Weekly Roundup: Week of Jan. 14

TRENTON – The national focus on gun control filtered down to the state level in New Jersey, with Gov. Chris Christie creating a task force to look into what he dubbed “violence control.”

The New Jersey Safe Task Force – unveiled Thursday – will be charged with looking at the root causes of gun violence – addiction, mental illness, culture, access to guns, school security – and then make recommendations.

It will be headed by two attorneys general, among other experts, and is expected to produce a report of recommendations in 60 days.

Christie said there needs to be a “holistic” approach taken to address the issue of gun violence.

Sandy funding

The long and bitter fight over federal emergency funds for post-Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts showed progress this past week, as the House of Representatives passed a $50.7 billion Sandy aid package, which was largely opposed by Republicans (the New Jersey delegation not included) but received overwhelming support from Democrats.

All that awaits now is the Senate vote and the president’s signature.

Revenue and jobs numbers

There was finally some good news on the economic front, at least in December. The income tax revenue was higher than expected and the state saw more than 30,000 jobs created in the private sector.

But Democrats, especially Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), of West Deptford, still described it as policy failure, which Christie called “asinine.”

Christie believes his job creation policies are working, adding that legislative Democrats are too busy “jawboning,” and being overly concerned with taking back the governor’s seat.

Still, on revenue, the state has a long way to go to come out of the financial morass, as the Office of Legislative Services said the state will need revenue increases of about 12.7 percent to just achieve the year-end targets for fiscal year 2013.

Christie was counting on robust revenue growth for the current fiscal year, but in most months, those goals have proved elusive.  

Red-light cameras

The Assembly Transportation Committee headed a discussion about three bills seeking to amend the much-criticized red-light camera program, which critics have slammed as being more about enhancing  revenues for cash-strapped municipalities than about improving driver safety.

The bills address various aspects of the program that is in the midst of a five-year pilot effort.

A3575, for instance, would lengthen the yellow light at such intersections and would institute a grace period for violations that occur in the half second immediately after a traffic light turns red. It would reduce the fine to $20 for failing to stop before turning right on red. This bill is intended to eventually supplant another one, A3285, which deals with some of the same issues.

A3399 would ban outright right turns on red lights at such intersections, and would mandate signs be posted to inform motorists.

Comptroller’s report

The state Comptroller said in a report the New Jersey Turnpike has instituted some of the recommendations it made three years ago on various cost-saving reforms.

The areas where the Authority, which was once notorious for paying bonuses to employees working on their birthdays, found savings included health insurance, reforming procurement procedures, and cutting wasteful spending.

The October 2010 audit identified authority practices such as unjustified employee bonuses, annual sick leave payouts and an employee relations account used to pay unnecessary costs such as sponsoring an employee bowling league.

 “While there is more work to be done, Turnpike officials have made real improvements to their operations that are leading to cost savings and more efficient use of public toll dollars,” Comptroller Matthew Boxer said.

He said one recommendation that remains unaddressed is about limiting total compensation for the Authority executive director and other managers.

“The Authority has not adopted a specific limit on managerial compensation at this time.  Bills have been introduced in both the State Senate and Assembly that would limit the compensation of officers and employees of independent State authorities.”

Tourism campaign

Assemblyman Matthew Milam, (D-1), Cape May, said a robust tourism campaign is needed to get people to come visit the Jersey Shore this summer in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

Although there were several Shore towns that were devastated, Milam said there is still much of the Shore that is open for business and ready to take visitors.

He, and many tourism advocates, called for the passage of A3630, which would allocate $20 million toward an ad campaign. In prior years, as much as $9 million was allocated for this purpose.


Weekly Roundup: Week of Jan. 14