Morning Digest: Dec. 20, 2013

Christie on bridge controversy: ‘I know you guys are obsessed with this, I’m not’

TRENTON – There’s “no doubt” in Gov. Chris Christie’s mind that the controversy over lane closures on the George Washington Bridge is being used by New Jersey Democrats as partisan game.

“Inside the Statehouse there’s no doubt that there is,” responded Christie Thursday afternoon after a reporter asked whether the governor thought there are political games at play in the brouhaha over the so-called “Bridgegate” debacle that forced two top officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to resign.

The governor went on to say he “would not impugn the motives” of the authority’s own investigation into the matter or the reason behind U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s inquiry, but said he had little doubt about the intentions of New Jersey lawmakers.

“Certainly inside the Statehouse,” he said.

Christie took questions from reporters on the issue nearly a week after he spent about an hour fielding questions over the Bridgegate controversy.

As far as he’s concerned, little has changed since then and the local and national stories that have followed are simply a product of his national profile.

“I know you guys are obsessed with this. I’m not,” Christie said during a news conference on personnel changes within his administration. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)






Assembly concurs on DREAM Act CV 

TRENTON – The Assembly concurred on the DREAM Act bill negotiated between the administration and some Democrats Thursday. The tally was 50-26-1.

Partisan rhetoric before the vote earlier Thursday then led to the bill being passed. The governor conditionally vetoed the bill, the Senate concurred on the CV, and it returned to the lower chamber for concurrence before heading back down the hallway for the governor’s signature.

While some Democrats earlier talked of compromising to achieve a bill that could win passage, some advocates said they were deeply disappointed and talked about how the bill that passed means true equality still does not exist. (Mooney/PolitickerNJ)






Dream Act Passes, Grants In-State Tuition to Undocumented Immigrants 

But compromise and conditional veto leave advocates on both sides of the issue unhappy with outcome

Thursday’s passage of what’s been called the Dream Act — which guarantees tuition equality to undocumented immigrants — has left advocates on both sides of the issue feeling slighted.

The bill, which will be signed on Friday, grants in-state tuition status at New Jersey public colleges to undocumented residents who have lived in the state for at least three years. It will effectively cut tuition in half for most of them. (Kalet/NJSpotlight) 






State Praises Privatized Cleanup of Hazardous-Waste Sites

Number of toxic sites dips markedly, but critics claim proposed extension of deadline gives companies more time to pollute

If you listen to the state Department of Environmental Protection and some lawmakers, the efforts to privatize the cleanup of contaminated hazardous waste sites has been pretty much of an unqualified success.

Since the program was initiated in 2009, the number of hazardous waste sites in New Jersey awaiting cleanup has dropped from more than 20,000 to about 14,500, according to Mark Pedersen, an acting assistant commissioner of the DEP.

The development is significant given the uneven progress in cleaning up polluted waste sites in New Jersey, a state with a reputation for having more contaminated areas than nearly anywhere else in the nation. (Johnson/NJSpotlight)






Competing bills hang up N.J. open-space finding plan

Finding money for open space preservation stalled Thursday as Democrats in the Senate and Assembly continued to back com­peting plans.

The $400 million borrowed four years ago has run out.

The Assembly voted 63-13 for a measure that would borrow $200 million to acquire and protect open space.

In the Senate, however, a committee heard testimony on a plan that calls for a constitutional amendment to dedicate up to $200 million a year from sales taxes for the next 30 years.

“We have not been able to work out a compromise with the Assembly,” said Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “They do not want to talk to us about this.”

Smith’s committee met Thursday to hear testimony largely in support of that plan.

Sponsors of the Assembly bill said their measure ensures that funding would be provided to maintain New Jersey’s beauty. (Phillis/The Record) 






New Jersey among states to receive share of $280M in early learning grants

New Jersey won $44 million Thursday in a federal grant competition aimed at lifting the quality of child care programs and their staffs.

One of six states to share $280 million in the latest round of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top contest, New Jersey plans to create training academies for center employees and develop a Consumer Reports-style rating system to help parents shop around online.

Several enthusiastic advocates predicted the grant would spur better child care in a state that has lacked consistent standards for curriculum, staff credentials and supplies among various types of providers, including centers and family settings.

“If a center gets a low rating it will be embarrassed into improving,” said Veronica Ray, president of the New Jersey Head Start Association. “No center wants to be low man on the totem pole when it affects enrollment.”

The Early Learning Challenge grant is part of the Obama administration’s push to invest in babies, toddlers and preschoolers so they start kindergarten ready to learn. The president has called for a $75 billion, 10-year investment in federal-state partnerships to provide preschool for all poor and moderate-income 4-year-olds, but critics have called the idea far too expensive and unrealistic. (Brody/The Record) 






Christie Reaches Deal on Tuition for Undocumented Immigrants

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will sign Democrat-sponsored legislation to make children of undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges, a decision that may anger the Republican Party’s influential Tea Party wing.

It signaled Christie’s willingness to give ground on an issue favored by Democrats, just as he did in October when he left unchallenged a court ruling recognizing gay marriage, and in 2012, when he ended his opposition to seniority job protection for teachers.

The governor’s apostasy has cost him in some quarters: Voters who said they favored the Tea Party placed Christie behind Texas Senator Ted Cruz as a 2016 presidential candidate in a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released Dec. 18. Yet his decision on immigration may be a calculated gamble. (Young and Dopp/Bloomberg) 






Patrick DeBlasio gets sixth public job, hired as Highlands CFO

HIGHLANDSPatrick DeBlasio moved up the ranks of the state’s double dippers on Wednesday, getting his sixth current public job, as the borough’s chief financial officer.

Highlands will pay DeBlasio $40,000 annually to balance the borough’s books on a part-time basis.

DeBlasio has a full-time job as Carteret’s CFO and part-time jobs in Keansburg, North Plainfield, the Carteret School District and in Highlands, where he already serves as the borough’s tax collector.

In 2012, he earned a total of $244,606 from the jobs, according to state pension and payroll records.

Mayor Frank Nolan questioned whether DeBlasio will be able to give Highlands’ finances sufficient attention, given all his other priorities.

“In many ways, we are the laugh­ing­stock of the county,” Nolan said of Highlands. “This will just add to it.” (Penton/Asbury Park Press) 






Matthew Boxer, Lakewood graduate out as state comptroller

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie announced a series of high-level administration changes Thursday that included the departure of state Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who was credited by the governor for forging important government reforms initiated through investigations by Boxer’s office.

Comptroller is a six-year appointed position. Boxer’s term is up next month and the Lakewood High School graduate said he did not seek another term and that he plans to work in the private sector.

“He’s been a valued member of the cabinet and has done outstanding work as a comptroller…but I understand it’s time for Matt to go forward and try different things,” said Christie, who also was Boxer’s boss when Christie was a federal prosecutor. (Jordan/Asbury Park Press) 






Chris Christie dresses down pajama boy 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie co-opted the lampooned Pajama Boy image promoting Obamacare in order to send his own message about volunteering.

Christie tweeted a parody of the image Wednesday featuring him volunteering in an apron with a dig at the group.

“Pajama Boy” is the creation of Organizing for America, a group that promotes Democratic issues like the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, it set off a firestorm of mockery on social media when it tweeted an image of a young man in pajamas with a mug urging people to spend December talking about health care from the Barack Obama twitter account it manages. (Kopan/Politico) 





Hilary Clinton says she will decide in 2014

Hillary Clinton says she’ll make the decision next year on whether she’ll run for president in 2016.

“I will look carefully at what I think I can do and make that decision sometime next year,” Clinton told ABC’s Barbara Walters in an interview that aired Wednesday night.

Clinton, named Walters’s “Most Fascinating Person of 2013,” said she still hasn’t made up her mind.

“It’s such a difficult decision, and it’s one that I’m not going to rush into and I don’t think we should be looking at the next election,” the former secretary of state said. (McCalmont/Politico)






Chris Christie slams Supreme Court as ‘out of control’ over affordable housing ruling

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie today sounded off against one his favorite targets, calling the state Supreme Court “outrageous” and “out of control” for ordering his administration to come up with a new plan for affordable housing in the state’s cities and suburbs.

“Our folks are consulting with outside consultants to work on the drafting of new rules,” Christie said at a Statehouse news conference.

“What I’ll tell you is I think it’s outrageous. I think the whole thing is outrageous. I think the fact that a court thinks that it’s within their purview to order an executive branch operation to actually go through a rule-making procedure is outrageous. And it’s why the Supreme Court is so out of control.”

In September, the high court gave the state five months to write regulations to increase the minimum number of affordable-housing units towns must build for their poorest residents. The Republican governor and a group of mayors wanted more flexibility.  (Portnoy/Star-Ledger) 






N.J. Assembly passes bill waiving fees for developers

TRENTON — The state Assembly approved a bill today that would give land developers a financial break at the expense of affordable housing funds.

The bill would freeze a 2.5 percent fee that developers pay for building shopping malls or industrial projects in New Jersey — anything but housing.

The measure (A4457) passed 78 to 0 today with no floor debate. An identical bill is pending in the state Senate.

The bill sponsor, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), said it doesn’t make sense to charge commercial developers the fee while New Jersey’s affordable housing system remains in limbo.

Housing advocates oppose the bill, saying there is no strong evidence that freezing the fee in previous years led more businesses to New Jersey. (Rizzo/Star-Ledger) 






From the Back Room


Ringleader of rhino – not RINO – conspiracy pleads guilty

Zhifei Li, the owner of an antique business in China, pleaded guilty today to organizing an illegal wildlife smuggling conspiracy in which 30 rhinoceros horns and numerous objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory worth more than $4.5 million were smuggled from the United States to China.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced the guilty plea. (PolitickerNJ)   





Buono is back 

Barbara Buono is back in the New Jersey Statehouse.

Following a statewide election in which Buono failed to oust Gov. Chris Christie (and after a vacation), Buono returned to the Statehouse Thursday for a Senate voting session.






Stepien moving to RGA, WSJ reports

A former top official within Gov. Chris Christie’s administration is preparing to join the Republican Governors Association.

On a break to run the governor’s campaign, Bill Stepien, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, won’t return to the administration in favor of a position at the national organization that Christie was elected chairman of last month, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Stepien joined the administration after Christie was elected in 2009. (PolitickerNJ) 








Christie’s half-equity on tuitions

New Jersey spends huge sums of money educating immigrant children who entered the country illegally, but only until the 12th grade. At that point, we cut them off.

And most people agree that is nuts. Why invest $200,000 in a child’s education, and then throw up hurdles that can prevent students from attending college? With a college degree, they will earn more money, pay more taxes and contribute more to the state’s prosperity.

Yesterday, Gov. Chris Christie agreed to sign a bill that will half-fix this problem. These kids will soon be able to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. But they won’t have access to the financial aid that roughly 1 in 3 New Jersey students depend on to get through.

That’s progress, no doubt. But it is not the “tuition equity” that the governor promised when he was courting Latino voters during the election. These students will still pay more. This is a broken promise, plain and simple. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board)  

Morning Digest: Dec. 20, 2013