Category: Clips

Brown speaks about latest PILOT plan to shorten term for casino payments

Atlantic City Press  -

The draft of a new bill to stabilize casino property taxes in Atlantic City shortens the payment in lieu of taxes time frame to 10 years and encourages the county to get more involved in solving the city’s financial crisis.

A copy of the draft was provided to The Press by state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, during an editorial board meeting Friday afternoon. It could be introduced in the Legislature as soon as Tuesday, along with a bill to give the state control over the city’s finances, he said.

Some of its language could change, he cautioned.

Instead, Atlantic City casinos will collectively pay an amount that starts at $120 million per year in 2016, and the amount will be adjusted annually according to total gross gaming receipts, or total revenue if GGR falls precipitously.

It is the same framework that was in the most recent PILOT bill Gov. Chris Christie pocket-vetoed in January.

The new PILOT bill includes what were separate bills to redirect investment alternative tax proceeds to the city and to abolish the Atlantic City Alliance.

This version of the bill still does not include language specifying what percentage of the casinos’ payments should be shared with Atlantic County.

Language in the statement portion used to say 13.5 percent was expected to go to the county. Now, it says the county over the last three years has received an average of 10.4 percent of city taxes, but it would be expected to get the full 13.5 percent if it takes “additional responsibility for and on behalf of Atlantic City.”

County Executive Dennis Levinson said he met Thursday with city officials to discuss ways the county can help, and he was disappointed the 13.5 percent was not guaranteed in the bill.

Chris A. Brown

Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said he will keep working to fine-tune the language on the 13.5 percent, but he is happy several changes he suggested have been incorporated, including the shorter time frame and charging casinos regular property taxes on new construction and improvements.

Whelan said he is happy the county is stepping up to drive economic diversification and help finance the Stockton Atlantic City Campus in the Chelsea section.

“The county has not historically been very aggressive,” Whelan said. “Not just the executive, but the other folks brag about their bonding ratio. But we have the highest foreclosure rates in the country and high unemployment. It’s time to spend some money.”

Earlier estimates from state Senate President Stephen Sweeney predicted the bills would be introduced by Feb. 11, in order to be finalized in time to get aid to the city by April 1, when the city was estimated to run out of cash.

The new PILOT draft keeps the increase in additional casino payments, Whelan said. The casinos would make $30 million in additional payments for 2015 and 2016, followed by $15 million in 2017; $10 million in 2018; and $5 million for years 2019 through 2023. That is a total of $110 million, the same that was in the pocket-vetoed bill and considerably more than the $60 million that was in the early PILOT bill.

The draft also requires the state to issue a report on how well the program is working in 2021, rather than 2026, which means upward adjustments in casinos’ payments could be made five years earlier if it turns out the PILOT severely shortchanges the city compared to a traditional property tax.

The range of payments the casinos are expected to pay annually remains from $165 million if gross gaming revenue in the preceding year is $3 billion to $3.4 billion; down to $90 million if that revenue is $1.8 billion or less and aggregate gross revenues from all other sources have not increased to make up for prior year losses.

In effect, it leaves the floor for PILOT payments at $120 million for gross gaming revenues between $2.2 billion and $2.6 billion, since that is the lowest tier in which all other sources of revenue are not counted.

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RUMANA: Don’t rush headlong into $15 an hour minimum wage

Source: Asbury Park Press – Trenton Democrats recently announced plans to raise our state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Seattle and San Francisco have started phasing in this proposal with cities like Los Angeles and states such as Massachusetts and New York not far behind. Trenton Democrats, who control the state Legislature, are poised to take a page out of self-described socialist Bernie Sanders’ campaign playbook and fast track their plan to increase the minimum wage by 79 percent.

Our state’s recent history shows how destructive liberal government overreach into the private sector can be. A decade of Democratic control left us with over 100 new tax and fee increases and a mountain of regulatory red tape. Their class warfare tactics and tax-and-spend tirade left us with the highest unemployment in the region, highest property taxes in the nation and worst business tax climate in the country.

Scott Rumana

Ironically, many of the policies Trenton Democrats pursued to help New Jersey’s lower- and middle-class citizens hurt them the most, driving up the cost of living and leaving many families with an affordability crisis and less opportunities to earn a living.

We have turned the page on big-government liberal policies because they left our state with fewer jobs and an affordability nightmare. A $15-per-hour minimum wage would not only reverse our economic progress, it would disproportionately drive up the cost of living and kill job opportunities for lower- and middle-class families.

If this proposal moves forward, we should all brace for higher costs for food, gas and home goods. With increased costs for payroll, major corporations and small businesses alike will either transfer those costs to consumers, cut back jobs or both. Many of our state’s small businesses are working harder than ever to make ends meet while providing good-paying jobs. They will undoubtedly be the hardest hit by a minimum-wage jump to $15 and hour and be forced to make drastic decisions about their futures and the futures of their employees.

In 2015, Seattle started its first year of phasing in its $15 per hour minimum wage increase, raising their minimum wage to $11 an hour. It will be a while until we see the long-term effects of this social experiment, but some of the short-term ramifications should at least give us some pause.

The restaurant industry is a useful barometer of minimum wage policy, with nearly half of that industry’s employees making minimum wage or below. The American Enterprise Institute released data that showed while Washington State, excluding the Seattle Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), saw restaurant employment grow by 5,800 jobs from January to September 2015, the Seattle MSA saw a decline of 700 restaurant jobs during that same period. During those nine months, those job losses in the Seattle MSA represented the largest decline since 2009.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown had been a proponent of a similar minimum wage increase, in part to discourage well-funded special interest groups from putting an even more aggressive minimum wage proposal on the ballot in her state. After facing scrutiny from both sides of the aisle and the business community, Brown recently announced that she would scale back her original proposal. Many cities have also cooled on minimum wage hikes.

If New Jersey Democrats really want to help those in need, we should not hastily push this proposed minimum wage hike through. We should allow time for studies that will show what the economic impact of such a large wage hike would be in New Jersey.

Let’s start a statewide dialogue with small businesses and other job creators who understand the profound impact of this policy firsthand. We have to be mindful of the balance between wages and the cost of goods and services as we strive to keep prices affordable. In the meantime, we need to focus on ways to bring down the cost of living in New Jersey and that includes property tax reform — something we have been pushing for over a decade.

New Jersey’s economic future is too important to simply take Bernie Sanders’ word for it.

Scott Rumana is Assembly Republican whip. He represents parts of Passaic, Bergen, Essex and Morris counties.

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O’Scanlon commends panel report on pension and health benefits

Source: Excerpted from NJ Spotlight -

After largely staying out of the political debate over funding public-employee benefits for nearly a year, a commission of experts impaneled by Gov. Chris Christie has jumped back into it, issuing a new report that roundly criticizes a pension-funding constitutional amendment proposed by Democratic legislative leaders.

The new report also provides new details on the panel’s own plan to save roughly $2 billion by making sweeping changes to government worker and retiree healthcare plans. That money, under the plan, would then be used to help pay down the state’s $40 billion pension debt.

Declan O'Scanlon

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) said the commission’s findings “hit the nail on the head.”

“Unless we implement the necessary reforms, we cannot make the projected massive payments into the system. We will be digging our huge budget hole even deeper,” said O’Scanlon, the top Republican on the Assembly’s budget panel.

The report was released as Christie prepares to present his latest state budget to a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday.

And it also comes as the troubled public-employee pension system remains one of the state’s biggest fiscal challenges despite a bipartisan effort in 2011 involving Christie that was supposed to largely repair it.

The commission’s report was criticized yesterday by the leader of the New Jersey Education Association, who accused the panel of trying to deflect attention away from Christie’s record on pension issues on the eve of the budget address.

But the report drew praise from the leading Republican on the Assembly Budget Committee.

Last year, the same commission released a set of sweeping recommendations that included freezing the current pension system and creating a cash-balance retirement plan with some features of a 401(k). The commission also proposed offering current public employees and retirees less generous health plans and using those savings to pay down the current pension system’s debt.

School districts would take on the cost of teacher pensions and retiree healthcare under the commission’s plan, which was wholly embraced by Christie but has never been supported by Democrats who control the state Legislature.

The pension-funding issue was also raised during last year’s legislative elections, which saw Democrats pick up four seats in the Assembly.

The report released yesterday fleshed out some of the details of the commission’s proposed healthcare changes, including reforming out-of-network rules for current employees and reducing their premiums, but increasing out-of-pocket costs. It also called for using healthcare exchanges for retirees, presumably through the federal Affordable Care Act. And it included new actuarial estimates validating the commission’s earlier projection of $2 billion in annual healthcare savings.

The section of the report that took aim at [Senate President Steve] Sweeney’s proposed constitutional amendment asserted that his plan contains no concrete explanation of how the state would be able to afford a series of significant pension contributions.

Sweeney’s plan calls for the state, over the course of several years, to eventually get up to the full pension contributions calculated by actuaries to restore the health of the pension system. It would also require that the state make payments on a quarterly basis rather than at the end of each fiscal year, which is the current practice.

The pension payment in Christie’s current state budget is $1.3 billion, but the state contributions would climb to over $5 billion in less than a decade if the constitutional amendment – which Democrats want to put before voters this fall — is approved.

The report said that, without reforms, employee pension and health benefits would eventually eat up more than 25 percent of the state budget, while 15 percent would be a better target.

“The premise of the amendment is that funding employee benefits — not protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public — should have the first call on the State’s funds,” the report said.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) said the commission’s findings “hit the nail on the head.”

“Unless we implement the necessary reforms, we cannot make the projected massive payments into the system. We will be digging our huge budget hole even deeper,” said O’Scanlon, the top Republican on the Assembly’s budget panel.

But Mark Magyar, policy director for the Senate Democrats, suggested the commission didn’t take into account several key factors in its analysis of the proposed constitutional amendment, including its projection of 7 percent annual increases in employee healthcare costs.

Commission members said they hope their report eases concerns raised by local government officials who fear the broader reform plan, by shifting more responsibility onto school boards with the promise of huge savings, would expose property taxpayers to more risk at the state’s convenience.

Employee pension and healthcare contribution rates were last ramped up in 2011 under the bipartisan reform law known as Chapter 78. Workers were also forced to pay more for their healthcare coverage, while the state promised — as part of the reform law and a previous bill enacted in 2010 — to increase contributions into the pension system over a seven-year period.

Christie, however, reneged on that part of the deal after state tax collections failed to meet his revenue projections during the 2014 fiscal year.

That laid the groundwork for the commission’s work as Christie was forced to come up with a new strategy on public-employee benefits as he prepared to seek the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination.

Christie’s office did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

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O’Scanlon: ‘Every day we wait … sets $10 million in taxpayer dollars on fire.’

Source: Bergen Record -

A constitutional amendment to mandate quarterly payments to the pension system could have “potentially cataclysmic consequences” on the quality of life in New Jersey, according to a new report, requiring more than $3 billion in tax increases by 2022.

The New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission, appointed by Governor Christie in 2014, has proposed cutting public workers’ health benefits and using estimated savings of $2 billion a year to replenish the state’s underfunded pension system.

Declan O'Scanlon

Christie’s commission said a lack of cost-cutting reforms could mean further downgrades for the state’s troubled bond rating. With interest rates poised to rise again, New Jersey’s low credit rating could make it more expensive for the state to borrow funds. It estimated that the state’s pension debt is “increasing by $10 million a day.”

“Every day we wait to fix this problem essentially sets $10 million in taxpayer dollars on fire,” said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon of Monmouth County, the Republican budget officer. “The commission’s recommendations should be implemented to guarantee the system’s long-term sustainability.”

Democrats who control the Legislature say the plan is a non-starter because it proposes to fix the pension system only by raising costs on public workers. The problem, they say, was created by a succession of governors and lawmakers who have neglected to fund the retirement system since 1997.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, both Democrats, instead are moving ahead with a proposal to amend the state constitution to mandate quarterly payments to the pension system. Natural economic growth would cover the cost, they say, but they have not said how they would keep up with the pension costs in the event of an economic downturn.

No other state requires quarterly pension payments through its constitution. The plan must be approved by voters and Democrats expect to have it on November’s ballot.

“Because it would impose a significant, irrevocable burden on the state without specifying how that obligation would be paid for, the commission believes that the Legislature and the public as a whole should approach the proposed amendment with extreme caution,” the report’s authors wrote.

Even with natural economic growth, the commission estimated that New Jersey officials would have to make massive cuts to schools and property tax relief payments in the state budget – or pass heavy tax hikes – to capture enough revenue for the pension amendment.

“Even with a millionaires’ tax, steady annual growth in existing revenues of over 3 percent and other optimistic assumptions, at least $2.8 billion in new annual taxes would be needed by 2022 on citizens other than millionaires,” the authors wrote. The millionaires’ tax, which Christie has vetoed five times as governor, has been projected to raise around $700 million a year.

Christie railed at the proposed amendment during his state of the state speech in January. Although the governor has no role deciding what questions go on the ballot, Christie has vowed to galvanize the public against it.

Christie is scheduled to deliver a new state budget Tuesday.

Christie’s commission said a lack of cost-cutting reforms could mean further downgrades for the state’s troubled bond rating. With interest rates poised to rise again, New Jersey’s low credit rating could make it more expensive for the state to borrow funds. It estimated that the state’s pension debt is “increasing by $10 million a day.”

“Every day we wait to fix this problem essentially sets $10 million in taxpayer dollars on fire,” said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon of Monmouth County, the Republican budget officer. “The commission’s recommendations should be implemented to guarantee the system’s long-term sustainability.”

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Bramnick: Gov’s goals for pension reform and transportation fix ‘are pretty clear’

Source: Excerpted from the Bergen Record -

Governor Christie on Thursday was not traveling for a national political organization, not delivering a policy speech at a special interest forum and not away in New Hampshire fighting for a chance to become president.

Now the intrigue of Christie becomes local, with questions about his agenda for New Jersey in 2016 and how he’ll seek to shape the final two years of his governorship after a disappointing loss in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. The following day he suspended his campaign, allowing him to continue raising money and pay off debt.

Jon Bramnick

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, the Republican leader who is close to Christie, said he cannot speak for the governor but that his goals for pension reform and a transportation fix “are pretty clear.” But the relationship between Christie and Democratic leaders changed after the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, and once Christie started running for president the Democrats became less willing to work across the aisle, he said.

“The reform was stopped post-Bridgegate and people started looking toward 2017 – that’s when the reform-minded Democrats stopped making progress,” he said, using a frequently used name for the scandal. “The only difference with (Christie) being here now, if I can think of anything, is that the Democrats don’t have him to point their finger at.”

Christie had no public schedule on Thursday, but he did announce he has requested federal assistance from President Obama for a snowstorm that caused $82.6 million in damage in 17 counties, including Bergen, last month. A budget address scheduled for Tuesday will lay out his priorities for the next fiscal year, but his office has given no public insight to his agenda. And the 220 full days he has spent outside New Jersey since 2015 has left little opportunity to get a strong sense of his plans leading the state as it faces significant challenges in public employee pensions, transportation funding and Atlantic City’s financial future.

Whatever his plans may be, Christie could struggle to carry them out on his terms with a recalcitrant Legislature led by Democrats who have their own agenda and an eye on winning back the front office in the 2017 governor’s election. Christie is also at record-low approval ratings with simmering resentment from residents over his frequent travels the past two years.

Christie has left clues in his few appearances in Trenton that he’ll increase funding for substance abuse treatment, expand charter schools and seek more concessions from public employee unions to try solving their pension fund.

The state Supreme Court last year left it up to Christie and the Legislature to work out a plan for solving the crisis in the public employee pension fund, which has been short-changed for years and is in danger of running out of money within the next decade. In his State of the State speech last month, Christie highlighted the success of his first term working with Democrats to gain concessions from the unions, but said, “We still have more to do and, please, please let’s not start taking steps backwards after all this hard work.”

The panel formed by Christie to study and recommend further reforms issued a new report Thursday warning of tax hikes if a Democratic proposal to constitutionally require quarterly pension payments is approved, and it again called for cutting worker benefits and use the savings to pay into the pension fund.

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, the Republican leader who is close to Christie, said he cannot speak for the governor but that his goals for pension reform and a transportation fix “are pretty clear.” But the relationship between Christie and Democratic leaders changed after the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, and once Christie started running for president the Democrats became less willing to work across the aisle, he said.

“The reform was stopped post-Bridgegate and people started looking toward 2017 – that’s when the reform-minded Democrats stopped making progress,” he said, using a frequently used name for the scandal. “The only difference with (Christie) being here now, if I can think of anything, is that the Democrats don’t have him to point their finger at.”

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Bramnick on Christie facing the cChallenge of a more modest political stage

Source: Excerpted from the New York Times -

With his star power and influence diminished after a desultory performance on the presidential campaign trail, Gov. Chris Christie has returned to New Jersey to tend to a state he had at times abandoned during his run.

Mr. Christie had vowed to bring his confrontational, deal-making leadership style to the White House. But after withdrawing from the race this week after a deflating sixth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, he must now contend with the opposite challenge: cramming his vast political ambitions back into a space the size of New Jersey, and reimmersing himself in the humdrum functions of his office.

Jon Bramnick

Jon M. Bramnick, the Republican leader in the State Assembly, said he expected Mr. Christie to make priorities of the same set of issues that had defined his governorship from the start, which includes reform of the public pension system and reining in New Jersey’s tax and regulatory laws.

Mr. Bramnick, who is a close ally of the governor, said Mr. Christie would also serve as an impediment to Democratic efforts to pass laws catering to organized labor ahead of the 2017 elections.

“Chris Christie’s position has been, from Day 1, to do things to make New Jersey affordable and competitive, and, I would say, to block stupid stuff,” Mr. Bramnick said.

It was not clear when the governor intended to resume a full schedule; he made no appearances on Wednesday or Thursday. It was also unclear how much political capital Mr. Christie had left in Trenton, where his campaign had drawn jeers from New Jersey Democrats, reveling in the misfortune of an adversary who once routinely humiliated them, and exasperated some Republicans, who struggled to maintain their political influence in the governor’s absence.

In polls, voters disapproved of Mr. Christie’s adventure in presidential politics, and many now regard his homecoming with a combination of eye-rolling and trepidation.

In Trenton, Mr. Christie faces what appears to be the most difficult political environment since he took office in 2010. Democrats have a tight grip on both chambers of the State Legislature. Democratic leaders, who worked closely with Mr. Christie in his first term, have grown more adversarial, and accused him of neglecting state issues in order to advance policies that would appeal to conservative voters in the presidential primaries.

Mr. Christie is expected to grapple anew with the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal. Two of Mr. Christie’s former associates, who were indicted on a charge of allegedly conspiring to create a crippling traffic jam as a form of political payback, are scheduled to go on trial in April, creating a potentially embarrassing spectacle as Mr. Christie presses an agenda in Trenton.

These days, that agenda is also in flux. Mr. Christie, who cannot run for re-election in 2017 because of term limits, said in his State of the State address that he intended to use his executive powers to aid charter schools in New Jersey, though he did not say precisely how. In the same speech, he proposed only one measure requiring action from the State Legislature, an abolition of New Jersey’s estate tax.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the governor, said that Mr. Christie had remained firmly in command of the state throughout his presidential campaign. “Partisan critics will always be that, but the reality is that the governor is always in charge, moving the agenda, and certainly instrumental in key accomplishments that have been done over the past weeks and months,” Mr. Roberts said.

There is a measure of optimism among New Jersey leaders that the end of Mr. Christie’s campaign might improve the political climate in Trenton. Republicans there have seen Democrats as excessively focused on undermining Mr. Christie as a national candidate; Democrats have complained that Mr. Christie has been unwilling to negotiate compromises that might attract criticism from his opponents in a Republican presidential primary.

There may be room now to wind down those tensions. Even toward the end of his campaign, Mr. Christie seemed to recover some of his footing as a negotiator, twice leaving the campaign trail in January to announce deals with Democratic leaders, on casino regulation and a plan to rescue Atlantic City’s failing finances.

Jon M. Bramnick, the Republican leader in the State Assembly, said he expected Mr. Christie to make priorities of the same set of issues that had defined his governorship from the start, which includes reform of the public pension system and reining in New Jersey’s tax and regulatory laws.

Mr. Bramnick, who is a close ally of the governor, said Mr. Christie would also serve as an impediment to Democratic efforts to pass laws catering to organized labor ahead of the 2017 elections.

“Chris Christie’s position has been, from Day 1, to do things to make New Jersey affordable and competitive, and, I would say, to block stupid stuff,” Mr. Bramnick said.

A few policy matters loom large over Mr. Christie’s return to Trenton. The state’s Transportation Trust Fund faces a funding crunch that will cut off spending for new projects this summer. Democrats have proposed raising the gas tax, perhaps as part of a larger deal that could reduce other state taxes. No longer wooing anti-tax activists in a national election, Mr. Christie could have more political space to arrange a compromise on the issue.

More difficult is the state’s costly public pension system, which Mr. Christie and state Democratic leaders sought to bring under control in his first term. A commission appointed by Mr. Christie last year proposed additional reforms to the system, but those ideas went nowhere in the State Legislature.

Democrats have recently pushed for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing pension payments to retired government workers, as a safeguard, they said, against Mr. Christie or another governor failing to fund the system in full. Mr. Christie has denounced Democratic efforts to offer such an amendment in a statewide referendum vote, and vowed in his State of the State address to vigorously fight it.

Toughest of all for Mr. Christie, however, may be regaining the personal popularity that gave him decisive leverage over his Democratic critics during his first few years in office. Mr. Christie, who won re-election with 60 percent of the vote in 2013, won positive marks from just a third of New Jersey voters in a December poll conducted by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

It is likely to be difficult — perhaps impossible — for Mr. Christie to revive the broad appeal he held in his first term, when voters seemed to view him as a sympathetic tough guy rather than a vindictive political boss.

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Brown: North Jersey casino tax rate below 50 percent leaves A.C. short of aid

Source: Press of Atlantic City -

If casinos open in North Jersey, they will pay less than 50 percent in taxes on their gaming revenue, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said this week, raising questions over how much money would be available for helping Atlantic City.

Sweeney’s remarks came after Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, raised the tax rate issue at an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing. The committee advanced a bill Monday that would ask voters to approve up to two North Jersey casinos.

Sweeney told reporters after the vote that the tax rate for the casinos would be determined in the enabling legislation, but said it would be less than 50 percent, his spokesman confirmed.

Chris A. Brown

Brown said Wednesday that a tax rate lower than 50 percent makes it impossible for the bill’s sponsors to live up to their promise of sending that much money toward redeveloping Atlantic City.

Citing Deutsche Bank, which said North Jersey casinos could generate $500 million in revenue, Brown said even a 50 percent rate would only put $250 million in the state’s coffers.

That tax revenue would then be split among the host municipalities of North Jersey casinos, senior and disabled programs, the horse racing industry and Atlantic City.

“The numbers simply don’t work,” Brown said. “The legislation outlines a complicated formula for the appropriation of tax revenue generated by two North Jersey casinos, which we now know will be based on a lower tax rate, and won’t generate the sufficient revenue.”

Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank, raised similar concerns in a written testimony presented to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

“How does the committee know how new casinos will aid Atlantic City and the state’s perilous financial condition without proposed tax rates?” his testimony said.

Atlantic City casinos pay an effective tax rate of 9.25 percent on gross gambling revenue. Pennsylvania casinos pay an effective rate of 55 percent.

Brown said leaving the tax rate unspecified until later leaves the Legislature under pressure by potential developers to keep the tax rate low in order to attract casinos.

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Interview with freshman Assemblyman Joe Howarth

Source: The SandPaper -

Each of the 40 state legislative districts in the Garden State is accorded two assemblypersons.

New Jersey’s 9th District, however, may have 2½.

Joe Howarth

Joe Howarth

The district, which includes parts of Atlantic, Burlington and Ocean counties, including all of Southern Ocean County, is officially represented by Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove. The “half legislator” in question is Joe Howarth of the 8th District.

The 8th is the western neighbor of the 9th, with Howarth representing the citizens of parts of Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties, so it would make sense that some of the issues that are important to Rumpf and Gove and Southern Ocean County residents would bleed over the district borders and vice versa. Indeed, the districts overlap at the federal level, with large chunks of each belonging to the 3rd U.S. Congressional District represented by Republican Tom MacArthur.

Plus Rumpf, Gove and Howarth, like MacArthur, are all Republicans, so it is only natural that they would work closely.

South Jersey Republicans often form an informal team, with mentor/protégé relationships. MacArthur, and especially his predecessor, Congressman Jon Runyan, looked to guidance from longtime Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District (his district, like MacArthur’s, includes many Southern Ocean County communities) upon first assuming office. That makes sense – the communities of LBI share many of the concerns of a Cape May or Wildwood. But the Howarth connection with the 9th District may be even stronger than usual.

Howarth lived on LBI in the early 1990s, along with his wife, Dr. Maria Lania-Howarth and three children. They moved to Marlton in 1996 to reduce the doctor’s commute.

“She’s the director of the Division of Pediatric Allergy/Immunology at Cooper Hospital,” said Howarth. “When we lived on the Island she drove an hour-and-a-half each way to get to work. Now her office is just two miles away.”

The Howarths, however, still own a home in North Beach Haven. And Joe is still aware of the issues considered important by Islanders.

“In my last year as (Burlington County) freeholder in 2014 I went to that Barnegat Light get-together about seismic testing,” he said.

Howarth was referring to a July 2, 2014 “emergency town meeting” at the Barnegat Light firehouse organized by the environmental group Clean Ocean Action where locals opposed seismic testing of the ocean 15 miles off the coast of that community. The testing, designed by researchers at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in collaboration with Rutgers University, the National Science Foundation and the University of Texas, used sound waves to penetrate the sea floor to map sediment densities to gauge climate change. But COA, along with Barnegat Light Mayor (and owner of a commercial scalloping fleet) Kirk Larson and many LBI residents, was concerned that the testing would disrupt sealife in the ocean with its blasts that were “orders of magnitude louder than a jet plane at takeoff … every five seconds continuously 24/7 for 30 days from June through July.”

“I had to give my support to Ocean County,” said Howarth.

The testing was delayed due to mechanical difficulties but was eventually conducted, despite opposition from LBI residents and politicians and the 9th District delegation, in 2015. But Howarth had shown his connection with LBI remained strong.

It wasn’t a political decision. After all, Howarth no longer lived in the 9th District. Besides, it seemed as if Howarth’s budding political career might be over. He soon decided against seeking re-election as a Burlington County freeholder because he was suffering from Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract.

But things, obviously, changed.

The roots of Howarth’s political career can be traced to his children, Nicole, Andrew and Gabrielle. They’re now all young adults, but when they were little they got their father involved with the Boy Scouts, the Marlton Rec Advisory Board, the Marlton PTA and several theater groups associated with Cherokee High School (he had also been connected with the Our Gang Players while living on LBI). That led to a run for the Evesham Township Board of Education (Marlton is a census-designated place within Evesham).

“I was involved in the community and someone said, ‘you used to work in education (his degree from Trenton State College was in health, physical education and drivers education and he had worked as a teacher at both the elementary and secondary levels before switching to pharmaceutical and insurance sales before switching back to education in 2005, employed as a para-professional in the Seneca High School Special Education Department). Why don’t you run for school board?’ So I did. I ran for an unexpired seat for one year and then for a three-year term.”

Howarth won, and found, as so many candidates do, that serving on a school board is a great introduction to elected politics.

“I kind of got my feet wet in terms of budgets and how things (the process) work,” he said. “Most of the time the school boards deal with more tax money in a town than the municipal government. It’s a good place to start. It really gives you some insight into how things are paid for and taxed.”

In 2009 Howarth stepped into municipal politics, running for the Evesham Township Council.

“I ran on the premise of ‘yes, we can cut taxes.’ We had a large tax increase the year before. Plus, I was still involved in scouting and coaching in Marlton Rec so I also said we could use some new fields.”

Evesham has a Faulkner Act council-manager form of government, with a mayor and four members of council. The Democrats were in control until Howarth and two running mates swept into power. Mayor Randy Brown, a Dem, switched parties in 2010 and now the entire governing body is Republican.

Howarth, who served as deputy mayor, kept his election promises.

“I never voted for a tax increase while on council,” he said.

Evesham, with a population of almost 50,000, is the largest municipality population-wise in Burlington County. So it wasn’t surprising that when there was an opening in the Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2011 that the GOP approached Howarth.

“I said, ‘sure, I’d be more than happy to run.’”

Howarth and a campaign partner ran against a Democratic incumbent and his running mate. They won, which was not a given. Ocean County is a GOP fiefdom. Burlington County is not.

“Burlington County is kind of unique,” said Howarth. “The county has about 30,000 more registered Democrats than registered Republicans. But there are a lot more independents.”

As of Oct. 31, 2014 the county boasted 94,520 registered Democrats, 67,733 registered Republicans and a whopping 130,003 unaffiliated registered voters. So its voting swings are unpredictable.

President Barack Obama crushed Mitt Romney in 2012, with 126,377 votes to Romney’s 87,401. The president beat John McCain even more badly in 2008, 131,219 to 89,219.

Yet Republican Chris Christie whooped Democrat Barbara Buono in the 2013 gubernatorial election, 79,220 to 46,161, and edged Jon Corzine, 66,723 to 63,114, in 2009.

The GOP had all five seats on the Burlington County Board of Freeholders when Howarth was elected. The Democrats, however, took two seats in the 2012 election. So Howarth was concerned when he decided to bow out of politics as the 2014 elections approached. Control of the board was at stake.

“I was at the end of my three-year term and I was running for re-election,” he explained. “But I’ve had Crohn’s disease for about 10 years and that August I had a severe bout. The next thing I knew I saw a surgeon and he said we’d have to operate to take care of the issue. So I stepped down. The Republicans said, ‘just get well, get better.’ They went on to win (the GOP controls the board, 5-0, to this day).”

Meanwhile, Howarth battled Crohn’s.

“I was operated on in September of 2014 and I was out of it for about a month or so. I finished my term, finished out the year and then I started feeling better. Then, last Feb. 7, I was nominated by the (GOP) nominating committee to run for Assembly.”

He and his running mate, Maria Rodriquez-Gregg, ran unopposed.

“I don’t know why they (the Dems) didn’t run anybody against us,” said Howarth. “But I ran hard, I worked, knocking on doors, for other GOP candidates.”

Howarth was sworn into the Assembly on Jan. 12.

“The hardest thing right now is just finding your way around (the capital). It’s like Mr. Smith goes to Washington,” laughed Howarth.

One of the first important tasks the new assemblyman had to deal with was getting his committee assignments. He ended up on the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee (probably because of his background in insurance sales). More importantly for both Burlington and Ocean County, he was assigned to the Military and Veteran’s Affairs Committee.

Ocean County has a huge population of vets. Burlington County is home to most of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, which is a huge employer, not only in Howarth’s district but in Ocean County. He’ll have a mentor at Military and Veteran’s Affairs – Gove, who is also a member of the committee.

“I’ve known DiAnne since she was (a history teacher) at Southern,” said Howarth.

Howarth’s interview with The SandPaper ended with a laugh. For now we’re calling him Southern Ocean County’s “half assemblyman.” But once he gets to know his way around the statehouse he may graduate to “third assemblyman” status.

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Dancer’s idea of digital license to be studied

Source: Tri-Town News -

The state Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) will examine what it would take to move a primary form of identification out of an individual’s wallet and into smartphones.

Legislation calling for a study into the development and implementation of a digital driver’s license smartphone application was recently signed by Gov. Chris Christie. The examination is expected to focus on the advantages, costs and risks associated with a move away from a traditional driver’s license, according to a press release.

Ron Dancer

One of the legislation’s sponsors, Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Ocean, Monmouth, Burlington and Middlesex), said that digital licenses would be a boon to the MVC and motorists if they can be implemented.

“Use of this app will allow the MVC to update licenses instantly and reduce the number of trips by motorists to the MVC offices, while also giving drivers the ability to register their vehicles electronically,” Dancer said. “The feasibility study’s costbenefit analysis will provide useful information to determine if this application makes sense and is worth testing.”

Proponents of a digital driver’s license cite a number of features with the technology, including increased privacy and security measures associated with modern smartphones, as many smartphones can be remotely locked, wiped of information or located with a global positioning system if they are lost or stolen, according to the press release.

“We are more likely to leave home without our wallet than without our cellphone,” Dancer said. “For those who desire the option to have an electronic driver’s license, a summons for not having a plastic (driver’s license) from the MVC in our possession will be a thing of the past.”

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Chris A. Brown: Mission to Israel seeks business, investment for Atlantic County

Atlantic City Press op-ed by Chris A. Brown -

Chris A. Brown

The first time I traveled to the Middle East on government business, I was a young lieutenant ordered by the U.S. Army to leave law school, pick up a rifle and fight to liberate a country I never heard of called “Kuwait.” Being young and full of bravado, it was my desire to hurt as many of the bad guys as I could.

Now, 25 years later, I’m going back to the Mideast on government business, except this time I’m carrying a briefcase and I’ll be fighting for the working families and retirees of Atlantic County. Being wiser, more experienced, I hope to build as many lasting relationships as possible with our friends in Israel.

The Democrat Majority leadership in Trenton pushing for North Jersey casinos requires us to move quickly and find new ways to diversify the local economy. Traveling to Israel now can help expedite transitioning Atlantic City into a destination resort and attracting and developing industries beyond hospitality for Atlantic County. At my own expense, I will embark on a legislative mission to Israel to encourage Israeli companies to do business with Atlantic County and hopefully create more job opportunities for families.

Since 1988, New Jersey and Israel have shared a Sister-State Agreement to encourage capital investment and joint business ventures between the state and Israel. Over this time, Israel has become New Jersey’s 13th largest trading partner, with N.J. companies exporting about $860 million in products to Israel. For a country roughly the size of New Jersey, Israel enjoys the fifth largest venture capital market in the world and leads the world in start-ups per capita. Atlantic County should be in the mix when it comes to doing business with Israel.

We need to let Israeli companies looking for investment opportunities know what a gem we have here in Atlantic County. We provide convenient access to Philadelphia and New York City, with an international airport connected to the FAA Technical Center and the Stockton Aviation Research Technology Park; research and educational support through Stockton University and Atlantic Cape Community College; prime real estate at Bader Field and the Hamilton Racecourse; and convention and trade show space.

Experts note many Israeli high-tech startup companies are interested in expanding to or locating in New Jersey, and may very well be attracted to our geography, infrastructure and the special economic incentives the state offers under GROW NJ.

Atlantic County’s Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan, released last September, recommended the county focus on the aerospace and aviation industry. Israel is a logical prospect to invest here since it already imports 59 percent of its aircraft parts from the United States. The demand is there.

Moreover, Atlantic County’s role in drone development can help both countries stay at the forefront of innovation and protecting citizens.

During the first Gulf War, I heard the sirens warning of incoming Scud missiles and watched as U.S. Patriot missiles soared into the sky intercepting the Scuds. The ability of a free and democratic society to defend itself against terrorism is a fundamental right. Newer state-of-the-art systems like the Iron Dome, a rocket defense platform, help counter terrorist acts. Yet, as effective as current defense systems are, the reality is that we need to stay ahead of new threats, and there is no reason new systems can’t be developed right here in Atlantic County.

Along with encouraging better business relationships, I’m eager to ask my hosts about their approaches to keeping their families safe from terrorism. Israel has been engaged in a war on terror since becoming a nation in 1948, so I’m interested in learning if there are methods we could employ here to keep families safe from any potential threats.

This is a very challenging time for families, who are uncertain about their future and wonder if Atlantic County will remain an affordable place to raise children and eventually retire. I believe, with so much on the line, it’s worth the effort to see if Atlantic County can be the right fit for an Israeli company to invest capital and create jobs here, or purchase goods and services from existing businesses here.

For me, heading back to the Middle East is best expressed by the Hebrew word “chesed,” which captures the blend of the responsibility and kindness one feels toward a friend. I’m excited to share the advantages Atlantic County has to offer with our friends in Israel.

Chris Brown, of Ventnor, is a Republican representing the 2nd District (nearly all of Atlantic County) in the N.J. Assembly.

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