disclosed widespread abuses of the public pension system by contract employees, a state lawmaker has promised legislation to combat the problem.
Assemblywoman Donna Simon, (R-16), Flemington, said today she will introduce a bill to stop towns from illegally awarding taxpayer-funded pensions to professionals such as lawyers or engineers who are part-time contractors. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Bill increasing penalties for cell phone-related accidents to be signed, sponsors say
Acting Gov. Kim Guadagno is expected to sign a bill Wednesday that would significantly increase penalties for motorists who cause accidents while using their cell phones.
Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, (R-25), of Morris Township, said that the signing of bill A1074, of which he is one of many co-sponsors, will take place. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Updated rules for publicly financed candidates for governor, lieutenant governor advances at ELEC
The state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission took another step toward issuing new rules for publicly financed candidates for governor and lieutenant governor.
The commission met Tuesday for a public hearing in which no one testified. The hearing’s topic was on proposed rule changes and amendments to the commission’s regulations surrounding the gubernatorial public finance program. (Arco, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Sources: Christie wants to roll out Supreme Court candidates one at a time
Three GOP sources close to the Senate Judiciary Committee told PolitickerNJ.com today that they believe the Christie administration will present candidates individually for the two empty slots on the state Supreme Court.
Last time, Christie offered two candidates at once, and watched the committee reject both.
This time, the governor will present one – reportedly state Superior Court Judge Lee Solomon – and a second candidate later, only after Solomon fulfills the process and is approved. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Local Dems on offense in Hamilton
Nearly three months after Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo ate federal bribery and extortion charges, and three weeks after a federal grand Jury indicted him on additional charges, the Republican Township Council has yet to conduct an inquiry into the impact of the actions of the mayor and one of his closest aides in the acceptance of $12,400 from an insurance consultant seeking a multi-million dollar no-bid contract.
Local Democrats continue to make this an issue, broadening their attack on Bencivengo’s alleged actions to include what they see as the council’s inaction. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Global climate change, anyone?
It’s hot out there Jersey! The season’s fourth heat wave has officially arrived, and it means for the next couple of days, we’ll get to enjoy temperatures about 10 degrees warmer than they should be.
Global climate change, anyone?
I know, I know — those of you out there wearing yellow t-shirts with snakes on them will call me a naive liberal tree hugger to believe the overwhelming scientific consensus that the globe is warming, and that we contribute. Pointing to a single weather event, like the ungodly heat, and attempting to make the case for global temperature trends is as laughable as denying it when there’s snow on the ground. (Tornoe, Newsworks)