Morning News Digest: July 26, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Christie noncommittal on 2016 race
Gov. Chris Christie has not given any thought to running for president in 2016, but hasn’t ruled it out either, he told an Ocean City crowd today.
The governor was prompted to discuss his thoughts of running for president in 2016 by a resident who attended one of Christie’s beach town halls. The resident asked if he would go for it and Christie, who still has not announced whether he will run for re-election as governor, declined to jump into the 2016 race.
“First off, I hope there’s no reason for me to have to run in 2016 because I hope President (Mitt) Romney will be running for re-election,” he said, garnering a round of applause from the beach crowd. (Arco, PolitickerNJ)
Christie: Romney tough enough to take on Obama
Gov. Chris Christie says presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is a tough candidate and any Republicans who think he’s too reserved to take on President Barack Obama are wrong – dead wrong.
“I think he is tough enough and I think you’re going to see over the course of the next 100 days … that you’re going to see him be really tough with the president,” Christie told a crowd at his beach town hall.
The governor was responding to a comment from one of the couple of hundred residents who attended the town hall. The resident questioned whether Republicans needed a tougher candidate, suggesting Christie was the right guy, to take on the president in the upcoming election. (Arco, PolitickerNJ)
Franzini to leave the EDA
Caren Franzini is planning to step down as chief executive officer of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), a source tells PolitickerNJ.com.
Franzini joined the Authority in March 1991 as Deputy Director.
A source says appointments counsel Michelle Brown is a potential replacement.
Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-29), Newark, chair of the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee, confirmed Franzini’s departure in a statement. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie fights gambling in NYC shadow as Atlantic City sputters
Once a week, New Jersey resident Joe Coleman drives 20 minutes into Pennsylvania to play slots at the Parx Casino in Bensalem. While it doesn’t have the beach or glitz of Atlantic City — an hour and a half the other way in his home state — it costs him less in gas and tolls.
“I’d never come here if it wasn’t so close,” Coleman, 48, an unemployed plant manager from Bordentown, said in front of Parx at 11 p.m. on a Sunday, up $20 after a night of slots.
New gambling halls including Parx have walloped the industry in New Jersey. Its casinos, all in Atlantic City near the state’s southern end, reported $3.3 billion in revenue last year. That’s down 37 percent from a peak of $5.2 billion in 2006, the same year Pennsylvania’s first slots parlor opened. Last year, that state’s gambling revenue jumped 10 percent to $3.14 billion after it introduced table games in 2010. (Dopp, Bloomberg)
New Jersey gives $347M in business tax cuts bipartisan support
While Governor Christie and the Democrats argued about whether the state could afford an estimated $215 million income tax cut or credit for residents, they approved without debate a set of business-tax-relief proposals that will cost the state significantly more.
The new state budget projects around $347 million in business tax relief — continuing a three-year trend since Christie took office and reflecting his and the Democratic-controlled Legislature’s shared priorities to improve the state’s business climate.
This year’s cuts were locked in through legislation passed last year — and members in both parties said there was no political will to reverse or reduce them, even while battles over income-tax and property-tax relief came down to slim cost differences. (Fletcher, The Record)
Governor presses for income tax cut
Governor Christie continued to berate Democratic lawmakers Wednesday for failing to pass his income tax cut, and he plans another stop in his summer tour of beachfront towns today to press that same message.
His tour comes as a recent poll shows most New Jersey voters are siding with Democrats who want to wait and see if state revenue can cover the cost.
“They can afford to spend in this year’s budget over $31 billion on lots of other stuff, but they can’t afford $200 million to give you a tax cut,” Christie told a crowd of 200 people on the Ocean City Music Pier. “I don’t understand that.”
The Democrats say they want to wait until January to ensure Christie’s lofty revenue projections come in on target as tax collections to date have been below initial projections. (Hayes, The Record)
Christie adviser’s tenure extended
Jon F. Hanson’s tenure as Governor Christie’s chief adviser on the state’s sports and entertainment industries has been extended again — two years after Hanson first thought his work was complete.
Hanson, named to run the newly created New Jersey Gaming, Sports and Entertainment Commission in February 2010, issued a report five months later that established the administration’s vision for the Atlantic City casino industry, the future of the state’s horse-racing tracks, and other related issues.
“I was thinking, ‘Mission Accomplished,’ ” Hanson said Thursday. (Brennan, The Record)
Gov. Christie apologizes to teacher for misleading letter
Instead of vitriol and venom today, Gov. Chris Christie’s interaction with a teary public school teacher ended with an apology.
Tia McLaughlin invoked the Republican governor’s frequent refrain that it’s “harder to hate up close” in telling him she felt betrayed by his treatment of teachers when he took office two and half years ago.
“You’re right, it is much harder to hate up close because I’m not feeling the hate right now,” she said, standing in the crowd at the boardwalk Music Pier. “I never thought I’d get the opportunity to talk to you up close.” (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
The politics of north and south: How Van Drew saved Vineland
On paper, it was a no-brainer. The Vineland Developmental Center should be the next large institution closed as part of New Jersey’s strategy to move to community-based care for the developmentally disabled, state Human Resources Commissioner Jennifer Velez and her staff had decided.
Of the state’s seven developmental centers, Vineland had the highest percentage of residents who wanted to move to group homes and other community programs, Velez told Senate and Assembly committees in May 2011. In fact, 68 percent of Vineland’s 350 residents were ambulatory, and Vineland already had placements for 40 residents in group homes on site. (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)
COAH comes after unspent affordable trust fund money
Municipalities have until August 13 to dispute New Jersey’s claim to $161 million in local affordable housing trust fund money or send the state a check, according to letters sent Tuesday by the acting executive director of the state Council on Affordable Housing.
The no-nonsense letters dated July 24 were mailed to municipalities with unspent money in their funds, according to officials with the New Jersey state League of Municipalities and Fair Share Housing Center. Both groups failed to win a court injunction to prevent the state from taking the local money. The Christie administration’s 2013 budget is counting on as much as $200 million coming from local housing funds, and has warned municipalities that unspent money will be transferred to the state’s general fund as early as this month. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Towns say Christie’s demands for affordable-housing funds may kill deals already in place
Local officials and housing advocates say the Christie administration’s bid to seize $161 million in municipal affordable-housing funds stands to derail deals they have in place to build homes for the disabled and other needy people.
In particular, a number of towns in North Jersey have partnered with Bergen County’s United Way on plans to construct supportive homes for people with developmental disabilities, a priority of the non-profit.
The United Way’s top executive said the state’s letter last November warning that it would confiscate any unspent money in local affordable housing trust funds come July 17 had been a boon for those efforts, helping to persuade hesitant town officials to move forward with projects. (Lipman, The Record)
N.J. Senate panel to discuss acting state education chief Christopher Cerf’s qualifications, residency
After 18 months of delays, the Senate Judiciary Committee today will consider Christopher Cerf’s qualifications to run the Department of Education.
Gov. Chris Christie first nominated Cerf in December 2010, but consideration of his appointment stalled when state Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) used a practice known as senatorial courtesy to block Cerf without giving a reason.
Democrats finally decided to give Cerf a full vetting in part to alleviate a “logjam” in Essex County, where Christie has refused to appoint any new judges until Cerf is considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) has said. (Calefati, The Star-Ledger)
Using Rutgers case, justices raise bar on open meetings
In a ruling that could affect the way New Jersey’s school boards, town councils and government agencies do business, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Rutgers Board of Governors violated state law by not providing enough information to the public.
The unanimous decision tightens requirements on public bodies to post detailed agendas of upcoming meetings and seeks to reduce the use of vague language that makes it hard to figure out what topics a government plans to discuss.
The court also said that the Rutgers board should have avoided discussing certain topics in a confidential part of a 2008 meeting that should have been covered in public. (Campisi, The Record)
Hybrid virtual charters raise the ire of New Jersey educators
The Christie administration’s decision to postpone the opening of two virtual charter schools may have put off one challenge, but its decision to approve two other schools that rely heavily on online lessons could spark off another challenge.
A coalition led by the New Jersey Education Association sent a letter to acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf this week asking him to reconsider the approval of the Merit Preparatory Charter School and the Newark Preparatory Charter School, both in Newark.
The groups contended that the schools, which would bring students into a common space everyday and mix online learning with face-to-face teaching, are a significant departure from what is currently permitted under state statute. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
House votes to expand drilling off New Jersey shoreline
The Republican-led U.S. House passed a politically charged bill on Wednesday that would require the administration to issue permits for drilling off the coast of New Jersey.
The measure passed on a 253-170 party-line vote. New Jersey lawmakers joined together in bipartisan opposition to the bill. Of the nine Republicans who voted against it, five were from New Jersey.
The bill would revoke the president’s five-year plan for offshore drilling and replace it with a GOP plan that would open additional areas to oil and gas development, including the waters off the mid-Atlantic coast as well as the coasts of California, South Carolina and Alaska. (Herman, Asbury Park Press)
Congressional candidate Boteach talks tax plan, Michael Jackson family feud
Congressional candidate Rabbi Shmuley Boteach announced Wednesday that he would push to give tax credits to businesses that close for the Sabbath so employees can spend time with their families.
Boteach, who is running as a Republican in the 9th Congressional District against U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-Paterson, said the same tax rate reduction would be offered to Christians whose businesses close on Sunday; Orthodox Jewish businesses that close on Saturday; and Islamic businesses closing on Friday.
“Kids should not have to compete with bosses to have mom and dad at home,” he said. (Baker, The Record)
N.J.’s top child ranking tarnished by poverty
When it comes to overall child well-being, New Jersey is fourth in the nation, according to a just-released study.
But the state’s high marks for children’s health and education are undercut by a growing poverty rate and unstable economic well-being, according to the annual report card delivered Wednesday.
The disparity was reported in the Kids Count Data Book by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, which ranks states in the areas of health, education, economic well-being and family and community. (Racioppi, Asbury Park Press)
Utility wants to crank up investment in distribution system
South Jersey Gas is back before state regulators, seeking to accelerate its investments in its gas distribution system.
In a filing with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities this week, the Folsolm-based gas utility is seeking approval to spend approximately $250 million over the next five years, above and beyond what it normally spends to keep its system reliable and safe.
The filing comes just two months after the state agency approved an increase in rates for the utility’s 356,000 customers that would boost their bills by about $10 a year. While only a modest rise, the increase spurred an unusual amount of protest from the utility’s customers, dozens of whom showed up at two regular BPU meetings to argue against the proposal. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
PSEG warns of ‘fiscal cliff’ dangers to utilities
Utilities are among the nation’s biggest dividend-payers, and since 2003, the Internal Revenue Service has taxed corporate dividends at the same rate as capital gains — currently, 15 percent. But tax parity is set to expire at year’s end, part of the looming “fiscal cliff” that will trigger massive tax hikes and budget cuts, unless Congress takes action. (Fitzgerald, NJBIZ)
Study released that examines Meadowlands District tax-sharing system
The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission on Wednesday released a study that examines the existing tax-sharing system in the Meadowlands District and considers alternatives based in part on comments from the mayors of the 14 member municipalities.
David Listokin, of the Institute of Meadowlands Studies at Rutgers University, in March met with district mayors who were able to “discuss and give input on possible changes in the [tax-sharing] formula to make it more equitable,” according to a resolution given to the Meadowlands Commission Wednesday by Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli. (Copley, The Record)
IPO climate remains a challenge for N.J. biotechs
While the federal JOBS Act has made it easier for biotech companies to go public, the head of the state’s biotech group said the outcome of Morristown-based Durata Therapeutics‘ initial public offering last week is giving other New Jersey firms pause.
“An IPO is a major vehicle for cash, if it can be done successfully,” said Debbie Hart, president of BioNJ. “I hope many others are considering an IPO and do have a successful one, but it’s one thing to make a decision to go public and another to be successful and get the investment.” (Eder, NJBIZ)
PSEG renews 1M-square-foot headquarters lease in downtown Newark
Public Service Enterprise Group today announced it has renewed the lease on its corporate headquarters, in Newark, through 2030.
A spokeswoman said the energy company considered “other urban centers in our utility service area, by the likes of Trenton and New Brunswick” before deciding to stay at the 26-story tower and three-story office building at 80 Park Plaza, where it has been based since 1978. (Eder, NJBIZ)
Dems reject Christie’s beach-tour rhetoric
Senate and Assembly Democrats alike say they are not swayed by Gov. Chris Christie’s “Endless Summer Beach Tours” and argue New Jersey residents shouldn’t be either.
Democrats, who control the Legislature that recently sent the governor a budget that didn’t provide for an immediate tax relief plan, say the governor is wrong to push for one unless the state’s revenues are there to support it. The Democratic Party argues New Jersey residents agree with them – and they have the polls to prove it. (Arco, State Street Wire)
N.J.-federal battle over sports betting looms, Christie says
Gov. Chris Christie said today that New Jersey has the law in place for sports betting to begin this fall, however the state has to wait and see “who dives in first.”
The governor was asked at an Ocean City beach town hall if sports betting would be allowed at the state’s casinos this fall. Christie told residents he signed the legislation into law that puts the measure in place, now it’s a waiting game to see which business takes the first bet. (Arco, State Street Wire)
Study: Southern N.J. lung cancer rates worse than Northern N.J.
Cancer rates – and mortality rates – in Southern New Jersey are worse than in Northern New Jersey, and lung cancer is a major reason why.
Those are among the findings of a new study released today by the American Cancer Society of New Jersey and New York. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
For Chris Christie: The best and worst of past convention speeches
Speculation is rampant as to whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be designated as the keynote speaker for the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida on August 27-30. In my view, it really doesn’t matter whether the governor is designated as the keynote speaker per se. He will certainly be chosen to give a speech in prime time at the convention, where he will have the opportunity to display his considerable oratorical talents before a national audience. (Steinberg for PolitickerNJ)
In his past life, Christie fought gun violence
For decades, crooks have undercut New Jersey’s tough gun laws by buying up weapons in states with weak regulations, then selling them back here to drug dealers or members of street gangs.
Governor Christie knows all about this interstate gun menace. As the United States attorney for New Jersey from 2001 to 2008, he investigated and prosecuted several gun-trafficking cases, including a 2003 case where an Ohio gun runner allegedly recruited college students.
“They were trafficking those guns back to New Jersey and killing our children on the streets of East Orange,” Christie told students and faculty at Seton Hall University. (Stile, The Record)