Morning Digest: Feb. 13, 2014

With two-man Newark mayoral race in place, Baraka and Jeffries square off on education 

NEWARK – When education reformer Derrell Bradford, the moderator of Wednesday’s Newark mayoral candidate forum on education issues, began the evening, he set a basic rule. When the four-minute speaking intervals for each candidate were finished, he would ring the bell, and civility would hopefully reign. 

But in front of 500 people at a Rutgers-Newark auditorium, it appears that when Bradford rang the bell, the two remaining candidates, South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka and former Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries, heard something else. Before a revved-up crowd, the two candidates disregarded the dings and kept striking rhetorical blows, marking the first round in the final stretch of the Newark mayoral campaign.

Baraka and Jeffries ran the policy gauntlet about education on the day when both North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Jr. and Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif dropped out of the race, therefore crystallizing the competition.

A critical component of the education policy debate is the proposed One Newark school reorganization plan backed by Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson. Anderson was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011 to run Newark’s state-run school system, the largest in New Jersey. The governor publicly stated in September 2013 that he plans to reappoint her, and that he did not care about community criticism. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

With two-man Newark mayoral race in place, Baraka and Jeffries square off on education | Politicker NJ




Smith launches re-election bid for Bayonne mayor

The ballroom of the Chandelier Restaurant was wall to wall with supporters joining Mayor Mark Smith as he kicked off his re-election campaign this evening. Accompanied by his council candidates Terry Ruane, Debbie Czerwienski, Agnes Gillespie, Joe Hurley and Ray Greaves, Mayor Smith laid out his case for re-election. The crowd of supporters from throughout the city and across the state included former Governor Richard Codey, Assemblyman Joe Cryan (D-20), Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-31), and Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty.

“As a life-long resident of Bayonne, there is nothing more important to me than making sure we continue the fight to get our city on the right track for the future,” said Smith.  “We’ve worked hard to reduce the city’s long-standing debt and attract new development here to create jobs and the progress we’ve made is just the beginning.  Like our friends and neighbors here in Bayonne, my wife and I are raising our family in the city and we know how important it is to make sure the future is bright for our kids.  The work we’ve already done at City Hall to reduce debt, encourage new development and reduce the size of government while improving critical services is a jumping off point to get the city’s finances under control and revitalize our economy so that all of Bayonne’s taxpayers can reap the benefits.” 

Twice elected mayor, Smith hopes to withstand a challenge from Bayonne Police Captain Jimmy Davis. (PolitickerNJ)

Smith launches re-election bid for Bayonne mayor | Politicker NJ




Nearly 3.3.M have signed up for Obamacare nationwide; almost 55K in New Jersey

Nearly 3.3 million Americans have now signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, including more than 54,800 in New Jersey, according to numbers released by federal officials Wednesday.

With the March 31 enrollment deadline fast approaching, the numbers are still far short of initial projections that called for 7 million people to sign up for insurance plans nationwide. Still, 1.1 million people signed up in January, and federal officials said they are expecting a surge at the end of March.

“These encouraging trends show that more Americans are enrolling every day, and finding quality, affordable coverage in the marketplace,” said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services.

Technical difficulties that plagued the website for the first two months of the rollout have largely been fixed and most customers are able to navigate through the process relatively smoothly. They are able now to review plans without creating an account and learn whether they qualify for subsidies or the state-run Medicaid program.

Federal officials also noted that 27 percent — up 3 percent from the previous reporting period — of those enrolled in the federal marketplace are between the ages of 18 and 34. In New Jersey, 28 percent of those who selected insurance plans were in that age group. Younger healthier people are needed to purchase insurance to offset costs for covering sicker customers or premiums may increase, experts say.

The new law, known as Obamacare, provides subsidies for low- and moderate-income residents and 83 percent of those who have signed up to date have qualified for financial assistance. New Jersey is following the national trend, with 82 percent eligible for subsidies. (Williams/The Record) 




Christie’s state finance rep[orts are overdue  

Two key reports, each with the potential to reveal problem areas in New Jersey’s public finances, are overdue from Governor Christie’s administration as lawmakers await the governor’s latest budget pitch.

Christie, a Republican, pledged in his inaugural address last month that “we must tell the truth about the depths of our challenges,” and he has consistently stressed fiscal discipline over a career that has put him in the ranks of possible presidential picks for his party.

His administration, however, has yet to release the annual comprehensive audit of state spending for the fiscal year that ended June 30. That audit shows how — and if — the budget was balanced as required by the state constitution.

Last year’s report revealed that Christie used $123 million in surplus funds to close out the fiscal year, contradicting his repeated claims about revenue projections after many challenged his targets as too optimistic.

Also not yet released by the state Department of Treasury is the annual report on state borrowing, which accounts for all debt issued through the fiscal year that ended nearly eight months ago.

Last year’s report showed debt had grown under Christie’s first term by more than $4 billion. When this year’s report is eventually released, it is expected to show that New Jersey is officially in debt by more than $40 billion. (Reitmeyer/The Record) 




State Board Reaffirms its Commitment to Common Core Standards

With debate about the Common Core State Standards and related testing at a steady boil, the Christie administration and the state Board of Education yesterday turned the heat up as they responded to critics.

The board in its monthly meeting — postponed from last week — voted unanimously for a resolution reaffirming its support of the new nationwide standards that have been adopted in more than 40 states.

The State Board first adopted the Common Core in 2010, but members said yesterday they want to reiterate their support in the face of critics from both the left and the right who have said the state is moving too fast to implement the more rigorous benchmarks.

“We feel the Common Core represents exactly what we should be looking for,” said board member Ronald Butcher, who crafted the resolution.

He said the idea of a second resolution was the result of pressure, much of it from out-of-state groups who view the standards as federal mandates that usurp local control.

Butcher cited a petition circulated among some districts that requested parents have a chance to “opt-out” of the standards. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 




Documents Reveal Insider Deal to Build Light-Rail Station in Hoboken

Were New Jersey taxpayers taken for a ride?

A hush-hush agreement between NJ Transit and the law firm run by David Samson, Gov. Chris Christie’s point man at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, spawned plans to build a transit station at a Hoboken site favorable to one of the firm’s clients.

The deal is already the subject of a federal probe in the wake of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim that she was pressured by the Christie administration to support the project.

Records obtained under the state’s Open Public Meetings Act now reveal that NJ Transit, which comes under the purview of Christie, agreed to pay most of the cost of building the light-rail station while also financing “associated on-site improvements.” (Bernstein/WNYC) 




Scott Walker: I believe Chris Christie

MADISON, Wis.— Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that Chris Christie should remain chairman of the Republican Governors Association, despite calls from some quarters for the New Jersey governor to step aside in light of the traffic scandal dogging him back home.

Walker said he and Christie spoke the same day last month that Christie held his marathon press conference declaring his innocence in the scheme to slow traffic on the George Washington Bridge in an apparent act of political retribution. Walker said he believed Christie’s explanation then – that wayward aides executed the traffic jam without his knowledge – and has had no reason to doubt the New Jersey governor since.

“He told me the same thing in private that he did to the press in New Jersey, and I have every reason to believe that the information he said is consistent with the truth, and so I still support him in his role as governor and his role in the RGA,” Walker said at an economic conference here. (Bade/Politico)




New Jersey Online Bets Rise 28% in January From Debut Month

New Jersey’s Internet gambling revenue totaled $9.46 million in January, a 28 percent increase from December, the first full month residents and visitors could play online in the state.

Gambling in the casinos in Atlantic City fell 9.2 percent to $186.3 million from a year earlier, the state Division of Gaming Enforcement said today in a statement on its website.

The results show the advent of online betting in New Jersey has slowed, not stopped, the ongoing drop in betting for the state’s casinos, all based in Atlantic City. Six casino operators are offering online betting.

“It’s still early days in the development of the New Jersey market,” Craig Abrahams, chief financial officer of Caesars Entertainment Corp. (CZR)’s interactive business, said in an interview. “We’re encouraged by our results.” The company is still introducing its products for smartphones and tablet computers, he said. Poker is available now.

The state’s Internet gambling law was designed to stimulate business for its casinos, which have lost customers as neighboring jurisdictions expanded their gambling. New Jersey’s online casino operators are required to keep their hardware in Atlantic City properties. (Palmeri/Bloomberg) 




NJ Supreme Court extends time for prosecuting cons and money laundering 

TRENTON — If the case is a long-running con or a money-laundering scheme, New Jersey prosecutors can pursue charges for five years after the date of the last single offense, the state Supreme Court said yesterday.

The high court expanded the statute of limitations in ruling against a Monmouth County man, Joseph A. Diorio, who was running a long con on produce suppliers and then laundering the profit. (Rizzo/Star-Ledger) 



From the Back Room

Christie reschedules Thursday’s town hall meeting

Gov. Chris Christie’s first town hall since the recent election slated for Thursday has been postponed due to the weather, the governor announced.

Christie told his more than 438,000 Twitter followers Wednesday that the Port Monmouth town hall has been rescheduled for Feb 18th. The governor cited inclement weather that’s head for the Garden State.

“Due to yet another snowstorm coming our way, we’re postponing the town hall,” Christie tweeted. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Christie reschedules Thursday’s town hall meeting | Politicker NJ



Walk to Washington postponed

he New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s annual Walk to Washington slated for this week has been postponed due to inclement weather, the chamber announced Wednesday.

The 77th annual walk was scheduled to occur Thursday, however an incoming storm prompted the chamber to postpone the event based on the recommendation of Amtrak, officials said.

“First and foremost, we don’t want to risk the safety of 900 guests registered for this event, which requires travel in and through three states and Washington D.C.,” said Tom Bracken, president and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.

“The Walk to Washington will go on, as it is such an important event for New Jersey,” he said, explaining the event will be rescheduled. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Walk to Washington postponed | Politicker NJ






Debt ceiling vote shows rightward drift in Jersey

It comes as no surprise to learn that U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett voted against raising the debt ceiling. This is a guy who voted against providing relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina because he felt some of the money might be wasted. He is a fanatic, so that is that.

But it is a grave disappointment to see that he was joined by two Republicans who have better sense: U.S. Reps. Leonard Lance (R-7th) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th).

This is pure pandering. Most Americans oppose an increase in the debt ceiling, and that is doubly true of Republican primary voters. Lance and Frelinghuysen are covering their flanks against any pesky challenges from Tea Party candidates.

The reason most people oppose raising the debt limit is that they believe its purpose is to make room for new spending initiatives. The reality is that spending decisions are all made during the annual budget process. Raising the debt ceiling only allows the government to pay off the debt it has already accumulated. (Moran/Star-Ledger)  

Morning Digest: Feb. 13, 2014