Category Archives: NJ.com

Monmouth Freeholders adopt weak State pay-to-play rules, abandon stronger County rules in place since 2008

Fortunately, former Monmouth County Freeholder Amy Mallet is still on the job as a outspoken member of the public. The Middletown Patch reported on 1/31/12 that this year’s all-GOP Freeholder Board voted unanimously last week to loosen the County’s pay-to-play rules, and Amy was there to call them on it!

In a vote on Jan. 26th, the Board chose to abandon the tougher County pay-to-play rules for the lax State ones. The reason given by the Board is that contractors were confused by the County rules. However, many other municipalities and counties have the stronger pay-to-play rules in place, so contractors doing business in other towns would already be familiar with them.

The Board’s decision opens the door to rewarding politically connected persons and businesses with County contracts. The move weakens competition and may have the direct effect of increasing property taxes in line with higher contract costs. It’s hard to imagine why any ethical publicly-minded governmental body would do such a thing, unless for personal benefit. It appears the Board members have chosen to grant themselves the latitude to direct contracts at will to ensure their pockets will be lined at election time.

State Comptroller Matthew Boxer said himself that the State pay-to-play law does nothing to prevent the practice by local governments. In September 2011, he released a 20-page report “blasting the law for being toothless” as NJ.com put it.

The effectiveness of Christie’s Tool Kit at holding down property taxes would be vastly improved if it closed the loopholes in the State’s pay-to-play law. But until that happens, it is incumbent upon local governments to do what’s right by having strong pay-to-play rules of their own.

Public advocacy group The Citizens Campaign is calling for the public to attend the Monmouth County Freeholder meeting on Feb. 9th, when the Board will be asked to reinstate the stronger pay-to-play policy. For details, check out their facebook page and if you can, make plans to attend.

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Filed under Amy Mallet, Facebook, Middletown Patch, Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, NJ.com, pay-to-play, property taxes, the Citizens Campaign

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie must put politics aside, help needy

If you didn’t catch it this morning former NJ Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) had an excellent Op-ed piece published over at NJ.Com that emplores Governor Christie to put politics aside and help those that are the most needy by putting the needs of other before personal ambitions by creating a more progressive tax system that will help families that are currently living paycheck to paycheck:

When leaders of political parties in New York state recently agreed to raise the tax rate on the wealthiest to help the middle class, a truly revolutionary concept was born — politicians putting the needs of the people ahead of their own personal ambitions.

In New Jersey, unfortunately, Gov. Chris Christie has set his sights on the national stage and repeatedly refused to consider the democratically led effort to create a more progressive tax rate because it would defy the rules of the conservative playbook.

This same steely denial of the realities of the working class is evident on the conservative side of every major debate taking place in Washington — whether it’s on debt reduction, extending the Social Security payroll tax or the merits of the Occupy movement.

Overlooked is the growing number of Americans now living in, or just above, poverty. In New Jersey, the number of residents receiving food stamps has doubled in the past four years. Recently released Census figures based on a new poverty formula show that nearly 50 million Americans are poor and the number of those living just above the poverty line is far greater than once believed.

What makes this new formula unique is that it takes into account government assistance such as food stamps, housing aid, subsidized lunches and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Once these factors are considered, roughly 3 million people rise above the poverty line, proving government assistance can and does make a difference in the lives of working families.

Sadly, those on the right have no qualms about slashing these assistance programs, proving their empathy extends only to the super rich while the plight of poor and middle-class families is viewed with rote disregard….

Finish reading Senator Buono Op-ed that was posted online at NJ.Com …. Here

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Filed under Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, Gov. Chris Christie, NJ.com, occupy wall st., Op-Ed, progressive tax rate, Senate Majority Leader, Senator Barbara Buono

NJ Senator Barbara Buono: Be Prepared For Hurricane Irene

Here is some good advice that I received in my inbox this morning from NJ Senate Majority Leader, Senator Barbara Buono on being prepared for this weekends hurricane.

This weekend, Hurricane Irene is projected to hit New Jersey. The brunt of the storm will hit our state Sunday. Yesterday, Governor Christie declared a state of emergency, and we should all start preparing now.

The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management has set up a website – www.ready.nj.gov – where you can find comprehensive instructions on what to do in a hurricane. Please print out their checklist. You can also find links to updated weather maps to track Irene’s path.

Here are a few tips to prepare for the hurricane:

• Make sure you have necessities in your home – including plenty of food, water, blankets, batteries, flashlights and a first aid kit.

• Have a hand-cranked or battery-operated portable radio so you can listen to the latest news.

• Have your pantry stocked with canned food and a can opener in case your power goes out.

• If you take medicine, make sure you have an adequate supply and fill all prescriptions beforehand.

• Fill the gas tank in your car and make sure you have cash on-hand in case local gas pumps and ATMs are also affected by power outages.

• In a worst-case scenario, know your local evacuation route – especially if you live in an area prone to flooding.

To track Irene’s pattern, you can also check ongoing weather coverage at NJ.com, as well as the National Weather Service’s Hurricane Center for all the latest updates.

Please do not wait until the last minute to prepare.

Stay safe,

Senator Barbara Buono

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Filed under Hurricane Irene, National Weather Service, NJ.com, Ready.NJ.gov, Senator Barbara Buono, storm preparation.

>As A Matter Of Fact…Taking the family out of NJ FamilyCare

>
May 17th, 2011 | Published in NJPP Blog: As a Matter of Fact …


In defense of his plan to cut the state’s federally subsidized health insurance program for working poor families, Governor Christie recently asserted that New Jersey provides more access to Medicaid than any state except New York.

That’s simply not true.

In fact, if the governor has his way, New Jersey would have one of the nation’s most restrictive policies when it comes to the Medicaid program that provides affordable health insurance to working poor families who have no other options.

It is accurate to say that when it comes to children New Jersey is second only to New York in providing health coverage through Medicaid/ NJ FamilyCare. However, when it comes to providing affordable coverage to the rest of the family, Medicaid/NJ FamilyCare lags behind nine other states and is racing toward the bottom of that list.

Last year, the state cut the NJ FamilyCare eligibility level for parents in New Jersey from 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 133 percent of FPL. For a family of three, that meant a maximum yearly income of $25,000 instead of $36,000.

The state plans even further reductions this year by reducing that eligibility threshold to just 29 percent of FPL. That’s a yearly income of about $5,300 for a family of three. That’s also the same eligibility level for the welfare program, WorkFirst NJ. The irony there is that taking away the option of NJ FamilyCare creates an incentive for parents to stop working full time and rely on welfare in order to have health insurance.

If those proposed cuts are enacted, New Jersey would have one of the lowest eligibility levels for parents in the nation. Only Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas would have lower eligibility levels.

More important, however, is that research in New Jersey and nationally has shown that reducing the eligibility level for parents will reduce the number of children enrolled in NJ FamilyCare. That will only increase the financial pressures on emergency rooms and hospitals as it drives up the number of uninsured New Jerseyans.

Read more about family health insurance here.

View the press event with Senators Joseph Vitale and Loretta Weinberg and advocates on this issue along with the governor’s response.

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Filed under As a Matter of Fact, Gov. Chris Christie, health reform, Medicaid, New Jersey Policy Perspective, NJ.com, NJFamilyCare

>Sweeney: Gov. Christie’s tools aren’t the sharpest in the shed

>NJ Senate President Stephen Sweeney has written the following article that appears online this morning on NJ.com. It’s a must read for anyone who thinks that Governor Christie’s “Tool Kit” is the be all, end all solution that will control the rise of property taxes in the state.

Of the 33 bills in the Governor’s “tool kit”, Sweeney rightfully points out that some of them overlapped and were combined to form 24 and later reduced again to by the Governor when he finally realized that proposals about higher education would do nothing to lower property taxes, leaving 20.
Sweeney points out that the Legislature has passed 8 of the 20 bills thus far, the 2% cap on property tax increases and arbitration reform for police and fire contracts being the key pieces passed. While 2 other bills dealing with civil service reform and a cap on sick-leave payouts were passed by the Legislature but vetoed by the Governor. Sweeney then goes on to tell how many of the remaining “tool kit” reforms will do little to bring down property taxes.
So the next time anyone has to hear Republicans in Middletown chastise Democrats in Trenton for not acting on the “tool kit” and saying that these reforms are necessary so that they can control themselves from overspending, I think Sweeney’s article should be read into the record and see what comments, if any Tony Fiore, Gerry Scharfenberger or the others have to say:

The governor has blamed everything and everyone for the highest property tax increase in four years. He continues to state that if only his “tool kit” were passed, New Jersey’s property tax problems would magically disappear.


Closer scrutiny of the governor’s kit proves his claims are false and are merely meant to distract from his own culpability in property tax hikes. The governor cut more than $2.4 billion in funding to schools and municipalities last year. That is why your taxes are going up. The tool kit will not make up that shortfall.

There are reforms that must be implemented, such as pension and health benefits reforms, which I have supported since 2006. I am committed to getting those done. But those reforms are not — and never were — part of the governor’s proposed tool kit.

First, let’s have truth in numbers. The governor started by saying there were 33 bills in the tool kit. Actually, there were 24 after items were combined. Now the governor says there are 20, because he finally realized that four proposals dealing with issues at colleges and universities have absolutely nothing to do with property taxes.

The Legislature did pass eight tool-kit items. First was the creation of the 2 percent cap on annual property tax increases, which the Legislature lowered from the 2.5 percent cap the governor initially proposed. Second was arbitration reform for police and fire contracts, which was heralded across the state by local officials as key to reining in property taxes.

Two others — comprehensive civil service reform and a cap on sick-leave payouts for public employees upon retirement — were passed and sent to the governor, who vetoed them. We have no reform in these two areas because the governor chose to kill reform.

Civil service needs to be reformed and modernized, but abolishing it will not lower property taxes. Only one-third of New Jersey towns are bound by civil service rules, and those towns actually have lower property taxes per capita than towns without civil service. Civil service was established to protect against political corruption and nepotism. It is puzzling that the governor wants to completely eliminate this protection.

Sick-leave payouts should be capped, but the governor vetoed a bill to do that because he wants to take away benefits workers have already earned. That may be a nice talking point, but it won’t stand up in court. And it would create a flood of new retirements as workers cash out before the law would take effect. If the governor got his way, this tool would actually cost taxpayers even more.

Two other parts of the tool kit are already in comprehensive shared services legislation I am sponsoring with Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt and Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, which goes far beyond what the governor envisioned, and which will move through the Legislature later this spring.

These are the only parts of the tool kit that will save you money on your property tax bill. We did them. The handful of remaining bills that the governor clings to won’t save you anything.
One would cap spending on state government operations — which already exists under law, and even if it did not, would have no impact on local property taxes. Another would allow local governments to use furloughs to save money — which they already can do as long as furloughs are negotiated.

Another bill to centralize all power over civil service decisions in the Civil Service Commissioner (read: czar) would only consolidate the governor’s power and do nothing to lower property taxes.

One bill would move school and fire commission elections to November — a move whose total property tax savings, according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Service, would be “minimal.”

Others would change the way some employee discipline measures are handled (OLS estimated savings: $140,000), require the mailing of only one sample ballot per household (OLS estimated savings: $1.4 million), and allow municipalities to offset property tax delinquencies against state income tax refunds (OLS estimated net savings: zero).

The governor’s rhetoric does not stand up to simple math. The tool-kit bills that haven’t yet been passed offer no real help from New Jersey’s crushing $25 billion property tax burden.

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Filed under 2% cap, arbitration reform, civil service, Gov. Chris Christie, NJ State Senate, NJ.com, property taxes, Stephen Sweeney, tax saving tool, toolkit

>Mulshine Talks Up His Favorite Democrat, Bob Brown, In Today’s Column

>Paul Mulshine’s talks about favorite Democrat,Bob Brown,in his column today over at NJ.com.

Brown, as anyone who reads this blog knows, has become a friend of mine over the past few years. Brown after losing State Assmebly races in 2007& 2009 in the old 13th district to Sam Thompson, vowed that he wouldn’t seek office again, that was until Democratic State Chairman Steve Wisniewski contacted him.

Wisniewski wanted to know if Brown would be interested in taking on his old nemesis Sam Thompson for the vacant State Senate seat in the new 12th district. After hearing how Thompson is has been “double-dipping” (collecting both a state pension and salary), Brown couldn’t refuse.
Here’s what Mulshine has to say about Brown today:

You might recall that upon the release of the new legislative map last week, I put in a call to a guy from Middlesex County named Bob Brown and asked about whether he’d run in the gerrymandered district into which his town had been inserted.

There was no way he’d run again after his town got stuck in a district that runs from the Raritan Bay almost to the Delaware River. That was laughable, he said.

Brown’s not laughing anymore. He’s running.

Brown is a Democrat, but he’s more conservative than most Republicans. He’s a colorful ex-cop from Old Bridge who was shot in the line of duty and decided he’d be better off pursuing law. At Seton Hall School of Law, he often ran into an affable guy from Livingston who even then “seemed like he was running for office,” Brown recalls.

Chris Christie is now running New Jersey. As for Brown, he lost a run for the state Assembly in 2009. That’s when I first wrote about him. It was unusual to hear a Democrat saying things about school funding like, “We gotta send that money back to the suburbs,” at a time when Christie was tiptoeing around the issue.

At the time he and I spoke, any Democratic run in the largely suburban 12th District seemed doomed. Right after my column ran, however, the Republicans announced the name of their nominee for the Senate seat in the new district, Sam Thompson, who is currently an assemblyman and who also hails from Old Bridge.

On the same day, Thompson’s name appeared in an article in this newspaper because he and another Republican assemblyman are “double-dipping,” collecting state pensions while also collecting legislative salaries.

The day after that article ran, Brown got a call from state Democratic Chairman John Wisniewski. “The Wiz,” as the assemblyman from Middlesex County is known, asked Brown if he might want to take that Senate run seriously after all. Brown did, and yesterday he filed the signatures. Brown said he’ll base his campaign on the pension issue. Brown himself gets $14,000 a year as a result of his retirement following that shootout, which he won, by the way. But “I will not double-dip,” Brown promised. “If I get elected, I will not take my pension.”….

Read more >>> Here

This race between Brown and Thompson will be closely watched by many, Brown has more than an excellent chance at winning it even though the newly drawn district leans republican.

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Filed under 12th district, Bob Brown, Democratic Candidate, NJ.com, Paul Mulshine, Sam Thompson

>Contrasting Styles Between Cuomo & Christie; Different Approach, Same Outcome No Animosity

>NJ.com yesterday had an interesting editorial that I think a lot of people should be reading.

In the face of an $11 billion dollar budget defect, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo balanced NY’s budget by cutting spending and entitlement without raising taxes just as our governor did last year (although that is somewhat debatable). Cuomo achieved this by reaching out to legislator and including them in the process. Gov. Christie on the other hand, has created divisiveness between the governor’s office and those in the legislature with his take it or leave it approach and sledgehammer style.

Interestingly Cuomo was able to balance his State’s budget without demonizing any one group (public employees) or had to hold nonstop “Town Hall” meetings to convince people that there is a problem and his way of solving it, is the only way that it can be done.

Resident of NJ should take notice and see how a different, less caustic and abrasive style can achieve similar yet far different results.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo just won agreement on a budget for New York state that cuts overall spending and contains no new taxes. He even blocked an attempt by fellow Democrats to extend a surtax on millionaires.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because New Jersey did all that last year. Perhaps Cuomo looked across the Hudson and liked what he saw.

Now maybe Gov. Chris Christie can return the compliment. Because Cuomo has something to teach him as well.

Note the lack of personal attacks in Albany. Cuomo was tough, but he wasn’t abusive. He didn’t call his Assembly speaker a liar, for example, or clear his schedule for a nonstop tour on the unlimited greed of teachers and cops.

And he negotiated. Especially relevant to New Jersey was Cuomo’s approach to Medicaid.

Like most states, New York and New Jersey are facing daunting increases in health care costs. Cuomo’s approach was collaborative.

He invited key stakeholders, including hospitals and unions, to sit together and hammer out an agreement on cuts. If they couldn’t come up with an answer, he said, then he would do it for them.

After two months, Cuomo’s committee pulled it off, agreeing to 79 cost-cutting measures, from lowering reimbursements to shifting patients to managed care plans.

Christie wants to cut $540 million in Medicaid spending next year, a huge sum that both sides expect to be a main point of contention. But he’s drawn up his plan in secret, and even now is keeping the Legislature out of the loop. People such as Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), a key architect of the current system, are still looking for basic answers.

“They are crafting their own proposal in a vacuum,” Vitale says. “They would be wise to include legislators.”

Cuomo’s collaboration ensured that his plan had broad political support, and would pass. Christie’s approach risks just the opposite.

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Filed under budget deficit, entitlement spending, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Gov. Chris Christie, health care costs, Medicaid, Millionaire'sTax, New Jersey, New York, NJ.com, tax cuts, tax increase, Town Hall