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Archive for the ‘Essex County’ Category

Is it take 3, or take 4 now on women’s health funding? I have sorta lost count. Christie knocked $7.5 million for women’s health funding outta the budget, and Dems ( particularly women legislators ) have been trying to get it restored ever since. They have gotten no help from their women counter-parts in the Republican caucus.

Well, now it appears as though the coalition is fraying in the Dem caucus as well. After the last override, advocates decided on a new approach. they would move some money around, but split the bills in two. One bill would restore the state’s portion, the other would once again go after federal matching funds that would otherwise be lost.

Senator Weinberg signed on for the first bill, and she approached Senators Ruiz and Gill for the second one. Both lawmakers agreed to sponsor it and had their names attached to it…until yesterday when they were mysteriously withdrawn.

So, what is going on here? I have sought the reason, but have not gotten it, which has left others to speculate. Some believe that once again we are seeing the Joe D-Essex County influence here. By now, the closeness of Gill and Ruiz to the Essex machine in terms of gainful employment have been well documented. We also know about the strong alliance between those Essex Dems and Christie. Could this be an attempt by the Governor to snub this issue out once and for all?

Possibly. And while it may not prevent a vote, the Governor can certainly flex his muscle and make sure that his allies in Essex don’t help the process along. Both bills are supposed to go before committee Monday.

Is this all idle speculation??? Enquiring Minds Want to Know!!!

Programming Note: Remember those National Enquirer ads? Ah, those were the early days before magazine tabloids came to be mandatory poolside reading for the younger set.

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Speaker Oliver is in a tight spot.  She owes her job to the Essex connection…and now those same forces are aligning against her. It may be “only a matter of time” until they really move against her. For good.

Like I said to all who would listen ten months ago when I was asked what I thought about the Speaker in waiting…she is not to be underestimated. And one of these days she is gonna tell the powers that be her answer is “no.” Her personality is not suited to taking marching orders, even when given by those who employ her.

Let’s back up a little. All last week, a long and tedious negotiation was underway to reform arbitration awards. On Thursday, Lou Greenwald, Sheila Oliver and Stephen Sweeney held press conference to announce that they had reached a deal on an arbitration bill. The Gov didn’t like it because it had no hard cap like Republican Declan O’Scanlon’s bill does. O”Scanlon and Greenwald had been meeting with Chief Counsel Jeff Chiesa to hammer out a deal everyone could live with. When those negotiations fell through, the Dems cut their own deal and went public.

On friday, I’m told that a Republican lawmaker called Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo who works hand-in-hand with Big Chief Steve Adubato from Newark’s North Ward. When this Republican gave him a bit of a hard time, Joe D hit the phones.

Fast forward to Monday’s Democratic Assembly Caucus. When Oliver tests the room to see if there are enough votes to move Greenwald’s arbitration bill the entire Essex delegation tells her “no.” Bill is shelved. The Democrats once again appear in disarray.

The unions say, “hey we were against this from the beginning…this latest crumble has got nothing to do with us.” Dems thought they had the votes, but the Gov’s reach runs deep in the county of Essex, which lived up to it’s mantra of “Essex First.”

I think it was the 80’s hit “The Breakfast Club” where Mr. Vernon warned a young Judd Nelson not to “mess with the bull” or he’ll “get the horns.” The horns are awfully sharp in Essex these days.

And while we are talking about the “Breakfast Club” let me just take a moment to vent about Emilio Estevez who was great in that movie, and was also a fantastic Kirby Kager in St. Elmo’s. But “The Mighty Ducks” franchise was truly an affront to the civilized world. He oughta be brought up on charges and tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity for those films.

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I should give you fair warning that I am about to go on one of my weird rants about Global politics. But I do promise to somehow swing this back to a relevant New Jersey angle.

Francis Fukuyama argues in “The End of History” that after The Cold War, there will no longer be an out-sized clash of ideologies. As a matter of necessity, economic liberalism will come to define relations amongst all nations. However, Charles Kupchan of Georgetown University argues that it’s not that simple. Nations competing for dwindling resources could eventually lead to new potential conflicts. In fact, at some point the United States will no longer be the world’s sole superpower, and we will return to a multi-polar world. We are currently witnessing the rise of China ( which is the obvious example ). But what is less obvious is Europe. Should the European Union get it’s act together ( and there are doubts it ever will ) their interests may not always align with those of the United States.

If the EU becomes a competing superpower, all it would take is a severe economic dispute with the US, and we could have a very serious problem on our hands. Germany after all, tried to take over the world twice ( and failed ). But it’s like they have finally figured out how to control Europe…this time through economic hegemony, rather than with tanks along the Champs Elysees. Make no mistake that Germany is sitting quite securely in the driver’s seat  as the EU transforms and evolves. But don’t worry, I’m sure members of the Obama Administration are up at night preoccupied with mapping out potential doosmday scenarios just like me. ( not really ).

Ah, the cold war was a simpler time, wasn’t it? The US controlled it’s sphere of influence, and the Soviets controlled theirs. The nations skirmished through intermediaries in Africa and Latin America but never went to war head on. Too much was at stake.

And that brings me to the Norcross/Adubato/Christie alliance. We have seen some flair-ups but for the most part the big three have avoided all out war. If that unravels, the agenda Christie is pushing flatlines. Nothing gets done and nobody wins. But as long as these guys keep their eye on the ball…even the minor skirmishes can be contained before they spiral out of control.

Whether it has been the tool kit, the Governor’s SCONJ nominee, the Schundler Subpoenas, the millionaire’s tax or any number of other minor dust-ups…the powers that be have determined that it’s not worth destroying the core alliance. I wonder how sustainable that is over the long term because as we have seen throughout history alliances rise and fall but often degenerate into full scale global conflict.

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A caucus united can never be defeated. Especially if they are in the majority. Second time was a charm for the Senate Dems who have now subpoenaed Bret Schundler and Wireless Generation for an October 7 meeting of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee.

Originally, Chair Barbara Buono was gonna subpoena members of the Christie Administration. However, the Gov and Sweeney cut a deal that would require the Executive Branch to turn over some documents while avoiding a constitutional you-know-what match over Exec privilege. However, Buono took a week and built support again for a resolution…this time limiting the scope of the Subpoenas. However, I am told there were still some behind the scenes machinations. The Governor appears to still be in damage control mode on this.

When Dems went into caucus to discuss the resolution, they came down to the floor ready to vote for it. However, sources say that Senator Teresa Ruiz began to waiver. Apparently, someone from the Gov’s office reached out to Joe D in Essex who urged Ruiz to abstain. However, a handful of Democrats told Ruiz that was unacceptable especially after they agreed to stay united in caucus. One insider says Senator Loretta Weinberg spoke to Ruiz sharply, warning her on the floor that she would “not be welcome in the caucus any longer” if she abstained. At least two other Democratic Senators backed Weinberg up saying to Ruiz in effect, “you can’t do that.”

In the end, Ruiz did vote for the resolution but then left the Senate Chamber “visibly upset.”

Another interesting development was on the Republican side yesterday. The two women Republican Senators – Diane Allen and Jen Beck abstained on the resolution. Beck had been summoned to Christie’s office before the vote. Some have floated the theory that Beck and Allen took an awful lot of hell for voting against the override on women’s health. Perhaps they were sending a message to the Gov’s office that they will NOT be in lockstep on everything with him, and he needs to not take them for granted.

In fact, Allen went so far as to make a speech on the floor regarding women’s health claiming there simply was no money in the budget for the $7.5 million appropriation. $7.5 million is not all that much in the grand scheme of things. After all, the budget is roughly $30 billion. But, if every penny is going to be scrutinized these days, one could certainly make a fair argument that it’s hardly chump change. But let’s not also forget that in April, The Christie Administration managed to give a $45,000 grant to the “Cake Boss” in Hoboken. That’s right, according NJ Policy Perspective, Carlo’s City hall bake Shop in Hoboken which is featured in the TLC reality show secured a grant through the state’s Business Employment Incentive Program. These are the same guys who donated Christie’s inauguration cake….and more state money may become available to the Cake Boss, depending on how they use the money. Consistency is a virtue.

For now, the Republican caucuses have remained tighter than the respective Democratic ones. But it sounds like the Dems got it together this week and now have an issue that motivates and unifies them. According to Christie, he has told his staff that in politics, everything is temporary. You gotta let the caucus know that you appreciate their support…and don’t automatically expect it.

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In the early 90’s classic “What About Bob?” Richard Dreyfuss ( this was before Kippendorf’s Tribe  ruined his career ) plays the straight man to Bill Murray’s fury-inducing bafoon. The movie is a series of situations in which Dreyfuss, playing the shrink, tries not to explode at Murray who keeps pushing the envelope. This includes Murray ( his patient ) arriving at Dreyfuss’ country home uninvited and unnannounced. We keep waiting for the explosion of anger, and every now and then it comes…although not always when we expect it.

What can I say about the handful of Democrats who are on the precipice of open revolt within the Democratic caucus. Governor Christie is running the table, and those who don’t want to go along with his game plan don’t have enough votes to override the South Jersey and the north Jersey Democratic coalitions. Chris Christie, George Norcross and Steve Audubato who works through Joe D are calling the shots. And according to a disgruntled few, they had better get all these reforms done soon because this united front cannot last forever.

After Steve Sweeney stood with Christie to announce a compromise on the property tax cap the Assembly Democrats held their own caucus Wednesday morning. A handful of people who feel Sheila Oliver should not go along with the compromise caused “quite a bit of unrest.” And it’s not one single issue – which only adds to the chaos. On the one hand, you have some women legislators who feel Oliver has not done enough to challenge Christie on the women’s health issue. I am told that when Valerie Vainieri Huttle complained about that and other issues in caucus Wednesday, Oliver said something along the lines of “while you were out shopping over July 4, I was here working.” Needless to say that did not go over well.

What’s more, Assemblyman Lou Greenwald ( who is south j, but seems to wanna buck the new world order a bit ) said he doesn’t think Democrats should keep reacting to what Christie says all the time. They should instead make the Governor respond to them. I’m told Greenwald, Pam Lampitt, John Wisniewski and others feel the Democrats need to bring their own agenda instead of trying to glom onto things like the cap by declaring it was their idea all along…then insisting they “got some major concessions” from the Governor.

Oliver said Wednesday that the Assembly would fix the mistakes of the 2.0 cap bill after it passes through subsequent legislation. John Burzichelli and John McKeon met with Kevin O’Dowd in the Governor’s office to find out what exactly they could change…but some felt it was a little bit like asking permission.

Moreover, there are some who feel the party needs to do more for their traditional allies – specifically the working class union guys. Those guys voted for Christie in the last election. And since then, Democrats have done nothing to try and woo them back. In fact, just the opposite has taken place. They have undermined labor’s agenda at every turn; when traditionally it was Dems who protected workers, it’s now that same party trying to undermine them with non-negotiated givebacks that do an end run around collective bargaining.

Hey look, times have changed. One could fairly make the argument that unions gotta get real and stop threatening strikes over unused sick time and Lincoln’s birthday ( full disclosure: I’m CWA local 1032 ). But on the flip side, perks – however petty they may sound – are bargaining chips in the larger chess game of negotiating multi-year deals. The unions at least want the Democrats to pretend to show them some love instead of jumping on the “my property taxes are high and it’s the unions’ fault!” bandwagon.

The Democratic party needs to think about – you know, the party. They gotta stand for someone. Unions vote. And as one Democrat observed “It’s easy to craft a mission when you are unified, it’s nearly impossible when you are not.” If the anger from these loose coalition groups that comprise the Democratic party starts to bubble over the surface, the party could lose it’s cool like Richard Dreyfuss and never outsmart the guy who is actually outsmarting them.

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Wow. What a political football this BPU thing is fast becoming.

As you now know there is a plan to move the Board of Public Utilities to Trenton  ( see earlier post…”Hey, Remember the BPU?” ).

The Christie Administration’s aim is save money. The Gateway Center in Newark ( where the BPU is currently housed ) is prime real estate. And by “prime” I mean…you guessed it – “expensive.”

In addition Republicans have approached me and pointed out that Democrats increased the staff by roughly 50 employees a few years ago during the McGreevey Administration ( you guys remember McGreevey, right??? Because I think by now the good people of Alpha Centauri know who he is ). Anyway, as it was told to me, the new hires were mostly “political hacks” from the McGreevey campaign who needed patronage jobs. Moreover the ( high rent ) office space was expanded to accommodate 350 employees. And as we now know , obviously all those folks were not needed to make the BPU run right since there are 100 fewer people there today. Here is that authentic 2003 memo asking for the increase in Full Time Employees.

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Democrats from that era counter that the McGreevey transition reports spelled out a need to hire more people since the drop-off rate on customer service lines was 40% – people were waiting too long to get to an operator, and more workers were needed to build the clean energy program which had been spelled out in state mandates.

Anyway, what is even more interesting is the political intrigue. Last time there was an attempt to move the BPU outta Newark, Mayor Sharpe James and Dick Codey jumped all over it and said ‘no way.’ The union leaders in this latest round reached out to Mayor Cory Booker this Spring and were told he is a bit tied up with the election. Fair enough, although Booker did seem to have time right after the election to fly to LA and do Bill Maher’s show…I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, the Mayor ( who was recently criticized for refusing to speak out against Christie cuts and the Wallace flap ) did issue the following statement through his spokeswoman:

“Newark has long been the BPU’s home and the headquarters location for key New Jersey utilities. During these tough economic times, we understand that the BPU’s goal is to reduce costs. We’re hoping that the BPU will consider more affordable office space options right here in Newark before they move to another town in search of savings. We look forward to exploring the Newark-based options with the BPU and the state.”

So, with that…I pose this hypothetical question: If cost savings can be found within the city, does the board really need to move out of Newark?

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It’s that time of the year again. The New Jersey Press Association presents the Legislative Correspondent’s Club annual show.

Basically, the state’s  ( now dwindling ) press corps performs a series of skits and songs that mock the political and media elite of the Garden State. It is often quite funny replete with costumes, wigs and other flamboyant accessories that would make even Elton John blush.

As for my role…well, I am El Presidente this year. That means I don’t actually have to sing ( which is not my strong suit ). I have to deliver the introductory speech which is supposed to be funny and slightly mean spirited. Well, I don’t know how funny it shall be, although I’m working on it. It will most certainly be biting, and of course familiar.

Then of course, after the show is over, people get to stand around and hang out in a cocktail party-type atmosphere which is even more fun. And the whole evening is off the record. So, if you are remotely interested, I urge you to purchase tickets. Proceeds go to charity.

Contact Peg Stephan 609-406-0600 ext. 14. or pastephan@njpa.org

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With all that is happening in Trenton these days, a handful of interesting stories have received very little public notice. Apparently the state’s Board of Public Utilities is planning to move it’s offices out of Newark to Trenton.

Since 1911 ( 99 years ) The BPU has been in Newark where the state’s utility companies were originally located. Because it’s a bit too much to put in a blog, I’m going to skip what happened in between and fast forward to the Christie transition report which recommended the move. The new BPU Prez Lee Solomon told staff on March 2nd that the move was imminent.

The idea here ostensibly is to save money. Or as one Republican told me The BPU has always been used by Democrats as “a great place to put people working on political campaigns without attracting the attention of the State House media.” If it moves to Trenton the Governor can “keep an eye on it.” I asked PIO Greg Reinert how much would actually be saved and he said  the “savings are expected to be substantial. But Since we are currently in the planning phase, we are not prepared to release a cost analysis.”

So, here is what I was able to find out. The BPU rents two floors in Newark’s Gateway Center. Two floors – 45,000 square feet each at a price of $26 per square foot which roughs out to $2.38 million a year in rent. Some say, the Trenton space would be cheaper by a third, but much else would be lost.

For example, the 200 Newark employees who would need to relocate are overwhelmingly opposed to the move, according to union leaders. They say the refurbishing that would have to take place at the Trenton locale would wind up costing up to $12 million as the state rebuilds the 800 customer assistance lines, among other things. Plus, workers say you could wind up hurting the city of Newark. First of all, the loss of 200 people contributing to the local economy is substantial even in a large city like Newark. Plus the “collateral damage.” The 32 staff attorneys at the Div. of Rate Counsel would likely follow them down as would another 20 at the Division of Law. Finally critics warn of a domino effect where a really large employer like PSE&G decides it no longer makes sense to be in Brick City.

But here is the other thing. We have heard this song before. In 1991, then Governor Florio pushed to move the BPU to Trenton. However, Dick Codey and Sharpe James came to the rescue making the arguments about the losses to Essex County and Newark. Those same reasons exist today.

Of course, it’s a different climate now. And from what I understand the BPU has a lease through 2019, which doesn’t jibe with the fast-track approach of moving by the end of the year. We shall see.

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It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, but in the end the pension reforms passed…but without a key element.

The provision allowing public employees to pay into a 401-k style plan ( also known as the “opt-out” ) went down in an amendment. It was this sticking point that led to a standstill on the floor of the Assembly Monday when Democrats emerged from caucus confident that the entire bill (S-2) would be held.

What followed was a series of closed door meetings amongst the leadership and the Governor. It’s funny because my life covering politics is actually a series of meetings behind closed doors that i am not allowed to attend. It’s kinda like the velvet rope clubs of my youth. But in this case, I am never on the list. So, we try and piece together what transpires after the fact.

here is what I can discern. The Governor and Sweeney appear to have reached an agreement early on for these reforms. Christie agreed to let Sweeney take most of the credit. And he should. Sweeney championed these reforms four years ago, but didn’t have a partner in the Governor’s office who would sign off on them. Now he does. So when the state’s top Democrat started hearing that there were some defections among the Assembly Dems, he started trying to roundup the votes. I’m told that Joe D of Essex County for example, had promised to deliver votes for the reforms that weren’t panning out.

Well, On Monday afternoon those closed door meetings began. And it finally took Speaker Oliver and Majority Leader Cryan meeting with Sweeney to get the Senate prez to agree to remove the opt-out. Sweeney seemed to view this thing as his baby, and didn’t want it changed. But the Assembly ain’t his house. And what is emerging here is a bit of a class divide. Dems see the Assembly as the last bastion of the people’s will. The opt-out is the only provision that is truly ideological. It endorses the view that maybe the idea of guaranteed government provided pensions is old and stale and needs to be phased out. And that troubled D’s who told me they were not prepared to allow it. Democrats believe in pensions and protecting working people. In fact, even some Republicans were troubled by the actuaries on the opt-out. In effect, they feared it would chip away at the health of an already troubled system and numbers suggesting otherwise were not all that clear.

So, a lot of political capital has now been spent. It was a more bruising battle than some had anticipated. You might even see Assembly Dems push back by forcing their Authorities reform on the Senate as they believe pensions were rammed down their throats a bit. Authorities targets more upper income people which brings us back to the class issue.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon has introduced a bill that eliminates the 9% pension enhancement going forward ( something the Gov also wants ), but I’m told the Dems will need the bad taste in their mouths to dissolve a bit before they will even consider that.

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On Monday, Chris Christie’s public comments on the behind-the-scenes battle over last minute appointments and nominations were muted. By Thursday, distinctly less so.

Here is what we know…several meetings a week have been taking place behind closed doors between the Christie team and the Corzine group. Apparently those meetings have been cordial if not productive.

So, let’s go back. On November 12, Christie and Corzine met face to face for the first time since the election. They were joined by the ArchBishop of Newark, because the meeting took place after the blue mass. There, they discussed transition and according to Corzine some appointments the Governor was hoping to make in the coming weeks before leaving office.

Was there an actual agreement? hard to say. But if there was at least a gentlemen’s agreement, at some point it deteriorated. Perhaps it was the sheer number of nominations and appointments Corzine asked for: 180.  The Christie people feel that this is an attempt to jam through unpopular appointments at the 11th hour. Or perhaps it was the nomination of Chief of Staff Ed McBride to a judgeship. Here is where this gets tricky. The Corzine camp says it was made clear as early that Newark meeting that McBride was one of the appointments he’d like to make. They think for Christie’s people to object now is disingenuous.

On the flip side, Christie’s people say they are not actually opposing McBride or any judgeships necessarily. They declined to give their version of what was said during what they emphasized was that private meeting.

So let’s move beyond McBride for a moment. This week, Republican Senator Phil Haines withdrew his name from consideration. He had been nominated to the bench, a position he has sought for years. So clearly the message is out. Christie doesn’t want these appointments to be made under this cloud. Whether he sent a directive to Senators asking for them to block certain nominations is unclear. The Christie camp says no. But either way the message has been sent.

And that brings me to Phil Alagia. Christie appears to have an alliance with Steve Adubato Sr. Alagia is a Joe DiVincenzo and Adubato guy. But he also served Corzine on the campaign. Corzine has rewarded him with a seat on the Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield Board of Directors ( which by the way pays an annual stipend of $37,500 plus a bonus of $1,500 for each meeting you attend ).

Initially, the thought was that a Senatorial courtesy block on Alagia might come from within the Dem party either by Codey or Rice. Codey has his own ax to grind with Adubato which goes back to the leadership fight in the state Senate ( see earlier posts ). But the word is that Codey’s objection may be thawing. That would put the onus on Republican Senator Kevin O’Toole of Essex County, who seems to be taking a wait and see approach. O’Toole is also an opponent of Codey and closer to the Adubato crowd.

So, where does that leave us? Not sure I can even keep track. I suppose the Governor could just go around Christie and appoint people from Hudson or Middlesex counties where there is no Republican Senator to block them. that has been referred to as the “nuclear option.” Or, everyone can play ball and work out a deal. I was told that conditions are “ripe” for an arrangement to be reached. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will.

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