Morning News Digest: December 9, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Christie nominates two to Superior Court
Today, Governor Chris Christie filed the following nominations with the State Senate. The nominations are subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Codey to Christie: ‘The is not a GOP prez debate’
In a statement insiders quickly pounced on as evidence of turf pawing ahead of the 2013 gubernatorial election, state Sen. Richard J. Codey (D-27), Roseland, retaliated against Gov. Chris Christie.
“I was rather amazed to hear Governor Christie say earlier today that I was holding up the nomination of Mr. Cerf, considering I signed off on it on January 14th of this year,” Codey said in a statement. “Normally one might expect some kind of apology when someone states something about them publicly that is factually inaccurate. But with Governor Christie’s track record, I won’t be sitting near the phone holding my breath. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Corzine: ‘I take full responsibility’
U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) angrily pressed a pained Gov. Jon Corzine this afternoon on who was responsible for the financial collapse of MF Global, forcing the former New Jersey governor to admit he was to blame.
“We’re talking about the loss of $1.2 billion,” said Scott, “and you know nothing about it. (But) You are the key to finding out where my constituents’ money went. …The key is you; you’re the CEO who at MFL Global was responsible for which products the company invested in.”
Appearing on a subpoena in front of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, Corzine said the company’s Board of Directors ultimately made the decisions on the recommendation of management. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Gov. Christie pushes to end payouts for public employees’ unused sick days
With the final days of the legislative session winding down, Gov. Chris Christie pressed legislators again Thursday to end payouts to public employees for unused sick days, a practice he called “inexplicable.”
“This issue’s not a partisan issue, this issue is an issue of common sense,” said Christie, adding that 234 mayors had signed on to his proposal so far. “I think the gift is not being sick.”
Eight mayors and Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan stood dutifully behind Christie as he spoke.
The proposal is one of the remaining bills on Christie’s legislative agenda that he says will combat New Jersey’s steep property taxes and help mayors control spending. (DeMarco, The Star-Ledger)
234 mayors endorse Christie plan to alter public employee’s sick leave and vacation benefits
As Gov. Chris Christie’s office Thursday announced that a bipartisan group of 234 mayors support the governor’s proposal to change how public employee sick leave and vacation pay is allotted, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) said the legislation is unconstitutional.
The mayors, Republicans and Democrats from every county have joined Christie’s in calling for what he sees as the Democratic-controlled Legislature’s delay in acting on the proposal. The governor argues his proposal would save taxpayer dollars and deliver budget relief to cities and towns. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Gov. Christie lashes out at Port Authority exec, cites inconsistent toll hike figures
In his first public comments on the controversy surrounding the Port Authority’s recent toll hike, Gov. Chris Christie is once again criticizing the agency’s former executive director, Christopher Ward.
The issue involves differences between the Port Authority’s public statements justifying the September toll increase, and what its lawyers are now saying in defending the agency against a lawsuit seeking to overturn the increase.
Leading up to the approval of the toll hike in August, the agency said the revenue would help finance a $25.1 billion, 10-year capital plan that included the World Trade Center’s redevelopment. But since last month, lawyers and agency officials have said the hike will finance less than $11 billion worth of transportation projects. Angry lawmakers from both states have called for an investigation. (Strunsky, The Star-Ledger)
Port Authority to post employees’ pay, other compensation online
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, following criticism from two governors about its spending and news reports about its payroll, will provide the salaries of its 6,777 employees on its website today.
The authority’s Board of Commissioners Thursday approved the posting, which includes overtime and other payouts and which will be updated four times a year.
The move means that the information, which has remained generally hidden to the public, except when the press requests it and publishes articles about salaries, will be readily available at http://www.panynj.gov.
The posting will provide full disclosure of all employee compensation for full- and part-time workers, said David Samson, Port Authority chairman. (Higgs, Gannett)
N.J. sports betting bill advances
A law that would let New Jerseyans bet on sports games from their home computers or smartphones moved another step closer to approval Thursday.
But whether those provisions will eventually be enacted into law remained very much up in the air, given the possibility of a veto by Gov. Christie.
Earlier this year, he vetoed a bill that would have made New Jersey the first state in the nation to legalize Internet gambling conducted solely within the state’s borders. Although Christie has expressed support for legalizing sports betting, an Internet gambling provision limited to sports betting has been more recently added to that legislation. (Parry, Associated Press)
Senate panel votes to restore aid to N.J. cities
Several cash-strapped cities who had been counting on millions of dollars in transitional aid to help balance their budgets got another dose of good news Thursday. A Senate committee agreed to restore the money to the state budget.
The 11-2 vote in the Budget and Appropriations Committee means that the bill will go to the full Senate for a vote on Dec. 15 and then to the governor’s desk. Gov. Chris Christie had used a line item veto to strike $139 million of the proposed $149 million in aid from the state budget in June. The Assembly approved the bill on Monday.
The only two senators to vote against the bill were Michael Doherty, R-Warren, and Steven V. Oroho, R-Sussex.
In addition to restoring the $139 million, the bill also appropriates $1.5 million for on-site oversight of how the money is spent. Christie had said he would sign the bill only if it included the oversight money. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
Restoring the state’s Urban Enterprise Zone program
Senate Democrats are attempting to revive New Jersey’s nearly three-decade-old Urban Enterprise Zone program, which was created with the idea of bringing commerce and jobs back to city downtown areas. The program offers an incentive for consumers to shop in urban downtowns due to lower sales tax, and most of the taxes collected were in turn given to the cities to reinvest locally.
Legislation that would give zones back some of these tax funds as long as they meet tougher planning requirements, along with stricter conditions for how they can spend the funds was voted out of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee yesterday, 3-0, with both Republican members abstaining. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Democratic lawmakers back controversial DEP waiver rule
In a straight party line vote, Democrats lawmakers yesterday narrowly approved a resolution declaring that a controversial proposal that would allow the Department of Environmental Protection to waive its rules in limited cases in which the regulations prove “unduly burdensome” as inconsistent with legislative intent.
The resolution (ACR-206) is in reaction to a rule awaiting adoption by the DEP that is viewed by business lobbyists and the Christie administration as making New Jersey more business friendly. It has been opposed, however, by environmental groups who argue that it undermines regulations aimed at protecting drinking water and air quality. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Bill would shift school elections to November
New Jersey’s April school elections and budget votes have long been ridiculed for the few who cast ballots and the little impact they have on what is the biggest piece of a home owner’s property tax bill.
But despite repeated proposals over decades and across administrations to change the process or move the elections to November, none yet have prevailed.
Now, breaking the stalemate, Democratic leaders yesterday moved quickly on a bill that would allow districts to shift the school vote to November, while also eliminating any budget vote at all if the budget is within the state’s 2 percent tax cap. If above the cap, the excess spending would be put to a separate vote. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Assembly panel advances bill to extend length of developer permits
An Assembly panel Thursday advanced a controversial bill that would extend the shelf-life of permits granted for developments, allowing builders to avoid complying with newer environmental laws, building codes or local zoning.
The measure, approved 6-0 by the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee, would also retroactively roll back restrictions on extending permits in areas previous labeled “environmentally sensitive,” reviving some expired permits.
Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden) said the legislation, the third of its kind in three years, is needed so developers who had construction plans prior to the recession do not need to go through the expensive approval process again. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
Rep. Pallone introduces legislation to combat silent killer
Spurred by an emotional meeting with the families of two popular Middlesex County high school student- athletes who died while participating in sports from sudden cardiac arrest, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D, 6th Congressional District, introduced federal legislation Thursday to combat a silent killer.
Pallone’s Cardiomyopathy Health Education, Awareness, Risk Assessment and Training in the Schools (HEARTs) Act mandates raising awareness about sudden cardiac arrest in schools and childcare centers and requires better prevention measures that will save young peoples’ lives. (Tufaro, Gannett)
State Labor officials expect surge in unemployed losing benefits
The number of unemployed residents who will be cut off from benefits is expected to surge in January as federal extensions expire, state officials told the Senate Labor Committee on Thursday.
Without action by Congress by the end of the year, the maximum weeks of unemployment benefits will drop from 99 to 26. While Congress is debating extending benefits, the proposals currently under consideration would only allow New Jersey residents to receive up to 79 weeks of benefits, said Ronald Marino, assistant commissioner for income security.
This means 35,750 residents who currently have claimed between 79 and 99 weeks of benefits will see their benefits end in January. Another 150,000 current recipients would be affected by May if Congress doesn’t extend any benefits. (Kitchenman, NJBIZ)
Study: Special ed costs less at private schools
When it comes to special education, a common perception is that public schools are cheaper than private ones.
With many specialized private schools for the disabled today charging tuition rates in excess of $80,000 per student, that may seem like a safe assumption. But a new analysis commissioned by the private schools’ trade group says otherwise.
According to the study, it costs $45,358 on average to educate a disabled student in a state-approved private school, compared to $50,146 per pupil in a local public school. The cost to send a child to a county special services school is even higher: $65,266 per student, the study says. The analysis, which draws on state education data, doesn’t include transportation costs. (Mullen, Gannett)
NJ Division of Investment gives Blackstone $1.8 billion stocking stuffer
Nearly one month to the day after Teacher Retirement System of Texas announced that it was pursuing a massive investment program with Apollo Global Management and KKR, the New Jersey Division of Investment opted to partner up with its own mega-fund, Blackstone Group.
At a meeting Thursday, the investment division approved up to $1.8 billion in commitments to co-mingled and separate accounts managed by Blackstone. Among the co-mingled funds, the limited partner approved a $150 million allocation to Blackstone Energy Partners I, $100 million to GSO Special Situations Fund, and $50 million to the firm’s main buyout fund, the $16 billion Blackstone Capital Partners VI LP. (Canada, The Wall Street Journal)
Union weighs challenge on pay-to-play
The head of one of the unions that represent Bergen County employees said Thursday that the pay-to-play ordinance passed by the freeholders Wednesday probably is unconstitutional.
“I’m for transparency,” said Gerry Drummond of Local 755 of the United Service Workers Union, which represents about 640 white-collar workers. “But I really think this is not going to make it through the courts.”
Drummond said his union has not decided yet whether it will challenge the constitutionality of campaign contribution limits that treat unions as contractors that do business with the county.
He also questioned how practical the new ordinance will be if county officials treat a union member’s volunteer time as an in-kind campaign contribution, describing it as “a record-keeping nightmare.” (Ensslin, The Record)
N.J. municipal bond users to share $2M as part of a $58.7M settlement with Wachovia Bank
The New Jersey municipal bond buyers can expect to share upward of $2 million from a $58.7 million 26-state settlement with Wachovia Bank and its successor, Wells Fargo, Attorney General Paula T. Dow announced Thursday.
The settlement stems from an ongoing national investigation of alleged anti-competitive and fraudulent conduct in the municipal bond derivatives industry.
Under the settlement, Wachovia will pay municipal bond issuers in New Jersey upwards of $2 million in restitution, according to preliminary estimates. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
U.S. Postal Service considering closure of 6 N.J. facilities
Reportedly 42 percent of first-class mail gets to your house the next day, but after the Post Office budget cuts go into effect next spring, around half of first-class mail will arrive in two days and most of the rest will arrive in three days.
That’s just the beginning of the changes coming from the United States Postal Service in 2012. The Street reported that the Post Office has announced that first class stamp prices will rise to 45 cents on January 22. That will mark their first price hike since May 2009. (Holt, New Jersey Newsroom)
Transitional Aid bill released by Budget Committee
The Senate Budget Committee released bill S3118, which provides $140.5 million in Transitional Aid and oversight costs to the Department of Community Affairs to distribute to distressed cities.
The bill, sponsored by committee Chairman, Sen. Paul Sarlo and Sen. Donald Norcross, received the support of three Republicans on the committee – Joe Pennachio, Anthony Bucco and Kevin O’Toole. Sens. Michael Doherty and Steve Oroho voted no. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Controversial logging bill rolls through committee; environmental groups cry foul
The Senate Budget Committee released bill S1954, sponsored by Sen. Bob Smith (D-7), of Piscataway, which would direct the Pinelands Commission to come up with a 10-year tree-removal program from forests known as the “Forest Sustainability Demonstration Project.”
The bill would also require the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop a logging program to provide “for the harvest of state forests” and sell the wood from the trees that are cut, providing the state with an additional source of revenue. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Senate Budget Committee releases tiger registration bill
The Senate Budget Committee released bill S3061 which would create a tiger registration system run by the Department of Environmental Protection to make sure they are not traded illegally.
The bill would enable the DEP to identify and account for all tigers in the state, whether living or deceased. Among these measures would be a requirement that tiger owners register their tigers with the department by applying for and obtaining a separate certificate of registration for each tiger. Upon receipt of the certificate, an owner would be required to implant subcutaneously in the tiger a microchip containing information concerning the owner and the tiger. In addition, owners would be subject to certain reporting requirements if the tiger is permanently relocated or transferred to another owner, or when the tiger dies. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
21st century rumrunning and the movement to legalize home brews
Cheers in this holiday season of high spirits to the notion of wiping off the books the crime of brewing your own brewskies or fermenting your own vino in the family basement, garage, bathtub, or wherever you choose to make your swill, er, fine alcoholic beverage.
The Assembly got things going Thursday by passing A4012, a bill to legalize home brewing and wine-making for those who are of age, the 21 and older crowd.
That is, up to 200 gallons a year for non-commercial consumption for you and your throw-caution-to-the-wind guests or that tough-to-buy-for old uncle on your Christmas list who just might appreciate a taste of your particular mix of hops and barley. (Hooker, PolitickerNJ)
Looking for Teddy in all the wrong places
Barack Obama went to Kansas. Chris Christie went to Washington. And Jon Corzine went to the dogs. It’s been a week.
Obama visited Osawatomie, Kan., Tuesday to invoke the spirit of Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. The Colonel, as Roosevelt was known after leaving the White House, made an impassioned speech about a “new nationalism” in the small Kansas town in 1910.
Roosevelt was a brilliant, brash, measured and erratic politician. When he failed to wrest the Republican presidential nomination from incumbent William Howard Taft, he headed the ticket of the newly created Progressive Party. The result was the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson. (Doblin, The Record)
Corzine mess shows ugly gray areas between innocence and guilt
Jon Corzine entered the ornate Congressional hearing room from a door in the rear, walking through the crowd with his eyes fixed on the ground, his jaw clenched.
He was here because he was forced to appear. And after he sat down, they made him stand up and swear he wouldn’t lie, something the previous witnesses were not asked to do.
It was perhaps the low point in a career that had once lifted him to the most elite circles on Wall Street and then American politics.
Now, he was the accused, holding up his right hand, promising not to lie, alone at the table but for the well-paid attorney at his side. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)