Morning Digest: April 2, 2014

Newark mayor’s race: Baraka blames Jeffries operatives for campaign bus burning

NEWARK – Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka stood in front of his campaign’s Central Ward headquarters early Tuesday evening, in front of an inanimate object that has taken on a life of its own in the 2014 Newark mayor’s race: a red-white-and-blue campaign bus.

Hours before, an arrest warrant had been issued by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office for a man who police believe set fire to the Baraka campaign bus in February. The bus was torched, and sugar was put into the gas tank, according to the prosecutor’s office.

But when asked by if he asserted that those named as being involved in the alleged arson incident were directly tied to his opponent’s campaign, Baraka torched the team of rival Shavar Jeffries. ( Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Newark mayor’s race: Baraka blames Jeffries operatives for campaign bus burning | Politicker NJ

Bramnick: Putin ‘horrified’ that Menendez banned him from Hudson County

NEWARK – Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) got in a dig on Hudson County tonight at Brendan Byrne’s birthday bash.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin banned Senate foreign Relations Committee Chairman U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) from Russia, Bramnick said.

Menendez retaliated by banning Putin from Hudson County.

“Putin was horrified because that’s where he learned how to run elections,” Bramnick cracked.

The minority leader later ragged on other high table dignitaries.

“McGreevy’s thinking ‘My scandal wasn’t that bad,’” Bramnick said. “Kean’s thinking, ‘I didn’t have a scandal, and I am still the most popular governor in New Jersey.’” (Pizarro/Politicker)

Bramnick: Putin ‘horrified’ that Menendez banned him from Hudson County | Politicker NJ





Behar to Christie: ‘You’re toast’

NEWARK – TV personality Joy Behar slapped at fellow comedian Joe Piscopo, who has a cable show, taking down Gov. Chris Christie in the process.

“More people have seen Gov. Christie eat a salad,” Behar cracked, standing onstage at a roast for former Gov. Brendan Bryne.

The View star reserved the bulk of her material for Christie.

“First the Velveeta shortage and now the bridge thing,” Behar said. “When I heard about the lane closure I said what the hell is he doing, standing in the middle of the bridge? You had your eye on the White House, it used to be the House of Pancakes.

“Let me put it to you this way, in a way you understand, ‘You’re toast,’” Behar added. “You can do the worst you want on me, Governor, I’m taking mass transit home.” (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Behar to Christie: ‘You’re toast’ | Politicker NJ




Medical marijuana a dilemma for NJ Transit worker

Charlie Davis was a lead clerk in NJ Transit’s procurement office last October when he began using medicinal marijuana to treat the pain from nerve damage associated with his end-stage renal disease. In December, because he had been bumped from his clerk’s job, he applied for a position in the agency’s railroad division and learned he would have to take a drug test.

The 57-year-old Newark man, who has worked for NJ Transit for five years, identifies himself as a Christian and believes he is going through a temporary trial. He said he was upfront with the agency’s medical officer.

“I told them I was taking prescribed medical marijuana,” said Davis, who was issued a state card last September authorizing him to purchase the drug and get treatment from a certified physician in the state Department of Health’s Medicinal Marijuana Program. “I wanted them to know that. I was not hiding anything from them. I showed them the identification and everything.”

But NJ Transit has a zero-tolerance drug policy for railroad employees in safety-sensitive positions, according to agency spokesman John Durso Jr. And Davis was applying for a job as a block operator, a position that, much like an air traffic controller, involved working with dispatchers and crews to operate bridges or deliver train orders.

When Davis’ test revealed traces of marijuana in his system, NJ Transit sent him to rehab.

“I’m not a junkie,” said Davis, who just last week completed eight weeks of psychotherapy at a Manhattan clinic – paid for by NJ Transit — where he sat alongside heroin addicts and alcoholics.

He said he told the medical officer he was willing to seek a non-safety sensitive job, like a janitor or office worker, but it was too late.

“She told me that since I told her, I would have to be tested anyway,” Davis said. “I told her, ‘Ma’am, I am not on drugs. This is medical marijuana.’Ÿ”

Davis now finds himself preparing to challenge what may have been an unanticipated consequence of the state’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. The state allows him to legally use pot under the law’s strict guidelines, but Davis and the 1,670 other people who were registered in the program last year have no protection, even at a state agency, from firing if found to have the drug in their systems. (Rose/The Record)  





Fewer than 600 appeal denials for NJ Sandy aid

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — About one-tenth of the New Jersey residents who were given more time to appeal denials of housing aid after Superstorm Sandy have taken up the offer.

The state’s Community Affairs Department said Tuesday that fewer than 600 people had appealed.

After complaints about the state’s two major federally funded post-Sandy housing programs, New Jersey opened a new appeals period and sent letters to 5,400 people who were denied from the program and did not appeal during the initial period.

The state says 358 people appealed denials in the resettlement program that gave families $10,000 to cover costs. And 224 appealed the rejections from a program that gives homeowners up to $150,000 for repair and rebuilding costs not covered by insurance or other government programs. (The Record)






State Board of Public Utilities takes tougher Stance on Tree-trimming

Downed trees kept millions without power in wake of Sandy, other extreme weather.  

The state is promising to get tougher with New Jersey’s four electric utilities over their tree-trimming practices, hoping to curtail the number of outages that occur in extreme storms when blown-down trees take out power lines.

After more than 100,000 trees fell on power lines during Hurricane Sandy, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is looking to adopt stricter standards on how utilities run what the agency calls vegetation management programs in their franchise territories. (Johnson/NJSpotlight)  

Healthcare Experts See Cost Pressures Driving Innovation in Medical Field


It may seem counterintuitive, but panelists contend that lowering costs could create space for new treatments.  

As the pressure to control healthcare costs increases, the way treatments and therapies are paid for is undergoing steady change. But while these financial constraints might be expected to be a problem for those looking to develop new medications and medical procedures, the opposite could actually be true.

This attitude is shared by some New Jersey hospital, insurance, and pharmaceutical executives, as well as public health advocates. They believe that one of the keys to controlling costs is by ensuring that patients at risk of chronic conditions have access to primary care. Similarly, improving care coordination should also keep costs in check. Perhaps most important of all, they think that providing financial incentives to accomplish these reforms may ultimately lower costs and encourage new therapies.

For example, hospitals can improve their outcomes by carefully using patient data and ensuring that doctors are using the latest treatments and engaging directly with those patients, according to Dr. Anthony Slonim, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Barnabas Health Medical Group. In addition, patients need to work more closely with primary-care doctors, he said. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight)  

New Jersey Trailing U.S. Cost $3.3 Billion, Analyst Says

New Jersey would have had about $3.3 billion more revenue last fiscal year if its economic recovery had mirrored the nation’s, according to the legislature’s chief budget officer.

The state’s tax collections remained 12.1 percent below their peak by the third quarter of 2013, when combined receipts for all 50 states turned positive for the first time since the recession that ended in June 2009, David Rosen of the Office of Legislative Services said. New Jersey’s recovery has trailed those of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland andMassachusetts, he said.

“Our budget discussion would be very different if we had an additional $3.3 billion in revenue,” Rosen told lawmakers yesterday in Trenton. “For the third year in a row, revenues have fallen significantly short.”

Governor Chris Christie, a 51-year-old Republican who began a second term in January, has proposed raising spending 3.5 percent to a record $34.4 billion for the year that begins July 1 to pay for health benefits, pensions and debt. His budget relies on a revenue-growth forecast more optimistic than those of all but eight U.S. states.

New Jersey’s underperformance is partly attributable to other states’ increasing taxes, while others were helped by boosting energy production, Rosen said. Still, New Jersey’s growth in jobs, personal income and gross state product has lagged behind the nation’s, he said. (Young and Dopp/Bloomberg)  

Web Gambling a Bust for New Jersey Revenue

TRENTON, N.J. — When it comes to raising revenue for the state, Internet gambling has been a bust.

Online gambling has failed to generate most of the tax revenue that it had been anticipated to this year, accounting for roughly half of a downward adjustment to the annual state budget.

New Jersey is now projected to end the fiscal year in June with less revenue than expected, the third straight year Gov. Chris Christie’s administration overestimated revenue collections on which the state budget is based. The administration reduced its revenue forecast by $251 million; a legislative estimate represents a further reduction of $217 million.

The forecast for the Casino Revenue Fund, which collects taxes from online gambling and Atlantic City’s brick-and-mortar casinos, has been cut by $126 million, accounting for roughly half the state’s revised budget projection, said State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff.

He told the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday he remains optimistic that taxes from Atlantic City gambling will rise over the mid- and long-term, while acknowledging that online gambling receipts come in far shy of projections during the first four months of availability.

“Clearly, the results so far have not met our expectations,” he said. (Delli Santi/Las Vegas Review Journal)






NJ State Board of Education considers motions on charter schools, teacher evaluations

TRENTON — The New Jersey State Board of Education will consider amendments to the teacher evaluation process and charter school regulations at its monthly meeting in Trenton this morning.

The board meeting, the first since acting education commissioner David Hespe took office last month, will also include a vote on the list of religious holidays for the 2014-15 school year. The list is issued annually by the department to serve as a guide for local school boards. Those boards can add holidays to the state issued list.

New Jersey law states students cannot be marked absent for missing school because they are observing a religious holiday.

Board members will hear a new proposal pertaining to the regulations for educating homeless students and those in state facilities, according to the agenda published by the Department of Education.

Public testimony in the afternoon focuses on charter schools. (McGlone/Star-Ledger)  






Port Authority Business Model is Broken, Report Says

NEWARK — The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is broken, according to a report issued yesterday, and unless its mission is drastically reshaped, the bi-state agency’s fortunes are more dubious than a ride on the Pulaski Skyway.

The George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal has ignited a debate over the role and behavior of the 93-year-old authority. But the 28-page report by the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University claims the agency’s business model — which includes $800 million in pet projects for the governors of New York and New Jersey — is inherently flawed and its financial woes have been decades in the making.

“The critical problem facing the Port Authority today is not mismanagement, political abuse or rivalry between New York and New Jersey,” Mitchell Moss and Hugh O’Neill, who authored the report, wrote. “The fundamental challenge is that the business model under which the Authority has operated for the past thirty years is no longer sustainable.”

When it was created in 1921, the authority had a simple enough business plan, the report states. Big money generators like the George Washington Bridge and Idlewild Airport — now John F. Kennedy International Airport — helped fund capital projects at other port facilities that did not generate much revenue. (Giambusso/Star-Ledger)  

From the Back Room

Codey: Christie responsible for making Norcross Governor

NEWARK – Former Gov. Dick Codey jabbed his predecessor, former Gov. Jim McGreevey.

“I want to thank you,” he told McGreevey. “Without you, I wouldn’t be up here tonight.”

The Democrat reserved his toughest dig for sitting Gov. Chris Chrsitie.

Christie Todd Whitman left office, making Donald DiFrancesco governor, Codey said.

McGreevey left office, making Codey governor.

“And Chris Christie is responsible for making George Norcross New Jersey’s third unelected governor,” Codey cracked.

Codey: Christie responsible for making Norcross governor | Politicker NJ

Kean and Difrancesco at NJPAC

Former Gov. Tom Kean described former Gov. Brendan Byrne as a mentor, and said most of all, it has been fun being friends.

“I’ve spent a quarter of a centrury as Brendan Byrne’s straight man, and now you want me to be funny?” Kean deadpanned.

Former Gov. Donald DiFrancesco had a good line as the progression of former governors wore on. The Republican served a year in office after the departure to the Bush Administration of former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman.

“I feel like Elizabeth Taylor’s seventh husband,” DiFrancesco said. “I know what to do I just don’t know how to make it interesting.”

The former governor jabbed at former Gov. Jim McGreevy, who sat at the high table.

“If you made that announcement today that you made in 2004 they would give you a parade,” he told the Democrat, a reference to McGreevy’s “Gay American” press conference. “They would give you an Academy Award, and you could be a professional football player.”

Kean and DiFrancesco at NJPAC | Politicker NJ

CD7: Kovach misses getting on the ballot; will appeal

The 7th Congressional District Campaign challenge of Democrat Janice Kovach stumbled Monday.

“This evening, due to a miscommunication between one of our staffers and the New Jersey Division of Elections, a portion of our signatures was invalidated before the filing deadline for the Democratic primary election,” Kovach wrote on Blue Jersey. “We are currently taking steps to appeal this decision so as to ensure that all of our residents are heard on Election Day.

CD7: Kovach misses getting on ballot; will appeal | Politicker NJ






Unlike predecessors, for Gov. Christie, it’s not easy being green

New Jersey has a bipartisan tradition of governors who have tried to protect the environment — and then there’s the current chief executive

Every elected New Jersey governor since at least 1970 — the year of the first Earth Day — has achieved at least one environmental initiative of lasting importance to current and future generations. Except, that is, the current officeholder, Gov. Chris Christie.

While there may still be time for him to add his name to the roll of “green governors,” his record to date is not encouraging. A recent article by the director of the Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel, listed Christie’s attacks on environmental protections, and summed up his record to date: “This is the most anti-environmental administration in modern history, systematically rolling back 30 years of progress.”

So Christie will have to act fast if he’s to have any chance of following in the footsteps of his illustrious and bipartisan predecessors.

In 1970, Republican Gov. Bill Cahill established the Department of Environmental Protection, making New Jersey the second state with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — which another Republican, President Richard Nixon, initiated. Cahill also signed the Coastal Wetlands Act and the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) to protect the Jersey Shore against uncontrolled development.

Then came Democratic Gov. Brendan Byrne. In his two terms (1973 – 1981) Byrne signed the Environmental Rights Act (ERA), ensuring a “citizen right to sue” to enforce environmental laws.

He also saved public transportation from the wrecking ball by creating NJ Transit to consolidate and run the state’s patchwork of bus and commuter rail lines. Most famously, Byrne — through executive order — preserved a vast swath of the Jersey Pinelands with its unique ecology and huge storehouse of ground water resources… (Potter/NJSpotlight)  


Morning Digest: April 2, 2014