Morning News Digest: August 2, 2012
By Missy Rebovich
Obama, Menendez and Booker looking good, but room for Kyrillos to define himself
The nation is now fewer than a hundred days from the presidential election and Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Robert Menendez will look to the fall election season with sizable New Jersey leads over their Republican opponents. Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney by thirteen percentage points (49 to 36%), and incumbent Senator Robert Menendez is favored over State Senator Joe Kyrillos by twelve points (45 to 33%), according to the latest statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.
“Say what you want about New Jersey, but our residents can’t be pigeonholed politically,” said Krista Jenkins, Executive Director of PublicMind and professor of political science. “We have a Republican governor with strong approval, and yet registered voters are leaning heavily toward Democratic candidates for the White House and U.S. Senate. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Governor’s office weighs in on MCIA executive bonuses
The administration weighed in this afternoon on an audit by the state comptroller that called into question performance bonuses of as muich as 30 percent paid to top brass at the Middlesex County Improvement Authority, calling the payouts "unabashed trough feeding."
Governor's spokesman Michael Drewniak said the bonuses and other perks paid to four top level employees, including Executive Director Richard Pucci who pulled in nearly $250,000 in 2010, is a perfect example of the so-called "shadow governments" that Gov. Chris Christie has railed against. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Middlesex Improvement Authority brass paying themselves hefty bonuses, comptroller finds
The Middlesex County Improvement Authority paid four top executives, including the executive director, substantial incentive bonuses though the extra payments were not part of any employment agreement, the state comptroller has found.
Top among the bonuses paid was an additional $55,000 payment in 2010 to Executive Director Richard Pucci. The 30 percent bonus, along with a $4,800 car allowance and $3,565 in unused sick time boosted Pucci's 2010 salary from the authority to $249,366. Pucci also is Mayor of Monroe Township.
In total, the bonuses to the top four executives totaled more than $100,000 per year and were paid over and above an annual 2.5 percent raise paid to three of the employees. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
$349,000 grant to N.J. for low-income students taking AP tests
The U.S. Department of Education today announced that more than $21.5 million in grants will go to 43 states – including New Jersey - to cover all or part of the fees charged to low-income students for taking Advanced Placement tests.
New Jersey will receive $349,294 as part of the program, DOE reported. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Gov. Christie touts tenure reform, charter schools on first day of Colorado trip
Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday kicked off a two-day mix of Republican politicking and Mitt Romney fundraising that will highlight his Jersey profile in one of the states both presidential contenders believe could help sway this election.
In town for a Republican Governors Association conference, Christie and other big-name Republican governors talked up education reform and other favorite GOP issues Wednesday night at a forum organized by the Aspen Institute. The friendly crowd that filled a tent in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains included Texas Gov. Rick Perry and GOP strategist Karl Rove.
"We just passed tenure reform in New Jersey, which ties it directly to student achievement," Christie said, referring to the bill he has yet to sign. "We have the oldest tenure reform law in the country. It’s never been amended." (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. Supreme Court ruling tests 2009 workers’ compensation law
Insurance companies that drag their feet paying medical claims are immune from lawsuits if the case is being handled through workers’ compensation — even if a patient’s condition worsens because of the delay, the state Supreme Court said today.
The ruling was the first time the state’s highest court tested a recent tightening of the state’s workers’ compensation law, which changed a system that had no way to enforce judges’ orders against uncooperative providers and often left people waiting years for full treatment or benefits. (Spoto, The Star-Ledger)
Glouco assemblyman ‘didn’t realize the consequences’ of refusing breath test
A Gloucester County assemblyman arrested on a charge of drunken driving Tuesday after declining to take a breath test has advocated for several bills that focus on driving while intoxicated, including one dealing with the illegality of refusing a breath test.
Democratic Assemblyman Paul Moriarty said Wednesday he "didn't realize the consequences of not taking the Breathalyzer." After passing a field sobriety test, he said, he declined the Breathalyzer because he thought he "was being railroaded" and had been denied access to his attorney.
Moriarty, a former mayor of Washington Township and a former reporter for CBS3, was charged with driving while intoxicated, refusal to submit to a breath test, and failure to maintain his lane while driving in Turnersville, in the township. (Colimore, Katz and Hefler, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
N.J. shrugs off swan barb as Australia election silliness
New Jersey officials hit back at Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan for his depiction of their state as a down-trodden place where workers get “thrown on the scrap heap of life.”
“Apparently, the electoral ‘silly season’ is not a uniquely American phenomenon,” Tom Kean, the top Republican in the state legislature, said in an e-mail. Swan gave a speech yesterday in Melbourne, calling Bruce Springsteen his hero and the state’s struggles the singer’s muse. Given that New Jersey outpaced Australia in job creation in recent months, “I’m not terribly certain why anyone here would care what Mr. Swan has to say,” he said. (Heath and Dopp, Bloomberg)
ADP report shows jobs jump, but experts say recovery remains anemic
Private-sector employers added 163,000 jobs in July, outpacing market expectations but falling behind the growth needed to return to pre-recession levels, according to national employment data released today by Roseland-based Automatic Data Processing, which revised its June job gains down from 176,000 to 172,000.
"This was another report that indicates we're neither getting a breakout or breakdown in the labor market. It may have exceeded the consensus estimate, but it's not such a deviation from expectations that I think anybody is going to be turning cartwheels over," said Patrick J. O'Keefe, director of economic research at the Roseland office of J.H. Cohn. "We're plodding through and seeing growth at a level enough to keep unemployment from rising, but not enough to keep unemployment down." (Eder, NJBIZ)
Could state-run ‘achievement school district’ be last resort for failing schools?
The Christie administration is weighing the idea of creating a separate state-run “achievement school district” that would be comprised of New Jersey’s very lowest-performing schools, complete with vast new powers in controlling personnel and programs.
The proposal was part of a $7.6 million grant application to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation made last February, a proposal that never moved to full fruition after the foundation approved a smaller amount, officials now say.
But it will nonetheless be at least part of a broader study of last-resort options for schools that is being conducted by an outside national organization, officials said. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Agency approves expanding natural pipeline through Jersey wetlands
A much-contested natural gas pipeline expansion project in northern New Jersey cleared an important hurdle yesterday when the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission found it would have no significant impact on the environment if constructed.
The finding by the federal agency basically clears the way for the commission to issue a certificate of necessity that would allow the project to move forward and be operational by November 2013.
The project by the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline LLC (Transco) is one of a series of natural gas line expansions which have come under intense opposition from environmentalists and local communities as the industry tries to tap into new supplies from neighboring Pennsylvania and New York and to deliver them into the lucrative metropolitan market. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Panel formalizes decision to close 2 N.J. institutions for disabled despite objections
A panel that voted last week to close state institutions for people with developmental disabilities in Woodbridge and Totowa formalized its decision today over the objections of relatives and union employees who promised to challenge the ruling.
The Task Force on the Closure of State Developmental Centers approved a report featuring a "binding" decision to close the North Jersey Developmental Center in Totowa and the Woodbridge Developmental Center by 2017. The decision will uproot nearly 700 people and disrupt than 2,600 state jobs. (Livio, The Star-Ledger)
Five lessons from pilot changing the way teachers, principals are graded
A year into the New Jersey’s pilot program for developing a new teacher and principal evaluation system, Christie administration officials yesterday gave an update of the program and the prospects for the year ahead.
The aim is to have a new evaluation system in place for every district across the state in 2013-14. But state officials conceded there were many lessons learned from the first year of the pilot, involving 11 districts, and some big issues ahead for the next year in which as many as 20 more districts will test out the system.
In a presentation to the state Board of Education yesterday, Peter Shulman, assistant education commissioner, spoke of those lessons of the past and the changes for the future, each in sets of five. In addition, Shulman presented the first version of new administrative regulations that would ultimately codify the new system. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Builders can see waivers to DEP regulations as new rule takes effect
A rule allowing the Department of Environmental Protection to consider regulatory waivers went into effect today, as the state Senate has not yet advanced a resolution to block it.
"Too many times we've heard of conflicting regulations — not just in the DEP, but in other agencies — which stifles economic development and creating jobs and getting the economy moving," said Michael Egenton, senior vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. "This rule gives flexibility to the DEP as it's looking at various projects, and it will help them get through the regulatory maze in bureaucracy." (Eder, NJBIZ)
EPA to pitch final cleanup for Newark Superfund site
After more than two decades of enforcement actions at the old White Chemical Corp. plant in Newark, environmental officials have proposed the final stage of the three-phase cleanup at the Superfund site, while acknowledging their choice would not be the "most effective" approach.
Officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a hearing tonight at 7 p.m. in city council chambers at Newark City Hall on Broad Street to present their plan for "bioremediation." That involves injecting a mixture of carbon and iron into the site to counter volatile organic compounds linked to cancers and other health problems. (Tyrrell, NJ Spotlight)
Entrepreneurs hopeful for expansion to small-business set-aside program
The Small Business Administration on Monday will issue proposed regulations for a federal program that awards more than $2 billion a year in research grants to early-stage technology companies, with final regulations expected by year's end. Changes on the way for the Small Business Innovation Research program include allowing startup research firms backed by venture capital investors to qualify for SBIR money.
Randy Harmon, who works with the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers to coach entrepreneurs seeking grants from SBIR and from a related, but smaller, program, Small Business Technology Transfer, said it remains to be seen if the changes mandated by Congress when it reauthorized the program last year will result in more money for startup technology ventures. (Fitzgerald, NJBIZ)
Port Authority OT for first half of 2012 is down 15 percent from last year
Overtime is down across the board at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey by 15 percent for the first half of 2012 when compared with the first six months of last year.
Executive Director Patrick Foye made the announcement at Wednesday’s board meeting, and said the agency has – and is analyzing – the second report of an audit ordered by the governors of both states. The report could be released later this month.
“Total overtime is down … in every element of the Port Authority,” said Foye, adding that the agency was helped by a mild winter. (Higgs, Asbury Park Press)
Yellow-light times found to be too short at 3 red-light camera intersections
A survey by engineers and experts for a motorist advocacy group of four intersections with red-light cameras found that three have shorter yellow-light times than a formula in the law says they should.
The surveys, done this week by experts working with the National Motorists Association New Jersey chapter, found short yellow-light times at intersections in Cherry Hill, New Brunswick and Gloucester. An intersection surveyed in East Brunswick had the proper yellow-light time for the speeds that 85 percent of the traffic was traveling at.
“The NMA’s position is fix it, or end it (the Red light Camera program),” said Steve Carrellas, NMA New Jersey chapter coordinator. “A short yellow light is unsafe and a scam.” (Higgs, Asbury Park Press)
In Methodist stronghold, a dialogue on gay rights
This sleepy, close-knit Jersey Shore hamlet has been a conservative Christian stronghold for 150 years. Until the 1980s, cars were not allowed on the streets on Sunday. Longtime residents recall moving their vehicles to neighboring Bradley Beach before midnight on Saturday. Today, the beaches stay closed on Sunday mornings.
Homeowners in Ocean Grove, an unincorporated community in Neptune Township, sign perpetually recurring 99-year leases from the sole landowner, a Methodist ministry called the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. But in recent years, tensions have flared as gay residents and vacationers have flocked to Ocean Grove, which is next door to Asbury Park, a city that has evolved into a thriving gay travel destination. (Moore, The New York Times)
DEP waiver rule opponents stage rally
A coalition of environmentalists, labor unions and educators staged a protest today against a new state rule that will permit applicants to request waivers of regulations they deem burdensome.
Today is the first day of the Department of Environmental Protection waiver rule, spurred by an executive order issued by Gov. Chris Christie. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Sales and Use Tax Commission opposes new UEZ, recommends natural gas bill
The Sales and Use Tax Review Commission recommended the Legislature vote against the addition of a new Urban Enterprise Zone in the state.
Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend that Linden in Union not be New Jersey’s 33rd UEZ. If the legislation, A3042/S2017, were signed into law that would allow businesses in Linden to collect half of the sales tax normally charged. It would cost the state approximately $22 million a year, commissioners said. (Arco, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Sweeney, O’Reilly bromance
Senate President Steve Sweeney took to the airwaves tonight to defend his name against an assault from Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
During last Thursday's Talking Points segment of O'Reilly's show, the sometimes acerbic host criticized Sweeney for the state legislature's failure to pass Jessica's Law, which would impose tough mandatory sentences for pedophiles.
Sweeney blasted back in a statement earier this week and then appeared with O'Reilly tonight to defend his name. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Cryan COS heads to Millennium
Dave Jenkins, formerly chief of staff to Assemblyman Joe Cryan, has taken a job with Millennium Strategies, the economic development firm run by Ed Farmer, former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell.
Jenkins, who served in Cryan's office for the past four years, will take on the role of grants manager at Millennium. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Judges salaries on the fastback to November ballot
Amending the state constitution is not something that happens every day in Trenton, nor should it. More often than not, it is unclear how changing one thing that some might consider broken can dramatically alter something seemingly unrelated that is not broken. The current topic for a constitutional amendment is the application of the New Jersey pension reform law on the Judiciary.
The New Jersey Supreme Court recently held that New Jersey’s pension reform law is unconstitutional as applied to the state’s judiciary. But, of course, that is only the latest chapter in this epic battle over judicial salaries in New Jersey. Efforts to amend the New Jersey constitution are now moving at a feverish pace to meet the deadlines for the November ballot. (Scarinci for PolitickerNJ)
Blame Christie for Bergen GOP’s latest feud
Governor Christie escaped town Wednesday for a political trip to Aspen, Colo., the tony Rocky Mountain getaway for Hollywood elites and corporate one-percenters.
What a relief it must be. There, Christie gets to be the "Big Boy" – as President George W. Bush once called him – discussing "Big Things" to really important "Big People," like wealthy GOP donors lining up for a Mitt Romney fundraiser. He also gets to regale another think-tank crowd with a carefully edited version of the Jersey Comeback. (Stile, The Record)
Lawmakers put judges in their place
The Legislature can move with record speed when it wants to. If you blinked you may have missed the passage of the proposed constitutional amendment to put the state’s judges in their place, which is somewhere to the south of how they see themselves.
It came a week after the state Supreme Court ruled 3-2 that judges are special and unlike firemen, police officers and teachers shouldn’t have to pay more for their pensions and health benefits — even if the system is overloaded and can fail if reforms aren’t implemented. (Ingle, Asbury Park Press)
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“I haven’t made up my mind whether to do that." - Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) on whether she will seek a third term as speaker.- The Bergen Record
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