Morning News Digest: July 25, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Proposed judicial pension amendment fast-tracked by Senate
Making good on his promise that today’s Supreme Court decision on judicial pension would not be the last word on the topic, Senate President Steve Sweeney has scheduled a vote Monday on a proposal to amend the constitution to include judges in last year’s pension overhaul.
The high court ruled today that a judge’s salary may not be reduced while still on the bench and that increasing a pension contribution amounted to a pay cut. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Christie says he will campaign in the fall on judicial pension issue
Gov. Chris Christie says if the Legislature is successful in putting a constitutional amendment question on the November ballot regarding judicial pensions that he will campaign on the issue.
The governor blasted “liberal activist courts” like the state’s Supreme Court, which ruled 3-2 today in favor of upholding a lower court’s decision dealing with the state’s landmark overhaul of pension and benefit contributions for judges. Christie, speaking on 101.5 FM, said strongly disagrees with the court’s majority opinion that said judicial pensions for sitting judges are protected under the state Constitution.
“This is what drives people crazy about liberal activist courts,” said Christie, arguing that compensation and salary are two different things. (Arco, PolitickerNJ)
Christie reiterates now isn’t the time to talk gun control, says Bloomberg should show ‘restraint’
Gov. Chris Christie reaffirmed his position that now is not the appropriate time to talk about gun laws in the state and nation.
The governor, speaking on 101.5 FM, said he would not be lured into a discussion on gun control in the immediate wake of the movie theatre massacre in Colorado that left 12 people dead and nearly 60 others injured.
Christie said “there’s plenty of time to debate the merits” of gun control, but it’s appropriate to “keep a respectful distance” by allowing families to first mourn the loss of their loved ones. (Arco, PolitickerNJ)
Monmouth Poll: Christie approval rating 52%
Governor Chris Christie’s public job approval rating remains above 50 percent, even though the third budget of his term hasn’t generated strong support. The latest Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll also found that Garden State residents give a big thumbs up to their governor being the keynote speaker at next month’s GOP convention.
Currently, Governor Christie earns a 52% approve to 36% disapprove job rating among all Garden State residents. Among registered voters, his rating stands at 53% approve to 35% disapprove. The governor’s positive ratings among Garden State voters have consistently ranged between 50% and 55% since last August. Christie earns a strong 82% approve to 10% disapprove rating among his fellow Republicans and a 57% to 31% rating among New Jersey independents. Democrats continue to disapprove, though, by a negative 60% to 26% margin. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
N.J. is rated highly for child health
New Jersey ranks among the top states in children’s health and education even as the number of children living in poverty in the state continues to grow, according to an annual survey released Wednesday.
The Kids Count data book for 2012 ranked New Jersey in first place for the high percentage of young children attending preschool.
The state also made a strong showing in children’s education overall, ranking second in the nation behind Massachusetts.
But the survey found increases in child poverty in 2012, with New Jersey ranking 19th for the economic well-being of children and families. There was also an increase in the number of children living in a family in which no parent had full-time work. (Associated Press)
Legislative leaders vow constitutional amendment to make judges pay
Top legislative leaders yesterday vowed to enact a constitutional amendment to require judges to pay more toward their pensions and health benefits. The move would effectively nullify yesterday’s ruling by the state Supreme Court that the New Jersey Constitution bars any reduction in compensation for judges.
The Supreme Court’s 3-2 split decision was on a lawsuit brought by Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale. The narrow ruling was decided on the grounds that the estimated $14,000 of additional pension and health benefit contributions required of state judges under legislation passed last June would amount to a reduction in compensation in violation of the 1947 state constitution. (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)
State demands towns turn over $161M in housing funds
Nearly 400 New Jersey towns were told Tuesday that they have less than three weeks to hand over a total of more than $161 million in unspent affordable housing funds to the state.
Letters were sent to 372 towns asking officials to certify their account balances and write a check to the state’s Council on Affordable Housing by Aug. 13. The demand for cash follows a July 13 appellate court ruling that said the state could claim the unspent funds, so long as it gave each town sufficient notice and a chance to contest the transfer. Thirty-three towns in Bergen County and five in Passaic County have funds remaining, according to the state. (O’Brien, The Record)
State may slash clean energy fund almost by half
The state is considering cutting its funding for new energy efficiency and renewable energy projects almost in half, a consequence of the Legislature’s and Christie administration’s decision to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from New Jersey’s clean energy program.
In a draft proposal circulated by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities last week, the budget for the clean energy program would allocate $339 million in new spending, a sharp reduction from the $651 million proposed by the agency last December.
The cuts are a result of the diversion of money raised from gas and electric customers to help homeowners and businesses find ways to reduce their energy use, and promote the development of cleaner sources of producing electricity, primarily solar and wind. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
State certifies red-light cameras, ticketing likely to resume soon
Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday night said all of New Jersey’s red-light cameras have been certified, so towns may soon be able to resume issuing tickets for the devices that have quickly multiplied across the state.
Five weeks ago, the state suspended all but 22 of the 85 cameras in New Jersey after it was determined that the amber lights at those intersections might not have given motorists enough time to get through.
Tickets had not been issued for the red-light cameras in question while the DOT directed towns to conduct speed surveys at the intersections. The cameras photograph vehicles and their license plates when drivers run red lights. Tickets are then mailed to the vehicles’ owners. (Frassinelli and Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Christie, officials dedicate opening of new medical school at Rowan University
On a site once occupied by a methadone clinic and abandoned buildings, state and local officials celebrated the opening Tuesday of a medical school in Camden that was 40 years in the making.
“As you take a walk around this beautiful building today, you can see the community is changing,” state Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, whose father first envisioned the school four decades ago. “In addition to that, it’s changing lives.”
The dedication of Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, where Governor Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, helped cut the ribbon, carried with it hope for a city that has the highest crime rate in the nation. (Hayes, The Record)
U.S. Sens. Lautenberg, Menendez push ban on high-capacity ammunition
Even as they conceded an uphill fight against the powerful National Rifle Association, New Jersey’s two Democratic senators pushed Tuesday to ban high-capacity ammunition like the 100-round magazine used in last week’s deadly shooting in a Colorado theater.
“We can’t let the NRA stop us,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg said at a news conference in the Capitol. “What freedoms do we protect when the tools of mass murder are so easily available?”
At the same time, he said many in Congress expected the NRA would stop his bill, which would ban sales of magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Leaders of both houses said they would focus on other issues, and the White House said President Obama was not seeking any new laws. (Jackson, The Record)
Supreme Court pay ruling draws criticism from business advocate
Judges won’t have to pay more toward their pensions and benefits, despite a reform law passed last year that was supposed to affect all state employees.
The state Supreme Court today ruled legislators can’t increase the amount judges pay toward their benefits, because doing so would violate a constitutional ban on cutting judicial salaries.
The constitutional prohibition is designed to insulate judges from retribution when they make politically unpopular decisions.
Tuesday’s decision upholds lower court rulings that exempted judges from the sweeping pension and benefit reforms signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie last year. (Kaltwasser, NJBIZ)
Amazon picks U.S. states sales-tax winners absent new law
When Texas sent Amazon.com Inc. a $269 million sales-tax bill in 2010, the world’s biggest online retailer shrugged. As lawmakers forced the issue last year, the company closed a warehouse near Dallas, cutting 119 jobs.
Until April, Texas stood with 39 other states that don’t get sales and use levies from Amazon for purchases made by their residents. By one estimate, that will mean more than $11 billion in potential revenue from Web merchants lost this year
On April 27, that changed for Texas. The company and Comptroller Susan Combs, 67, announced that Amazon would start collecting sales taxes from customers in the state this month and invest $200 million to create 2,500 local jobs in four years. In ending the levy dispute for an undisclosed amount, Texas joined five other states that receive such remittances. (Warbelow, Bloomberg)
Retail association doubts Washington will move on online sales tax collection
A federal bill that would allow states to force online retailers to collect sales tax was debated today at a U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee hearing, though the head of a state retail association said the effort is just as likely to stall as New Jersey’s bill did when the state reached a compromise with Amazon.com in May.
“It’s encouraging to see activity today, but one would think the policymakers in Trenton and Washington would get legislation passed that even Amazon supports. It’s a classic example of how dysfunctional Washington is,” said John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association. (Eder, NJBIZ)
Physician group warns costs of digital records may threaten solo practices
While the New Jersey Health Information Technology Extension Center has reached a milestone in getting primary-care physicians to implement electronic health record systems, the head of a physicians group said increasing costs could halt further adoption in the state.
“For solo practitioners like me, the biggest obstacle is the cost and the amount of time you spend in implementing the system. It cost me about $30,000 of my personal earnings to do this, and for other groups it could be substantially larger,” said Dr. Salvatore Bernardo Jr., president of the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians. (Eder, NJBIZ)
Marijuana proponents hold their breath on medical pot and legislation
As New Jerseyans wait to learn whether the state Senate will follow its peers in the Assembly to pass a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, the first medical marijuana dispensary within New Jersey’s borders may be little more than a month away from opening. More than two years after former Gov. Jon Corzine signed the bill legalizing medical pot, the Greenleaf Compassion Center is preparing to open in Montclair in early September and is already growing the maximum three strains of grass in preparation for opening day. (Nurin, NJ Spotlight)
Inhofe: Overhaul of Toxic Substances Control Act dead for year
Any chance of making headway in the long effort to update the Environmental Protection Agency’s oversight of chemicals is effectively dead this year, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe said Tuesday.
Republicans are upset that the environmental panel is moving ahead with a markup Wednesday of Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s bill to enact the biggest update in the Toxic Substances Control Act since it began in 1976.
The markup will be a “partisan political exercise tomorrow, effectively ending hopes for TSCA modernization this year,” Inhofe (R-Okla.) said at a panel hearing Tuesday on the TSCA. (Goode, Politico)
The price of Codey’s failed Newark restaurant: Financial troubles and a lost friendship
It was a rare loss for Dick Codey.
Four years ago, the former senate president-turned-governor threw his support and a bundle of money behind the state’s largest city, joining with two others to open an upscale sports bar and restaurant in downtown Newark.
But the restaurant, 60 Park Grill, survived less than two years, with Codey and his partners forced from their building for nonpayment of rent in the spring of 2010, leaving a trail of bills that are still being untangled.
The failed venture also tarnished a relationship with one partner — a former aide — who said Codey extracted political revenge last month by running his son against him in a Democratic committee race in Essex County. (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. trooper driving during Corzine’s accident will collect larger pension, judge rules
The former State Police trooper behind the wheel when former Gov. Jon Corzine was critically injured in 2007 can collect a more lucrative disability pension than he was first awarded, a state board said today.
The State Police Retirement Board accepted the decision of an administrative law judge, who reversed its initial denial of the bid by Robert Rasinski for an accidental disability pension two years ago.
The case was sealed by the judge, and as a result the reasoning behind the decision will not be disclosed. The new chairman of the retirement board, Maj. Brian McPherson, declined to comment, citing the judge’s seal. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
Drawing the line on school discipline
One of the trickier tasks for schools is deciding where they can draw the line in controlling and disciplining their students for misbehavior, even when it happens well off school grounds or outside school hours.
Yesterday, the state Appellate Court added some legal lines to the debate, saying schools have some powers outside their walls but with some clear conditions.
The case had to do with underage drinking and drug use, but some experts said it speaks to any number of possibilities, including the state’s new landmark anti-bullying law.
The Ramapo-Indian Hills Regional High School District in Bergen County enacted a policy in 2009 that prevents students from participating in extracurricular activities if they are caught drinking or using drugs under any circumstance — even far from school or over a weekend. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
League of Municipalities says state sent ‘inadequate’ letters to towns seeking trust fund money
The state is seeking to get money from municipalities’ local housing trust funds today by sending out letters to municipalities.
However, the League of Municipalities, the lobbying group that tried unsuccessfully to get an injunction on the municipal trust funds the state was seeking to take over, found the letters to be lacking in detail. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
New Jersey residency requirements may be destined for the Supreme Court: Part I
The U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately consider what could be the most dramatic change in New Jersey politics since federal candidates were permitted to be bracketed with candidates for state and local office. It all began in 2001 when a federal judge determined that New Jersey’s one-year residency requirement was unconstitutional. The issue remained dormant until the election of Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera in the fall of 2011.
Article IV of the New Jersey Constitution provides that “[n]o person shall be a member of the General Assembly who shall not … have been a citizen and resident … of the district for which he shall be elected [for] one year, next before his election.” (Scarinci for PolitickerNJ)
For medical pot, things are looking up
It has been two and a half years since former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, on his last day in office, signed into law a bill permitting cultivation and distribution of marijuana for medical treatment of severe pain. To date, no pot has been distributed.
Chris Christie, Corzine’s Republican successor and former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, expressed concern early on about possible misuse of the program for recreational purposes, but after examining the new law, he said it was first-rate. It was the only Corzine initiative he praised. (Ahearn, The Record)