Morning News Digest: April 12, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Christie’s approval numbers hit all-time high
Gov. Chris Christie’s approval rating is at its highest point since taking office more than two years ago, according to a poll released Wednesday.
Nearly six in 10 registered voters approve of the governor’s job performance including a whopping 92 percent of Republicans, according to the poll from Quinnipiac University. Christie also garners high marks among independents with 64 percent approving of his performance, good news for the governor if he decides to pursue a second term. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie says he will pick ‘best person’ for Supreme Court
Days after returning from Israel, Gov. Chris Christie told reporters he anticipates his Supreme Court nominee, Chatham Mayor Bruce Harris, will receive a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in late April or early May.
In the meantime, he continues to look for a second candidate to replace Phil Kwon, the former assistant U.S. Attorney rejected last month by the Judiciary Committee. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Assembly Dems move forward with Port Authority subpoena process
An Assembly transportation panel is moving forward with intentions of issuing subpoenas, if necessary, to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee adopted a resolution today in pursuit of issuing subpoenas in an effort to investigate the agency’s spending practices. The 6-4 party-line vote approved a resolution to formally authorize the issuance of subpoenas. (Arco, PolitickerNJ)
Christie ‘disturbed’ by Middlesex Dems’ PACs
Gov. Chris Christie said published reports on Middlesex County Democrats’ reliance on political action committees (PACs) disturbed him, and called on State Democratic Party Chairman John Wisniewski to get in front of a microphone and answer questions about his role.
I’m disturbed by what I’ve read,” said the governor, after delivering a report on his trip to Israel to a roomful of Jews at the Jewish Community Center here. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie: Rutgers-Camden will lose name in merger
Republican Gov. Chris Christie shot down the idea of Rutgers-Camden keeping its name after the school merges with Rowan University but said he’s untroubled by private meetings on the college restructuring plan involving the state’s most powerful unelected Democrat.
Christie told reporters after an event at a Jewish community center in Bridgewater on Wednesday that the restructuring of Rutgers, Rowan and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey will happen by July 1. (Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Christie touts success of Israel trip
Gov. Chris Christie gave his recent trip to Israel a grade of B+, telling a group of New Jersey Jews on Wednesday that he returned home with a better understanding of the unique security challenges facing the volatile region and a conviction that Israel must remain in control of Jerusalem to ensure its stability.
Christie appeared at the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center in Bridgewater, where he summed up the trip and answered questions about the excursion. He’s planning to give similar wrap-ups in other parts of the state over the next few weeks. (Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Gov. Christie praises Israel’s tech industry during Bridgewater town hall
A day after warning that the nation was in danger of becoming a “paternalistic entitlement society,” Gov. Chris Christie today continued his conservative talk on the economy by saying America can learn from Israel’s start-up culture.
At a conference hosted by former President George W. Bush in New York Tuesday, Christie warned against Americans becoming “a bunch of people sitting on a couch waiting for their next government check.” (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Christie airborne for WrestleMania as helicopter flights triple
On Feb. 16, Governor Chris Christie swooped down near MetLife Stadium in a $12.5 million state police helicopter to celebrate the announcement that WrestleMania, World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE)’s biggest annual event, would come to New Jersey next year.
The 36-minute chopper trip from Ewing to East Rutherford, which saved Christie about an hour of travel time, cost about $1,500, based on the hourly charge. It was his sixth flight in less than two weeks, following trips for events that included a Manhattan speech to a pro-Israel group, a Super Bowl championship rally for the New York Giants and a public meeting in Caldwell where he urged towns to cut costs. (Young, Bloomberg)
NJ Transit boss defends Gov. Christie’s decision to kill Hudson River rail tunnel
In his first public comments since a federal report spurred questions about the math Gov. Chris Christie used to justify killing a Hudson River commuter rail tunnel, NJ Transit executive director Jim Weinstein today defended the governor’s decision.
The $9.8 billion project was terminated 18 months ago based on a recommendation from a committee headed by Weinstein. (Frassinelli, The Star-Ledger)
Battle for 9th District congressional seat escalates at rally
The ferocity of the Democratic primary battle in the 9th Congressional District hit a new level Wednesday when a shouting match broke out on the steps of Passaic City Hall between supporters of Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. and Rep. Steve Rothman.
The incident happened near the close of a Rothman rally during which a series of speakers from the Latino community voiced support for the Englewood Congressman in a town that Pascrell has represented in Congress for 16 years. (Ensslin and Alvarado, The Record)
New Rutgers president, hailed as strong leader, takes over at a time of ‘change and opportunity’
A “powerhouse” said one.
A “game changer.” A man with “a global presence,” said still another.
With high hopes and soaring superlatives, Rutgers University introduced its new president to the world Wednesday, and if you look past the tabloid rhetoric, there were several reasons the board of governors chose Robert L. Barchi — the president of Thomas Jefferson University — to run the state’s biggest university.
New president: To me, Rutgers means Newark, New Brunswick and Camden
Rutgers University’s new president said he didn’t want to make political statements in his first appearance as the school’s new leader, but when Dr. Robert L. Barchi told the crowd gathered to hear the announcement that Rutgers meant New Brunswick, Newark and Camden, he received a standing ovation from those in attendance.
“Three campuses all contribute to what makes this institution great — the undergraduate experiences in Newark and Camden are not necessarily synonymous with New Brunswick, but yet give their own value and their own set of perspectives to what we have to offer,” Barchi said. “We have to be very clear about resourcing those parts of our organization, and the governance they are entitled to as we move forward.” (Caliendo, NJBIZ)
Newly named Rutgers president hopes for input on merger
Rutgers University yesterday named Robert L. Barchi, president of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, to be its new president as of September 1, two months after the proposed higher education restructuring is to be in place.
Shortly after being chosen unanimously by Rutgers’ Board of Governors, Barchi said he “would hope I would have some input” into whether Rutgers takes control of three units of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and gives its Camden campus to Rowan University. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Assembly panel approves subpoenas for Port Authority
Political theater was center stage as the Assembly Transportation Committee voted 6 to 4 along party lines to issue subpoenas to obtain information from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Wednesday morning’s vote came as several ranking Assembly Republicans sat in on the hearing and questioned the potential cost and whether the effort was politically motivated on the part of Transportation Chairman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, who also is head of the state Democratic Committee. (Higgs, Gannett)
N.J. stakeholders: Partnerships key to spurring economic growth
Forging visionary public-private partnerships to solve public policy questions is vital to spurring economic development and growing jobs in the state, according to participants at an economic development conference this morning in Edison.
“This is not that complicated, particularly in an urban center. It’s just really hard work,” said Christopher J. Paladino, the longtime head of Devco, the nonprofit group that’s been instrumental in New Brunswick’s revitalization. (Tarbous, NJBIZ)
Lautenberg pushes tech entrepreneurs to enter mobile apps space
A bill to be introduced by U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-Cliffside Park) and an inter-university mobile apps contest launched today by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski aim to re-establish New Jersey as a technological innovation hub, and connect private investments with entrepreneurs to create new companies and jobs in the technology sector. (Eder, NJBIZ)
Updated development blueprint due
Business leaders and land-use planning experts who attended PlanSmart NJ’s regional planning summit said they are cautiously optimistic about the state’s new development blueprint.
The State Planning Commission will vote on adopting the overhauled state plan April 25. Six public hearings took place after a draft 41-page plan was circulated. An updated draft is expected to be released by the end of the week. (Jordan, Gannett)
NJ puts new labels on schools for test scores, graduation rates
With No Child Left Behind essentially off the books, welcome to New Jersey’s new age — and labels — for school accountability.
The Christie administration yesterday released the final list of schools that will be highlighted under new accountability rules that put heightened attention on the very lowest and the very highest achieving schools, while giving leeway to the vast middle. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Retail group: Escheat law could cost N.J. $94M in lost sales tax revenue
The loss of gift card sales from New Jersey, combined with the state’s unclaimed property law, could cost state coffers up to $94 million per year in sales tax revenues, according to an analysis released today.
Consumers using gift cards often spend amounts above a card’s face value, and as companies like American Express pull gift cards from shops in the state, the resulting decrease in sales will result in a drop in the state’s sales and use tax revenue collections, according to the analysis by financial services consulting firm First Annapolis, and released by the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association and the Retail Gift Card Association. (Tarbous, NJBIZ)
Protesters heat up usually quiet utilities meeting
The typical monthly meetings of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities are dry and achingly dull affairs, about half as exciting as watching paint dry on the wall.
Not so yesterday. At least a couple dozen activists showed up to complain about the onerous burden high gas bills are imposing on the customers of South Jersey Gas, one of four gas utilities operating in the state, an unexpected event that might indicate a groundswell of rising opposition to higher utility rates across the state. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
State starts to factor transportation into pollution equation
When people think about air pollution, the image that typically comes to mind is a power plant or factory belching out noxious emissions from a big smokestack.
But much of the pollution stems from transportation sources: emissions from cars, buses, and other vehicles cause ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog. Smaller local sources, such as dry cleaners and other businesses, also contribute to the problem. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
New Jersey tapped to participate in national PCMH trial
New Jersey was one of only seven states selected Wednesday to participate in an innovative federal pilot that aims to transform primary care practices into patient-centered medical homes that cut costs and enhance care by eliminating duplicative and unnecessary treatments. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Virtua nurses plan pickets over contract negotiations
Nurses at Virtua Health System plan informational pickets on Thursday over their contract status.
The pickets, which will be staged at Marlton, Berlin and Voorhees, will deal with issues such as staff to patient ratios and pension contributions, according to Virginia Treacy, executive director of the nurses’ union. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Post-NCLB: Education Dept. devises new accountability measures for schools
The state Education Department has come up with three new designations for hundreds of schools after it received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law in February.
The new categories will be Priority, Focus, and Reward schools, and are part of the Christie Administration’s plan to have Regional Administration Centers, or RACs. The designations are part of a plan to strengthen the accountability measures of schools, according to the department, as well as treat schools in a way that takes their individual situations and problems more into consideration that NCLB did. (Staff, State Street Wire)
BPU defers vote on South Jersey Gas rate hike request
The state Board of Public Utilities deferred a vote today on a proposed rate increase by South Jersey Gas after several customers raised concerns.
Customers called on the BPU to roll back a rate increase on South Jersey Gas customers that the board approved in 2010, and reject future ones. (Hassan, State Stree Wire)
Forget VP: Romney asks Christie to be ‘czar of the world’
Trying out new material in what is sure to be 4 1/2 months of questions about whether he’s going to run for vice president, Gov. Christie said he emailed Mitt Romney yesterday after Rick Santorum dropped out of the GOP presidential race.
And what did Romney write in response?
“He asked me to be vice president and czar of the world,” Christie said. (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Rail tunnel project is dead, along with all the potential jobs
So, now we’ve learned that, when Gov. Chris Christie canceled the trans-Hudson train tunnel back in 2010, the estimates of its cost were not what he said they were. But we’ve also learned some estimates were subsequently raised so, with hindsight, he can say he had foresight.
This all means that, in what passes for policy debate in New Jersey, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg can say the governor engaged in “public deception” and sacrificed “the future of New Jersey’s commuters” for “the short-term political needs of the governor.” (Braun, The Star-Ledger)
Questions about new ‘secure’ license
Remember all the hassle we went through when switching from the old New Jersey driver’s license to the new tamper-proof, secure and high-tech one that required digging out all those documents? Get ready to do it again.
The great Jersey experiment in documentation wasn’t good enough for the federal government. The folks in Washington want all states to issue new licenses that have a gold star in the upper right corner. The star will show it meets the federal standard. (Ingle, Gannett)