Archive for the ‘Stimulus’ Category

So, the ARC tunnel project will be put to rest in a fashion akin to lethal injection. We sorta knew a month ago that this was coming when Governor Christie suspended all new work. So, it was no surprsie when the final announcement came down Thursday.

Here is what is interesting: how quiet labor has been. The cancellation of the tunnel will mean the loss of 6000 jobs at a time when the building trades are running at 30% unemployment. We have heard outrage about the end of ARC – although mostly from Democrats. People down south and along the shore ( who voted for Christie in huge pluralities ) are probably satisfied that New Jersey’s money for ARC may soon be diverted to shore up the Transportation Trust Fund, and not some North J project. More on that in just a minute.

I’m told by a few people associated with organized labor that they have been “holding their fire.” and the reason is because the Christie Administration reached out to these groups and told them to mute their criticism if ARC goes down on the understanding that the Governor will indeed transfer that $2.7 billion originally slated for the tunnel into the TTF; thus guaranteeing future work for the trades on other projects – roads, bridges, highways.

Could it be??? Labor not supporting their friends the Democrats in order to cozy up with the Republican Gov??? Well, no one wants to talk about this on the record but that appears to be what is happening. I mean, as long as the union guys get work…who cares what it is, right?

But herein lies rub…critics say even a $2.7 billion shot into the TTF is a “short term fix.” Not necessarily. In a very under-reported development, when work on 100 projects statewide was suspended on Monday, then subsequently resumed after a bond sale, not all of them were actually – well , resumed. “Early phase work on new projects continues to be on hold,” says Joe Dee from DOT. That is pending a top to bottom review of their worthiness. That means a scale-back is coming to stop burning through so much TTF money so darn quickly. Moreover, at least one insider says Christie is looking at ways to make an infusion of cash go even further. For example, by taking salaries outta the TTF ( which is a lot of money ). The TTF money would then only be used for capital projects.

So, if that money wouldn’t be going to solid union salaries, is there a possible bait and switch here?? Could that mean New Jersey would wind up outsourcing the work to cheaper firms??? I’m not sure, but perhaps labor should investigate that before they hold their tongues on ARC’s suspension.

In conclusion, you gotta give the Gov credit. While he has a reputation for bluster, he has actually been quietly euthanizing his potential adversaries and buying off other critics with a mixture of carrots and sticks. Let’s do an update on the Teresa Ruiz situation. Christie was annoyed Joe D could not force her to abstain on the subpoena vote in the Senate last week ( see earlier post ). Was I the only one who noticed she was the only legislator not invited to share the stage with Christie at the UMDNJ event Wednesday???

Well, if the actual subpoena hearing this Thursday was an indication of how Ruiz is coping with Siberia, it sounds like she’s feeling awfully cold being out of the circle of trust. As Senator Kean was running interference before the hearing even started ( gotta give him credit too btw…the Schundler stuff was both damaging and new, and Kean did his best to smother and obscure it ) Ruiz chimed in on his side. In fact if you look at the broadcast piece I did for NJN News, she can be heard off-camera furiously interrupting Barbara Buono to second Kean’s motion that would allow Kevin O’Toole to substitute for Joe Kyrillos on the Legislative Oversight Committee. It’s worth a listen.

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When you look at what is going on in New Jersey versus what is happening in NY State there is just no comparison.

In Albany, a 31-31 Senate deadlock has resulted in chaos, paralyzing key pieces of legislation like maintaining mayoral control of New York City schools.

While New Jersey has a had long and laborious process of approving the FY 2010 budget…and it did take the Senate until almost 11:00 pm on Thursday night to finally pass it, the work got done and it was completed several days ahead of the constitutional deadline. But perhaps most importantly, a spirited debate preceded passage.

Democrats are basically saying that this is the best and most responsible budget the state can produce given the unprecendented financial crisis and subsequent drop-off of tax revenues to the state.

Republicans counter that this budget relies on one-shot gimmicks ( like the federal stimulus money ) and raises taxes way beyond what any reasonable person would consider fair.

Liquor tax goes up. cigarette tax up. tax on businesses up. lottery winnings up. And those making more than 400k will also be paying more.

The two major parties can squabble over whether these were the best places to raise revenue but the bottom line is the budget is balanced and currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Democrats say government spending is the way to ignite the economy and get it back on track. Republicans say that will only grow the public sector instead of the private, and giving small businesses a break is the way initiate growth. It’s an age-old argument and like with everything, there is merit to both ideas.

Our coverage from last night is worth watching. particularly for lawmakers who took those arguments to the floor. Hey, it ain’t New York. At least in NJ they are still talking about the stuff that matters.

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Ok, so here is the bill we have been told to watch – A4048.

Yes, I know that is state house-speak, but critics both on and off the record are calling it Christmas Tree Redux.

In essence, the bill is being touted by the Democrats as an economic stimulus…”stimulus 2-point-nine” is the catch phrase. It creates public-private partnerships and gives tax breaks for affordable housing and local investment.

But here is the alleged shcandal. It passed the Assembly Budget Committee Monday night ( after our cameras stopped rolling ). It passed along with the entire budget – which also passed the Senate Budget Committee. However A4048 did not pass the Senate and some are claiming that more will keep being added to the bill as way to dole out favors to lawmakers and cajole them into voting for the budget when it is taken up by the full houses on Thursday.

Why is this necessary? Well, the Democratic majority is pretty solid in the Assembly where 41 votes are needed ( all Republicans are opposed to this budget in both houses ). But the Senate has 23 Democrats and 21 votes are needed for passage. Since Jeff van Drew is unlikely to vote for the budget, and Senator Vitale and some others have also expressed reservations, that leaves very little margin for error.

Jeff Tittel from the Better Choices campaign claims 4048 is the new Christmas Tree item bill. Some republicans also say that, although off the record.

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That is indeed a lot of money.

Here is the stat that says, well not all, but certainly a lot: NJ has roughly 2.8% of the United States population but is getting 3.2% of the $787 Billion ARRA package. ARRA is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aka – “the economic stimulus plan.”

It’s about time, you say? Democratic US Senators Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg were quick to take credit. They spoke at the 6th annual Governor’s Transporattion Conference at the Trenton Marriott.

The change comes after years of complaining that NJ gets short changed, or less than it’s fair share when it comes to federal homeland security dollars. Menendez said today that he now sits on the committee that decides those formulas. Besides, said Lautenberg…there is a new sheriff in town. ( he didn’t exactly use those words, but the senior Senator did credit Obama for taking care of NJ  a little better than the previous prez.

Total transportation projects in NJ this year equal $3.6 billion…plus another $1.1 billion in stimulus money. Guv says this should create 40,000 jobs. $650 million in stimulus money goes to road projects and half a bil goes to NJ Transit. That money will be used to upgrade stations ( wheelchair access is one example ).

I wonder what those unemployment numbers would look like without government spending?

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We’ve been hearing an awful lot about federal economic stimulus dollars…what NJ’s share will be, and how that money will be spent.

Well, it turns out New Jersey’s share of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is $17 Billion. Today, lawmkers attempted to find out how that money will be distributed by calling cabinet members and department heads to testify before various committees at the State House.

In fact, very little of the spending is discretionary. There are strict formulas that are mapped out in the federal legislation. For example, New Jersey gets $121 million for weatherization. This means that households can get up to $6500 each to make homes more energy efficient by insulating vents and windows. But in order to qualify, one must be at 200% of the Federal poverty level or 60% of the state median.

New Jersey will also get $2.2 billion in Medicaid reimbursement funding which will be used to shore up safety nets such as child immunizations and Meals on Wheels for seniors.

How will this be accounted for? the state has set up a website http://www.recovery.nj.gov

Corzine’s Chief of Staff Ed Mcbride and State Comptroller Matt Boxer will be in charge of ensuring that accountability. During his testimony before the Assembly Budget Committee today Boxer was grilled by Republican Joe Malone who said there was already zero accountability when it came to a big pot of school contruction money in 2005, and how will this be any different?

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