Weekly Roundup: Week of Sept. 3

TRENTON – In an effort to improve electric service and reliability, and to avoid the major service disruptions that were experienced in the wake of last year’s severe storms, Gov. Chris Christie said he would submit legislation that, among other things, gives the Board of Public Utilities additional powers over utilities.

Among them is the ability to levy much higher fines for not restoring service. Instead of a $100-a-day fine, it would be increased to $25,000 a day.  

With the announcement of the legislation, the administration also released a report put together by a task force formed shortly after last year’s Hurricane Irene and freak October snowstorm to review the utilities’ response.

The report found, among other things, that public officials and customers had difficulty reaching the state’s largest public utility, Jersey Central Power and Light. The group also found that a number of substations were built in flood areas.  

“No matter how successfully an EDC (electric distribution company) conducts its restoration activities, poor and inaccurate communications will outweigh many of the positive aspects of those efforts,” the report said.

More latitude for educators

In addition to making sure Garden State residents have consistent and reliable electric service, another group came out with a report on how to make the state’s education system less bureaucratic.

The governor’s Education Task Force called for streamlining the number of regulations and statutes, eliminating many that it deemed unnecessary. Those rules, according to the task force, could get in the way of learning and could often leave instructors’ and administrators’ proverbial hands tied, limiting their ability to produce positive student outcomes.

On a related note, a report by the New Jersey School Boards Association found teachers this school year received smaller raises than the prior one, with some of the reasoning attributed to the 2 percent property tax cap.

Environmental funds

The state Attorney General’s office said Wednesday it has recovered nearly $30 million in environmental clean-up costs by pursuing legal action against polluters in the state.

Settlements were with some major companies, including Honeywell.

Local control

State Sen. Ron Rice of Newark led a press conference with other officials, including the NAACP, and called for U.S. intervention to have control of three school districts – Newark, Paterson and Jersey City – returned from state to local officials.

The continued state oversight has gone on too long to the point where the districts are registering progress that outpaces some other districts not subject to such state oversight, Rice said.

It amounts to taxation without representation, he said.

“Our district has been controlled (by the state) for 17 years,” he said in reference to Newark. “We’re being disenfranchised from our voting rights and we’re being discriminated against.”

Weekly Roundup: Week of Sept. 3