Weekly Roundup: Week of April 15

TRENTON – The week began with a series of turned-back bills: Earned income tax credit restoration, tax credits for small businesses who hire the jobless, a new workforce commission, and project labor agreements.

The first three were conditionally vetoed and the fourth was killed outright.

The PLA bill, a proposal Senate President Steve Sweeney shepherded through the Legislature, would have meant increased employment, according to supporters, but would have made many public projects more expensive, opponents countered.

But the most important political tactic Gov. Chris Christie took in these bills was the CV of the EITC restoration, which he linked to a resurrection of a tax cut floated last year that eventually settled back to earth.

Christie said on Monday that because revenues are improving and the jobless rate is dwindling, Democrats no longer have an excuse to avoid a tax cut. Democratic leaders said last year they would go along with a tax cut only if revenues were there to support it.

But Assembly Budget Chairman Vincent Prieto criticized the governor’s tactic, saying they would back a responsible tax cut, and reiterating Democrats’ talking point that Christie continues to protect the rich while not helping the middle class.

However, the governor did ink some bills.  Among them were bills tightening restrictions on so-called ‘fake’ farmers and another providing protections to students working with district-supplied laptops.

Halt to red light cameras

The controversial pilot program involving red light cameras at selected intersections will go no further.

The administration said no new intersections will be added to the program because there would not be enough time to compile sufficient data from them before the pilot expires in December 2014.

Critics of the program, including Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, cheered the news.  O’Scanlon and others have said the program has little to do with safety and more to do with fattening municipal coffers.

Unemployment rate

The state jobless rate dipped a bit to 9 percent in March, while the state added a net 8,100 jobs, the Labor Department reported.

“Once again, jobs and unemployment are moving in the right directions, reflecting the growing strength in the state’s economy,” said Charles Steindel, chief economist for the state Treasury Department.

Democrats, however, pounced on the fact the jobless rate has not gotten below 9 percent in 46 straight months.

Rutgers flap

Rutgers President Robert Barchi appeared before the Assembly Budget Committee on Thursday and created a bit of a stir over the handling of dismissed basketball coach Mike Rice.

During the hearing, Barchi indicated strongly that the university was willing to take Rice to court over his payout because he had, according to Barchi, brought such a degree of bad publicity to the school.

He called Rice’s conduct unethical and unacceptable.

Not so fast on that mad dash to court.

Just  a few hours later came the announcement of a negotiated settlement with Rice, paying him $425,000.

Gov. Chris Christie defended Barchi, saying he saw no inconsistency between what Barchi told legislators earlier in the day and the news of the eventual payout, much less than the original $1 million that was reported.

Gun control

To close the week, Christie unveiled a comprehensive package of gun control bills, but more important, many of the measures are more aimed at violence control in general.

In order to get at the root cause of violence, according to Christie, mental health issues need to be addressed.

He wants to make it easier for courts to order involuntary commitments to ensure patients get needed treatment.

He also wants mental health records included as part of background checks prior to gun purchases.

Other measures he proposed include increasing penalties such as 25 years without chance of parole for those engaged in trafficking of guns.

In addition, he wants parental consent mandatory before juveniles can purchase video games rated mature or for adults only.




  Weekly Roundup: Week of April 15