Morning News Digest: September 26, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
After Christie’s spat with reporter, Schaer and Green call for joint hearing on foreclosure crisis
Following Gov. Chris Christie’s press conference spat with an ABC News reporter, the chairmen of two Assembly committees called for a joint hearing to examine the Christie administration’s failure to help more families facing foreclosure.
Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green (D-22) and Assembly Deputy Speaker Gary Schaer (D-36) made the announcement after Gov. Christie Monday refused to answer questions from a WABC-TV reporter.
Jim Hoffer’s report yesterday outlines what he says is the failure of the state’s Homekeeper Loan program to adequately distribute $300 million in federal funds to help homeowners from foreclosing on their residential properties.
Green chairs the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee. Schaer chairs the Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, and both lawmakers said they have sponsored bills to help combat the foreclosure crisis in New Jersey. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
ABC reports on languishing foreclosure assistance program
A day after Gov. Chris Christie went toe to toe with an ABC News reporter questioning the governor on the state’s Homekeeper mortgage assistance program, the station came out with a story showing only $4 million of a total of $300 million has been doled out.
What’s more, only 498 families have qualified for assistance, while nearly 2,000 have been turned down. The govenor attributed the low utilization of the program to a court ordered moratorium on foreclosures. But ABC News points out that other states continued to distribute the money, which was given to the state by the federal government for use in mortgage assistance, despite the moratorium.
The story was first reported last summer by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Katz. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Wisniewski slams gov for use of GOP-funded video at town hall, calls for investigation
New Jersey Democrats say Gov. Chris Christie’s town hall meetings are partisan events, not governmental meetings – and they want the State Ethics Commission to investigate.
The chairman of the New Jersey Democrat State Committee, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, described Christie’s use of a Republican-funded video at one of his recent town halls as “the final straw” over the debate of whether the governor’s signature events are political or just regular government activities.
Democrats, Wisniewski says, have long argued that the governor has pushed the boundaries of state statutes regarding engaging in political activity during work hours. (Arco, PolitickerNJ)
Featured Race: CD 3, John Runyan v. Shelley Adler
REPUBLICAN: U.S. Rep. John Runyan, originally from Flint, Michigan, retired after a successful career as a professional football player and successfully defeated U.S. Rep. Jon Adler (D-3) in 2010.
DEMOCRAT: Attorney Shelley Adler, a Harvard-educated former Cherry Hill councilwoman and widow of the late Congressman Adler. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie campaigns for NH candidate
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that electing Republican Ovide Lamontagne as New Hampshire’s governor is the only way to ensure the state doesn’t end up with an income tax.
Stumping for Lamontagne at Atrium Medical Corporation in Hudson and later at Freshwater Farms in Atkinson, Christie focused on the specter of an income tax, even though Democratic challenger Maggie Hassan has taken the pledge not to implement a broad based sales or income tax.
“If you allow government to get into the door a new tax on you, get ready, because the government is never-ending in terms of its hunger for your money,” Christie told about 100 employees at Atrium. (Associated Press)
Christie uses State Police helicopter for Saddle River fundraiser; state GOP to cover cost
A New Jersey State Police helicopter transported Governor Christie to a Bergen County Republican Party fundraiser in Saddle River on Monday night, officials said Tuesday.
The helicopter landed on the field at the Saddle River Day School sometime between 7 and 7:30 p.m., said Saddle River Police Chief Tim McWilliams. Shortly after, Christie was driven to the home of Al and Judy Kurpis, where he was the featured guest at a Bergen County Republican Organization fundraiser, McWilliams confirmed.
McWilliams said the helicopter only dropped off the governor and left. He was transported out of town by his own security detail.
Michael Drewniak, Christie’s chief spokesman, confirmed the trip in an email response to questions Tuesday afternoon, but said the Republican State Committee will pay for it. (Stile and Hayes, The Record)
Democrats want ethics probe of video shown at Christie town hall
The New Jersey Democratic State Committee has asked the State Ethics Commission to investigate whether Governor Christie’s office violated state law by showing a Republican-funded video at a town hall-style event this month.
The video was produced for the Republican National Convention and was shown before Christie took the stage in Tampa to deliver the keynote address.
New Jersey Democratic Party Chairman John Wisniewski sent a letter to the State Ethics Commission on Monday questioning the video’s use at a Sept. 13 taxpayer-funded event in Howell. Wisniewski cites a state statute and administrative code that bars employees from engaging in any political activity during work hours. (Hayes, The Record)
Income growth in N.J. lagging behind most of country
New Jerseyans made more money in the second quarter of the year than in the first, but the 0.8 percent jump in personal income was one of the smallest in the country, according to federal estimates released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis today.
Income growth clocked in at 45th of the 50 states, a sign that the nascent economic recovery in the Garden State is losing some steam while other states are gaining ground. In the first quarter, New Jersey’s 1.8 percent income spike was the 18th largest of all the states.
Personal income is a leading economic barometer that tallies wages and any earnings from rental properties, stocks and interest. Another key indicator, the state’s unemployment rate, has been rising this year and hit 9.9 percent in August. (Rizzo, The Star-Ledger)
Union SuperPAC funds Runyan ads
In what could be the first spending in a House race in new Jersey by a registered SuperPAC, a pro-Republican union-funded group is chipping in to help Rep. Jon Runyan, R-Mount Laurel, with his re-election.
Lunch Pail Republicans Independent Expenditure Only Committee, which is funded by units of the International Union of Operating Engineers, disclosed this week it paid $35,502 for television ads supporting Runyan.
Runyan is seeking re-election against Shelly Adler, the widow of former Rep. Jon Adler, the man Runyan ousted in 2010.
Independent expenditure only committees are the name the Federal Election Commission describes the political action committees that evolved after the Supreme Court struck down prohibitions on direct corporate and union spending in campaigns. A later ruling by a lower court also removed contribution limits, and the spending by these committees is a protected form of free speech as long as the spenders do not coordinate with campaigns. (Jackson, The Record)
Rothman also NH bound
Governor Christie’s not the only New Jersey politician campaigning in New Hampshire this week.
Rep. Steve Rothman, D-Englewood, is supposed to speak at the Portsmouth Democrats’ annual banquet on Friday night, along with Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and candidates for offices from governor down to state legislature.
The $40 ticket covers dinner, but not drinks, according to a news release from the Portsmouth Democratic Committee posted on the Portsmouth Patch website. The menu includes a choice of braised short ribs, chicken florentine, or sweet potato tower with grilled vegetables. (Jackson, The Record)
Sweeney wants to ban NFL games with replacement refs
Sick of the replacement referees in the NFL this season? So is one powerful New Jersey legislator, who wants to put an end to indecisiveness, missed calls, and other cringe-worthy officiating – at least at Giants and Jets games.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said Tuesday that he planned to introduce a bill banning professional sports events in New Jersey if they are officiated by fill-ins.
Replacement officials have been working games since the beginning of the season when the league locked out its referees because they resisted pension changes.
Sweeney said his motivation isn’t that he is a fan of the Green Bay Packers, who lost in the last seconds Monday when the Seattle Seahawks scored a touchdown that appeared to be an interception. (Katz, Tamari and Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Giants spokesman balks at Sen. Sweeney’s move to block replacement refs in N.J.
A Giants spokesman said the organization welcomes Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s interest in football, but suggested that his idea of banning replacement referees from working in New Jersey may be a step too far.
“We appreciate Senator Sweeney’s interest in our game, but officiating controversies have always been part of sports,” Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon said. “Our league office staff, including Commissioner Goodell, has been in negotiations with the referees union for the past week. We hope to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the league and the clubs are committed to do all we can to help the current officials improve and we are confident they will do so. Our position against expanded legalized gambling has not changed.” (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
Menendez condemns Kyrillos for lack of response to Romney’s ’47 percent’ remarks
Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez today attempted to tie his Republican opponent, state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s controversial “47 percent” statement about Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes.
“As egregious as Mitt Romney’s comments are, Joe Kyrillos’ silence has been even worse,” said Menendez at a campaign event at the Disabled American Veterans chapter in Belleville. “It’s been more than a week since Gov. Romney’s remarks became public. Nearly every day since then people have denounced those remarks, even Republicans running for the United States Senate.” (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Cory Booker prediction: Texas Gov. Julian Castro
Cory Booker brushed off questions about his own ambitions but predicted Monday that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro would be the first Latino governor of Texas.
Castro and Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., headlined a talk here fresh off Booker’s trip last week to San Antonio, where the two rising Democratic stars taped a video for the Obama campaign, Booker said on Twitter.
“I think the gentleman sitting to my left will be the first Latino governor of the state of Texas,” Booker said of Castro Monday. (Titus, Politico)
Bill would expand jury pool
The Assembly Judiciary Committee on Thursday will hear a bill that would expand the jury pool lists to include people who receive food stamps or cash assistance from the government.
The bill would include the names of the recipients in a list put together each year by an assignment judge in each of the state’s 21 counties. Prospective juror lists typically include registered voters, licensed drivers, and people who file state income taxes and homestead rebates, among others. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Poll: Most N.J. voters support safety measures for pets in cars
New Jersey voters have a message for Fido: Be a good boy and buckle up.
By a 45 percent to 40 percent margin, registered voters — all human — support a controversial bill in the state Assembly that would require drivers to put their pets in restraints or crates, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll released today.
Absent from the polling sample are dogs, who are known to enjoy sticking their heads out of moving cars’ windows — which under the bill would be punishable with a $20 fine to their owners and could lead to animal cruelty charges that carry rough — ahem, ruff — civil penalties of up to $1,000.
But while the legislation has drawn its share of jokes and ridicule, its sponsor, Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-Essex) said the issue was no laughing matter. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
NJ fracking ban veto-overturn vote has environmentalists targeting Republican lawmakers
The handful of Republican state lawmakers who voted in June to ban the treatment of fracking wastewater in New Jersey can look forward to a visit from an environmentalist.
The bill from Democrats was approved by both houses of the Legislature, but vetoed last week by Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Leaders of environmental groups said they will zero in on supportive GOP lawmakers to persuade them to stay on board if an override vote takes place.
The Senate voted 30-5 in passing the bill. The Assembly score was 59-19.
Still, some ban advocates concede that an override will be a difficult task, because it requires a two-thirds vote instead of a simple majority, and all previous attempts to overturn Christie vetoes have failed. (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)
Fine Print: Energy savings improvement program
What it is: A much-debated bill ( ) aimed at overhauling a three-year-old law designed to encourage local governments and school districts to significantly reduce energy costs by undertaking projects without requiring capital-expenditure outlays at the outset. (An identical bill, A-2313, is being considered by the state Assembly.)
What’s new: Gov. Chris Christie quietly (Johnson, NJ Spotlight) earlier this month. The approval will signal whether changes in the program will remove impediments in procurement issues, which have prevented local governments and school districts from taking advantage of the program.
Electric vehicle advocates bring road show to Trenton
The 2012 Nissan Leaf sat gleaming in front of the Statehouse.
Assemblyman Tim Eustace, (D-38), Paramus, has a Leaf of his own.
“I can’t drive it here,’’ he said today. Charging stations – or lack of them – remains one of the issues affecting the potential proliferation of cleaner vehicles statewide. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
NJ to pilot early testing for kindergarten
As part of the Christie administration’s latest push for early literacy, the state is launching a pilot program for testing children as they enter kindergarten.
New Jersey has enlisted six school districts and a charter school to test out the new , which will measure children for basic academic and social development.
Nearly 50 teachers and administrators in the districts began training in August to learn to use a commercial assessment tool called Teaching Strategies GOLD.
New Jersey joins Delaware, Colorado and Washington in using the new assessment tool, the company (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/12/09/25/early-testing-for-kindergarten/ this month. State officials said they chose the Maryland-based company’s program because it is easy to use and aligns with the national Common Core State Standards.
Fuentes calls for adding social media to school curriculum
Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D-5) of Camden, wants schools to teach students how to properly use social media.
On Tuesday, he introduced legislation to include social media as part of the school’s core technology curriculum for students in grades 6 through 8, starting in the 2013-14 school year. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Right on red? Not if there’s a camera
A New Jersey legislator wants to ban right turns on red at intersections with red light cameras.
State Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, said the restriction is needed to protect the many motorists who slow down, but don’t come to a full stop, when making such turns.
Those drivers often receive costly tickets because red light cameras consider them to be breaking the law
“I feel that motorists should not be allowed to turn right on red,” Turner said Tuesday. “That will cut down on a lot of the tickets being issued.”
The legislator also said her measure would help build pressure to remove the cameras, which can be popular with local officials because they generate cash through tickets. (Cooney, Courier-Post)
Gloucester County child poverty rates on the rise
From 2010 to 2011, the rate of child poverty in Gloucester County more than doubled, a shocking statistic in a county where the median income is more than $72,000, according to census data. In 2011, 7,395 children in Gloucester County were living in families earning about $22,000 a year or less, up from 4,687 children in 2010, according to census figures.
“Gloucester County is a distinctly middle-class place,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D., Gloucester). “When you see those kind of numbers, it’s a reflection of what’s happening with the national economy.” (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
No more pencils, no more books: Are school librarians becoming obsolete?
Once the staple of nearly every school, the school librarian and media specialist is feeling a bit underappreciated — if not under siege — these days.
Over the past five years, the number of certified library/media specialists in New Jersey’s public schools has dropped by almost 15 percent, according to the , and its own membership has been cut almost in half.
There were 1,580 certified specialists statewide last year, down from 1,850 in 2007-2008, serving roughly 2,500 schools.
The biggest contributor to the drop was the state’s budget crisis two years ago. Library positions were some of the first to be cut by districts looking to trim staff, association officers and local officials said. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Ethics complaints headed to court
A number of ethics complaints filed against city Board of Education members appear headed to hearings before a state administrative law judge following decisions announced Tuesday by the state School Ethics Commission.
Some of the ethics complaints brought by Superintendent of Schools Janine Walker Caffrey against Board President Samuel Lebreault, Vice President Kenneth Puccio and board members Israel Varela, Milady Tejeda and Obdulia Gonzalez are slated to go before the judge. Some of the other charges against some board members were dismissed. (Staff, Asbury Park Press)
Wayne Superfund site removed from list after $125M cleanup
A property in Wayne marred for years by a four-story pile of thorium-laced soil that residents had considered a health threat and eyesore was officially removed from the Superfund list Tuesday.
The former W.R. Grace and Co. site, unused since 1971, underwent a $125 million cleanup over the past two decades, including removal of more than 135,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil – the equivalent of 2,000 railroad cars. Wayne plans to open a dog park and playground on the site next spring. (O’Neill, The Record)
Archbishop urges Catholic voters to defend marriage
The Newark archbishop is urging more than one million Roman Catholics in North Jersey – especially Catholic politicians – to defend marriage against those he says would “deconstruct or radically alter its meaning.”
In a pastoral statement Tuesday, Archbishop John Myers said equating same-sex marriage to marriage as “it has traditionally been understood” damages the institutions of marriage and family. He says redefining marriage would “enshrine in law a nonoptimal way to raise children as equivalent to that which is best.”
Garden State Equality, the state’s largest gay rights organization, said polls showed a majority of Catholics favoring “marriage equality.” (Staff, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
From the Back Room
Paterson Council votes against requesting state of emergency
The Paterson City Council tonight voted against a resolution asking Gov. Chris Christie to delcare a state of emergency in the city.
The resolution, championed by Council President Anthony Davis, failed by a vote of 2-6.
Christie said Monday he didn’t support the measure because the city is mismanaged, in his view, and does not deserve more state aid. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie livid over Dems’ use of tax data
Chris Christie doesn’t like to lose control of the Chris Christie narrative.
His carefully crafted YouTube videos make him look like a hero. His town hall-style meetings put him in control of a stage and a microphone. For the most part, Christie gets to say what he wants without being challenged. The crowds lap it up. It’s all a smashing success.
But the ruling Democrats, who have watched Christie with a mixture of fascination and fury, have finally found a tool to craft their own narrative of Christie’s fiscal stewardship – those grim, monthly reports detailing the state’s tax collections, compiled by his own Treasury Department.
And it’s driving him bonkers. (Stile, The Record)
NFL’s ‘integrity’ concerns selective
By the time Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a devoted Green Bay Packers fan, saw the last play of Monday night’s game between Green Bay and the Seattle Seahawks, he had had enough.
“Are you kidding me?” he thought as he watched the aftermath of the play.
His ire was not simply with what he called the shoddy officiating that cost the Pack a win on a disputed last-play touchdown call, but with weeks of football tainted by the stench of cut-rate decision-making and game control exhibited by the replacement officials hired by National Football League during its continuing labor dispute with its referees.
“What we have right now … is professional wrestling,” the Gloucester County Democrat said. (Schoonejongen, Asbury Park Press)
Booker’s prize performance
Last night Democratic party rising stars Cory Booker and Julian Castro spoke at a forum hosted by the New York Society for Ethical Culture and Stanford alumni on topics ranging from their experiences as Stanford undergrads in the early 1990s to their political ambitions. Mr. Castro may have been the Democratic convention’s keynote speaker but Mr. Booker stole last night’s show.
The seasoned and charismatic Newark, N.J., mayor commanded the stage not unlike New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, exhibiting a self-deprecating humor and utilizing wit to deflect questions. How’d the former Cardinal tight-end get into Stanford? A 4.0 and 1600, er, “4.0 yards per carry and 1600 receiving yards.” The best political advice he’d gotten came from Gotham Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “Before you become mayor, become a billionaire.” (Finley, The Wall Street Journal)