Category: Clips

Daily Record Editorial: Bramnick may be what state needs

Daily Record Editorial -

Jon Bramnick

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick is a funny guy. Seriously. You wouldn’t really expect it at a glance – Bramnick is, after all, a Republican lawyer who very much looks the part of a Republican lawyer – but he’s also had some experience with stand-up comedy. So he knows how to make people laugh, and he knows the value of a little humor.

Bramnick, R-Union, carried that light-hearted message to the New Jersey League of Municipalities convention last week, where he helped lead a panel discussion on “The Power of LOL: Using Humor to Solve Municipal Issues.” The gist was that officials should lighten up a little in trying to get things done. They may find that a few laughs can make their path a lot easier, with allies and opponents alike.

It’s a message public officials would do well to heed. Most New Jerseyans would love to find a politician they can laugh with rather than laugh at. That doesn’t mean treating the serious business of government and politics lightly. It does mean giving residents a sense that real people are in charge, people with an independent mind and a sense of humor and not just a collection of vaguely shady characters serving themselves and their benefactors instead of the public.

There was a time when that was supposed to be Christie’s niche, a hard-driving federal attorney who had busted no small number of corrupt New Jersey politicians and said that, as governor, he was going to do things differently than the average politician. But Christie has turned out to be just as manipulative and abusive with his power as those of whom he had once been so critical. He earns points with the public for his own self-deprecating humor, but there’s a phony quality to it that’s been exposed by his thin-skinned arrogance and bullying nature.

There’s something a little different about Bramnick as well, but it feels more honest. He doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a loyal Republican. He is a skilled politician, having navigated Statehouse waters to a position of authority. He’s too much of an apologist for Christie, and now some believe the governor may be grooming him as his successor. Bramnick is certainly among the top Republicans in the mix for the 2017 gubernatorial race.

But Bramnick also spends a lot of time talking about humor and civility in politics, not exactly common topics among lawmakers. His “fiscal sanity tour” this year included a call to revamp the state’s corrupted redistricting process to make it less partisan. That would be to the Republicans’ advantage, of course; Democrats controlling the Legislature are also able to control that redistricting process through the partisan appointment of a tie-breaking voter. But without a more independent approach, most legislative districts will remain hopelessly non-competitive.

Here’s hoping Bramnick does indeed toss his hat into the gubernatorial ring for 2017. Maybe he can be what Christie has only pretended to be — a leader who can distance himself from the usual political nonsense and govern the state responsibly. We’d still like to think that’s possible. Hey, don’t laugh.

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O’Scanlon voices concerns about loosening property tax cap

Source: Asbury Park Press -

A state lawmaker wants to loosen the cap on property tax increases to enable cities and towns to hire more police officers.

A 2010 state law reduced the cap on annual increases in local property tax levies to 2 percent and trimmed the number of exemptions, leaving in place ones such as increased costs for pensions, health benefits, debt, construction and emergencies.

“We all agreed to the cap. We should have a high bar for exceptions to the cap.” Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon

Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, wants to add an exception for local matching funds for grants. He said mayors have told him in his role as Assembly Budget Committee chairman about “a frustration that money is being left on the table” when localities decline grants that require matching funds because doing so would push them beyond the 2 percent cap.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said that Schaer’s proposal deserves consideration but that he has some concerns.

Declan O'Scanlon

“We all agreed to the cap. We should have a high bar for exceptions to the cap,” O’Scanlon said.

Community Oriented Policing Services grants available through the U.S. Department of Justice, for example, cover up to 75 percent of an officer’s salary and benefits for three years, up to a maximum of $125,000. A local government pays for 25 percent.

After three years, though, those costs are entirely paid by a local government. At that point, would the full amount then be exempt from the cap? Or would municipalities face the prospect of having to lay off those officers?

Also, O’Scanlon noted, voters can approve exceeding the cap in a local referendum — though he acknowledged those public votes may not happen in a timely enough manner to be helpful for a municipality facing a deadline to apply for and accept a grant.

“The whole idea of the cap was to give more control over spending increases to taxpayers,” O’Scanlon said.

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Dancer seeking law protecting school children from registered offenders

Source: NJ 101.5 -

Ron Dancer

New Jersey school districts may soon have to provide local police departments with a list of all school bus stop locations under legislation being sponsored by Assemblyman Ronald Dancer (R-Jackson).

The point of the legislation, according to Dancer, is so police departments can be made aware of any bus stops that are located near the residence of a registered sex offender.

Dancer said law enforcement could cross check the school bus stop list against the Megan’s Law registry and quickly find out if a convicted sex offender is living nearby.

“There’s no other responsibility by a school district other than to provide the school bus stop list to the police department,” Dancer explained.

Dancer said bus stops that are located near registered sex offenders might prompt police to increase patrols when they know children are being picked up and dropped off.

“Police can prevent a tragedy if they’re provided with the information of where the school bus stops are located. It would be invaluable for police to know that there are children at a bus stop or walking down the street and may be passing by where a registered sex offender is,” Dancer said.

If there is not a local police department in the school district, the list would be provided to the New Jersey State Police.

“This bill will heighten the awareness and the vigilance for the protection of children,” Dancer insisted.

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As NJ red light-camera program fades, O’Scanlon seeks green light for smart cars

Source: NewsWorks -

Legislators in New Jersey appear poised to sweep the state’s red light-camera program into history’s dustbin, but the man who led the effort already has his eyes on the next generation of safety tech.

The camera program was a pilot, set to sunset in December. Without a bill to renew it, the program will die, and the companies that operate the cameras will have to pack up their gear and take it home.

The program had earned praise from some local officials, who lobbied to keep it alive, saying it deterred traffic violations, increased safety and raised revenue.

 

Declan O'Scanlon

“Cars today can drive all day long at 100 mph. If you have areas with driverless cars, they could facilitate those speeds. You can also have vehicle-to-vehicle communications, cars communicating with each other. That’s the next thing that will increase safety at intersections.” — Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon

 

But Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, who made eliminating the cameras his personal mission, says they represent nothing but a money grab.

“Unfortunately, we have turned our police, in many areas of New Jersey and many areas of the nation, into pseudo tax collectors,” he said. “Police are pressured regularly to increase the number of tickets they write. That should not ever be the message from elected officials to police officers.”

O’Scanlon believes the future of traffic safety lies in smart cars, not cameras.

“Cars today can drive all day long at 100 mph,” he said. “If you have areas with driverless cars, they could facilitate those speeds. You can also have vehicle-to-vehicle communications, cars communicating with each other. That’s the next thing that will increase safety at intersections.”

O’Scanlon says he’s working on legislation that would pave the way for these sorts of smart cars. As for the cameras, there’s no indication that the legislators will try to save them; even if they did, Gov. Chris Christie has said he’d probably veto the bill.

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Bramnick bill would help residents who cultivate natural habitats

Philadelphia Inquirer -

When he created a natural habitat on the acre surrounding his Cape May County home, Mike Crewe didn’t know he’d be summoned to court to answer for it. His Lower Township property had become a kind of oasis amid the area’s manicured lawns, a colorful meadow for monarch butterflies, native bees, and other species of wildlife.

So Crewe, program director of the New Jersey Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory, was disappointed by the reaction of neighbors who complained about his un-mowed grounds to the municipality, which cited him for code violations last winter.

The clash was settled in a plea bargain, with the local prosecutor allowing half an acre as habitat, but the case clearly demonstrated the problem homeowners face in trying to provide food and shelter for wildlife, then running into municipal ordinances that require mowing.

That issue would be resolved by a bill that passed the New Jersey Assembly’s Environment and Solid Waste Committee last month and that awaits a vote by the full Assembly and passage by the Senate.

The measure, sponsored by Assembly Appropriations Committee Chairman John Burzichelli and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, calls on the state Department of Environmental Protection to establish a certification program to encourage habitat plans and license them, heading off municipal code violations.

The program will help homeowners “take an active role in protecting our environment,” said Jon Bramnick, Assembly minority leader (R., Union), who has – with his wife, Pat – created a habitat at their Westfield home. “Altering a property to comply with standards established by the DEP will help wildlife return to its natural habitat.”

The change can’t come soon enough for New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation, New Jersey Audubon Society officials said. More than 30 percent of the land is considered urban, including lawns at office parks, golf courses, athletic fields, and residential yards. Lawns take up much of the 1.6 million acres of urban development.

 

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Simon: Study up on school consolidation

Donna Simon

Asbury Park Press op-ed by Donna Simon -

New Jersey’s school district landscape has remained largely unchanged throughout the last century, even in the face of significant geographic and population shifts. Small districts made sense 100 years ago to provide students in rural areas with educational opportunities, but many rural communities have since become suburban, making a lot of these small districts wasteful and inefficient.

A recent report by the Center for American Progress found that nearly 62 percent of New Jersey’s small districts are suburban and close enough to be easily consolidated. In fact, the report also rated the state’s system of several hundred districts as the least efficient in the country. It also found that by trimming management and redrawing district boundaries, taxpayers could save nearly $100 million a year.

Unnecessary administrative costs are among the reasons we continue to have the highest property taxes in the country. On average, more than 50 percent of our annual property taxes go toward schools. Taxpayers pay outrageous property tax bills for the salaries and benefits of the duplicative layers of administrators in our 590 school districts. This summer, the state auditor counted 278 school districts that serve only students through sixth or eighth grade. Those districts spend $279 million cumulatively on administrative costs alone.

Throughout the last few decades, proposals to consolidate have evoked strong reactions. It’s understandable that something new can be unsettling to students, parents and school staff. But it can also generate an inspiring amount of community creativity. That is what happened in Hunterdon County, where voters overwhelmingly approved the merger of four school districts last year.

More than 85 percent of voters in West Amwell, Stockton and Lambertville cast their votes in favor of consolidating their elementary school districts and shared high school district. The district is now operating at $170,000 less than if they remained separate. This successful merger is proof of the benefits of regionalization in certain communities. As South Hunterdon continues to craft a road map for regionalization in its district, our Legislature should be taking a more serious approach to school consolidation on a statewide level.

That’s why I recently introduced legislation, A-3814, to establish a task force on school district regionalization. The bill will provide a more comprehensive look into the issue and the potential outcomes for school districts.

The task force will offer recommendations to help incentivize district consolidation and overcome the challenges associated with regionalization. Specifically, it will review and make recommendations on the financing of in-depth feasibility studies, reducing the cost of pursuing regionalization, coping with issues regarding district governance and financing, and integrating curriculum, programs and staff. It will also look at maintaining and increasing educational quality. By increasing efficiencies, reducing redundancies and seaming the academic curriculum for our students, our districts can be better positioned to succeed.

As has been proven in past attempts, consolidation is not effective if mandated by the state. There needs to be a homegrown interest and the decision to consolidate needs to be made by the local communities, as was the case in South Hunterdon. At that point in the process, the state needs to be in a strong position to partner with those districts that are interested and provide a tool kit that will help guide and support their efforts.

We have looked at this issue in the past. In 2007, executive county superintendents were each required to submit a report on the possibility of consolidating all K-6 districts and K-8 districts into K-12 districts. Feasibility studies were later requested to evaluate the proposed elimination of over 100 districts in New Jersey. A recent Asbury Park Press editorial argued that we need to look at the 2007 report before creating a task force to study the issue. However, as a South Hunterdon school board member recently stated, that would just poison the well and communities would erupt in outrage as they did back then. Local communities do not want Trenton to dictate what is best for them; they want the state to partner with them and support their efforts.

Combining small school districts can make a lot of sense if done carefully and with the involvement and support of local communities. South Hunterdon is teaching us that lesson today. It is an important lesson that if learned, can deliver a high-quality education to students, while being more responsible to taxpayers.

We have an opportunity and obligation to offer New Jersey’s school districts more resourceful and comprehensive tools so they can make the best decisions for the students and taxpayers that they represent. With more school districts than municipalities, it’s time we rethink the status quo.

Assemblywoman Donna Simon represents the 16th Legislative District, which includes parts of Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer and Middlesex counties.

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Casagrande Recalls JFK’s Influence 51 years after his Assassination

Caroline Casagrande

WOBM Radio -

Saturday, November 22, was the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and 51-years after his death, his principles continue to cross party lines, influencing elected officials at the Jersey Shore.

Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande noted how Kennedy’s command to ask what you can do for your country an inspiration and template for all leaders.

“It can still give me chills to think I need to make sure I am part of this movement of Idealism of this great nation and working to build it,” said Casagrande.

Casagrande added Kennedy’s daughter Caroline carries her father’s vision as the United States Ambassador to Japan.

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School consolidation task force proposed by Assemblywoman Simon

Source: Hunterdon County Democrat -

It’s time to seriously consider school consolidation in New Jersey, according to Assemblywoman Donna Simon of Readington Township, and she’s introduced a bill, A-3814, to establish a state task force on school district regionalization.

If enacted into law, it will result in a comprehensive look into the issue and the potential outcomes for school districts, she said.

Donna Simon

“Our school district landscape has remained largely unchanged throughout the last century, even in the face of significant geographic and population shifts,” she wrote in a column about the bill.

“Small districts made sense a hundred years ago to provide students in rural areas with educational opportunities, but many rural communities have since become suburban, making a lot of these small districts wasteful and inefficient.

A recent report by the Center for American Progress found that nearly 62 percent of New Jersey’s small districts are suburban and close enough to be easily consolidated. In fact, the report also rated the state’s system of several hundred districts as the least efficient in the country, she said.

It also found that by trimming management and redrawing district boundaries, taxpayers could save nearly $100 million a year, Simon said. She represents the 16th Legislative District, which includes parts of Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer and Middlesex counties.

“On average, more than 50 percent of our annual property taxes go toward schools. Taxpayers pay outrageous property tax bills for the salaries and benefits of the duplicative layers of administrators in our 590 school districts,” she said.

Proposals to consolidate have evoked strong reactions, she noted.

“It’s understandable that something new can be unsettling to students, parents and school staff. But it can also generate an inspiring amount of community creativity. “

More than 85 percent of voters in West Amwell, Stockton and Lambertville cast their votes in favor of consolidating their elementary school districts and shared high school district, she noted, and the result was the new South Hunterdon School District which started operations July 1.

The 16-member task force she envisions would offer recommendations on incentives that could encourage school districts to regionalize and the impediments that discourage school districts from entering into regional arrangements.

And it would review and make recommendations on the financing of in-depth feasibility studies, reducing the cost of pursuing regionalization, coping with issues regarding district governance and financing, and integrating curriculum, programs and staff.

The task force would be comprised of:

  • the Commissioner of Education;
  • 11 members appointed by the Governor, including an executive county superintendent of schools; a director of special education services in a school district; a superintendent of schools; a school principal; a director of curriculum; one member upon the recommendation on the New Jersey Education Association; one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey School Boards Association; one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association; one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators; one member upon the recommendation of the Garden State Coalition of Schools; and one person who was directly involved in facilitating the most recent school district regionalization effort in the State;
  • one member appointed by the President of the Senate and
  • one member appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate, both of whom will be members of the public with demonstrated expertise in issues relating to the work of the task force; and
  • one member appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly and
  • one member appointed by the Minority Leader of the General Assembly, both of whom will be members of the public with demonstrated expertise in issues relating to the work of the task force.

The task force would be required to issue a final report to the Governor and the Legislature within six months of its organization.

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Brown bill would shield divorced parents from forced tuition rulings

Source: NJ 101.5 -

A state lawmaker is drafting a bill that could prevent children from forcing their divorced parents to pay for their college tuition. The legislation comes on the heels of a judge’s decision involving the 21-year-old estranged daughter of a divorced New Jersey couple.

Chris J. Brown

A judge ordered parents Michael Ricci and Maura McGarvey to pay for their daughter’s out-of-state tuition at Temple University, despite the fact that the parents had already agreed on a plan to send 21-year-old Caitlyn Ricci to a less expensive, in-state college. Assemblyman Chris J. Brown (R-Medford) said current law gave the judge no choice, but he is drafting legislation to address the issue.

“The law erodes the ability of the parents to be parents (and) to decide what’s best for them as a family,” Brown said. “The parents agreed on an education plan for their daughter. People can’t fathom how a court could say, ‘Your decision on what’s good for your life and your family is not good enough. I’m going to decide otherwise.’”

In his ruling, the judge cited a 1982 State Supreme Court ruling (Newburgh v. Arrigo) that stated divorced parents are responsible for providing for their child’s college education. The child can choose any college at any price and the divorced parents have to pay, even if they amicably agreed on sending their child to a different school.

“Right now, when the parents are married and they decide, there’s no case. It’s the decision of the parents. Once they’re divorced the law kicks in. I think that’s wrong. I think it’s a defect in the law and I’m hoping that this bill will correct that,” Brown said.

Currently there is no bill. Brown said he is working with the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services to craft legislation that meets legal muster. He explained that he envisions a bill that would allow divorced parents to decide on a higher education plan for their children and once the agreement is reached, the courts would be taken out of the equation.

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DeCroce supports call for more local traffic funding

Source: Associated Press -

Lawmakers are calling for local governments to get a bigger share of funding from New Jersey to address transportation issues in cities and counties.
Exactly how to do that and how much bigger a share of the Transportation Trust Fund local governments should get is unclear.

BettyLou DeCroce

 

“It’s important for us to do this in a smart way, but also to make sure more money gets down to the local level and [that] some of the bureaucratic ways, with regards to inspection and oversight, is streamlined.” — Assembly Republican BettyLou DeCroce

 

Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex) and the panel discussed the issue Thursday during the fourth and final field hearing on the trust fund, in Atlantic City. It was the final day of the annual League of Municipalities conference.

The trust fund, financed in part through a 10.5-cent tax on gasoline, is facing a funding shortfall next year. Currently, all money dedicated to the fund pays for debt service on previous infrastructure projects. New projects are funded through additional debt.

The Legislature and the governor are aiming to come to an agreement by the start of the next fiscal year – July 1 – when officials will have to decide to take on more debt or to abandon new projects altogether. Officials prefer neither of those options, so the conversation has focused on raising more revenue through tax increases.

Several lawmakers have outlined proposals to raise taxes, but so far none has attracted enough support to pass the Legislature.

Increasing municipalities’ share of the trust fund, which Wisniewski said stood at 15 percent of the $1.6 billion in the fund, adds another layer of complexity to a problem whose solution has vexed lawmakers.

Republican Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce of Morris County said she supported increasing the share of the trust fund to local governments, but needed to see more statistics before saying exactly how much more municipalities should get.

She suggested that cutting regulations and permitting should be a part of the conversation, rather than just raising taxes.

“It’s important for us to do this in a smart way,” she said, “but also to make sure more money gets down to the local level and [that] some of the bureaucratic ways, with regards to inspection and oversight, is streamlined.”

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