Morning Digest: Feb. 26, 2014

Trenton and the political understory of CD12

In one of the most elaborate political pickles in recent memory, the Trenton Mayor’s contest has a small but firm choke-hold on the CD12 race in Mercer County.

Operatives are in long coats right now trying to figure out what to do.

It’s a complex situation, and involves players who were already up to their elbows in local rival campaigns when U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) shocked the state with his announcement to The New York Times last week that he wasn’t running for re-election.

The news forced people to re-examine alliances, starting at the local level. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Trenton and the political understory of CD12 | Politicker NJ





Bergen legislators react to Christie budget address


TRENTON – Bergen-based state legislators on both sides of the aisle stopped to consider two key themes of Gov. Chris Christie’s Tuesday budget address: pension reform and municipal consolidation.


The governor pointed to rising pension, health benefit and debt obligations in his address to introduce the $34.5 billion fiscal 2015 state budget, including a $2.25 billion pension payment, stating ongoing reform attempts are “simply not enough.”


Standing on the Assembly chamber floor after the address, several legislators from Bergen spoke out about what they thought Christie’s call for further pension reforms actually entails. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)


Bergen legislators react to Christie budget address | Politicker NJ





Christie has Rutgers leaders back


His 18-month tenure as Rutgers president has been tumultuous, to say the least: Bob Barchi weathered a national athletics scandal, calls for his resignation and a massive reorganization that even the most seasoned bureaucrat would find daunting.


Through it all, Barchi could count on Governor Christie‘s support.

Barchi was the only person singled out in the governor’s budget address Tuesday as Christie tapped the president to head a health care initiative for the poor.

Barchi was hired with Christie’s blessing in 2012 as Rutgers prepared to absorb most of the former University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 2013. Barchi is a medical doctor and neuroscientist who had served as president of Thomas Jefferson University, a medical school in Philadelphia. He was known as a good fundraiser, and Rutgers said it recruited him for the presidency.

Barchi, now 67, came out of retirement to preside over Rutgers. He was there about six months when the scandal erupted over Rutgers’ abusive men’s basketball coach Mike Rice. Barchi’s moves — he didn’t view an explosive video of Rice until it was obtained by ESPN, he ousted a popular athletic director, and his pick for athletic director had also been accused of player abuse while she was a coach — drew calls for his resignation. (Alex/The Record) 




Suspended South Jersey school superintendent reinstated


LACEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. — A New Jersey school administrator who was recently cleared of claims that she covered up allegations of a sex assault has been reinstated to her post.

The Asbury Park Press ( reports that Sandra Brower was returned to her job as Lacey Township school superintendent on Monday night.

Brower and her former boss, ex-Wall Township school superintendent James Habel, were charged last year with official misconduct. It was alleged the pair conspired to cover up an allegation that a teacher had molested a 4-year-old, an allegation turned out to be unfounded.

A grand jury had indicted the pair last May, and Brower was suspended by Lacey school officials. But Brower and Habel were cleared in January after new evidence surfaced.

Habel still faces a separate indictment charging him with fraud. (Associated Press) 




New Jersey Gov. Christie’s Budget Proposal has No Tax Increases, Smaller Pension Payment Than Obligated

TRENTON—Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday proposed the state’s most expensive budget ever, using an unusually restrained tone to pitch a $34 billion spending plan that includes a record pension system payment and holds the line against raising taxes.

Facing a scandal over his administration’s role in creating a traffic jam near the George Washington Bridge, the potential 2016 GOP presidential contender avoided fights with Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature and have been emboldened by the scandal. He didn’t push a tax cut and proposed a $2.25 billion payment to the public-employee retirement system that was in keeping with a state law passed to shore up the system.

Mr. Christie returned to a source of strength, broadly calling on public workers to make new sacrifices in their state benefits as he first did in 2010—though this time he didn’t offer specifics. And his speech was devoid of the brash rhetoric common to many of his past addresses. Instead, Mr. Christie outlined stark choices ahead for the state to stay fiscally sound.

“If we want a better future tomorrow, we must prepare today,” Mr. Christie said during his 30-minute speech before the full state Legislature and guests here. “We must make good choices now, and we must make certain sacrifices.” (Haddon and Dawsey/Wall Street Journal) 




Christie’s New Jersey Comeback fails to Match U.S. Growth

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie staked his national ambitions on repairing a state known for chronic deficits, high taxes and a reputation for corruption.

To create what he called the Jersey Comeback, the Republican cut school aid, made public workers pay more for their retirements and canceled a Hudson River commuter-rail tunnel that he said taxpayers couldn’t afford.

As Christie, 51, presented his fifth spending plan today, the largest in state history at $34.4 billion, New Jersey’s recovery is lagging behind both neighboring New York and the U.S., according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by Bloomberg. Since he took office, employment growth in the state of 2 percent compares with 5.2 percent in New York and 5.9 percent nationwide. (Young and Dopp/Bloomberg) 




Medicaid Spending Would Climb While Other Health-Related Programs Get Less

Christie focuses on healthcare costs in proposed 2015 budget, boosting total expenditures to over $4 billion. 

State spending on Medicaid would grow by $214.3 million in the budget proposed by Gov. Chris Christie yesterday, while other health-related spending would decline.

Christie, in his budget address, focused on changes in how the state delivers healthcare to low-income residents through Medicaid.

The increase in Medicaid spending, from $3.95 billion in the current fiscal year to $4.16 billion under the spending plan, is the biggest reason for an overall increase in Department of Human Services spending, from $6.49 billion to $6.64 billion.

State Department of Health spending would from fall from $371.3 million to $339.3 million, with much of the drop due to a one-time payment for Cooper Health Care’s new cancer treatment center.

While details of the budgetary impact of Christie’s proposal were still emerging yesterday, state officials highlighted some of the changes in a budget summary. They include $1 million to support the integration of substance-abuse treatment with employment services, $4.5 million to expand drug court treatment services, and $21 million more for children in New Jersey FamilyCare. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight) 




Four things we learned from Christie’s budget address 

1. The state’s pension and healthcare obligations continue
to be the “third rail” of New Jersey politics.

Flash back to June 23, 2011. Following months of bloody battles with public employee unions, the state legislature passed sweeping cuts in pension and healthcare benefits for state workers.

It was hailed as a victory for Gov. Chris Christie– the first big “win” of his Trenton career. The governor spent the 24th of June on a victory lap, making the rounds of national television shows, touting the win and wrapping himself in the reformer mantel.

The victory on pen-ben reform as it became known, has shown up in dozens of speeches, town hall addresses and television appearances since that day and the message has always been the same: Chris Christie fixed the pension and you’ll thank him for it when your pension is still solvent on the day you retire.






From the Back Room



Buono looking forward to rolling eyes and making faces during Christie speech


TRENTON – She’s back.

On Twitter, that is.

Former state senator and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Barbara Buono won’t be attending today’s budget address in person – and she seems fine with it.

“Looking forward to CC budget speech,” she tweeted earlier today, adding, “at least I can make faces and roll my eyes.”

Buono would normally attend budget address inside Trenton’s Statehouse. However, Buono was forced to give up her Senate seat when she challenged Gov. Chris Christie in the most recent statewide elections. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Buono looking forward to rolling eyes and making faces during Christie speech | Politicker NJ

Morning Digest: Feb. 26, 2014