Morning Digest: Dec. 10, 2013

Sires erupts on Obama after Castro handshake incident

U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8) wasn’t happy with President Barack Obama for shaking the hand of Cuban President Raul Castro at a South African memorial service for the late Nelson Mandela earlier today.

“I’m very disappointed that the President would shake the hand of someone who stands for the opposite of everything Nelson Mandela stood for,” said the Cuban American Congressman from Hudson County. “Castro stands for the abuse of human rights and lack of freedom. It was just very hyprocritcal of the President to go and honor Mandela and then turn around and shake hands with Castro.”

Sires said he doesn’t expect an apology.

“This president doesn’t apologize,” he said. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)




Atlatic County GOP reacts to Amodeo’s concession

The Atlantic County Republican chairman doesn’t agree with a GOP Assembly lawmaker’s decision to concede his race.

Chairman Keith Davis issued a statement shortly after Assemblyman John Amodeo (R-2) conceded his race to his Democratic opponent.

“I respect John Amodeo and admire his record of public service. But I strongly disagree with his decision to concede today,” Davis said.

“This election is littered with mistake after error after flaw,” he said. “It’s gross incompetence or worse. The discrepancy between voting authority tickets and the machine count suggests that this election has been anything but honest and fair.”

Democratic Northfield Mayor Vince Mazzeo is slated to be sworn in next month.

Amodeo announced in a statement earlier today that he congratulated “Mazzeo on his successful campaign” and wished him luck.

Davis referred to Mazzeo as becoming the district’s “accidental assemblyman” and called for an investigation into the “flawed election.” (Arco/PolitickerNJ)





Budget agreement reached – John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman

ep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray unveiled a two-year budget agreement late Tuesday night that they say will end years of bitter budget wars on Capitol Hill. 

The framework amounts to a modest deal that averts another government shutdown, replaces the sequester and provides a level of certainty on spending that hasn’t been seen in Washington for several years. But it doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, which Congress must address sometime next spring. And it’s far from a grand bargain that overhauls entitlement programs or the tax code — an approach the negotiators refused to entertain for fear of getting bogged down. 

The bipartisan package includes $63 billion of “sequester relief,” $85 billion of total savings, and $23 billion in net deficit reduction. The agreement would set the discretionary spending level for fiscal year 2014 at $1.012 trillion, and $1.014 trillion in FY 2015.

President Barack Obama backed the deal and Ryan and Murray predicted that it would pass both the House and Senate. Still, both lawmakers acknowledged that conservatives and progressives will find items they don’t like in the package.




Supreme Court takes up CSAR – Appeals court goes over mercury rule – States push for air commission – Podesta headed to W.H. – U.S. projected to pas Germany in 2013 solar installations

SNOW DAY ALERT: Federal offices in the Washington, D.C., area are closed today because of weather, the Office of Personnel Management announced just before 4 a.m. That means some of the events listed below may be canceled or postponed. Please stay tuned here for further alerts. For more information:

LIKE A GOOD NEIGHBOR, CSAPR IS THERE: EPA has two major cases arguing in federal courts today — including a Supreme Court review of the agency’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. CSAPR (also known as the Transport Rule) was struck down in 2012 by a split three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Two judges wrote that EPA had overstepped its authority with CSAPR, the latest federal attempt to address air pollutants (including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) that drift from more coal-dependent states to “downwind” states, which are faced with subsequent health problems but have no recourse to tackle the problem.

— Expect a healthy dose of hypotheticals as the justices try to make sense both of tricky federal laws and the complex science of how air pollution travels (the pattern for which the EPA itself compared to a “dense, spaghetti-like matrix” rather than a few straight arrows). There are smaller technical and jurisdictional issues, but a big point of the argument is exactly what it means for a state to “contribute significantly” (Clean Air Act language) to another state’s air pollution problems, marking the point at which the federal government can step in.

— The AP has more on a dustup over a pipeline planned to run through New Jersey’s Pinelands: (Guillen and Martinson/Politico) 





The Passing of Richard Sullivan: The End of an Era in the Garden State

The first commissioner of the state DEP was the father of the environmental movement in New Jersey — and a hero to many 

Very early yesterday morning, the environmental community of New Jersey and the region lost a gentle giant of a man and a genuine hero.

For the many thousands of people whose lives he touched directly, as well as the millions of people whose lives he affected for the better, Richard Sullivan was an incredible leader and role model. His career and life were inextricably intertwined with the significant environmental progress that has been made since the first Earth Day in 1970. To many of us, he was indeed the father, if not the patron saint, of the environmental movement here in the Garden State. (Catania/NJSpotlight) 





Democratic Lawmakers Want NJ Back In Regional Clean-Art Initiatives

Proposed constitutional amendments would let voters decide if state should participate in multistate antipollution programs 

The Christie administration is shying away from multistate agreements to curb air pollution, but not Democratic legislators.

In bills up for a vote tomorrow, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee will consider legislation to require the state to rejoin a regional effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change, as well as a measure that would make it more difficult for the state to pull out of another multistate plan to promote the development of electric cars and zero-emission vehicles.

The move by the panel comes at a time when the Christie administration has declined to join efforts by a combination of states to reduce pollution on several fronts. But in a state long burdened with some of the worst air pollution problems in the nation, the administration’s strategy is causing increasing concern among environmentalists, health advocates, and legislators.

The coordinated efforts by the states include forcing power plants to belch out fewer emissions that contribute to climate change; requiring vehicles — one of the largest sources of pollution causing both smog and global warming — to run cleaner; and petitioning the federal government to curb pollution from power plants located to the south and west of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 




Christie plans inauguration party on Ellis Island

Four years ago, the stage was the Prudential Center. After Superstorm Sandy, it was in the open air, on rebuilt boardwalks. On Election Day, it was the historic Asbury Park Convention Hall. Now, to usher in his second term, Governor Christie will deliver his political message from a landmark that resonates well beyond New Jersey.

Christie will hold his Jan. 21 inaugural celebration at the Great Hall on Ellis Island, a place where more than 12 million immigrants entered the country in search of the American dream.

With its sweeping views of the Statue of Liberty and New York City, the island, most of which is in Jersey City, provides Christie with a stirring backdrop for an event expected to draw national attention. And it affords him a not-so-subtle opportunity to inject his political message with the promise of opportunity that Ellis Island has come to symbolize — an important move as he continues to court Latino voters and other minorities in advance of an expected 2016 presidential run. (Hayes/The Record) 




Pivotal health care push hits community college campuses

Advocates this week have stepped up efforts to enroll a demographic considered key to the success of the nation’s new health care law — community college students.

So health insurance counselors were on hand Tuesday at Passaic County Community College to sign up students for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And Bergen Community College is preparing to send an email blast to its student body with mouse-click-by-mouse-click enrollment instructions.

Recent changes in the marketplace, spurred by the law known as Obamacare, have left an estimated one-third of community college students in New Jersey without coverage this semester. But that isn’t the only reason that proponents of the health care law are targeting them for enrollment. Insurance companies participating in New Jersey’s new federally run marketplace need people in the 20s and 30s to join because these so-called “young invincibles” run up smaller health care tabs and thus enable companies to keep rates lower for everyone.

“Insurance is not just for old people — get that into your heads,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, nearly shouted as he tried to motivate the students at the Paterson school. Counselors there guided students on how they could sign up for coverage beginning in the new year before the Dec. 23 deadline, steering many through the recently improved federal website, (Diskin/The Record) 





The New Jersey Traffic Conspiracy

Here are a few dots that are beginning to look suspiciously connected:

Last summer, the Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, N.J., was expected to follow a lot of other mayors in the state by endorsing Republican Gov. Chris Christie in his easy run for re-election. Mr. Sokolich, a Democrat, refused.

A short time later, two of Fort Lee’s three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were mysteriously shut down. The traffic jam was horrendous. Short trips — it was the first day of school — took as long as four hours. The town of Fort Lee was a parking lot.

Mr. Sokolich suspected that there might be a connection between his failure to support the governor and his town’s sudden traffic nightmare. Mr. Christie appoints key members of the board for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the routes to the G.W., the busiest bridge in the world.

At a hearing Monday in Trenton, witnesses testified that a close friend of Mr. Christie’s who works for the Port Authority ordered the lanes closed. Bridge workers were told it was part of a traffic study. And they were also told to keep quiet about it.

Five days later Patrick Foye, the Port Authority executive director (appointed by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo), learned about the “traffic study.” He was reportedly outraged, since there was no such thing, and he ordered the lanes re-opened. (Randolph/New York Times) 





N.J. Senate panel to take up gay marriage bill

TRENTON — Key Senate Democrats are moving forward with a plan to turn a court decision legalizing gay marriage into state law, saying they want to protect same-sex couples from having this right removed by a future court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday is scheduled to hear a new bill called the Marriage Equality Act, (S3109) which is a slightly modified version of a bill (S1) to legalize gay marriage that Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed in 2012.

The measure was posted for a committee vote late today. Sponsors said while they believe this is the best option, the debate isn’t over.

“This is the step we’re taking right now. This is a very fluid situation,” said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen). “It could change.”

Gay marriage has been permitted in New Jersey since October, thanks to a Superior Court decision to legalize it. Hours after the weddings began despite efforts to stay the ruling, Christie dropped his appeal. Some advocates have argued for the need to write it into state law, stating that a higher court could overturn the decision if things change. (Friedman/Star-Ledger) 




Meadowlands Hospital and union square off over unfair labor charges

NEWARK — Soon after the nearly-bankrupt Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in Secaucus was bought in December 2010, the new owners alerted staff they intended to cut jobs.

The union, Health Professionals and Allied Employees, said they expected the owners to recognize the seniority of the workforce they had inherited and lay off the last person hired. But the owners said they considered everyone a new employee as of Dec. 7, the date of the sale. An arbiter agreed with the owners and 20 people were later laid off.

Now after three years of grievances and bitter accusations covered by the press, an administrative law judge will decide whether the owners, MHA, LLC, have engaged in illegal union-busting tactics that also cost people their jobs and denied them benefits. A trial began today and is expected to last until January.

Meadowlands has “failed to abide by its contractual and bargaining obligations in a broad and ongoing way,” said Benjamin Green, general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, which investigated the union’s claims, found they had merit and is presenting its case.

MHA’s attorney Jeffrey Corradino urged Judge Steven Davis to consider the union’s “relentless campaign to put economic pressure on the hospital and to dissuade the public from using its services.”

The union violated its contractual obligations not to stage a strike or a boycott, or interfere with hospital operations when it conducted numerous press conferences, issued press releases, and held candlelight vigils, Corradino said. (Livio/Star-Ledger) 




Groups duke it out over pair of rival alimony-reform bills

Talks over two competing alimony reform bills are becoming as heated as the divorce fights they both aim to regulate.

A group proposing to overhaul New Jersey’s alimony laws says legislation proposed by the New Jersey State Bar Association to do the same thing will hamper actual reform needed in the state.

Representatives with New Jersey Alimony Reform and New Jersey Women for Alimony Reform claim their bill, A-3909, which would provide guidelines on awarding alimony based on the length of the marriage, has been stalled since the recent introduction of the one backed by the New Jersey Bar Association.

“It doesn’t go anywhere near as far as where it needs to go. We believe it was a diversionary tactic on their part to try and stall reform in any meaningful way,” said Michael Turner, a lobbyist representing NJAR and NJWAR, during an Asbury Park Press editorial board meeting.

The two organizations, which represent about 2,400 members, say they hope to get their reform passed before the end of the legislative session. They say the competing bill only benefits the bank accounts of divorce attorneys.

But Brian Schwartz, of Summit and the current chairman of the bar association’s family-law section, said A-4525, what the reformers see as the interloping bill, actually would reshape alimony while still being fair to both those who pay it and those who receive it. He said the Alimony Reform groups just don’t want to pay alimony anymore.

That legislation was written, in part, by matrimonial attorneys who represent clients on both ends of alimony, he said. (Cervenka/Asbury Park Press) 




Democrats put their stamp on influencial D.C. court

WASHINGTON — Democrats prepared to assume greater influence over the nation’s second most powerful court this week in a display of raw political muscle sure to have legal, political and perhaps policy repercussions for decades to come.

The Senate confirmed Patricia Millett, one of President Barack Obama’s three pending nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, on Tuesday morning. By next week, she could be joined by his other two nominees, Nina Pillard and Robert Wilkins, giving the court seven judges chosen by Democratic presidents to four selected by Republicans.

Senate Republicans’ refusal to consider any of those nominees, along with other battles over judicial and executive branch nominations, led Democrats to change the chamber’s rules last month. As a result, a majority of senators can force a vote on the nominations, rather than the 60-vote super-majority that gave the GOP veto power. Democrats hold a 53-45 edge, and two independents side with them.

At the center of the dispute is this little known but potent court, symbolically located between the White House and Capitol and responsible for settling most disputes between those two branches of government.

To say the D.C. Circuit appeals court is a frequent steppingstone to the Supreme Court is to trivialize its role in American life. (Wolf/USA Today) 




Turning Around the NJ Economy

With business leaders across the Garden State expressing optimism about expansion and higher profits next year, Jersey lawmakers are discussing how best to keep the positive momentum moving forward.

During a New Jersey Business and Industry Association Public Policy forum in Woodbridge, Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick said it’s important to remember that if we don’t get government out of the way and put business in a position where they can do business, we’re not going to have better jobs.

“We’re not going to have more jobs. I believe that if we let the private sector do their thing, jobs will be created,” Bramnick said.

Democratic State Senate Budget Committee boss Paul Sarlo disagreed.

“I’m proud of the bipartisan incentive bills passed by the legislature that focus on job creation and giving companies incentives to come to the Garden State,” he said. “But now we have to focus in on creating more jobs, continue to create more jobs, and not over-rely on property taxes

Assembly Speaker-elect Vinnie Prieto said optimism is great but you also have to build a strong foundation to be able to build that building.

“I come from the building trades,” he said. (Matthau/NJ101.5) 





 From the Back Room


Shaq says Christie could be ‘our next president’ 

Add New Jersey native and former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal to the list of people who would like to see Gov. Chris Christie run for president.

O’Neal, who endorsed Christie’s re-election bid, told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” that New Jersey’s governor “has possibilities to be our next president.”

“Would you vote for him for president?” host Steve Doocy asked.

“I’m [going to] vote for the winner,” Shaq joked, according to POLITICO.

O’Neal appeared in a television ad in October for Christie’s re-election campaign. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)




CD3 Update: The Field Narrows 

Sources in CD 3 say the contest to replace U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan has come down to a handful of candidates.

Backroom discussions continue right now concerning the prospects for the seat of Assemblyman David Wolfe (R-10), John Giordano, assistant commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and others.

A source told that others want the seat, including former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, Berkeley Twp. Mayor Tom MacArthur, and Evesham Mayor Randy Brown.

Veteran lawmaker Wolfe is making an aggressive push but Giordano has an edge based on his father’s ability to fundraise, sources said.  (PolitickerNJ)




Menendez reportedly engaged

 U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez is reportedly engaged.

POLITICO reported Menendez shared the news at the White House’s congressional holiday ball. The lawmaker is engaged to Alicia Mucci. (PolitickerNJ)






Ex-Gov. Tom Kean says dispute with Christie is settled

Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean and his onetime youth volunteer and protégé, Governor Christie, have not spoken since Kean publicly vented his displeasure over Christie’s role in trying to oust Kean’s son from a leadership post in the state Senate.

But Kean said Friday it doesn’t matter.

“The important thing is that he and my son are back together, meeting and doing the work,” Kean said in an interview.

In an interview last month with The Record, Kean, the popular two-term governor from 1982 to 1990, expressed disappointment that Christie had tried to persuade Republican state senators not to reelect his son, Thomas H. Kean Jr., for another term as Senate minority leader.

The former governor, a Republican, said he was also miffed that Christie did not alert him before the vote. Kean and Christie’s relationship goes back to 1977, when Christie volunteered for Kean’s first campaign for governor.

Before Republicans caucused last month to pick the Senate minority leader for the next session, which begins in January, Christie personally lobbied lawmakers to pick state Sen. Kevin O’Toole of Cedar Grove. But the younger Kean, of Westfield, prevailed, capturing 10 votes to O’Toole’s six. (Stile/The Record) 




Is New Jerseyans’ pessimism good news for Chris Christie?

Property taxes continue to rise. It’s once again become more expensive to drive across the Hudson River. And New Jersey’s future budget obligations are still ominous and likely to be unmet.

Have Garden State residents given up on change?

A Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll gives us hints of the low expectations we have for our future. And those low expectations may become yet another advantage for Gov. Chris Christie.

Whether their top issue was property taxes, jobs or the economy, 70 percent of those surveyed said they expected little to no progress from Christie on making things better. Those numbers were remarkably consistent over a variety of breakdowns — political party identification, gender and those living in the area hardest hit by superstorm Sandy.

Out of all those surveyed, Republicans — those most enamored with the recently re-elected governor — are the most optimistic, with 36 percent believing Christie will make a lot of progress on the state’s most pressing issues.

The poll provides a telling glimpse into the governor’s cult of personality. While he enjoys high approval ratings (65 percent in this latest survey), fewer than a quarter of those polled say they have a good idea of what Christie will do in a second term.

It also gives a good look at the pessimism of New Jerseyans, few of whom actually believe that anything to make their lives a little easier is coming down the pike. And is it any wonder?

As of Dec. 1, those with E-ZPass now pay $9 for a Hudson River crossing during off-peak hours. They will pay $11 for crossing during peak hours. Do you want to pay cash? That price didn’t change. It’s still $13. The price hike comes less than two years after a toll increase of more than 50 percent on the New Jersey Turnpike and a 50 percent increase on the Garden State Parkway. (Schoonejongen/Asbury Park Press)   Morning Digest: Dec. 10, 2013