Weekly Roundup: Feb. 25-March 1

TRENTON – The hill for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono to climb over continues to get steeper.

This week, Gov. Chris Christie gave the annual budget address in which he said he would increase aid to schools, not raise taxes, provide direct rebates to senior citizens and moderate-income residents and – the big one – agree to expand Medicaid, one of the main components of so-called ObamaCare.

While Christie made clear he doesn’t think the federal health insurance law will be all that successful, agreeing to expand Medicaid means millions of dollars for the state to subsidize affordable health care with taxes they have already paid.

With his approval ratings sky-high, and his lead over Buono huge, Christie is using his opportunities to broaden the Republican Party brand, not only statewide, but nationally as well.

He didn’t take the CPAC snub personally, saying it’s their right to do, and he’s focused on seeing the state get rebuilt following Superstorm Sandy.

Democrats couldn’t help but admit the budget did have some good things in it, but quickly pointed out the shortcomings as well. They pointed out the postponement of the homestead rebates to the next fiscal year is nothing short of a gimmick and Christie’s desire for an income tax cut despite revenue shortfalls defies logic. Also, unlike the prior year, Christie made no mention of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits the working poor.

Still, with another endorsement by a group that usually endorses Democrats, this time by the Latino Leadership Alliance, “the Christie juggernaut rolls on,” as NJ Today’s Michael Aron said. But by early Friday, Buono got home help when she received the endorsement of the Communication Workers of America.

Internet gaming

A couple of weeks after Revel said it was going to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Legislature on Tuesday passed, and Christie signed into law, a key component intended to revitalize the beleaguered Atlantic City: Internet gaming.

Christie originally conditionally vetoed the bill because not enough resources were devoted to compulsive gambling treatment in the original draft and the tax rate on winnings was not high enough. Democratic sponsors of the bill, Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) of Elizabeth, and Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-3) of Paulsboro, saw little problem agreeing to the recommendations, and thus incorporated them.

Pulaski Skyway

Shutting down the northbound lanes for two years may seem like a major inconvenience, but state Transportation Department officials insist there’s no good alternative to renovating the Pulaski Skyway.

The officials said they reviewed other alternatives, such as limiting the work to only nights and weekends and shutting down one lane instead of two. However, neither of those plans would have been practical and would require more than the two years the state is eyeing for completion.

Still, members of the Assembly Transportation Committee urged state officials to take more local input into consideration to make sure all the inconvenience doesn’t fall on them.

The project is anticipated to begin in March 2014 and is expected to take 2 years to complete.

School breakfasts

Allowing kids to eat breakfast in the classroom makes all the difference on whether students receive proper nutrition and can earn good grades.

That was the message by the secretary of the state Agriculture Department Doug Fisher. He said since the feds determined that eating in the classroom can technically be considered instructional time, more school districts have signed on and now 25,000 more students are eating school breakfasts.

The program often has had a mostly low participation rate, despite the great need for it, because most students were not able to arrive to school before the first period bell to eat the meals in the cafeterias.

Still, more districts could do better in getting the word out about the program. More students participating could also mean more reimbursements from the federal government.  

Weekly Roundup: Feb. 25-March 1