Morning News Digest: July 20, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
During a press conference today, Gov. Chris Christie labeled premature any speculation that former Board of Public Utilities head Lee Solomon will be his state Supreme Court nominee and declined to comment on the latest troubles of Trenton Mayor Tony Mack. (Mooney, PolitickerNJ)
Turner, Hughes saddened by FBI siege, withhold judgment of Mack
Mercer Democrats expressed dismay over the FBI’s raid of Mayor Tony Mack’s house and subsequently City Hall, but urged people to refrain from assuming the mayor’s guilt.
“It’s very sad,” state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-15), Lawrenceville, said hours after the FBI stormed City Hall. “This is most unfortunate for the mayor, his family and the residents of our capital city, but I’m not going to rush to judgment.”
If the mayor’s in trouble, Turner lamented, “We don’t need any more obstacles in the way of Trenton’s progress.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
N.J. unemployment rose in June
The state’s unemployment rate jumped slightly in June, according to the latest data from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Unemployment in June rose to 9.6 percent from May’s 9.2 percent, according to the agency’s release, which boasted the state’s employers added 9,900 jobs to their payrolls.
Despite the increase in the joblessness rate, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development stated that combined with May’s jobs growth, the state has added 25,000 jobs, the largest two-month gain in over 12 years. (Arco, PolitickerNJ)
Assembly, Senate Dems rip administration for rising jobless rate figures
Democrats criticized the state’s rising jobless rate today as evidence that the Christie administration’s policies are not working.
The state reported that it added 9,900 jobs in June, but its unemployment rate rose to 9.6 percent from 9.2 percent in May.
Vincent Prieto, (D-32), Secaucus, and head of the Assembly Budget Committee, said 9.6 percent is the highest the state’s jobless rate has been in approximately two years.
“This is especially troubling since the biggest gains came in the area of leisure and hospitality, which typically employ temporary, seasonal workers this time of year,” he said in a release. (Mooney, PolitickerNJ)
Christie refuses to confirm GOP convention talk
Governor Christie wouldn’t say whether or not he’ll be speaking at the Republican National Convention next month or if he’s still in the running to be the GOP vice presidential candidate.
Christie fielded questions on an array of topics after a bill-signing in Trenton on Thursday. He rebuffed reports that he has already selected a new state Supreme Court nominee after Democrats shot down his last two candidates. And on the topic of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., next month, he said any announcements would come from presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. (Hayes, The Record)
Can Chris Christie be beaten?
While national Republicans dream about a future Chris Christie presidency, Democrats are quietly pondering who can make him a one-term governor next year.
The only problem: There’s no standout Democrat stepping forward to take on the New Jersey governor — assuming he decides to run again, which isn’t a given. Newark Mayor Cory Booker — the only star-studded contender who could potentially clear the field — has said publicly and told Democrats privately he’s not running for governor.
The early void means this will be the first time in the state since 1996 the party out of power heads into the fall without a presumed front-runner.
Gov. Christie among those applauding Obama for fast-tracking Bayonne Bridge project
The local shipping industry, port officials and New Jersey’s Republican governor are applauding President Obama’s decision to fast-track a project to raise the Bayonne Bridge roadway.
“This is great news for New Jersey and great news for the region,” Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement tonight. “In addition to the job growth and economic activity created by this project — putting thousands of hardworking men and women of our building trades back on the job — this world-class project will secure the Port of New York and New Jersey’s role as the premier port of the east coast and as a powerful engine of our state and regional economies.” (Strunsky, The Star-Ledger)
Christie would’ve ignored heckler if he hadn’t cursed
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said his July 5 shouting match with a heckler on the Seaside Heights boardwalk wouldn’t have happened if the man hadn’t used profanity in front of his children.
“Sometimes in this job you have to be a father first,” Christie, 49, told reporters today in Trenton. “If they do it while I’m alone I just ignore it and let it roll off my back. It’s part of the job. But not in front of my kids. I just won’t have that.”
Christie, a father of four, has made a name for himself by lighting into critics, and some of these confrontations have been captured and broadcast on YouTube. Video of his July 5 altercation was posted to gossip website TMZ.com, and stories about the argument made headlines around the world. (Dopp, Bloomberg)
Gov. Christie confident probe will determine whether dangerous tests were performed on disabled
Gov. Chris Christie said today he has “complete confidence” Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez and her staff will quickly and fairly determine whether a doctor and nurse practitioner at the Hunterdon Developmental Center administered high doses of Vitamin D to disabled residents as part of an unauthorized research study.
The allegations led to the pair being placed on paid leave in December.
“It certainly concerns me the conduct that has been alleged may have been happening,” Christie said at an unrelated press conference in Trenton. “I also know from my previous job (as U.S. Attorney) that significant investigations sometimes take a long time.” (Livio and Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Christie signs bill that will lead to private provider expansion
Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill today that’s expected to lead to an expansion in services for addiction treatment providers.
The bill, S-881, allows more drug offenders to be placed in treatment programs rather than being incarcerated. It also establishes a pilot program in two counties that would mandate nonviolent drug offenders be placed in treatment programs.
Over the next five years, the state is planning to expand the mandatory services throughout the state, a priority of Christie’s.
“This is going to be a big challenge for the private treatment folks, who will have to step up and expand,” Christie said at press conference at the Rescue Mission of Trenton, a nonprofit treatment provider. (Kitchenman, NJBIZ)
FBI raids Trenton City Hall and mayor’s home
FBI agents raided City Hall in New Jersey’s capital on Thursday, a day after searching the homes of the city’s embattled mayor, his brother, and a campaign donor.
The FBI said it had a search warrant for several offices but declined to be more specific.
The recently appointed city business administrator, Sam Hutchinson, whose department was among those being searched, told the Trentonian that FBI agents were also in the office of Mayor Tony Mack.
“The FBI is searching through documents in his office,” he said. (Associated Press)
Senate panel to take up Cerf’s nomination as education commissioner
The Senate Judiciary Committee next week will consider Christopher Cerf’s qualifications to lead the state Department of Education, a job he has been doing for nearly two years with the word “acting” attached to his title.
Gov. Chris Christie first nominated Cerf to the post in December 2010, four months after firing his first education commissioner, Bret Schundler, who lost his job in the wake of an embarrassing error that cost New Jersey $400 million in a federal education reform competition.
Cerf has been essential in rolling out Christie’s education reform agenda. Last year, he began a teacher evaluation pilot program — the rating system that could soon be linked to teacher tenure. This fall, he will begin pressuring the state’s lowest performing public schools to improve or risk loss of some federal funds. (Calefati, The Star-Ledger)
Drug treatment business in N.J. to expand
Some of the private companies now being paid by the state to run New Jersey’s halfway houses are poised for a massive expansion into managing residential drug-treatment programs for as many as 8,500 new offenders.
That’s because Governor Christie signed legislation Thursday making the state’s so-called drug-court program mandatory for non-violent offenders — thus requiring treatment instead of prison for a vast new population of inmates.
Christie introduced the mandatory treatment concept in January and made it a signature push of his administration for New Jersey to become the first state in the nation to make such a change. (Fletcher, The Record)
A close look at NJ’s troubled correctional halfway houses
Private operators of New Jersey correctional halfway houses said their problems are few and the savings for the state are real, but a legislative hearing produced “plenty of raw material” for bills to tighten state oversight of the system.
Chairman Robert Gordon (D-Bergen) and other members of the Senate Legislative Committee agreed that the community “re-entry” facilities for offenders have been more beneficial than simply warehousing them in prisons.
But hours of wildly conflicting testimony about security at some facilities, along with sketchier descriptions of their finances and costs, highlighted the need for closer monitoring, according to Gordon. The hearing was prompted in part by a (Tyrrell, NJ Spotlight) in The New York Times last month.
Panel hears dueling views of N.J. halfway houses
As inmates’ last stop before reentering society, halfway houses help people stay clean and find jobs, and most follow the rules and eventually go home, operators of the facilities told a state Senate panel Thursday.
But corrections officers and a former halfway house employee said drugs, violence, and escapes are the norm at some of the state’s 20 halfway houses – all privately run – and often many of the occupants are prisoners awaiting trial rather than release.
“When the inspectors leave is when the problems start,” said Joe Amato, a corrections officer at the Essex County jail. Amato, a 24-year corrections veteran, said inmates have begged to stay in jail rather than be sent to Delaney Hall, a Newark halfway house operated by Community Education Centers Inc. (CEC) that can hold almost 1,200 men at a time. (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Environmentalists lament failure of N.J. Senate to vote on measure halting waivers
Environmentalists were dismayed this week that the state Senate failed to vote on a resolution to halt a controversial Christie administration rule that could weaken environmental regulations.
The new “waiver rule” is set to go into effect in August. The Senate does not have any voting sessions scheduled before then, so it would be impossible for the resolution to pass in time to block the waiver rule. The Assembly passed a resolution to block the waiver rule in May.
The rule would provide waivers to developers, businesses and property owners, allowing them to ignore certain environmental regulations if they pose an “undue hardship” on the applicants. State Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin signed off on the rule in March. (O’Neill, The Record)
Developer makes pitch for gaming at Meadowlands
The new operator of The Meadowlands Racetrack — who has long pushed the idea that slot machines and other casino-like gambling is needed to support the horse racing industry in New Jersey — upped the ante Thursday, suggesting he would pay a tax of as much as 55 percent of revenue derived from slot machines at the track.
Jeff Gural, who offered his “informal proposal” at a state Assembly hearing at the Meadowlands, predicted that rate — nearly seven times what the casinos in Atlantic City now pay — would yield $350 million in annual revenue for the state. (Brennan, The Record)
Heated debate over Meadowlands casino, but immediate action unlikely
State lawmakers and stakeholders gathered today to debate the merits of building a casino in the Meadowlands, bringing attention to an issue that inspired heated discussion but is unlikely to advance any time soon.
At a hearing hosted by a state legislative panel, the debate focused on whether opening a North Jersey casino would steal gaming revenue from Atlantic City, which already is mired in uncertainty. The South Jersey resort destination is trying to rebrand itself and recover from years of rising competition and declining gaming revenues. (Burd, NJBIZ)
Schools Development Authority: Progress or peril?
The Schools Development Authority yesterday tried to put the best face on its progress, announcing plans for more emergency work and detailing the status of 10 ongoing capital projects that are moving ahead.
But the challenge for the beleaguered agency remains that none of the large projects are actually in the ground yet, leading to another number that the Democrats are starting to trot out.
“To date, the SDA has not started to build one new school in the last 34 months,” said state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), a longtime critic of the SDA’s sluggish pace. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Essex County freeholders unanimously OK insurance brokerage contract
The Essex County freeholders approved an insurance brokerage contract last night, despite earlier criticism by the state comptroller that they may be spending millions more than necessary for health insurance.
In a 7-0 vote, the nine-member board renewed its contract with Conner Strong & Buckelew, a Marlton-based firm whose executive chairman is South Jersey political boss George E. Norcross.
Freeholders Donald Payne Jr. and Leonard Luciano were absent.
The three-year, $675,000 contract is to help the county get health and prescription insurance coverage, for which it is spending $72 million this year. County administrator Ralph Ciallella, said the county is pleased with the performance of Conner Strong, which has had the Essex contract for 14 years. (Lee, The Star-Ledger)
Ports get a boost from Obama
The Obama administration announced Thursday it will speed work on seven infrastructure projects at five major ports, including two at the Port of New Jersey and New York.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the final stages of a $1.6 billion plan to deepen federal channels in the New York and New Jersey harbor to accommodate larger cargo vessels and other ships.
Additionally, the port is working on a $1 billion project to raise the Bayonne Bridge to allow such larger ships and vessels to enter the harbor.
Under the plan announced Thursday, the administration pledged to complete all federal permit and review decisions for raising the Bayonne Bridge by April, shaving months from the schedule. It also will complete all remaining reviews by May for deepening the harbor. (Washington Bureau, Asbury Park Press)
Offshore wind developers worry that state will divert funds
The state’s efforts to develop offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast have run into an unexpected snag — fears that revenues targeted to projects for generating electricity may be diverted to cope with New Jersey’s budget problems.
The concern has stalled efforts to establish a financing mechanism to help make the projects economically feasible, so much so the state is on the verge of hiring a consultant to try and resolve the issue.
Unless the problem is resolved, no banks would be willing to provide the financing to construct the wind farms, which will cost more than $1 billion, according to people involved in the effort. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Extension of state grant will keep women’s business center afloat
The Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship, which trains New Jersey’s female entrepreneurs and provides them with microloans to launch new businesses, said the extension of a state grant will provide matching funds to keep the center eligible for federal funds that are critical to its operation.
Penni Nafus, executive director of the 13-year-old center, said the New Jersey Division on Women is extending the center’s microloan grant, which was to expire Dec. 31, for another year at $90,000. That more than offsets the money lost when the state Department of Community Affairs opted not to renew its $55,000 grant. Nafus said the center has to raise funds from other sources to match a $150,000 annual grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration. (Fitzgerald, NJBIZ)
PBA member raises concerns about Essex halfway house
Members of the state’s Police Benevolent Association urged Senate lawmakers to take a serious look at Essex County’s Delaney Hall, saying the halfway house there has become a serious safety hazard.
The Essex County facility was one of the halfway houses specifically mentioned in a scathing New York Times series on the state’s halfway house programs. Members of the PBA had sharp words for Delaney Hall, a 1,200-bed halfway house set up as an inmate rehabilitation center. (Arco, State Street Wire)
Eustace proposes temporary-casino pilot program
A lawmaker is proposing temporary casinos during special events in New Jersey.
Assemblyman Tim Eustace, (D-38), Paramus, announced he will propose so-called “pop-up” casinos to be permitted in the state during events such as the 2014 Super Bowl. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Christie disappointed bail legislation not voted upon; avoids GOP convention keynote speaker speculation
In his first press conference in Trenton in some time, Gov. Chris Christie touched on a number of topics: bail legislation, the GOP convention, gaming outside of Atlantic City, and more. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Christie: No regrets about standing up to heckler
Gov. Chris Christie defended his reaction to a Boardwalk heckler July 5.
During a press conference today, he said his strong reaction to the situation in Seaside Heights stemmed from profanity the heckler used in the presence of his son, daughter, and two of their friends. (Mooney, PolitickerNJ)
Congratulations to Mayor Keith Kazmark and family
We’d like to extend sincere congratulations to Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark and his wife Lauren on the birth of their baby girl Tuesday.
Caroline Elizabeth Kazmark weighed in at 5 pounds, 2 ounces, and all are reportedly doing well. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
This time, Christie ducks question on Romney’s tax returns
When Mitt Romney faced pressure from Republican primary foes in January to disclose his tax returns, Governor Christie publicly encouraged him to relent and release them.
But Christie refused to dispense the same advice Thursday even though Romney, the putative GOP nominee, is now under fire from President Obama’s campaign to do the same thing.
“That’s up to him. It’s his decision,” the normally expansive Christie tersely replied to a reporter’s question at a Trenton press conference. “He’s the candidate. It’s up to him.” (Stile, The Record)
Spike in Jersey Jobless numbers derails “Jersey Comeback”
Governor Christie’s “Jersey Comeback,’’ his popular road-to-recovery slogan, has hit a crater-sized pothole.
The state labor department reported that New Jersey’s unemployment rate climbed to 9.6 percent in June, the highest mark in two years, according to The Record’s Hugh Morley.
The grim jobless report is likely to be a major crowing point today and probably throughout the week for Democrats who have spent much of the past year calling Christie’s “Comeback” a hollow PR gimmick, but with little effect on his job approval numbers. (Stile, The Record)
If Chris Christie is ‘soft’ on drugs…
Chris Christie isn’t a wimp, a hippie or a countercultural icon. He’s not known for taking time out from budget negotiations to smoke dope, or for his sympathy for drug dealers. Yet he’s a soft-liner on the war on drugs.
That the combative New Jersey governor and Republican rock star — just tapped to keynote the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla. — vocally dissents from drug-war orthodoxy is another sign that the tectonic plates of the drug debate are shifting. Perhaps our appetite for spending billions and incarcerating millions, in the service of pieties immune to rational analysis, isn’t limitless after all. (Lowry, New York Post)
Boy Scouts reaffirms its discriminatory policy
The Boy Scouts of America has a trademarked slogan: “Prepared. For Life.” After Tuesday’s reaffirmation of its anti-gay policy, I ask, “In what century?”
The Boy Scouts announced that it would not be changing its discriminatory policy of excluding gays and lesbians from both membership and leadership. The BSA stated it “convened a special committee of volunteers and professional leaders to evaluate whether the policy continued to be in the best interest of the organization.” (Doblin, The Record)