Morning Digest: March 27, 2014

Stars come out for Baraka birthday fundraiser in Newark

NEWARK – Newark’s Robert Treat Hotel went Hollywood on Wednesday night as more than 800 supporters came out for a birthday fundraiser for city mayoral candidate Ras Baraka. 

Among those who came out to back Baraka 47 days before he goes head to head against his main rival, former state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries, in the May municipal election were famed filmmaker Spike Lee and singer Lauryn Hill. 

Political luminaries were also close at hand. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and former Governor and current State Senator Richard Codey (D-27), whose endorsements last month were two of the most important racked up recently by Baraka, were reportedly present at a V.I.P event before the main dinner event. Tickets to the V.I.P. event cost $1,000; tickets to the dinner went for $300. 

Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, who endorsed Baraka on Tuesday, was also at the event, as well as state Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-34) and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. 

“You’ve all got to show up en masse and vote, and vote,” said Lee.  “Only vote one time – I know it’s New Jersey, but only one time. (Bonamo/PoltiickerNJ)

Stars come out for Baraka birthday fundraiser in Newark | Politicker NJ





Mercer Democrats back Watson Coleman for Congress 

HAMILTON – Mercer County Democrats threw their support behind Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman Wednesday night in the state lawmaker’s bid to win her party’s nomination to succeed U.S. Rep. Rush Holt.

Mercer County Democrats avoided a runoff after Watson Coleman received nearly 70 percent of delegate support. Mercer Democrats would not release the official numbers, however several sources verified Watson Coleman received nearly 70 percent with 264 delegates casting a ballot.

“I want to tell you that it has just begun,” Watson Coleman said shortly after it was announced she won the line.

“It’s not just about legislating, it’s about leading,” she said earlier in the evening.

“I’ve been a leader in the Assembly and I’ve been a leader in the Democratic Party,” Watson Coleman said. “I’ve never wavered once.”

Greenstein received a little more than a quarter of support from the Mercer County Democrats, according to sources. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Mercer Democrats back Watson Coleman for Congress | Politicker NJ





Somerset Dems unanimously back Chivukula in CD12

MANVILLE – Packed into the local VFW hall here, 41 delegates in the 12th Congressional District issued 41 votes, all for Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-17), of Franklin Twp.

“I am ready to fight for you,” the candidate for Congress declared. “Are you ready to fight for me?”

Hoping to succeed the retiring U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12), Chivukula is running in a bruising Democratic Primary against state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15).

Watson Coleman received the line in the Union County portion of the district (12% of the district’s registered Democrats).

Greenstein won Middlesex (37% of the district’s registered Democrats). (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Somerset Dems unanimously back Chivukula in CD12 | Politicker NJ





Young N.J. health-care enrollees credit a push from Mom

As the deadline looms to buy health insurance on the federal marketplace, some young people are rushing to sign up — and they give credit not to the national outreach campaign, but to their mothers.

“I live with my mom — she put it in my ear,” said Tyrone Gibbs, a 23-year-old full-time student who signed up Tuesday at Bergen Community College, and then brought his 21-year-old nephew to school to do it, too.

“My mom always tells me, ‘Get insurance, get insurance,’Ÿ” said Rodney Hammond, a 27-year-old graduate student at Montclair State University who has been in and out of coverage for years. “But it’s not cheap.” When enrollment opened in the plans available under the Affordable Care Act, she told him to check it out. He found that with a tax credit, he could buy coverage for $82 a month. So he did.

Even Fawziah Qadir, a 29-year-old Clifton resident who shared the stage with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius earlier this week, gave a nod to her mother.

Qadir works for a California-based non-profit that gives her a $300 monthly stipend for health insurance — not enough, before the marketplace opened, to buy a comprehensive policy. Then her mother told her to look at, the federal website. “Naturally, I procrastinated,” Qadir said. “Twenty-nine or not, I wasn’t ready to concede to my mother she was right.”

But with the stipend and an additional $63 monthly, she got insurance. (Washburn/The Record) 





N.J. legislature to vote on extension of arbitration cap for police, fire pay hikes

Top Democratic lawmakers are rushing to extend the cap on police and firefighter pay raises that some say has helped keep property tax bills in check. But local officials say the bill expected to be voted on today in both the Assembly and state Senate includes too many loopholes to be effective.

Since 2011, raises for local police and firefighters have been limited to 2 percent if contract disputes were settled, as many are, through the state’s binding arbitration process. Statewide, the average property tax bill rose to a record $7,988 in 2013, but that rate of growth has slowed while this cap and another that limits overall increases in the local tax have been in place.

The salary cap expires on Tuesday, a deadline written into the original law as a compromise between the Democrats who control the Legislature and Governor Christie, a Republican.

Before the cap was in place, unions were often given raises of around 4.5 percent. That figure is now 1.9 percent after the cap, according to a recent report issued by a task force set up to study the cap’s effectiveness.

Without a full extension of the current cap, the local officials warn, cuts in services are likely. (Reitmeyer and Phillis/The Record) 





State’s Deal with Verizon on High-Speed Internet Services Finds Few Friends in NJ

Cities, towns, rural communities — as well as Division of Rate Counsel — all argue that telecom company reneged on agreement to provide broadband to entire state. 

The so-called stipulation settlement will not take effect unless approved by the BPU commissioners, who have not decided yet when to take up the issue, a source of controversy for years.

Opponents argue Verizon has not complied with a 1993 law, requiring 100 percent of its territory to be upgraded to high-speed broadband service by 2010. That failure has left some rural towns and poorer communities without access to meaningful broadband service, according to critics.

Verizon responds that New Jersey is the most wired state in the nation, with 99 percent of it having access to broadband service. New Jersey is one of only five states where 81 percent to 97 percent of the rural population has access to high-speed Internet service, the company argued in briefs filed in the case.

“Verizon has satisfied its regulatory commitment under Opportunity New Jersey,’’ said Lee Gierczynski, a spokesman for Verizon New Jersey, referring to the 1993 law.

Division of Rate Counsel Stefanie Brand contested that view, acknowledging a substantial part of the state has been wired, but more remains to be done to meet the 100 percent commitment made 21 years ago.

“The last part of it is less profitable,’’ Brand said, adding “A deal is a deal. The board should not accept anything less that what was bargained for and paid for by New Jersey ratepayers.’’

Under Opportunity New Jersey, Verizon won approval to deregulate many of the phone services it offers to its customers in exchange for providing 100 percent of its customers access to fast broadband service. Just what form that service would entail remains a big source of dispute. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 





New Jersey’s Online PARCC Rollout Foes Off Without a Hitch

Minor problems typically limited to computer glitches; participants give deployment of statewide test fairly high marks.

New Jersey’s first venture into statewide online testing can be characterized as — so far, so good.

The field testing of the new PARCC examinations — named after the consortium of states that make up the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career — started on Monday in hundreds of New Jersey schools. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 






NJ’s Sandy spending plan now sets aside $40M for lower income households

New Jersey has altered its plan for spending the next round of federal Hurricane Sandy relief aid to provide more money for lower-income residents.

The state’s proposal for spending more than $1.46 billion now sets aside $40 million for low- and moderate-income families who did not apply for a major home rebuilding program. Gov. Chris Christie’s office announced today that the state submitted its plan to the federal government earlier this week for approval.

The proposal largely mirrors the state’s draft plan for distributing the second round of flexible grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with roughly half of the funding geared toward housing programs.

The state plans to funnel $390 million into the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation grant program, which offers residents up to $150,000 to rebuild their storm-damaged homes.

The $40 million will be set aside for families who did not apply for the RREM program. The governor’s office said the change was made in response to public comments and in consultation with the federal government.

The state plans to promote the program with the help of nonprofit community groups. (O’Neill/Star-Ledger) 





Online gambling could already be in jeopardy

New Jersey’s recently adopted law allowing online gambling may already be in jeopardy after lawmakers in both houses of Congress introduced legislation today that would ban gambling on the internet.

The bill, dubbed the “Restoration of America’s Wire Act” has a strong supporter in casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who coincidentally will host Gov. Chris Christie at the annual Republican Jewish Coalition  forum later this week. Indeed, according to reports in The Hill, lobbyists for Sands, which Adelson owns, wrote one version of the bill.

The legislation, introduced with bi-partisan support in both houses, would outlaw online gambling and contains no grandfather for the three states – New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada – that already allow online gaming.

The bill’s main sponsor in the upper chamber, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham said today that the Justice Department went too far when it claimed the existing law only applied to sports betting.

“This is yet another example of the Holder Justice Department and Obama Administration ignoring the law,” said Graham, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “In 1999, South Carolina outlawed video poker and removed over 33,000 video poker machines from within its borders. Now, because of the Obama Administration’s decision, virtually any cell phone or computer can again become a video poker machine. It’s simply not right.”

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez was quick to condemn the bill, which would end the state’s as yet unrealized hopes of a financial windfall from online gambling. (Isherwood/ 




From the Back Room


NJ FOP officials fundraising for Eck

New Jersey’s Republican congressional delegation is hosting a fundraiser for CD 12 GOP hopeful Alieta Eck.

The delegation is slated to host a Washington D.C. fundraiser Thursday morning. Eck was recently awarded the Somerset County GOP line and is the Republican establishment’s favorite to challenge Democrats for the seat set to be vacated by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D).

State Republican leaders, Sen. Tom Kean and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, are also expected to host a fundraiser for Eck later this week. (PolitickerNJ)

NJ GOP officials fundraising for Eck | Politicker NJ






Christie not above the law on power plant pollution

Gov. Chris Christie has long been dismissive of our state courts and the threat of climate change. But that cavalier attitude did not serve him well this week.

State appellate judges sharply rebuked his administration, saying it broke the law when it told power plant operators they could ignore state rules limiting their carbon emissions.

This issue dates to 2011, when Christie unilaterally decided to pull New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The governor’s record on climate change is abysmal, and his dismissal of that multistate program, known as RGGI, was one of his biggest failures.

It’s meant to cut carbon dioxide pollution in the Northeast, a major contributor to global warming. At the time, Christie’s officials informed New Jerseyans that our state limits on emissions would no longer apply, with what amounted to a Post-it note on a government website.

That’s not how our democracy works.

They should have given the public and the Legislature a chance to weigh in. And thanks to environmentalists who sued, the court is now ordering the administration to do so — saying it had better begin that process within 60 days.

Not only is this yet another example of Christie thinking he’s above the law, it also reminds us that while he is not a climate change denier, he’s only one step above that. Even after Hurricane Sandy, he failed to sound the alarm about rising sea levels, as storm-struck states including New York, Delaware and Maryland are all rebuilding higher than we are.

He’s way out of step on this power plant issue, too. About 80 percent of New Jerseyans support regulating their carbon emissions, according to a Stanford University study. So the governor isn’t fighting this battle on their behalf. You can bet it’s at the behest of GOP primary voters, and the fossil fuel industry. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board) 


Morning Digest: March 27, 2014