Morning Digest: May 9, 2014

Trenton mayoral hopeful Eric Jackson garners legislative support 

New Jersey’s top two legislative leaders are throwing their support behind Eric Jackson to be Trenton’s next mayor.

Trenton voters are heading to the polls Tuesday to elect a new mayor and Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, both Democrats, are backing Jackson, one of several mayoral hopefuls vying to be the city’s first elected executive since disgraced former Mayor Tony Mack was ordered out of City Hall.

“In Eric Jackson, we have a partner in bringing economic development and jobs to our capital city,” Sweeney said in a statement. “Our state leadership needs to work in partnership with our capital city to ensure success.”

Prieto echoed Sweeney’s comments in a similar statement. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Trenton mayoral hopeful Eric Jackson garners legislative support | Politicker NJ





Sweeney ‘not going to jump in late’ in Newark race, but sees ‘momentum behind’ Jeffries 

Newark residents are preparing to elect a new mayor in five days and New Jersey’s top lawmaker says he’s readying to work with whichever candidate voters send to City Hall.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) told PolitickerNJ he’s still opposed to getting involved in the closely-watched election despite the latest poll commissioned by a group backing one of the two candidates indicating the race is tightening.

“I said I wasn’t going to get involved and I’ll work with whoever wins the race,” Sweeney said Thursday, referring to battle between South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka and former state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries.

Newark voters will head to the ballots on Tuesday and if a poll commissioned by an independent expenditure group backing Jeffries is to be any indication of the intensity of the competition, it’ll be a close one.

And the margins weren’t lost on Sweeney. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Sweeney ‘not going to jump in late’ in Newark race, but sees ‘momentum behind’ Jeffries | Politicker NJ






Speziale appears in YouTube ad for Paterson mayoral candidate Torres

Former Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale jumped into the Paterson Mayor’s contest this week.

“We reduced crime across the board by 30%,” Speziale says in a YouTube ad he cut for the Torres Campaign.

Relocated to an Alabama police chief’s job now after opting for a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey gig instead of running for re-election in 2011, Speziale put out the good word for Torres on the same week that former Police Chief Larry Spagnola announced his support for Torres’ rival, Council President Andre Sayegh.

Having run on the Democratic ticket in his successful sheriff’s races, Speziale finished on bad terms with Passaic County Democratic Committee Chairman John Currie and the party apparatus that now backs Sayegh for mayor (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Speziale appears in YouTube ad for Paterson mayoral candidate Torres | Politicker NJ





Revised guidelines for N.J. affordable housing causes confusion

New guidelines designed to determine how much affordable housing will be needed in New Jersey’s 565 towns over the next 20 years are already being criticized by housing experts as insufficient and opaque less than two weeks after they were unveiled to the public.

Some have even said the proposed rules, which estimate that more than 50,000 homes need to be built, could violate the state constitution, because they rely on calculations that have been struck down by the state Supreme Court. (O’Brien and Phillis/The Record) 





N.J.’s $7M Super Bowl tax rebate to NFL stirs anger

Lawmakers coming to grips with an $807 million budget shortfall faced another head-scratcher Thursday: New Jersey’s tax giveback to the NFL, one of several big-ticket public costs to hosting the Super Bowl in the Meadowlands.

In the run-up to the game, Governor Christie highlighted the impact the Super Bowl would have on New Jersey, calling it “a major win for the state, its tourism and economic development.” The NFL has also argued the economic benefits of the game far outweigh the costs for the host state.

One of those costs for the host state this year was a $7.5 million sales tax rebate paid to the league. It’s a standard NFL requirement for hosting the Super Bowl – game tickets and parking must be exempted from state sales tax.

“Wow,” said Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, when he heard the state treasurer’s explanation for the payback.

Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, called the reimbursement “ludicrous,” saying the treasurers of every state should band together and all refuse to abide by the NFL’s tax requirement.

“Have the Super Bowl in the Ukraine next year,” Bucco said.

The giveback to the NFL was a requirement New Jersey’s host committee agreed to when it accepted the offer to host the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. But that didn’t stop lawmakers on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee from complaining about it during a meeting Thursday as they and Christie are trying to balance the budget with weeks remaining in the fiscal year. (Reitmeyer and Brennan/The Record)  





State’s Decision to Rescind Two Charters Shines Spotlight on Wider Issue

The Christie administration’s policies toward charter schools continued to stir debate this week, as a second school shuttered by the administration in the last month questioned whether it was being punished for – among other things — not being part of a large charter network.

It was announced this week that the Greater Newark Charter School, opened in 2000 and one of the state’s oldest charter schools, was not approved for its five-year renewal in April, ostensibly due to low achievement levels and a lack of plans to remedy them.

But its director said yesterday that the school is appealing the decision, contending that the state Department of Education did not follow its usual protocol in reviewing the school.

Christopher Pringle, the school’s director, said the school had fallen below set benchmarks in a single area for the first time in its 14 years. He questioned if the state was favoring schools that were part of large charter networks over the smaller independent schools.

“It seems like an all-out-war on the independent charters,” Pringle said yesterday.

The comments followed similar ones made by the director of a Camden charter school also closed in the last month by the state, this one only open for a year and cited for low performance levels in its first year.

The irony is that the administration has been viewed as being a strong supporter of charter schools, with the movement growing sharply under Gov. Chris Christie, especially in districts like Newark and Camden. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 





Reading ‘Fine Print’ Could Help State Monitor Shady Third-Party Power Supplies

New Jersey’s efforts to encourage consumers to shop for cheaper electricity could collapse, unless the state cracks down on unscrupulous power suppliers who sell customers contracts that fail to live up to their promises, according to regulatory officials, legislators, and others involved in the sector.

With the recent harsh winter, power prices spiked unexpectedly, leaving some customers with monthly bills that doubled and even tripled over what they had been previously paying. This is primarily because the contracts they signed with so-called third party suppliers allow prices to soar when electricity prices rise, in this case steeply.

Complaints about the suppliers, who offer customers cheaper prices on their electric bills than those of their traditional utilities, rose tenfold in the past year, according to officials at the state Board of Public Utilities. The agency is looking into developing tougher standards for marketing practices by power suppliers, according to BPU President Diane Solomon.

At one time, very few residential customers shopped around to buy electricity from other than traditional electric utilities — although the state has allowed customers to do so since 1999 when it deregulated the sector. That changed in the past few years as natural gas prices dropped, allowing third-party suppliers to offer cheaper electricity than incumbent carriers.

Approximately 15 percent of residential customers buy their power from suppliers other than the state’s four electric utilities, according to Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset), the chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee, which held a hearing yesterday on the issue in the Statehouse Annex.

“This is an incredibly important issue,’’ said Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand, whose office represents the interest of utility customers, both large and small. “What’s been going on this winter threatens to end retail shopping in New Jersey, which no one wants.’’ (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 




State and county bar associations push Christie to reappoint Rabner to high court

The state bar association and bar associations in all 21 counties have passed resolutions calling for the reappointment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.

In a letter to Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey State Bar Association President Ralph Lamparello urged the governor to maintain an independent judiciary.

“To that end, we enclose resolutions from the New Jersey State Bar Association and every county bar association,” Lamparello wrote. “Although they may use different words, each of these resolutions, adopted over the course of the past three months, stand firm on the singular importance of judicial independence in our society and on the reappointment of Chief Justice Rabner.”

Many in the legal community fear that Rabner, whose term is up in June, could be the next casualty of the governor’s attempt to remake the court.

Supreme Court justices serve an initial seven-year term after their initial appointment and then are traditionally re-nominated by the governor. (Isherwood/ 






Bill to ban outdoor tobacco use on all NJ college campuses advances

TRENTON — College students, already banned from smoking in their dorm rooms, also wouldn’t be able to walk out onto the quad to have a cigarette under a bill advancing in the state Assembly.

The Assembly Higher Education Committee today voted 4-3 to approve the bill (A1978), which would ban the use of all tobacco products in outdoor areas of college campuses, where they’re already banned indoors.

Advocates said the bill would give New Jersey the strictest college campus smoking ban in the nation.

“Ninety percent of persons who start smoking, they do so before the age of 21,” said Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-Cumberland), the bill’s sponsor. “Most students enter college around 18. If they’re influenced by friends, this is where they’re starting.”

The bill comes as New Jersey officials attempt to strengthen the state’s already strict anti-smoking laws. In March, the Assembly passed a bill that would ban smoking at all public parks and beaches. Belmar, a popular tourist destination, on Tuesday banned smoking anywhere on its boardwalk or beach. The town had previously allowed smoking in some areas.

The campus ban wouldn’t just be for cigarettes , cigars and pipes. Electronic cigarettes, chewing tobacco, dip and other types of tobacco products would be included as well. (Friedman/Star-Ledger)   





From the Back Room


Not all mayoral races are created equal

Senate President Steve Sweeney may be steering clear of the Newark mayor’s race, but that doesn’t preclude him from weighing in on other upcoming mayoral competitions.

About an hour after PolitickerNJ pressed Sweeney on the Newark race, a Trenton mayoral hopeful seeking to clinch a victory on Tuesday’s election issued a statement indicating Sweeney endorsed his campaign.

Not all mayoral races are created equal | Politicker NJ









Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly addresses growing need

A program addressing an ever expanding need in the Trenton area could become more inclusive if efforts by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th District) prove successful.

The Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, PACE for short, allows patients over 55 who qualify for nursing home care to stay home while a team including doctors, social workers, physical and occupational therapists cares for them in their home, at adult day-care centers and in visits to specialists.

Assembling and deploying those services according to the individual’s need increases efficiency and forestalls the cost of a nursing home. In New Jersey, that cost now hovers around $110,000 a year, according to theannual Genworth Cost of Care Survey.

Even the indomitable baby boomers, who seem to be having the time of their lives in all those commercials, are beginning to encounter the fact that at least 70 percent of those over 65 will need long-term care services and support at some point in their lifetime.

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services anticipates that the number of Americans who need long-term care services and support will swell from 12 million in 2010 to 27 million in 2050.

And PACE anticipates those needs by making possible programs such as the Living Independently for Elders initiative at St. Francis Medical Center, the first of its kind in New Jersey. (Times of Trenton Editorial Board)   Morning Digest: May 9, 2014