Category: Clips

Bramnick comments on new pension reforms leading to new surge in N.J. retirements

Spource: The Star Ledger -

Jon Bramnick

As Gov. Chris Christie bangs the drum for a second round of pension reform in New Jersey, public officials and union leaders are bracing for another wave of public workers rushing to retire.

Employees in state and local government headed for the door in record numbers at the beginning of Christie’s first term, thanks in part to laws passed by the governor and state lawmakers asking public workers to pay a larger share of their health and pension costs. More than 20,000 retired in 2010, followed by 19,500 the next year.

After slowing the next two years, the pace of public worker retirements is picking up again, according to state Treasury Department figures.

A total of 11,916 employees are scheduled to retire through the end of this month — a nearly 9 percent spike from the same point in 2013. If the pace continues, about 17,000 may file papers by the end of the year. A total of 15,700 public workers retired last year.

The change comes as Christie gets ready to introduce further changes to the pension system, which is facing $40 billion in unfunded liabilities.

The Republican governor, a potential 2016 presidential candidate who rose to popularity partly because of his pension fights with public worker unions, said the previous changes didn’t go far enough. He has put curtailing the costs of public employee benefits at the top of his summer agenda, suggesting the state could go bankrupt without more action.

Some union leaders say more public workers may be planning to retire out of fear they could see their pensions and health benefits cut if they don’t get out now.

But Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state teachers union, said he’s not convinced this year’s 9 percent increase in retirements was caused by Christie’s warnings, saying numbers fluctuate from year to year.

“They may be on the higher end of the range, but they’re certainly within the range,” he said.

Among public workers, retirements for teachers and non-uniformed government workers are both up 12 percent so far this year, while police and firefighter retirements are down 14 percent. Retirements for the State Police dropped from 145 to 83, the figures show.

In the decade before Christie was governor, public workers retired at a rate of 13,656 a year. Since he took office, the clip is at 17,602 — a 29 percent increase.

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie’s office, stressed that “retirement numbers rise and fall year to year” and declined further comment.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, one of Christie’s Republican allies in the state Legislature, stressed that it’s possible the new reforms would only affect recently hired employees.

“The system as we know it, if we’re going to change it, it would be changed for people coming into the system,” Bramnick (R-Union) said. “I don’t think the fear is necessarily justified.”

Officials say that retirements have allowed local governments to avoid layoffs. But they also fear that more increases will further deplete workforces that are already short-staffed.

That, Colligan said, would hurt police forces that are “just recovering from the 2011 exodus” caused by the last pension reforms. “Now, I’m afraid we have a whole new group of people ready to leave,” he said.

The overall public labor force has dropped since Christie took office. As of June, preliminary federal data show New Jersey employs 563,300 workers in state and local government — 900 fewer than at this point last year and about 27,000 fewer than before Christie took office.

Dressel said those likely to retire are the ones with the most experience, holding top positions — clerks, tax collectors, police brass.

“Just this week, I heard of three towns looking for chief financial officers because of retirements,” he said. “It puts a strain on staffing levels. You’ve got to find experienced people to fill those jobs.”

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Handlin speaks about Fulop getting a free pass on his mini-Bridgegate

Source: Star Ledger op-ed by Tom Moran -

Amy Handlin

Two months after Gov. Chris Christie’s crew deliberately snarled traffic at the George Washington Bridge, another manufactured traffic jam bottled up one of Jersey City’s port terminals for several hours on consecutive days.

This one was the brain-child of Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, the ambitious young Democrat who took office last year and already has his eye on the governor’s mansion.

“We had 350 to 400 trucks that couldn’t leave,” says James Devine, who ran the terminal as its CEO. “When you realize it’s a deliberate effort, that’s just not acceptable.”

Ask Fulop, and he’ll tell you this was a routine safety check, one of several across the city in recent months. His motive, he swears, was pure.

But there is a darker possibility. The terminal land is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. And only days before this “safety check” in November, Fulop had announced the city was filing a mega-lawsuit against the agency, seeking $400 million in unpaid taxes.

So was this a stunt to pressure the Port Authority? Did the mayor, like the governor’s crew, misuse the machinery of government?

Then chief of police Robert Cowen, who is locked in a bitter feud with Fulop, says the answer is yes. The mayor ordered this over his objections, he says, and the motive was to pressure the Port Authority.

Devine has no doubt: Police officers at the scene told him they felt it was improper, he says. And in his seven years at the terminal, nothing like this had ever happened.

“Truck drivers make money on what moves,” he says. “You sit them in the yard for an extra two or three hours, and that’s significant.”

A spokesman for the Port Authority said diplomatically that the agency was “extremely concerned” and that the move was unprecedented.

When I asked Fulop about this, he said he had documents that exonerate him. After several days of delay, he offered up two emails that describe other traffic stops in the city.

Exoneration? Not close.

Asked to discuss these competing claims, Fulop refused to comment. Which makes you wonder: Why would the normally talkative mayor be hiding under his desk if he did nothing wrong?

Sadly, Democrats on the special committee investigating Bridgegate are showing their partisan colors by refusing to investigate this.

A Republican on the committee, Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, asked the committee to issue subpoenas to Fulop and Cowen, to hear their testimony under oath, to dig for documents as the committee did in Bridgegate. But Democrats refused.

“This falls smack into our laps,” says Handlin (R-Monmouth). “I’m left to conclude that the real problem here is it’s an allegation of abuse by a Democratic official rather than a Republican official. There’s no other explanation.”

Republicans have been griping about the committee since Day One, and most of the criticism has been nonsense. The committee has followed the Bridgegate bread crumbs carefully.

But by turning a blind eye to potential wrongdoing by a leading Democrat, the committee is handing critics a weapon and breathing new life into the charge of partisanship.

Granted, Bridgegate is a more serious case. It paralyzed Fort Lee for four days over the protests of police and ambulance crews, putting the public safety at clear risk.

And the evidence of wrongdoing in Bridgegate was much stronger from the start. The committee issued subpoenas only after the media revealed the infamous email from Patrick Foye, the Port Authority’s executive director, who called the lane closures illegal and ordered them reversed.

Finally, in Jersey City, the mayor’s main accuser, Cowen, has an ax to grind. The mayor recently demoted him, over unrelated issues, and Cowen is likely to challenge the move in court.

Still, why not support Handlin’s motion to investigate a case that clearly falls within the committee’s mandate?

“It’s a diversionary tactic to try to take the committee’s eye off the ball,” says Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), the committee co-chair.

Two Democrats signed a letter with Republican members asking the acting attorney general to investigate. But again, that’s treating Fulop’s traffic jam with a softer touch than Christie’s.

To Devine, the CEO of the terminal, the irony is that these “safety checks” created a hazard on the docks as moving trucks and loading equipment were squeezed together.

“The drivers were all trying to get around one another and cutting each other off,” he says. “When it’s like that, tempers flare, and you don’t know what can happen. It really was an egregious safety issue.”

But was it deliberate? The circumstantial evidence is strong. But we’ll probably never know for sure.

And that, apparently, is just fine with Democrats in Trenton.

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Fiocchi explores workforce development and career opportunities

Daily Journal letter-to-the editor by Sam Fiocchi -

Sam Fiocchi

Sam Fiocchi

Recognizing the potential career opportunities that vocational training and technical education provide, I hosted a Workforce Development Roundtable discussion on Monday with businesses leaders and vocational and technical school administrators to discuss employment opportunities available to people with the proper training. The roundtable was held at the Cumberland County Vocational Technical Education Center.

With the closing of at least three Atlantic City casinos, many workers who make their livelihood from the industry face an uncertain future. The good news is that there are opportunities to transition into a new vocation. Career and technical education allows students, regardless of age, the chance to learn the necessary skills that are required. Job recruiters and educators exchanged their ideas on what kinds of jobs are in demand and where people can get the training they need. The roundtable was a great opportunity for everyone to learn.

In May, I introduced a package of workforce development bills designed to provide people with employment opportunities by obtaining skill sets in demand. One measure, A-3197, creates “The Partners for Growth Council,” a cross-section of organized labor, education, business and government working together to identify unfilled job openings. Members will develop training programs that address the educational needs of those seeking employment.

This legislation is the perfect opportunity to match job seekers with companies that have employment needs in certain technical areas. Vocational and technical schools are the linchpin that matches the supply and demand for labor.

I want to thank Dina Elliot, superintendent of the Cumberland County vo-tech, for hosting this productive meeting. We will be holding a follow-up meeting in the late fall or winter to discuss advances or ideas that will match workers with jobs.

Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi
R-1st District

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Rodriguez-Gregg discusses incentivizing the right businesses in NJ

NJ 101.5 -

Maria Rodriguez-Gregg

Maria Rodriguez-Gregg

Assemblywoman Maria Rodriquez-Gregg(R-Medford) and Assembly Republican Conference Leader Dave Rible (R-Wall) joined business leaders to discuss boosting job creation and growing the economy.

Dave Rible

Business tax incentives were also discussed, with a focus on making sure incentives that are already available in New Jersey are being offered to the right industries.

“There needs to be a shift of where we’re going to focus those programs when it comes to industry and where it’s going to be most productive,” Rodriguez-Gregg said. “Certain industries are certainly going to have better growth in New Jersey.”

Since the pharmaceutical and energy industries are highly likely to create jobs and contribute to the state’s economy, it makes sense to ensure New Jersey is doing everything possible to make incentives attractive to those industries, Rodriguez-Gregg said.

Surrounding states are offering incentives to businesses that are working, such as New York’s tax-free zones, according to David Brogan, first vice president of the New Jersey Business Industry Association.

Rodriguez-Gregg said she’s concerned that New Jersey could lose jobs if incentives aren’t offered in a smart way. “I think that’s a concern for everyone. We are starting to see that.”

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Rodriguez-Gregg hosts industry groups for conference on drumming up business in N.J.

Source: NewsWorks.org -

Some Republican lawmakers met with business leaders at the Statehouse in Trenton Thursday to map out strategies for making New Jersey more attractive for business.

Representatives of business organizations said the state’s income tax and corporate business tax and a variety of regulations can deter companies from setting up shop in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, tax incentives are helping to make the Garden State more attractive, said Dave Brogan with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

“I think that’s going to help in our competition with other states. States across the nation are developing innovative and very attractive incentives and tax policies to lure businesses away from New Jersey,” Brogan said. “You see what New York has done with the tax free zones. They’ve lowered their business corporate tax.”

Maria Rodriguez-Gregg

Maria Rodriguez-Gregg

Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg said New Jersey should shift the focus of those incentives to industries that can create the most jobs.

“There needs to be a shift of where we’re going to focus those programs when it comes to industry and where it’s going to be the most productive in job creation,” said Rodriguez-Gregg, R-Burlington. “There’s certainly good opportunities in New Jersey for the pharmaceutical industry, so we need to maybe focus there.”

She said she is optimistic about the prospects for improvement in the state’s economy as long as no new taxes are enacted that could adversely affect the business community.

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Rodriguez-Gregg hears from business leaders

Burlington County Times -

Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg is one of the newest lawmakers in the New Jersey Legislature.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney is likely the most powerful.

State and local business leaders had the chance to speak to both legislators Thursday during separate events in Mount Laurel and Trenton.

At the Statehouse, Rodriguez-Gregg, R-8th of Evesham, and Assemblyman Dave Rible, R-30th of Wall, hosted a two-hour roundtable discussion with the leaders of over a dozen business organizations.

Among the topics were New Jersey’s high taxes and the impact of the recent rise in the minimum wage, as well as other proposed legislation that could impact businesses.

Maria Rodriguez-Gregg

Maria Rodriguez-Gregg

Rodriguez-Gregg, who was elected in November to the seat previously held by Scott Rudder, of Medford, said the business leaders know best what state government can do better to help their industries grow the economy.

“I’m new, basically a political neophyte, but I do want to help, and your input is completely valued,” she said.

She said that New Jersey has made several improvements to help attract and retain businesses but that it must still improve the business climate.

Rodriguez-Gregg cited this week’s announcement from Sealed Air Corp., the maker of Bubble Wrap, that it was moving its headquarters from Elmwood Park to Charlotte, North Carolina.

“That type of shift, we don’t want to see. We don’t want to see a continued bleed-out,” the assemblywoman said.

The business leaders said that recent reforms to the state’s business incentive programs were a significant improvement, but that New Jersey remains an expensive state to do business and live in, and that other states will continue to try to lure businesses away.

Some business leaders complained about many of the edicts and mandates handed down to businesses and local governments that increase costs.

“What you’re hearing today is we’re suffering death by a thousand cuts,” said Mike McGuinness, CEO of NAIOP-NJ, which represents commercial developers.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Rodriguez-Gregg said that there was no fast and simple fix to help businesses, but that government needs to steadily tackle the challenges over time.

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” she said. “Government doesn’t grow jobs. We’re here to create an environment for jobs to grow.”

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Rumpf, Gove Bill Would Help Connect Senior Communities with Solar Power

Source: The SandPaper -

DiAnne Gove

Brian Rumpf

Senior communities would be eligible to receive grants and low-interest loans for purchase and installation of solar panels for their clubhouses under legislation reintroduced by Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove of the 9th District. The energy cost reduction initiative would be offered under the New Jersey Clean Energy Program, which is administered by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

The 9th District has among the highest concentration of senior communities in the state, and solar power can help lower electric costs at these typically sizable, frequently utilized facilities.

“Solar technology can serve as an effective means of reducing energy usage and lowering electric bills,” Connors, Rumpf and Gove said in a joint statement. “Clubhouses play a critical role in age-restricted communities by serving as venues for important association functions as a well as for recreational activities. Due to the size of clubhouse structures and their frequent use, electric bills for these facilities can run steep. Since clubhouses are common areas, any cost savings achieved through the use of solar technology could benefit every resident of the community.”

Upon reintroduction, the delegation’s legislation was referred to the Senate Economic Growth Committee and the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee of their respective houses of origin.

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Rodriguez-Gregg, Rible hold roundtable discussion with business leaders

Source: NJBiz -

Maria Rodriguez-Gregg

Maria Rodriguez-Gregg

Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (R-Medford) led a roundtable discussion Thursday in Trenton with business leaders from various industries and sectors, seeking feedback on the state’s business climate and future economic prospects.

Joined by Assemblyman Dave Rible (R-Wall Township), Rodriguez-Gregg opened the meeting by contrasting the need for business-friendly initiatives with Wednesday’s news that Elmwood Park-based Sealed Air, a Fortune 500 maker of Bubble Wrap and other packaging, will be moving its global headquarters to North Carolina.

“That type of shift we did not want to see,” Rodriguez-Gregg said.

Dave Rible

New Jersey’s high-tax climate was frequently mentioned by business leaders as being a major deterrent for businesses seeking to operate within the state.

“Anywhere we can cut, we should be cutting,” New Jersey Business & Industry Association First Vice President David Brogan said in regard to taxes.

Other issues individually discussed included the recent minimum wage increase through constitutional amendment, the push for statewide paid sick-leave, unpredictable budget cycles and the continued implementation of provisions under the Affordable Care Act.

As members of the business community have often previously noted, it’s not one singular issue that they fear the most, but rather all of the items they view to be unfriendly to business as a collective.

“All these things make executives and business owners take a step back and say, ‘What are they doing in New Jersey?’ ” Brogan said.

“It’s not one thing,” said Brad Molotsky, executive vice president and general counsel for Brandywine Realty Trust. “It’s all of it.”

Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said that Trenton and the business community go back and forth between working together and against one another.

“We take five steps forward and 10 steps back,” Egenton said.

Despite this, Egenton said that ultimately, all parties at the table want to see New Jersey’s economy succeed. It’s a matter of agreeing on how to achieve it.

“We all have the same goal,” Egenton said.

James Hughes, economist and dean of the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, gave a presentation on the state’s recent fiscal performance and outlook.

Other attendees featured representatives from the food service, health care and real estate industries, among others.

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Rible wants more NJ drivers to ‘Move Over’

NJ 101.5 -

Assemblyman Dave Rible (R-Wall), who co-sponsored the 2009 Move Over legislation which requires motorists to change lanes for emergency vehicles on the side of the road, said recent accidents made it clear that not enough drivers are aware of the law.

Dave Rible

“The Move Over was great when it was written,” Rible said. “I thought it was very well done. I thought we had it right, but like any piece of legislation, you have to re-evaluate after a period of time. Maybe we didn’t get it right, so now we have to change the law to make it for all vehicles pulled over on the side of the road.”

Rible said he plans to introduce legislation to expand the law to require drivers to slow down and change lanes for any vehicle on the side of the road.

A Waldwick police officer was killed July 17 when his parked patrol car was rammed from behind by a tractor-trailer. The day after, two Pine Beach cops were hurt when their parked cruisers were hit while they were talking to a driver they had pulled over.

“I am sure you would agree that these incidents are a frightening reminder of the dangers faced by emergency workers on our state’s roadways. Therefore, I request that the New Jersey Department of Transportation help to protect our emergency responders by taking urgent action to increase awareness of the Move Over law,” Rible wrote in a letter to acting Department of Transportation commissioner Joseph Bertoni.

One way the DOT could raise awareness is by posting a reminder on the flashing, mobile signs that can be seen throughout the state, according to Rible. He also explained that legislators could get together and launch a concerted effort by sending their constituents letters reminding them of the law.

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KEAN: Bill crucial to reforming unfair alimony system

Asbury Park Press Op-ed by Sean Kean -

Sean Kean

Legislation that will make our alimony laws fairer by modernizing an outdated system has passed the state Assembly and the state Senate and is sitting on the governor’s desk, where it awaits his action.

Ultimately, this legislation, Assembly Bill 845, will provide relief for alimony payers who are unable to comply with unrealistic court mandates.

Since 2008, I have been at the forefront of the alimony reform initiative in New Jersey. I have introduced various bills in an attempt to make the alimony system more fair and reasonable for all individuals. After many years of advocating for reform, I am pleased that A-845 has moved through the legislative process.

I am not suggesting that individuals receiving alimony awards are in any way undeserving of these payments; however, if the paying party is incapable of meeting the alimony obligation, the system must recognize this fact.

I introduced A-845 during a previous legislative session after I met with a constituent who could not afford his alimony payment after he lost his job due to the economic downturn we witnessed in 2008.

Since then, I have been contacted by numerous individuals, both men and women, who cannot afford their alimony payments. Changed circumstances, such as job loss or underemployment, often times make it impossible for alimony payers to comply with their court-ordered alimony obligations. In some cases, individuals are sent to jail for failure to pay alimony.

A-845 would provide specific grounds for modification and termination when the alimony payer retires, loses a job or otherwise has a reduction in income, or when the alimony recipient cohabits with another person. Under current law, courts invariably will not give relief to alimony payers even after retirement. For example, upon retirement, police officers and teachers receive a reduced amount when they file to collect their pensions.

However, courts routinely do not recognize these changed circumstances when these individuals file challenges to their obligations. It is an unworkable system in which aggrieved payers must pay an attorney to come in to court to reopen their case, and more likely than not, the judge will not even entertain the motion.

A-845 also would establish guidelines for an alimony award based on the length of the marriage and create a rebuttable presumption that alimony payments terminate when the payer becomes eligible for Social Security. The bill provides that the total duration of alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage when a marriage lasts less than 20 years. The legislation states that extenuating circumstances may warrant deviation from the durational limits.

This bill also would permit modification or suspension of alimony payments when the recipient is living with another person for over three months. The provisions of this bill are crucial to bringing equity to the alimony process because the state’s current convoluted and archaic alimony statutes are neither uniform nor flexible and can often impose a serious economic hardship on one individual.

I am hopeful that Gov. Christie will sign A-845. This bill would increase fairness for both alimony recipients and payers. It is imperative that current alimony laws be amended to create a reasonable and fair system that provides for both individuals without bankrupting one of the parties.

Assemblyman Sean Kean represents the 30th Legislative District, which includes portions of Monmouth and Ocean counties.

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