Category: Clips

Handlin not plugged in to JCP&L electric transmission line project

Source: Excerpted from the Asbury Park Press -

Jersey Central Power & Light wants to build a 10-mile high-voltage electric transmission line from Red Bank to Aberdeen, a new attempt at a controversial project that neighborhoods along the route have fought and defeated in the past.

The utility said the 230,000-volt transmission line, called the Monmouth County Reliability Project, would run along the New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line railroad tracks and right of way, connecting a substation in Aberdeen with one in Red Bank and going through Hazlet, Holmdel and Middletown. The line, and substation improvements along the route, will benefit nearly 214,000 customers, the company said.

The $75 million project will help JCP&L’s system handle the growth — both in the number of customers and the amount of electricity they use — that it has experienced in the past “many, many years,” JCP&L President James V. Fakult said.

The project will have to approved by the state Board of Public Utilities and the state Department of Environmental Protection will have to grant permits.

The company has proposed a project before. Nearly 16 years ago, the utility scrapped plans for a 6.5-mile transmission line, to be run on 60-foot high steel poles, along the railroad tracks from Matawan to Middletown, after intense community opposition. Residents and some town officials, fearing a reduction in property values and worried about health risks, fought the project for a decade.

Amy Handlin

“To me, it is nothing but a resurrection of precisely the same plan that we fought and stopped,” said state Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, a vocal opponent years ago. “It’s the phoenix rising from the ashes, it’s the ghost of battles past. It’s not different.”

This time, the utility proposes to run the wires atop slender single poles that average 140 feet tall rather than bulky towers used in the past, spokesman Ron Morano said. The proposed upgrades also will allow JCP&L to better monitor and more quickly react to power needs with modern technology that delivers information about system conditions in real time.

The use of the NJ Transit corridor, which is already designated for public use and has existing electric infrastructure, as well as the slimmer monopoles, will help to minimize the disruption on the community, Fakult said.

But Handlin called the tall poles huge and ugly. “They will scar the heart of our community,” Handlin said. “You can’t make a serious argument that these are like the redwoods of California, which are enormous and breathtakingly beautiful. These will be enormous and breathtakingly ugly.”

She said safety and health worries, brought up during the debate in the 1990s, remain as well.

Concerns as to whether high voltage transmission lines pose a health risk “have never been laid to rest,” Handlin said. “There’s never been definitive data that shows they’re safe. On behalf of my community, I don’t see why we should be guinea pigs.”

JCP&L hopes to build the line between June 2017 and June 2019, a project that will create about 245 jobs.

The company plans to hold three open house events in neighborhoods near the proposed project to share information with the public and gather feedback. The company also is setting up a website at www.monmouthreliability.com.

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Bramnick calls for tax cuts to make New Jersey competitive

Source: Excerpt from NJ Spotlight -

Lawmakers who want to get rid of New Jersey’s estate tax and make other tax cuts say they’re not scared by new forecasts that predict state tax revenue will fall about $1 billion short of original projections through the middle of next year.

Jon Bramnick

 

“You have to do what you have to do to get competitive,” Bramnick said. “We better do it quickly.”

 

 

Instead, they’re doubling down on their calls for change, arguing that cuts will go a long way toward fixing the state’s broader budget problems.

But tax-cut critics are pointing to a series of new spending reductions announced by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration earlier this week to bolster their position. Feeling the pain of these cuts will be hospitals, New Jersey’s business community, and others — and critics warn even deeper spending reductions would follow any new tax cuts.

How it all shakes out over the next few weeks remains to be seen, especially since the tax-cut issue has become part of an ongoing bipartisan conversation among lawmakers about the best way to renew the state’s Transportation Trust Fund before it goes broke this summer. And it’s Christie, who has been calling for more “tax fairness” in New Jersey, who will likely have the last word.

New Jersey’s acting state Treasurer Ford Scudder announced earlier this week that the Christie administration is scaling back its revenue projections for the fiscal year that ends June 30 by $603 million. The primary reason for the downgraded revenue forecast is income-tax collections that have failed to meet the administration’s latest growth projections.

Scudder attributed the problem primarily to a poorly performing stock market, and the volatility created by the state’s heavy reliance on those at the upper-income levels. So when only a few of those taxpayers have a bad year, the state will likely have one as well.

The solution, suggested Sen. Steven Oroho (R-Sussex), is to broaden the tax base by making the state’s policies more hospitable to those in the upper-income brackets. Oroho has been among those leading the way in calling for a phase out of New Jersey’s estate tax.

In the Assembly, Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) has been among those who’ve also been calling for more tax cuts. Asked in the State House yesterday if the new tax-revenue figures give him any pause, Bramnick said Oroho’s view is the right one because other states right now have far more attractive tax policies.

“You have to do what you have to do to get competitive,” Bramnick said. “We better do it quickly.”

 

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Bramnick, Webber on consequences of massive increase to minimum wage

Source: Excerpt from the Bergen Record -

An Assembly committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would gradually boost New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021.

By a 6-3 party line vote, the Assembly Labor committee moved the bill to a vote by the full Assembly. The Senate Labor committee approved an identical measure on Monday.

Thursday’s vote came after a debate between the Democratic lawmakers who say the bill is needed to create “a livable wage” and Republican assemblymen who questioned the impact the bill will have on job creation.

Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus, a co-sponsor, noted that other states like New York and California have already approved a $15 minimum wage.

Jay Webber

Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, asked Prieto and the bill co-sponsor John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, if they had been to an Applebee’s restaurant lately.

He described how the restaurant chain has enabled customers to place their orders via an iPad.

“Do you think that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is going to start pricing people out of the labor market especially if technology will replace them?” Webber asked.

Wisniewski replied that restaurants are always going to use new technology to lower their costs.

Webber agreed but said that hiking the minimum wage will drive employers to look for ways to limit the number of their employees.

“I don’t think you stop the march of technology, but you certainly can speed it up,” Webber said. “And when you raise the cost of employing individuals you’re going to give people incentives to find technology to replace people faster.”

The bill would increase the state’s hourly minimum wage from $8.38 to $10.10 with an increase of $1 annually until it reaches $15. Further increases would be tied to the consumer price index.

Democratic leaders have said that they expect Governor Christie will veto the bill. Once that happens, they plan to place it on the November 2017 ballot.

Jon Bramnick

The measure spurred criticism from Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, who said the minimum wage hike was the latest example of what he called “The Bernie effect” alluding to Democratic presidential contender Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has pressed his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton on several fronts including income inequality.

“They (New Jersey Democratic lawmakers) are so afraid of the left wing of their party that they are going off the rails,” Bramnick said at a news conference. He said New Jersey’s current minimum wage is higher than 34 states including neighboring Pennsylvania at $7.25.

 

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Ciattarelli proposes bill to reform affordable housing rules

Source: Excerpt from the Courier-News -

With towns trying to solve their affordable housing mysteries without any clues, two Somerset County legislators are co-sponsoring a bill that may provide a short-term solution while they work on comprehensive long-term reform.

State Sen. Kip Bateman and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, both District 16 Republicans, are developing legislation to help municipalities face their court-ordered obligations to provide affordable housing, an issue that has been lurking in the shadows but could change the face of New Jersey..

Jack Ciattarelli

 

“What we truly need is keen focus on implementing real affordable housing reform,” Asm. Jack Ciattarelli said, adding that the reforms will “provide enough affordable housing for those who need it most.”

 

After a Supreme Court decision last year, municipalities have been scrambling to meet court deadlines on developing a new affordable housing plans.

But their efforts have been handicapped because municipalities do not know how many affordable units they must provide and whether that number is retroactive to 1999 when the last quotas were determined.

If that number is retroactive, then municipalities could face the possibility of including tens of thousands more affordable housing units than they are obligated to provide under the Fair Housing Act. That, the legislators say, could set a “dangerous precedent.”

Ocean County Superior Court Judge Mark Troncone ruled earlier this year that the number should be retroactive, but because affordable housing issues are being decided by Superior Court judges on the county level, that decision is not binding on other judges.

Bateman and Ciattarelli, calling Troncone’s decision “incorrect” and “misguided,” want it to stay that way.

The legislators have joined a bipartisan effort to pass a bill to free municipalities from meeting those retroactive requirements.

“Municipalities need a clear set of guidelines for providing affordable housing,” Bateman said. “Instead, one court has handed down a misguided mandate that clearly violates established law.”

For example, Branchburg, Bateman’s hometown, does not know if it must provide 329 or 1,000 affordable housing units.

If Branchburg needs to provide 1,000 affordable units, that’s a 20 percent hike in the number of housing units already in the township.

Branchburg is considering a conceptual plan to provide 240 units to meet a deadline by Somerset County Superior Court Judge Thomas Miller to show progress in developing a plan. However, that conceptual plan may have to change after Branchburg gets its affordable housing number once a special master reports to Miller.

“The last thing we need are convoluted and unnecessary regulations,” Ciattarelli said.

That’s why the two legislators are developing a bill that would allow municipalities to administer their own affordable housing obligations. Bateman and Ciattarelli say that will return flexibility and autonomy to municipalities, protect the environment and ease property taxes.

The legislation would also give the municipalities the option of paying into a municipal or state affordable housing trust fund, relieving the quota to build an affordable unit.

“What we truly need is keen focus on implementing real affordable housing reform,” Ciattarelli said, adding that the reforms will “provide enough affordable housing for those who need it most.”

“Far too many New Jerseyans are still struggling to find adequate housing,” Bateman said. “It’s time to stop playing games in the courts and focus on enacting real, comprehensive affordable housing reform..”

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Bramnick: Dems are suffering from ‘Bernie Sanders effect’

Source: Politico New Jersey -

Jon Bramnick

Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick said Thursday that state Democratic leaders are suffering from the “Bernie Sanders effect,” which, he says, has led the party’s elected officials to move so far to the left that they’re willing to adopt a “radical socialist policy.”

Bramnick repreated the phrase “Bernie Sanders effect” seven times, and, on a few other occasions, invoked the Democratic presidential candidate’s name, including one mention of “the ghost of Bernie Sanders,” during a news conference at the statehouse.

“Bernie Sanders is pushing even New Jersey legislators to a radical left position that I’m not sure they’re even comfortable with,” Bramnick said.

Citing a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 and protracted debates over how best to deal with Atlantic City’s fiscal crisis, the assemblyman said the Democrats’ agenda reflects what he sees as the party’s misplaced priorities.

He did not identify by name the officials he believes to be under the influence of Sanders, but noted that Senate President Stephen Sweeney was not among them. Sweeney, with the backing of Gov. Chris Christie, has proposed a state takeover of Atlantic City, but Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto objected to because it would allow the state to break union contracts. The two are in talks over a compromise bill .

“Here’s a Democratic majority that cannot save one of the biggest cities in our state. Why? I’ll tell you why: Bernie Sanders effect,” Bramnick said. “The public unions would rather the city of Atlantic City go bankrupt than allow the austerity moves that the state, led by the governor, would do. Bernie Sanders effect.”

“The Democrats can’t compromise. They’re stuck in this unfortunate problem of — I call it the left wing of the party — and I think it’s stopping Atlantic City from having a resolution,” Bramnick added.

On the minimum wage, the assemblyman — who is co-sponsoring a bill (A1318) that would establish a training wage for young adults, set at 85 percent of the minimum wage — noted that Pennsylvania has a lower minimum wage and lower taxes than New Jersey. Such factors would drive businesses to relocate out of state, he said.

Assembly Republican whip Scott Rumana, who took part in the news conference, said increasing minimum wage would hurt not only businesses, but current employees who might lose their jobs as a result of their employers’ increased expenses.

Scott Rumana

“The model does not work here in the highest-taxed state and a very high cost state,” Rumana said. “To actually drive up more of the cost will actually impact the middle class, the working families of New Jersey, very, very radically.”

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Dancer pushes for schools to teach cursive writing

Source: PoliticoNJ – Two state lawmakers are hoping to revive the teaching of penmanship in schools.

Sen. Brian Stack, a Democrat from Hudson County, recently signed on to sponsor a bill (S2183) requiring public schools to teach elementary students to read and write in cursive. It’s identical to legislation (A3042) Republican Ron Dancer introduced in the Assembly earlier this year.

Ron Dancer

Dancer, who represents Monmouth and Ocean counties, first proposed the idea during the last legislative session, but that measure never passed out of committee.

Dancer, 66, grew up in an era without computers and continues to take notes in cursive. His concern is that amid increasing reliance on electronic devices from an early age, future generations of students won’t be able to read original historical texts.

“All our historical documents were handwritten in cursive — the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights,” he said. “Cursive writing is timeless because it connects us to our past.”

Emphasis on penmanship seems to have fallen by the wayside as classrooms have increasingly focused on teaching English, math, and, to some degree, science and technology. Moreover, those who feel that teaching cursive is time wasted point to the fact that most communications are no longer handwritten.

But others continue to see the value in teaching cursive.

Sheila Lowe, president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, which sponsors the Campaign for Cursive movement, said studies have shown that children who write in cursive exercise different parts of their brain, leading to improved learning and behavior, as well as better motor skills…

It remains to be seen if New Jersey will follow suit. Both the Assembly and Senate versions of the bill have been referred to their chamber’s education committees for review.

Dancer is hoping this time that fellow lawmakers and the governor will see fit to make the issue a priority.

“The skill of being able to read and write in cursive should not be lost in this electronic, digital age of keyboarding,” he said.

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Schepisi on Democrats revival of controversial redistricting amendment

Source: PoliticoNJ – Republicans thought Democrats’ controversial redistricting plan was dead, but that pronouncement might have been premature.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat from Union County, on Monday reintroduced a proposed constitutional amendment to alter the way New Jersey redraws its legislative districts — a plan maligned by Republicans and independent experts.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

Democrats had first introduced the proposal in December and immediately began rushing it throughout the legislative process. It was approved by committees in both houses before stalling in January, just before the state Senate was to vote on it, after running into some Democratic opposition.

But Scutari said he anticipates the new version of the amendment, which includes one small change, will advance in the Senate “soon.” It is also sponsored by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, indicating it still has political juice…

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a Republican from Bergen County, said Democrats “wouldn’t be pushing this so hard if they didn’t know that somehow, some way this will solidify their position for perpetuity in the state and make it a one-party state forever.”

Schepisi said that under that proposal, Atlantic County’s 2nd Legislative District — which is represented by both Democrats and Republicans and is perpetually among the most competitive districts in the state — would be considered a Republican-favored district under the new redistricting proposal.

Schepisi also doubted Democrats really have the support to get the measure on the ballot.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations with people from their caucus who were against moving this forward. I think there were as many Democrats who were opposed to this as Republicans,” she said.

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O’Scanlon warns that the state is heading for a ‘cliff of epic proportions’

Source: Excerpted from the Bergen Record -

After nearly four hours of testimony, by which time a standing-room-only audience had dwindled to a few, the Senate Labor Committee voted 3-1 along party lines to advance to the full Senate a bill that would hike the minimum from $8.38 to $10.10, and raise it by $1 annually until it reaches $15.

The bill is part of a strategy outlined in February by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus. Sweeney co-sponsored the Senate Bill, dubbed S-15, and Prieto said he will now post an identical measure in the Assembly. Both lawmakers have said they expect Governor Christie, a Republican, will veto the legislation. Once that happens, they plan a push to put the issue on the ballot in November 2017.

That’s the same year voters will pick a new governor, when Sweeney is expected to be among the Democratic contenders.

Declan O'Scanlon

Monday’s hearing featured a lively debate between Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth and Vitale, the bill’s co-sponsor.

O’Scanlon, the Assembly Republican budget officer, said he believes “everybody here has their heart in the right place.” But he added that the state is heading for “a cliff of epic proportions” as lawmakers grapple with issues such as funding the state’s employee pension obligation and funding the nearly depleted Transportation Trust Fund. He also cited warnings raised during budget hearings by mental health providers who said their programs would be affected by the wage hike.

“I have asked those who support this bill: ‘What’s the impact going to be on our state budget?’ Stunningly, no one has been able to give me that answer. I don’t care how noble or justified the cause may be – taxpayers need us to be the adults in the room.”

Vitale agreed with O’Scanlon that lawmakers face some tough budget decisions.

Several business groups spoke against the bill, saying the wage hike — coming on the heels of an increase approved by voters in 2013 — will force business owners to cut back hiring.

Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said the state’s economy is only in the third year of slow and steady economic growth following the recession.

“But we still lag behind the nation,” Siekerka said. “New Jersey still has a lot of catching up to do.”

“What if we have another Sandy?” she asked. “These are economic realities we can’t ignore.”

 

Current law ties future changes in the state’s minimum wage to inflation.

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O’Scanlon, Bucco warn of serious consequences of $15 minimum wage

Source: PolitickerNJ -

As lawmakers consider a Democratically sponsored bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour in as soon as five years, state Republicans are pointing to the wage hike’s potential impact to New Jersey’s already strained budget. In his testimony at the Senate Labor Committee hearing where that bill advanced Monday, Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon predicted that healthcare providers who receive state funding would turn to the state to offset the cost.

O’Scanlon offered The Arc of New Jersey, a healthcare provider and advocacy group for the disabled, as one example. The bill from Senate President Steve Sweeney to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017 and to $15 by 2021 could, he said, leave providers in the lurch.

Declan O'Scanlon

“At a budget hearing last month, we heard testimony from ARC and the community of mental healthcare providers,” O’Scanlon said. “These are people sympathetic to an increase in wages for healthcare workers who are making $10 an hour and haven’t had a raise in years. But together, they estimated a fully phased in minimum wage of $15 would have a shocking $250 million effect on their budgets. If the State isn’t picking up that tab then they have no idea how to plug the hole.

“Between fully phasing in our public employee pension payments, transportation funding, and a host of other things, within five or six years, we’re looking at a $7 to $8 billion budget problem.”

Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-25) echoed O’Scanlon’s concerns, saying in a statement that same day that organizations would not only be forced to seek out more space in budget but also compromise their ability to provide essential services.

Anthony M. Bucco

“Aside from the obvious economic impact, raising the minimum wage will devastate nonprofits’ ability to provide valuable services to our most vulnerable citizens,” Bucco wrote. “Either we will have to come up with significantly more funding in the state budget, which we do not have, or these organizations will need to make significant cut backs. The end result will be a loss of service to those that need it most.

“This will affect many organizations like the ARC of New Jersey and treatment centers for drug and alcohol abuse,” Bucco continued.

The NJBIA, one of the most important contributors to state Republicans’ electoral war chest, suggested that same day that the state devise ways to drive down the cost of housing, childcare and health insurance rather than mandate a higher wage. The group’s president also predicted a slowdown in New Jersey’s recovery from the 2008 recession. An analyst from the NJEA, the business group’s counterpart across the aisle, invoked Republicans’ eagerness for a phase-out of the state’s estate tax (O’Scanlon and Bucco have both argued vociferously for eliminating the tax) when addressing how the state intends to pay for the increase.

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Schepisi, Carroll weigh in on rumors of AC deal [video]

 

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

Source: NJTV [video] -

It says a lot about how the Atlantic City rescue talks have been going that interpretations of the progress of those talks can be so wildly divergent. To wit: these two reactions to our questions about closed door meetings that resumed today. Here’s Senate President Steve Sweeney and Speaker Vincent Prieto.

“We’re starting to talk, but we’re where we’re at. Hopefully we can find a solution,” sighed Sweeney. “I think everyone wants to find one, so hopefully we’ll come up with one shortly.”

Prieto avoided reporters after the afternoon caucus. “It was a great meeting, and we had great dialogue and it started the day,” he said…

Sweeney and Gov. Chris Christie have expressed frustration with the speaker, especially after he floated the option of bankruptcy this week. The frustration has spread among some Democrats, and talk about the need for a leadership change in the Assembly have started to grow louder, although no one will talk on the record about it. Some Republicans expressed concern about the lasting effects of the tone of the Atlantic City debate.

This is Game of Thrones, New Jersey edition,” joked Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi. “The White Walkers are currently eating half the people in Trenton and yet they’re still fighting amongst themselves, so do I think that there’s currently the potential that that sort of maneuvering has been going on? Absolutely; we all hear the rumors but right now that’s all they are, rumors and speculation.”

Michael Patrick Carroll

“It’s a little bit juvenile to see two grown men, actually more than two grown men, sniping at each other and for no particular reason,” added Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll. “I have great respect for Speaker Prieto and President Sweeney but they should sit down and come up with a plan that suits all of the interests of their caucus. After all they’re in the majority.”

Carroll said he expects that, if it came right down to it, Republicans in the lower house would probably back Prieto, but it’s presumed that if there is an Atlantic City deal, all this acrimony will be ultimately be forgotten. But the deal itself, remains a big if.

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