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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Former State Senator Joe Coniglio was found guilty by a jury of his peers – five counts of mail fraud and one count of extortion.
He was found not guilty on two other counts and the jury deadlocked on yet another. According to the prosecutor, they basically found him guilty on every charge ( save one ) that had to do with exchanges of money.
Coniglio took a no-show job as a consultant for Hackensack University Medical Center where he was paid more than a hundred thousand dollars. In exchange he steered more than $3 million in state money to the institution from his perch on the Senate Budget Committee.
The Coniglio charges stemmed from an investigation into x-mas tree items in the 2005 state budget. For years, critics say the Democratic leadership used a multi-million dollar slush fund to award fellow lawmakers’ districts with money for pet projects. Sometimes those projects even belonged to family members of lawmakers. You get the idea.
Anyway, the program was halted last year but Senate President Dick Codey’s name came up quite a bit during the trial. We haven’t heard much from Codey lately. hmmmm. But he did issue a statement immediately after the verdict basically affirming that he still has warm feelings for Coniglio.
Not so much press interest in this trial. Outside the Court house following the verdict it was a small press conference with yours truly, news radio 880 and a handful of print reporters. Michele Brown the 1st Assistant U.S. Attorney was the MC.
The print guys kept asking her why no one from the hospital was indicted. She didn’t really answer the qustion, and of course she doesn’t have to.
This case was initiated by then U.S. Attorney Chris Christie who is now running for Governor. Christie had an insatiable appetite for bringing down corrupt public officials, and I would imagine this adds to that list.
Lots of states have programs like the x-mas tree items, but a lack of transparency or accountability in the state budget is what distinguished NJ’s as particularly sleazy.
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