Category: Clips

Public employee benefits at center of budget storm; O’Scanlon plans reforms

Source: Edison Sentinel -

A ranking Republican legislator predicts that skyrocketing health benefit costs for public employees in New Jersey will cripple the state’s budget in less than six years.

Declan O'Scanlon

State Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), who serves as the GOP budget officer in the Assembly, said last week he is hoping to unveil a package of reforms before the end of the year in an effort to stave off the growing cost of health benefits.

“The state of New Jersey’s fiscal health is precarious. You can’t argue with the math,” he said. “The commitments that some well-meaning — but irresponsible, nonetheless — previous New Jersey officials made will crush the taxpayers of New Jersey. “If we don’t have [reform], this all explodes. And somewhere between three and six years from now, this is going to come to a head.”

O’Scanlon’s comments came a week after Gov. Chris Christie said during a town hall meeting in Long Branch that the state will pay more in benefits for retired employees than for active employees over the next year.

Though he did not present a specific plan, O’Scanlon said the reforms must result in employees contributing more for health care.

“[Public benefits] are extremely generous. The overwhelming majority of the people in the private sector don’t get health benefits from their employers anywhere near what public sector employees get,” he said. “That has got to change.”

However, the state should focus more on driving down premium costs rather than increasing contributions, according to Kevin Lyons, a spokesman for the New Jersey State Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

“Almost every plan the state has come up with to save costs is nothing more than cost shifting,” he said. “That has nothing to do with the exorbitant prices we are paying.”

Lyons said Christie’s 2011 pension reforms led to a rush of retirements that are now in the system.

“So, essentially what the government has done is attempted to break the system even worse and incentivize people to retire,” he said. “Now you are paying more people who are retired, rather than people who would make contributions to the pension system.”

Lyons said PBA sources have indicated that while Christie’s assessment was current, retirees generally cost the state less because they have fewer dependents and are more likely to use Medicaid as a primary provider.

While Lyons was critical of previous reforms, O’Scanlon said the much-discussed pension reform has resulted in a nearly 50 percent decrease in state pension costs.

If the health benefit problem isn’t dealt with properly, the taxpayers will bear the brunt of it, he said.

“If New Jersey becomes insolvent, nobody is well-served — public workers included,” he said. “There are ways and changes to that system that will rein in those costs.

“If the bills are going to be egregious and we rely on tax increases, you are talking about dramatic tax increases that will crush New Jersey’s economy.”

During his Aug. 19 town hall meeting, Christie said the pension and health benefit programs collectively are more than $40 billion in debt, and the state would have to raise $4 billion in additional tax revenues to make the required pension payments for the next four years.

Patrick Colligan, state PBA pension coordinator, said the union would hold a meeting in September to discuss various proposals to lower costs.

“It’s the unions that are trying to help to keep costs down and work on the premiums,” he said. “We are the ones that have to address the cost savings, and the state hasn’t made any effort to help us along the way.”

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Munoz taking the Food Stamp Challenge

Source: NJ 101.5 -

As The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies down, a new challenge has emerged. From Sept. 8 through Sept. 14, two New Jersey Assembly members will take part in the Food Stamp Challenge.

Assembly members Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) and Mila Jasey (D-Maplewood) will have to survive on the amount of money food stamp recipients get, and it’s not much.

Nancy Munoz

“For an individual, the food stamp program provides $29.40 per week which actually divides out to $4.20 a day,” Munoz said. “This (Food Stamp Challenge) is a really good thing to go through to understand what others are feeling and how difficult it is and the challenges they face.”

With recent cuts to the U.S. Farm Bill, New Jersey is likely to be one of the hardest hit states in the country, and hunger is already a very real issue here, Munoz said.

“Over one million New Jersey residents suffer from a lack of a constant food supply and that’s really worrisome. This is bringing an awareness to that so that we can see what we can do as a state and as a nation to make sure that our people are well fed,” Munoz explained.

The legislators have sent a letter to their colleagues asking them to join in the Food Stamp Challenge. Munoz said she plans to give updates on her Facebook page throughout the week.

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Red-light cameras: Following O’Scanlon’s lead, Trenton might do the right thing for a change

Source: The Star-Ledger (Paul Mulshine) -

The term “blue moon” describes the second full moon occurring in one month. This rarely occurs, hence the saying “once in a blue moon,” as in “Once in a blue moon, the Legislature actually does something that makes life better for the average New Jerseyan.”

The next blue moon will occur on July 31 of next year. By then, New Jersey drivers could well be enjoying life without red-light cameras. If so, we will have Declan O’Scanlon to thank.

Declan O'Scanlon

O’Scanlon is a Republican assemblyman from Monmouth County who has taken on the task of fighting for Jersey drivers against the many efforts by public officials to take our money under the guise of safety.

Such efforts usually come to naught. But when it comes to red-light cameras, the stars may be lining up in our favor. I saw evidence of that on Thursday when O’Scanlon attended the Governor’s press event in Sea Bright.

While we were waiting for Chris Christie to show, O’Scanlon told me the cameras don’t reduce accidents but do enhance revenues for the municipalities and the companies that run them. The companies can then afford to spend millions lobbying (or perhaps bribing) to keep them in operation.

But they’ve got a problem: The legislation permitting their use included a sunset provision. Unless a new statute is in place by Dec. 16, this experiment ends.

Normally that legislation would be renewed. But this year things aren’t normal. The Chicago Tribune reported recently that the former head of U.S. operations for Redflex, which is one of the two companies operating the cameras in New Jersey, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of bribing city officials. Meanwhile a fired executive is charging that the firm paid bribes in 13 other states, including New Jersey.

“I’m assuming that if he cooperates fully, the U.S. Attorney’s office will be interested in going wherever that leads,” said O’Scanlon.

Where it will lead is anybody’s guess, but what politician wants to be risk being seen as the champion of red-light cameras as that story develops?

Not Christie. After he showed up to announce that funding has been released to extend the town’s sea wall, he took questions from the press. As a service to my fellow motorists, I decided to pin the governor down on whether he would support the continued use of the cameras.

“I’m not predisposed to continue it,” said Christie. He added ,“My inclination is not to continue it, but I haven’t made a final decision on it yet.”

Such a decision would be necessary only if the Legislature sent him a bill. The bill would have to get through the Assembly Transportation Committee. That’s headed by John Wisniewski. O’Scanlon said the Middlesex County Democrat is much loved by the lobbyists.

“He’s obviously in their pocket so he can’t say anything negative about them,” said O’Scanlon. “But it’s gonna hurt his run for governor. He’s in a real tough spot.”

The run in question would be in the Democratic primary to succeed Christie. Wisniewski has been seen as positioning himself for a shot with his work in exposing the Bridgegate scandal. So would he want to run as the man who unveiled corruption or the man who fronted for a company accused of corruption? I gave him a call.

“If we can’t have a debate about the merits without overblown rhetoric, this legislation will not go anywhere,” Wisniewski replied. “Moreover the governor has said he may not be inclined to sign it. Why would anyone want to sponsor legislation when the governor has announced he’s not going to sign it?”

Why indeed? O’Scanlon seems to be winning this fight. And not a moment too soon.

Entire industries are springing up dedicated to preying on drivers. Under pressure from O’Scanlon, Hoboken recently ended the practice of booting cars parked in residents-only zones. But when the assemblyman looked into it, he found himself chatting with some lady in Seattle who collects credit-card information from unlucky drivers in Jersey.

Then there are those proposals to install roadside speed cameras, which Wisniewski has backed. O’Scanlon has issued a challenge to him and any other legislator who supports speed cameras: He will fit their cars with a GPS device that tracks infractions.

“I’ll put one in every car Wisniewski owns so we can improve safety for his entire family,” he offered.

When I bounced that off Wisniewski, he replied “That’s absolutely absurd.”

He’s right. Who would expect a law-maker to live by the the laws?

Why, that sort of thing only happens once in a blue moon.

O’Scanlon maintains this program is corrupt even in the absence of any explicit bribes. I agree.

The municipalities should not be making a profit from efforts they falsely claim are done to improve safety. To do so is corrupt.

If they really wanted to improve safety at intersections, O’Scanlon said, then they would lengthen the time for yellow lights. Instead they artificially decrease the time in an effort to catch unwary drivers.

Yellow lights are supposed to be rigged to 85th percentile speed.That’s the speed at which 85 percent of the traffic approaching an intersection normally travels.

But the towns have tried such stunts as doing their monitoring during rush-hour traffic jams, when the cars are barely moving, he said.

Another trick is to do the monitoring from a marked police car. Upon seeing the car, the drivers tend to slow down, he said.

The reason they do this is simple, he said.

“If they have proper yellow-light times, the numbers go down 80-90 percent,” he said.
“Unless the lights are rigged with short yellow light times then there is no profit.”

Of course, there should be no profit in the first place. If the goal is safety, then the right thinng to do would be to increase the yellow-light times. These cameras are achieving the exact opposite.

O’Scanlon warns it would be even worse if those speed cameras were ever installed. At first they would claim to be using them only in school zones and work zones. But before long those zones would start getting bigger and bigger – as would the cash flow to corrupt officials.

And that’s just the beginning. As O’Scanlon noted, it’s now possible to monitor every action of every driver in America.

Do you think they won’t do it?

Then you’re a very trusting soul.

Here’s just one citation from the state list of contributions Wisniewski received before he became the biggest booster of the red-light cameras:

REDFLEX TRAFFIC SYSTEMS INC
15020 N 74TH ST
SCOTTSDALE, AZ 85260
750.00
10/19/2007
BUSINESS/CORP MONETARY

There are plenty more where that came from. Go to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission site and you can do a search on all the contributions he received from Redflex. My search shows Wisniewski received more money from the firm than any other state elected official.

So maybe he’s not really intending to run for governor after all. That’s the only explanation for why Wisniewski would want to keep pushing red-light cameras after taking all that swag from Redflex.

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Dancer introduces bill for common sense in gun law enforcement

Source: Burlington County Times -

Ron Dancer

New Jersey Assemblyman Ronald Dancer has introduced legislation intended to give state judges more discretion when sentencing out-of-state residents found in violation of New Jersey’s strict laws against carrying or transporting guns.

Dancer, R-12th of Plumsted, authored the bill earlier this month in response to the case of Shaneen Allen, a Philadelphia woman who was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and hollow-point bullets last year after she told New Jersey State Police troopers she was carrying a handgun during a traffic stop in Atlantic County.

Allen was issued a concealed-carry permit in Pennsylvania but the license is not recognized by New Jersey, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.
Furthermore, New Jersey law mandates that she receive a minimum of 3½ years in prison if she is convicted of the charges.

Dancer’s bill, named “Shaneen’s Law,” seeks to address the latter issue by permitting judges to consider mitigating circumstances in sentencing weapons possession violations involving residents of another state who have legal gun permits in their home state and no known criminal history or criminal intent.

The bill would allow judges to impose either the mandatory sentence or have the defendant enter a pretrial intervention program provided the defendant has no prior criminal record, no association with a criminal street gang and is in compliance with the handgun laws of their home state.

“Each case of an illegal gun possession charge should be judged on the particular facts surrounding that case,” Dancer said this week. “The courts should be able to consider if an out-of-state resident has a valid legal permit where they live. States have their own firearm laws and a person visiting New Jersey may not be totally familiar with every aspect of New Jersey’s law.”

Dancer cites the case of Brian Aitken as another example in which judges should be permitted to have more discretion. The former Mount Laurel resident was arrested in January 2009 after Mount Laurel officers found three handguns and 39 hollow-point bullets in the trunk of his car.

Aitken claimed he purchased the guns legally in Colorado and was in the process of moving back to New Jersey when he was arrested. Like with Allen, the case garnered national attention from gun rights groups and Gov. Chris Christie wound up commuting his seven-year prison sentence.

“Judges should be allowed to use their discretion if there was no criminal record or intent,” Dancer said.

Gun rights groups appear supportive. Earlier this month, the National Rifle Association created a Web video about Dancer’s bill and the Allen case (http://www.nranews.com/ginny/video/shaneen-s-law-restoring-justice-in-new-jersey).

Gun right groups also have lobbied for New Jersey to loosen the state’s narrow conceal-carry laws and to grant reciprocity for other states’ gun permits. In the NRA video, Dancer said he supports reciprocity.

Gun control groups are opposed to reciprocity, arguing that New Jersey’s strict gun laws promote greater public safety and responsible gun owners from other states should be required to obey them.

Still, one of New Jersey’s leading advocates said the group was interested in learning more about Dancer’s bill and possibly meeting with him to discuss it and other “common-sense” gun legislation.

“We’re amendable to things that help clarify (gun laws) or are common-sense pieces of legislation,” said Nicola Bocour, project and legislative director for Ceasefire NJ. “If this isn’t reciprocity for concealed-carry, we’d certainly be interested in learning more.”

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Fiocchi Business Round Table Aims to Cut Down on Red Tape [video]

Source: NBC 40 [video] -

Sam Fiocchi

Sam Fiocchi

After literally cutting through red tape, Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi, members of the governor’s Red Tape Commission and over 35 business leaders went to work.

“A lot of businesses have a lot of issues, they want to get business started or need to continue with their business and they have a hard time cutting through the red tape,” said Fiocchi.

The red tape business round–table was especially important to Victor LaTorre of LaTorre Hardware and Garden Center.

“When we win a state bid for selling, its 20 or 30 pages of paperwork before you can actually sell the product item,” said LaTorre. “The paper work to just get one single bid award for a couple hundred dollars is all kinds of paper work involved.”

NBC40.net

LaTorre says this excessive regulation actually discourages small business and even gets in the way of hiring new employees and taking advantage of government tax breaks.

“When we hire employees off the unemployment ranks, there’s some funding available, but the paper work is immense and almost out of control to the point you end up not submitting the paper work to get the savings.”

 

In addition to the countless government regulations, the economic downturn around the state and especially in Cumberland County is not making things any easier for LaTorre.

“You think you make a couple steps forward then another company closes or some more bad news hit’s the area,” said LaTorre.

But with the state guiding small businesses, rather than standing in the way, LaTorre hopes roundtable discussions like this lead to economic stability.

“That’s the only way we’re going to cure unemployment is for small businesses to start hiring one person at a time.”

“We’re looking to establish these businesses here,” said Fiocchi. “We have high unemployment here so anytime we can get a business to settle here and get thru the red tape of getting a business going, its certainly highly relevant.”

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Rible: PSE&G transmission investment program sparks economic growth

Source: Times of Trenton Letter to the Editor by Dave Rible -

Dave Rible

The results of a Rutgers University study released this week shows PSE&G’s 10-year, $8.1 billion transmission investment program, which began in 2011, is an “economic engine” for New Jersey.

According to the study, the transmission upgrades are responsible for creating 6,000 jobs annually, resulting in more than $4.3 billion in salary and benefits and more than $640 million in state and local government revenue.

PSE&G’s commitment to upgrading its infrastructure will result in better service and reliability for its customers. At the same time, it’s creating thousands of quality jobs, from construction to manufacturing to retail and transportation. The many and varied benefits derived from the program will help to continue to drive economic growth for our state for years to come.

I commend PSE&G for its role in helping build a better New Jersey.

– Dave Rible, Wall
The writer, a Republican, represents the 30th District in the New Jersey General Assembly.

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Angelini bill to curb huffing trend among young people

Source: NJ 101.5 -

A New Jersey lawmaker is concerned that children could be using aerosol dusters, most commonly used to clean computer keyboards, to get high. Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Ocean) sponsors a bill to make it tougher for minors to get their hands on the product.

Mary Pat Angelini

“My bill makes it illegal to sell this type of product to anyone under the age of 18,” said Angelini. “Someone might tell kids, ‘Oh, you can huff this and get high and it’s just air. It can’t hurt you,’ but it’s actually a very complicated chemical mix that is very dangerous and could be deadly if inhaled.”

The legislation has been introduced in part to let parents and teachers know that inhalant abuse is a growing issue Angelini explained.

“According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse inhalants are actually the fourth most abused substance after alcohol, tobacco and marijuana,” Angelini said.

Under the bill, retailers would also have to post signs that state clearly: “Inhalant abuse can cause permanent injury or death. In New Jersey it is illegal to sell or give to a person under 18 years of age any aerosol duster.”

A civil penalty would be imposed on retailers who don’t comply with the requirement and criminal penalties would be imposed on anyone who violates the provisions of the legislation.

For more information on the scary trend of children abusing inhalants, you can go to www.inhalant.org or www.consumered.org. The average age of kids who start using inhalants is 10.

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Dancer letter: PokerStars would harm Atlantic City market

Source: Asbury Park Press / Letter to the Editor by Ron Dancer -

Ron Dancer

When Atlantic City’s gaming industry was established in 1977, it was done with the goal of keeping casinos free from the bad actors who had become synonymous with gambling.

As a result of the diligence of state regulators, the city’s casinos flourished, untarnished by the kinds of distasteful players that plagued the industry in its early days.

That is why I was so disturbed to hear that the state Division of Gaming Enforcement is in talks once again with the controversial online gambling giant, PokerStars.

PokerStars is a well-known bad actor in the online casino industry. Last year, regulators denied PokerStars a license to do business with Atlantic City casinos. But now PokerStars is making another bid to take advantage of the market while online gaming revenues are lagging.

PokerStars was recently purchased by Amaya Gaming Group, a Canadian online gambling company, which has reapplied for a vendor’s license. A decision is expected any day.

The Division of Gaming Enforcement will make that decision without even a public hearing or virtually any transparency to the process.

But merely changing ownership does not absolve PokerStars of its troubling past. In 2011, its leadership was accused by the Department of Justice of presiding over an “elaborate criminal fraud scheme” and had to pay over $730 million to settle the claim.

Now is not the time to allow PokerStars to enter the Atlantic City market — no matter how much money they promise to deliver. The immediate benefits may seem appealing, but they do not outweigh PokerStars’ checkered past.

Assemblyman Ron Dancer

Dancer, a Republican, represents the 12th Legislative District and is a member of the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and Arts Committee.

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Munoz: Christie Has Funded Women’s Health Care in Other Avenues [video]

Nancy Munoz

Source: NJTV [video] -

Some state lawmakers were upset with Gov. Chris Christie over his position on women’s health care and equal pay for women. Deputy Republican leader, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that it needs to be made clear that the line item veto of women’s health care center funding was one cut and that the governor has provided money for other options.

“The governor has vetoed $7.2 [million] to $7.5 million every year for the last five years because he’s chosen to fund women’s health care in another avenue,” said Munoz.

Munoz said that she is the head nurse on the health committee and that there are many ways to provide women’s health care. According to Munoz, the governor has increased the amount of health care funding through other avenues and that funding has increased from $82 million to $90 million.

Recently Assemblywoman Linda Stender alleged that Christie cut funding for women’s health care for political reasons. Munoz says that she disagrees and that it’s a convenient argument to make for people who disagree with the governor.

As for the women who were reliant on the heath care centers that have closed, Munoz said that they can go to federally qualified health centers. She also said that there are 105 health care centers within the state, one for every single county, as well as 49 family planning centers.

Munoz said that health care is being provided for women throughout the state and that she believes that it’s a political argument when it comes to the issue.

“In my view, it’s meant to put us on the spot as Republicans to say it’s an issue in our campaigns, that Assemblywoman Munoz voted against women’s health care. Incorrect, untrue. I support the governor in other ways of providing health care,” said Munoz.

The governor recently vetoed a measure meant to provide equal pay for women and Sen. Loretta Weinberg said, “I think the governor has some kind of anti-woman veto pen that he must keep in a special place on his desk whether we’re talking about money for family planning center that he’s vetoed.”

Munoz said that she disagrees and that equal pay is a complicated issue. Although she voted against it, Munoz said that there has to be further study on equal pay and that there’s many things that contribute to the differences in pay. Munoz also said that women leave the workforce to have children and that she has worked with Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande on policies to make the workplace more mother friendly.

She also said that she knows that the governor is committed to women’s health care.

“I know how hard it is but I also know that the governor is committed to women’s health care,” said Munoz. “It’s good soundbites but not necessarily the right message is … getting out that the governor is doing the right thing for the women of New Jersey.”

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Brown and Fiocchi-sponsored Farm to School Assembly bill package signed into law

Sam Fiocchi

Sam Fiocchi

Chris A. Brown

Source: Shore News Today -

Expanding access to nutritious, locally harvested food for school children, a package of five bills sponsored by Assembly Republicans Chris A. Brown and Sam Fiocchi was signed into law Monday, Aug. 25.

“This is an opportunity to improve nutrition and promote healthy eating in our schools. Students can learn to appreciate the benefits and quality of food grown on local farms,” said Assemblyman Brown, R – Atlantic. “At the same time, the local economy gets a boost and we promote agriculture in the Garden State.”

“Bringing more farm fresh food into school lunchrooms will benefit the local farmers and the economy. We can put just-picked fruits and vegetables in the hands of young children, and help them develop life-long healthy eating habits,” noted Assemblyman Fiocchi, R-Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland.

The “Farm to School” package includes:

  • A-2641 provides for voluntary contributions by taxpayers on gross income tax returns to support the “Farm to School” and “School Gardens” programs.
  • A-2642 allows the Secretary of Agriculture to solicit and accept private and public money to support the state’s “Farm to School” program.
  • A-2643 establishes the “Best in New Jersey ‘Farm to School’ Awards Program,” to annually recognize the outstanding “Farm to School” programs implemented by a school or school district.
  • A-2644 creates a website clearinghouse connecting schools, school districts, food banks and farmers.
  • A-156 requires the Dept. of Agriculture to post on the homepage of its website a hyperlink that provides visitors with direct access to the “New Jersey Farm to School” program.

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