Morning News Digest: July 23, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: Week of July 16th
The governor heads our winners list this week with solid poll numbers and a possible invitation to Tampa. A familiar face graces our losers list alongside some new additions, but all of them find themselves on the wrong side of the law. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Boteach attacks Pascrell over connection to Paterson imam
Standing outside his home here, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach called on U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) to publicly distance himself from one of Pascrell’s supporters, Imam Mohammed Qatanani, unless the imam himself repudiates past anti-Israeli statements.
“He’s one of the imam’s biggest supporters – arguably the biggest,” Boteach said of Pascrell.
The Republican candidate provided a stack of purported Qatanani quotes to the media from the imam, including the following: “Oh brothers and sisters. On such a day, a human disaster occurred: on 5 and ten, the 15th day of May 1948 was the greatest disaster which occurred on the face of the earth. It is what is known as the Palestinian Nakba. This Nakba, because of this Nakba, the State of Israel was established on the Land of Palestine.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Menendez on Aurora shootings: ‘a wake-up call’
Hours after a gunman killed 12 people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said the tragedy is a wake-up call.
“Clearly my thoughts, prayers and sympathies are with those who lost their lives,” Menendez said. “This was a senseless and horrible act.”
The senator said he favors stronger national gun control standards, noting that strong laws in New Jersey are not reinforced by weak laws elsewhere.
The Democratic senator said he favors a national program that strengthens laws to prevent people with mental illness and people with prior criminal histories from owning guns, including more stringent and uniform background checks. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Gov. Chris Christie disappointed N.J. Legislature failed to try for constitutional amendment of bail reform
In his January State of the State address, Gov. Chris Christie proposed two major initiatives to revise New Jersey’s criminal justice system.
The Republican governor and former federal prosecutor pushed to make New Jersey’s bail laws tougher, saying he’d heard so many complaints about criminals out on the streets awaiting trial who committed more crimes and terrorized witnesses in their cases.
He also said all inmates with drug offenses should be forced to enroll in the state’s drug court program for treatment in an effort to break the cycle of drug abuse and low-level crimes among nonviolent offenders. (Spoto, The Star-Ledger)
New Jersey a long way from recovery, report shows
The jump in New Jersey’s unemployment rate last month to 9.6 percent — the farthest the state has been above the national average in 30 years — is just the latest in a series of sobering statistics on the state’s economy and budget.
The 0.4 percent increase from May’s unemployment rate put New Jersey 1.4 percent higher than the national average of 8.2 percent, although the bad news was offset somewhat by a gain of 9,900 jobs during the month. But more troubling news came out of the (Magyar, NJ Spotlight) issued last week by a blue-ribbon panel of economists. It warned that New Jersey and other state governments faced looming fiscal crises in the years ahead that will require new revenues or draconian cuts.
Christie’s likely choice for high court has a way with Democrats and Republicans alike
The last time Lee A. Solomon appeared before the state Senate Judiciary Committee for a confirmation hearing, the chairman marveled at the three previous times Solomon had sailed through similar proceedings.
“How do you do it?” asked state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union. “How do you get so many governors to nominate you for so many different things?”
Solomon — now reported to be Governor Christie’s latest Supreme Court nominee — won unanimous approval in a hearing lasting less than a half hour, and eventually a seat on the Superior Court in Camden County late last year.
The observation illustrated Solomon’s lengthy track record dealing with Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature — first as a Republican assemblyman from South Jersey, and then in confirmation hearings for posts as Camden County prosecutor, president of the Board of Public Utilities and two stints as a Superior Court judge. (Campisi, The Record)
Sen. Lautenberg calls for gun control in the wake of Colorado theater massacre
The shooting massacre in a Colorado movie theater that killed 12 people and wounded more than 50 others early Friday underscores the need to ban the sale of high-capacity gun magazines, say New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators, one of them sponsoring a bill to do just that and the other up for re-election in November.
One of the 12 people killed, 24-year-old Alex Teves, was a New Jersey native who moved out west with his family when he was 13.
In a statement issued today, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg said that while his heart was still “heavy with sadness” from the massacre, it was not too soon to take action. (Strunsky, The Star-Ledger)
2nd NJ committee to look at halfway houses
A second New Jersey legislative committee is planning a hearing on the state’s oversight and use of privately run halfway houses.
The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee hearing scheduled for Monday comes days after a Senate committee hearing on the issue.
Lawmakers have been eager to address the topic since a series of reports in The New York Times last month found drugs, violence and escapes to be major problems at the homes, which the state and county jails are using increasingly. (Associated Press)
N.J. Dept. of Ed. releases guide on town spending on public schooling
Taxpayers who want to know how much their home towns spend on public schooling can find that information in a guide released today by the state Department of Education.
The data used to create the 2012 Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending was first reported by The Star-Ledger in June, when the state released statistics on spending, test scores, enrollment and more for every school in the state. (Calefati, The Star-Ledger)
Fine Print: Charter school performance framework
What it is: The state Department of Education last week released a 23-page checklist for all new charter covering academic, financial and other operations. The framework sets standards on everything from how well students must fare on state tests to financial data on how much debt a school is carrying.
What it means: The Christie administration has continued to revise its accountability standards for charter schools as it faced increasing pressure from critics and local school districts. The new framework was announced at the same time that the administration cleared the way for another nine charter schools to open in the fall, including two that will provide a mix of online and in-person instruction. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. prescription database a powerful but flawed weapon in drug war
A young woman from the Shore showed up at two Glen Rock drug stores on the same day in May, handed over a prescription for 120 oxycodone pills and offered to pay cash for the powerful painkillers.
One pharmacist — a man who runs a family-owned shop that’s been a fixture on Main Street for years — refused to fill it. The other — who works for CVS, the state’s largest retail drug chain — gave her the drugs.
The difference: One checked the state’s 6-month-old computerized database that monitors prescriptions for controlled dangerous substances and discovered the woman had filled an identical prescription for oxycodone — which has a street value of up to $30 a pill — a week earlier in Freehold. The other didn’t have access to the database. (Washburn and Lipman, The Record)
N.J. water infrastructure work could cost billions
For every cracked pipe buried below the surface, for each main choked by mineral deposits and for every failure that spins into an emergency, there is a message: the state’s water infrastructure is in dire need of billions of dollars — possibly a trillion nationally — in the next two decades.
And guess who’s going to foot the bill?
What now costs the average household about $40 a month will balloon to $120 or more by some estimates, to rectify years of neglect.
“The bottom line is that there has been a desire to avoid dramatic double-digit rate increases,” Richard A. Michelfelder told the Asbury Park Press. He’s, a professor at Rutgers University’s business school in Camden and former head of the national utilities consulting firm Quantum. (Racioppi, Asbury Park Press)
Will NJ alimony laws change?
The leader of a year-old alimony reform group may have found willing agents of change in the state Legislature.
So far there’s been little opposition to a bill that would create a commission to study New Jersey’s current alimony laws. Tom Leustek, head of New Jersey Alimony Reform, said it will be the first significant review of the laws in 35 years.
Lawmakers won’t like what they see, said Leustek, a Rahway resident and Rutgers University professor of molecular biology.
The laws “are harsh enough to bankrupt alimony payers and send them to jail,” he said. (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)
Essex County freeholder board backs broker over health contract
Here’s the $10 million question: Did Essex County get better health insurance benefits for its money, or did it benefit a political ally?
State Comptroller Matthew Boxer says Essex County could have saved slightly more than $10 million in 2009-10 had it opted for the state health benefits plan.
But the Essex County freeholder board disagreed with Boxer’s findings and last week voted 7-0 to stay the course with its broker, Conner Strong & Buckelew. The board, minus freeholders Donald Payne Jr. and Leonard Luciano, approved a three-year $675,000 contract with the Marlton firm. (Lee, The Star-Ledger)
Power politics or public safety? Proposal to add layer to Dover bureaucracy surrounded by questions
It could be a brilliant way to streamline bureaucracy and increase efficiency — or perhaps it’s a power grab by a mayor undercutting his police chief.
In Dover, it depends on whom you ask. And many questions are being asked about a proposal to create a public safety director to oversee the police and fire departments, as well as the office of emergency management and emergency medical services.
The ordinance passed 7-2 on first reading July 10, with Aldermen Michael Picciallo and Dominic Timpani voting “no.” A public hearing and final adoption are scheduled for Tuesday, and the hearing is expected to be contentious as several members of the public have voiced opposition to the proposal. (Goldberg, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. law bans assault rifles, restricts other weapons
The man who police say killed 12 people in a Colorado movie theater early Friday was carrying an AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington 12-gauge shotgun and a 40-caliber Glock handgun, according to law enforcement officials. Another Glock pistol was found in the alleged shooter’s car.
In New Jersey – unlike Colorado – assault rifles like the AR-15 are illegal, and owning the other firearms involves a lengthy permit process. New Jersey law also places significant restrictions on where owners can carry their weapons.
“You can’t just go out one day and buy a gun,” said Drew Churchson, a member of the Waldwick Rifle and Pistol Club. “There are very steep fines and punishments for those who don’t follow the law.” (Linhurts, Connor and Fujimori, The Record)
Mercer County pilots ‘naturally occurring retirement community’ program awaiting legislation
Legislators, eyeing the success of the senior help program, would like to duplicate it elsewhere by making services available wherever senior citizen populations are high.
“The goal is to keep them in their homes and their communities where they want to stay,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton), one of the sponsors of the legislation. (Pazzi, The Times of Trenton)
Police consolidation bid a harbinger
In North Plainfield, 16 patrol offiers drive out to local schools each day to maintain order during dismissal. In Somerville, police are required to walk along Main Street for a portion of their shift.
Bernards’ patrol cars escort funerals.
Such specialized neighborhood police work is a hallmark in Somerset County, and across New Jersey, a product of local cop shops in hundreds of small towns.
But with police salaries averaging $98,187, Somerset County has decided that it’s time for residents to consider just how much police protection they are willing to pay for. (Method, Asbury Park Press)
NRG Energy to buy GenOn Energy
Princeton-based NRG Energy, less than a decade ago a company emerging from bankruptcy, yesterday announced it had agreed to buy GenOn Energy, Inc. in a stock-for-stock deal worth $1.7 billion.
The merger of the two merchant energy companies will create the largest competitive power generation company in the United States, in a sector troubled by falling wholesale prices for the electricity their plants produce.
If and when completed, the deal will result in a power supplier with a fleet of power plants producing 47,000 megawatts, concentrated in the East, Gulf Coast, and West with a combined value of $18 billion. It will provide enough power to serve 40 million American homes. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Sports authority moving forward at Dream site, lawsuit notwithstanding
With permitting mostly resolved for the American Dream Meadowlands project, the state agency overseeing the plan is not allowing litigation to delay an important review process for the sprawling retail and entertainment complex.
The agency, the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, is moving forward with a review by its master plan committee, despite a pending lawsuit aimed at blocking construction, President and CEO Wayne Hasenbalg said. The agency in the near future plans to request submissions from stakeholders that will allow it to start the review and schedule hearings, he said. (Burd, NJBIZ)
Retail strong in N.J., but vacancy rate shows slight uptick
Occupancy at malls and outlet centers remains the strongest among northern New Jersey retail properties, outpacing smaller shopping centers and freestanding stores, according to analysts at the CoStar Group.
In its midyear market report, the commercial real estate research firm found conditions to be mostly flat for the region. During the second quarter, the total amount of occupied space decreased slightly by about 330,000 square feet, with vacancy rising from 6.6 to 6.8 percent. (Burd, NJBIZ)
Manufacturing faces continuing challenged in South Jersey
Manufacturing firms in southern New Jersey face decreased demand for new orders and shipments, according to a July survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia that reported a third consecutive monthly decline in regional business activity.
According to the Business Outlook survey, nearly 32 percent of firms noted declines in overall activity through July 17, surpassing the 19 percent reporting increases.
While the outlook for future business activity was more moderate than June’s report, firms anticipate a rebound in the manufacturing sector over the next six months. (Eder, NJBIZ)
More than $18M in affordable housing funds awarded
More than $18 million in affordable housing funds have been awarded for projects around the state.
About $18.7 million in federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits has been provided, according to the N.J. Housing & Mortgage Finance Agency. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Court upholds confidentiality of a person’s HIV status
A court has ruled in favor of the state in a case dealing with non-disclosure of a person’s HIV status.
The Superior Court today ruled that the state Department of Health and Senior Services did not have to inform a person of a partner’s positive-HIV status. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
One word inadequate to define Christie
Howard Cosell, the late broadcaster who both delighted and infuriated his audiences for decades, once sought to describe himself through the eyes of others.
“Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff. I have been called all of these,” Cosell said. “Of course, I am.”
It’s not hard for anyone who remembers Cosell to imagine the cigar-chomping icon saying this, leaning forward, eyes narrowed for effect. At times it was hard to separate the man from the persona. Some of us hated Cosell, but the key to his becoming a legend — beyond talent — was that we loved to hate him. (Schoonejongen, Asbury Park Press)
Gov. Christie’s ‘New Jersey comeback’ tour bumps up against rising unemployment
Gov. Chris Christie’s “Jersey Comeback” hit another bump in the road last week, when state officials announced the unemployment rate rose to a two-year high of 9.6 percent.
The Auditor broke out a calculator to see where that left New Jersey compared with the rest of the country, and found the state has been inching closer the bottom. The jobless rate jumped 0.4 percentage point in June, tying with Alabama for the largest increase in the country, according to data from the U.S. Labor Department.
New Jersey now has the fourth-highest unemployment rate — only California, Nevada and Rhode Island have weaker labor markets. New Jersey had been fifth in May and 11th at the beginning of the year, an indication that other struggling states are picking up the pace and leaving New Jersey behind. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Bergen pay-to-play restrictions are coming with a price
Republican freeholder Rob Hermansen of Mahwah expects a day of reckoning, sometime in August, over Bergen County’s pay-to-play ban.
Hermansen, and Freeholders Maura DeNicola of Franklin Lakes and Democrat David Ganz of Fair Lawn have been mulling over possible changes to the sweeping ban that prevents deep-pocketed donors from winning county contracts. Enacted in December, the ban is one of the most extensive in the state.
But within months after its passage, officials from both parties began complaining that the law went too far. Some thought the law would potentially disqualify any donor who gave to a Bergen official, including those who have no control over the awarding of county contracts, such as state legislators and municipal officials. (Stile, The Record)