Morning Digest: Feb. 20, 2014

The Next Campaign: CD12 and Greenstein’s advantages and challenges

The only announced CD12 candidate from Middlesex County, state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) of Plainsboro has several factors working in her favor right now – and several possible serious challenges as the primary field develops.

First, Greenstein has a rep as a suburban Pascrell, a candidate whose ubiquity in front of LD14 shopping centers is rivaled only by Red Box.

More battle-tested than any other person in the contest, Greenstein – CD12 candidacy reported first by PoltiickerNJ – owns back-to-back senate wins over three solid Republican candidates: state Sen. Tom Goodwin, child advocate Richard Kanka, and former Senator Pete Inverso.

Second, the mighty Middlesex lacks a congressperson. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

The Next Campaign: CD12 and Greenstein’s advantages and challenges | Politicker NJ




Chivukula all in on CD12

Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-17) is making a play for the congressional seat slated to be vacated by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12), the lawmaker announced Wednesday.

“I’m in!” reads the subject line of Chivukula ‘s email announcing his intention to run. The state lawmaker was one of nearly a dozen officials who said Tuesday they are interested in mounting a campaign. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Chivukula all in on CD 12 | Politicker NJ




Pascrell presses Christie to use grant to educate people about health care law 

With today the last day for New Jersey to make use of a $7.6 million federal grant to educate people about the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. has taken a jab at Governor Christie for using “petty politics” to prevent uninsured people from getting health coverage.

“You want to do bipartisan politics?” Pascrell asked at a news conference Wednesday, “Let’s do it on real things, not phony stuff.”

The Paterson Democrat challenged the governor to help implement the law, rather than obstruct it, so that more of New Jersey’s 900,000 uninsured residents would benefit. (Washburn/The Record) 




Federal regulations thwart reimbursements for N.J. Sandy victim’s latest repair costs

Superstorm Sandy victims still can’t seek reimbursement for home repairs done after the date they applied for a specific government grant, according to federal housing officials who have denied a state request to waive the requirement.

Recognizing that many homeowners have had to halt repairs mid-project when they have applied for funds, the state Department of Community Affairs asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to consider changing the policy in December.

It was the latest of several such requests, said Lisa Ryan, a Community Affairs spokeswoman.

Richard Constable, commissioner of the department, said that, nevertheless, “we will continue to aggressively advocate to HUD on behalf of storm-affected residents so that they receive the federal assistance they need to get their homes and lives back together.”

In a Feb. 10 letter, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary Yolanda Chavez cited federal environmental rules as reasons for the decision as well as concern that repair work performed after the grant application.  (Sudol/The Record) 




As Time Runs Out on $7.67 Million Grant, Health Advocates Step Up Critcism

U.S. official says state could spend money marketing, the federal health insurance marketplace.

Today marks the state’s last chance to spend a $7.67 million federal grant — and the Christie administration may leave the money on the table, much to the dismay of healthcare advocates.

The grant was awarded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in February 2012 to help the state establish its own health insurance exchange.

But Gov. Chris Christie later decided to have the federal government operate New Jersey’s insurance marketplace. Since then, state and federal officials have been in talks about how the money should be spent.

Today is the deadline for the federal government to approve any state request for spending the money. State officials have not publicly disclosed how they would like to use the funds. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight) 




NJ Schools Press Lawmakers to Ease Restrictions on Interdistrict Choice

Supporters say enrollment cap of 5 percent stifles increasingly popular program.

On the eve of the unveiling of the next state budget, advocates for New Jersey’s interdistrict choice program are stepping up their campaign to fight off state-imposed enrollment caps on the increasingly popular program – and winning some high-level support.

The association that represents the 130-plus districts in the program, which allows them to take in students from outside their borders, has been pressing legislators for help in easing the state edict issued last fall that limited the districts to no more than 5 percent increase in enrollment.

The state Department of Education said it was about the money, with state funding for the program ballooning in the last three years to nearly $50 million for the 5,000 students enrolled this year. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 



After two big blunders, New Jersey Transit chief resigns

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New Jersey Transit’s chief resigned after stumbles following the Super Bowl and Superstorm Sandy, the latest transportation official appointed by Governor Chris Christie to leave. 

James Weinstein, appointed by Christie in 2010, will leave office on March 2, the agency said Wednesday. The governor’s office announced his resignation on Tuesday but did not give a reason for his departure as head of the nation’s third largest mass transit agency.

NJ Transit runs a rail network and buses that enable commuters to get to jobs across the state and in Philadelphia and New York.

Weinstein was heavily criticized for poor planning during the Super Bowl, in which thousands of passengers were left stranded, and Superstorm Sandy, when commuter train cars were parked in an area that was later flooded by the storm. (Cavaliere/Chicago Tribune),0,7718455.story 



New Jersey legislators ask court to enforce bridge subpoenas

New Jersey legislators investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal are going to court to try to shake loose documents from two key figures in the case. 

Bridget Anne Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie, and Bill Stepien, the man who ran Christie’s campaigns, are refusing to comply with subpoenas seeking copies of emails and other records in the months before the scandal. Their lawyers say turning over the records would violate their 5th Amendment rights.

After weeks of back-and-forth letters, a joint investigating committee on Wednesday filed lawsuits seeking to obtain the records, releasing a statement that called the move an “unfortunate but necessary step to further the committee’s work.”

The outcome may determine whether the committee is ever able to solve the main mysteries in the investigation: Whose idea was it to close local access lanes leading to the bridge last September? And why? The closures led to massive traffic jams. (Tanfani/Los Angeles Times),0,6214473.story#ixzz2trTc5f1J




New Jersey’s Debt Reaches Record $40.4 Billion in 2013

New Jersey debt rose 4.1 percent to $40.4 billion in fiscal 2013, the highest growth rate in four years even after Governor Chris Christie’s pledge to reduce the pace of borrowing.

Obligations, which include those for retiree health care, rose 9.2 percent to $78.4 billion, according to the annual debt report released today at a meeting of the state Commission on Capital Budgeting and Planning in Trenton.

James Petrino, director of New Jersey’s public-finance office, told panel members that the increase was driven by borrowing for the Transportation Trust Fund, which finances road and mass-transit work, and by pension and health benefits. Christie, a second-term Republican, last year lowered budget allocations to the transportation fund as revenue trailed projections, and borrowed $875 million instead.

Until 2013, New Jersey reduced the pace of borrowing for four consecutive years. The 4.1 percent rate was more than double 2012’s 1.9 percent and is the highest since 2009, when it was 4.9 percent and the state owed $35.5 billion. Under previous governors, New Jersey debt more than doubled over a decade, and it has the nation’s third-highest tax-supported burden, according to a report last year from Standard & Poor’s. (Young/Bloomberg) 




Salt shipment from Chile expect3ed to arrive in winter-wary NJ today

A cargo ship loaded with road salt for winter-weary New Jersey is expected to arrive in Port Newark today, days before a barge is supposed to dock at the same destination with a shipment tied up in bureaucratic red tape.

“That is good news,” Joseph Dee, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said Wednesday. “This ship is not going to solve everyone’s problems, but it’s going to help.””

Dee said that as of Tuesday, the DOT has used 442,000 tons of salt compared to 258,000 tons for all of last winter.

International Salt, the primary salt supplier for the state and many of New Jersey’s municipalities, has a shipment from Chile due to arrive today and another next Thursday, said company marketing manager Mary Kay Warner. (Spoto/Star-Ledger) 




Watershed director took Newark for million, comptroller says

NEWARK — Linda Watkins-Brashear didn’t let hard times get her down, state officials say.

As layoff notices were issued to almost 1,000 Newark cops, secretaries and clerks, Watkins-Brashear and friends dined on $1,400 worth of lobster, crab, filet mignon and cognac, while Newark taxpayers footed the bill, according to a scathing report issued Wednesday by the state comptroller’s office.

Watkins-Brashear, the former director of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. — a decades-old nonprofit organization that until recently ran the city’s water infrastructure — wrote unauthorized checks to herself to the tune of $200,000, the report says.

In 2006, she was given a $209,000 severance package while still drawing a salary. That seemed not to concern board members who governed the agency. In 2013, when Watkins-Brashear did leave amid a swirl of accusations, she got another severance package — this time for $454,000, the report states.

These were just some of the accusations leveled by the comptroller’s office Wednesday in a 45-page report that accuses Watkins-Brashear and her cohorts of siphoning off millions of city dollars in illegal payments, sweetheart deals and risky stock ventures right under the nose of then-Mayor Cory Booker. (Giambusso/Star-Ledger) 



From the Back Room


Baraka, Jeffries comment about state report’s claims of fiscal waste and abuse at Newark Watershed

NEWARK – Newark mayor candidates Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries offered comments about the contents of a State Comptroller’s office investigate report released on Wednesday that claims a lack of oversight at the now-shuttered Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation (NWCDC) led to a fiscally irresponsible atmosphere and the waste of public money.

“I was one of the main people vocal against the Watershed. Those folks were down there taking care of their family and their friends. I’m not surprised by any of it, and it could have been stopped a long time ago,” said Baraka, who was elected as Newark’s South Ward councilman in 2010. “All of our services should be brought back into the city. I’ve [been a principal] a school, and the culture of the organization under your watch emanates from you. The culture of the city is what’s important. The minute or you see or smell impropriety, you’ve got to act on it immediately.” (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Baraka, Jeffries comment about state report’s claims of fiscal waste and abuse at Newark Watershed | Politicker NJ



Source: District-mates would back Turner in CD12 if she runs

State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-15) could clear her districtmates in a bid for Congress, a source told PolitickerNJ.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said Assemblyman Reed Gusicora (D-15) has said that he would support Turner if she runs and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15) called Turner to suggest she run.

That frees Turner up in LD15 – but still doesn’t indicate how she will handle Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, who is interested in running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12).

The Mercer candidates face the possibility of state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) running unchallenged for the seat out of her home county of Middlesex. (PolitickerNJ)

Source: District-mates would back Turner in CD12 if she runs | Politicker NJ





Changes faces in U.S. House for N.J.

Is there something in the water here in the southern half of New Jersey?

Don’t answer that, since there’s some strange stuff in our water. But it is odd that three House members from this part of the state won’t be back in Washington in 2015. The trio was completed by seven-term Democrat Rush Holt, the brainy scientist who said Tuesday that he won’t be in the 114th Congress to serve the people in and around Princeton.

Earlier, former Philadelphia Eagle Jon Runyan, a two-term Republican, said he won’t run again in his Burlington and Ocean county district. And First District Democrat Rob Andrews ended 22 years in Congress this weekend, although swirling ethics issues made the Haddon Heights congressman’s retreat less of a bombshell than Holt and Runyan’s retirements.

This makes 25 percent of the state’s 12-man (sorry, there are no women) House delegation bowing out in a single year. Remarkably, Andrews and Holt are among only 13 House Democrats in the entire nation thus far to say they are packing it in.

This represents a loss of clout in terms of seniority, but it’s also a tremendous chance to kick the arteriosclerosis of incumbency in the butt. It’s either ironic or telling that Runyan, after fewer than four years, is the only one of the trio who expressed any frustration with a dysfunctional Congress that can’t seem to get anything done. Does it takes a decade there to be satisfied with going along to get along? (South Jersey Times Editorial Board)   Morning Digest: Feb. 20, 2014