Category: Clips

Schepisi on DuHaime subpoena: Another SCI tangent that reaffirms Dems not looking to reform PA

Source: The Record - Lawmakers leading the inquiry into the George Washington Bridge scandal announced Wednesday that they’ve expanded their investigation to seek documents from the top strategist on Governor Christie’s campaign.

The move comes a day after Democrats questioned a former staffer in Christie’s office about the political nature of her team — which dealt with mayors and local officials courted by the campaign for endorsements — during an election year.

Holly Schepisi

By demanding that Michael DuHaime provide documents, emails, text messages and his calendars, the committee is furthering its “bipartisan investigation into the lane closings and apparent abuse of power,” its co-leaders, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, said in a statement.

Republicans said this latest request coupled with repeated questions at Tuesday’s hearing about endorsement efforts show the Democrats who control committee are more concerned with investigating the governor’s reelection bid than reforming the Port Authority…

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, one of four Republicans on the committee, raised concerns with both the subpoena and Tuesday’s hearing.

“This seems to be shifting from the stated purpose of implementing reforms at the Port Authority to more of an indictment of Governor Christie’s campaign,” said Schepisi, R-River Vale. “And if we’re truly focused on what the stated objective of the committee was, which was to understand what occurred at the Port Authority, to put forth appropriate reforms legislatively, we seem to have really gone off on a tangent of an indictment of [the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs] and the inner workings of Governor Christie’s campaign.”

Schepisi said Renna’s nearly five hours of testimony did not offer much new information and Democrats were asking her to speculate on things she did not have answers to.

DuHaime’s attorney, Marc Mukasey, said his client has been cooperating with the committee and questioned whether Wisniewski was using the investigation to further his own political career.

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Brown, Bucco commend treasurer’s careful diligence in face of budget challenge

Source: Bergen Record -

Governor Christie’s state treasurer appeared before lawmakers Wednesday for the first time since announcing an $807 million budget shortfall last week, but he offered no new information about how the Christie administration plans to close the gap in the final weeks of the state’s fiscal year.

Instead, Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff repeated much of what Christie told reporters during a news conference last week, specifically that the gap is primarily due to an underperforming income tax, and that no spending items are off the table as options are being considered to rebalance the state’s $33 billion budget.

Anthony M. Bucco

 

“I encourage you to take the time with the administration to make sure the difficult decisions that we have to make do not have unintended consequences,” said Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, R-Morris.

 

“We are evaluating a wide range of alternatives,” Sidamon-Eristoff told members of the Assembly Budget Committee during its meeting Wednesday.

Those words frustrated some members of the panel who are concerned if the treasurer waits until his next scheduled appearance before the committee later this month, it would leave too little time to fully consider the impact of the administration’s budget fixes.

Only about $5 billion of the budget remains unspent, including an estimated $1.6 billion payment into the public employee pension system. Some aid to local schools, colleges and college students are other sizable items that have yet to be spent.

“Why not put the options on the table and have a discussion?” asked Assemblyman Joe Cryan, D-Union.

But the treasurer said the Christie administration is still in the midst of a deliberative process to determine which options are available to close the gap.

“We believe it’s appropriate to take the time to perform an extensive due diligence,” the treasurer said.

Chris J. Brown

Republicans on the panel praised Sidamon-Eristoff for taking time and being deliberative.

“I appreciate you playing it close to the vest right now,” said Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Burlington.

“I encourage you to take the time with the administration to make sure the difficult decisions that we have to make do not have unintended consequences,” said Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, R-Morris.

For the last several weeks, lawmakers have been reviewing the $34.4 billion spending plan Christie proposed for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Since the state constitution requires a balanced budget, the $807 million shortfall in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, is a major factor in their budget deliberations.

Sidamon-Eristoff told the lawmakers they should expect “significant adjustments” to Christie’s $34.4 billion budget when he comes back before the panel on May 21, but declined to detail specifics.

The treasurer did hold up the more than $2 billion in spending cuts Christie enacted in 2010 when he took office amid recession as a model for what could be expected when he comes back before the committee.

Those cuts included $820 million in education aid. Singleton warned that if school aid cuts will be looked to again, it would have an effect on local property taxpayers who fund school budgets.

Sidamon-Eristoff said most of the $807 million gap, about 85 percent, was directly attributable to the Department of Treasury not guessing right the effect of new federal tax rates enacted for the 2013 tax year. To address the “fiscal cliff,” President Obama and Congress lifted Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

Because New Jersey relies heavily on its highest income earners, it assumed final payments in April from those taxpayers would be higher than they were. Treasury saw some of the problem coming in February when it the revenue projection, but did not realize the full force.

“We believe the risks were balanced,” said Charles Steindel, Treasury’s chief economist. “We were unfortunately incorrect.”

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Angelini on Rutgers’ commencement debacle: ‘I’m angry, but I’m also sad’

Source: Bergen Record -

Two days after former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opted not to deliver the commencement address amid a string of protests, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi named former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean as the keynote speaker at the school’s May 18 graduation ceremony.

“Gov. Kean’s career as a public servant, educator and statesman speaks to the civility, integrity and vision that we hope will guide our graduates as they pursue their careers or further their studies,’’ Barchi said in a statement Monday afternoon. “Gov. Kean is a national role model as a statesman who built bridges across partisan, racial, ethnic and ideological divides for the sole purpose of improving the quality of life for the people he served. We are honored that he has accepted our invitation to address our graduates.”

Prior to Kean’s appointment, several Republican state lawmakers weighed in on the controversy.

Mary Pat Angelini

“I think it’s a huge missed opportunity and I’m really saddened for the students, the graduates and their families, who would’ve had an opportunity to listen to Secretary Condoleezza Rice,” Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, R-Dist. 11, said. “I just don’t understand the controversy. I understand what they’re saying it is. She’s such a wonderful woman who has been such a wonderful role model to so many young woman across the country of color and of all aspects of life. I’m angry, but I’m also sad.’’

State Senator Joe Kyrillos, R-Dist. 13, called it “an embarrassment to both Rutgers and New Jersey,” adding: “It is a shame that select faculty and students at Rutgers censored her for having views different than their own and goes against everything for which our state university should stand.” His state Senate colleague, Joe Pennacchio, R-Dist. 26, echoed that sentiment, saying Rice “was bullied out of speaking at the upcoming commencement.”

For Rutgers officials, it marks a step forward in the controversy even as different factions on both sides of the issue continued the debate with dueling statements.

Rice announced her decision on her Facebook page, culminating a week in which students twice conducted nonviolent protests on campus and after several faculty groups voiced their protest in the form of opposing resolutions aimed at the Board of Governors’ Feb. 4 decision to tab Rice as commencement speaker.

The protests stemmed from Rice’s role as national security adviser to former President George W. Bush during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

In a joint letter, the Rutgers College Republicans, Eagleton Undergraduate Associates and Greek Life at Rutgers University expressed dismay over Rice’s decision to withdraw as commencement speaker after, they wrote, “a small minority of students protested her selection” and said there is concern that Rutgers “is not a place where the free ideas and a diversity of opinions are encouraged.”

“A university should be a place where free ideas are exchanged and a diversity of opinions are encouraged,” wrote Donald Coughlan, a Rutgers student and chairman of the New Jersey College Republicans.

Rice, who was set to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree in addition to drawing a $35,000 speaking fee, said her invitation to speak became “a distraction for the university community” and was “simply unwilling to detract” from the commencement ceremony.

While part of the opposition from Rutgers’ faculty and students stemmed from the believe that university officials breached protocol in choosing Rice, Kean was picked without input from faculty or students, according to Pete McDonough, vice president for public affairs at Rutgers.

“I think we got so surprised by Secretary Rice’s decision that we had to move quickly,’’ McDonough said. “As Dr. Rice was pulling out, Gov. Kean’s name emerged rather quickly as a potential speaker. We actually had some conversations about him introducing Dr. Rice anyhow. So (after Rice’s withdrawal), his name came up, it received general acclaim and Bob just reached out to him. Was there a formal board process? No, but the board leadership was consulted and agreed to it.”

Rutgers officials had previously stated Rice was chosen through a process of the sending the six-person Honorary Degree Committee’s recommendation to the 18-person Committee on Alumni and University Relations and then on to the full Board of Governors. “The process is an open and inclusive process (and) has been in place for many years,” a Rutgers spokesperson said in March.

But while the Board of Governors is the only university body empowered to award honorary degrees, the university president has the authority to appoint a commencement speaker, McDonough said.

“It’s exigent circumstances,” McDonough said. “We certainly weren’t going to sit around and have to convene a meeting and further delay the process for selecting and creating excitement around the speaker.”

Kean, who received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Rutgers in 1982, will not accept a speaking fee, Rutgers officials said. He served as New Jersey governor from 1982 until 1990, and then went on to serve as the president of Drew University in Madison from 1990-2005.

In his letter to Barchi, Coughlin expressed concern that Rutgers faculty had encouraged students “to publicly denounce Dr. Rice and attend the Teach-In Protest.” That teach-in will go on as planned Tuesday evening at the Student Activities Center on George Street in New Brunswick, with Rutgers faculty scheduled to conduct panel discussions on torture, the Iraq War and academic values.

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Handlin: Port Authority Reforms Needed Now

Source: Bloomberg - Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York are forming a panel to address the future of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whose operations have been under scrutiny since Christie allies closed lanes at the George Washington Bridge.

Amy Handlin

The panel will review and evaluate changes to the 93-year-old transportation agency’s governance, management and operations, according to a letter sent yesterday from the governors to the agency’s nine active commissioners. The panel will include two sitting or nominated Port Authority commissioners from each state and one representative from each governor’s office, the letter said…

The creation of the panel was necessary, though some changes should happen immediately, according to New Jersey Assemblywoman Amy Handlin. The Republican from Middletown serves on the legislative Select Committee on Investigation, which is reviewing the bridge jams.

“We don’t need to wait to implement some very basic reform, such as forcing the Port Authority to operate transparently by making them subject to the same open public-records laws that the governments of both New York and New Jersey are subject to,” Handlin said by phone. “Nor do we need to wait to take steps to end conflicts of interest among the board of commissioners.”

New Jersey commissioners named were Richard Bagger and appointee John Degnan, along with Christoper Porrino, counsel to Christie. Cuomo tapped agency Vice Chairman Scott Rechler and a commissioner to be named later as well as Mylan Denerstein, his counsel.

The panel is required to submit a written report in 60 days.

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On NJTV, Handlin discusses testimony in GWB investigation [video]

Source: NJTV [video] -

Assemblywomen Amy Handlin and Marlene Caride discuss Christina Renna’s testimony on the George Washington Bridge lane closure investigation with NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.

The pair discussed how Renna talked about her relationship with Bridget Anne Kelly, IGA and how new information was discovered during the hearing.

Amy Handlin

Handlin said that she learned from today’s hearing how the Port Authority was spending money and how the agency was not stopped in time.

“My take on this hearing today is that $22 million were spent again by all of those clowns in the three ring circus called the Port Authority and we did absolutely nothing to stop it,” said Handlin.

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Republicans act and react to SCI hearing

Source: NJ Spotlight -

Christie, Cuomo appoint their own panel to recommend Port Authority reforms in 60 days, undercutting legislative committee

Christina Genovese Renna, the first witness to testify before the Legislature’s Select Committee on Investigation regarding Bridgegate, yesterday depicted a governor’s office where orders flowed top-down in a strict hierarchy; where the lines between governmental and political activity were blurred; and where she was afraid she would lose her job if she reported her boss, Bridget Kelly, had asked her to destroy an incriminating email.

It was a governor’s office where Christie’s 2009 campaign manager, Bill Stepien, used voter data to generate a top 100 list of municipalities to get special attention from the Office of Inter-Governmental Affairs he headed. The assumption was that Christie could then win more votes in those towns in his 2013 reelection campaign, Renna confirmed.

While the Select Committee on Investigation has been focusing on what the governor’s office knew about Bridgegate with Christie press secretary Michael Drewniak to follow Renna in the witness chair next Tuesday, Christie and Republican legislators yesterday launched a broad counter-offensive in an apparent attempt to undercut the public investigation by the legislative committee:

Christie and Cuomo yesterday announced the appointment of a Special Panel on the Future of the Port Authority to be made up of four Port Authority commissioners appointed by the governors, plus their chief counsels, to make recommendations within 60 days on how to restructure the bistate agency.

Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex), Christie’s top ally on the Select Committee on Investigation, yesterday unsuccessfully urged the panel to ask Christie’s attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to look into alleged leaks of documents by the committee.

Holly Schepisi

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen) yesterday urged the panel to subpoena a half-dozen Port Authority employees with knowledge of the Bridgegate closures — three of whom already testified under oath before the Assembly Transportation Committee in December — in a move aimed at shifting the committee’s focus from the governor’s office to the operations of the Port Authority.

Jon Bramnick

And Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) yesterday renewed the call for the 12-member Select Committee on Investigation, which has an eight-to-four Democratic majority, to be reconstituted with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, noting that U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) urged the same for a panel being established to investigate the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

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Schepisi, Handlin contest committee prior to testimony of former Christie aide

Source: Wall Street Journal -

A former top aide to Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday defended her work at the helm of a department accused of playing favorites among the state’s mayors, saying she didn’t give special attention to Democrats whose endorsement the governor’s re-election campaign was seeking.

Christina Renna, who resigned from her post as director of the Department of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs in January, said the office acted in a nonpartisan fashion. The department’s work was questioned in a Christie administration internal investigation into the George Washington Bridge scandal, with a report saying Ms. Renna’s staff kept a list of Democratic allies of the Republican governor.

“We treated everyone fairly, and equally,” Ms. Renna said in the first hour of testimony to a legislative committee. “It was a level playing field.”

Before Ms. Renna’s testimony, Republican members of the committee expressed frustration about the legislative investigation, including biased statements and the sharing of subpoenaed records with the media. Republicans asked for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate media leaks.

Holly Schepisi

“We have grave concerns regarding leaks of documents to the media,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a Republican committee member.

Amy Handlin

Republicans also asked for about a half a dozen members of the Port Authority to be subpoenaed, including its vice chairman Scott Rechler, a New York appointee of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Assemblywoman Amy H. Handlin, a Republican committee member, described the authority as a “clown operation,” and said it needs to be reformed.

The Democrat-led committee voted to consider whether to issue the additional subpoenas and ask the state attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor at a later date.

Ms. Renna was the first to testify under oath Tuesday before New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, which is looking into the bridge scandal. The closure of local access lanes to the bridge in September caused a series of traffic jams that crippled Fort Lee, N.J., allegedly orchestrated by Mr. Christie’s aides and allies at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as retribution against the borough’s Democratic mayor.

Ms. Renna testified Tuesday that she wasn’t involved in the planning of the lane closures.

From April 2013 to late January, Ms. Renna led the Department of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, an agency that acted as a liaison between the administration, the state Legislature and local elected officials. She took over for Bridget Kelly, who had been promoted to Mr. Christie’s former deputy chief of staff. Ms. Kelly is accused of engineering the lane closures and setting them off with an email to a Port Authority official: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Mr. Christie fired Ms. Kelly. Her lawyer has said she is innocent.

Committee members have prepared dozens of questions to pose to Ms. Renna, and the hearing is expected to last much of Tuesday.

Lawmakers want to know more from Ms. Renna about the operations of her office and if it had become politicized last year while Mr. Christie was running for re-election. Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, had been on a list of potential Democrats to endorse Mr. Christie, but then was removed later in the year, according to notes from an interview Ms. Renna gave to the administration’s lawyers.

Documents Ms. Renna provided to the committee in response to another bridge-related subpoena are expected to be released as part of the hearing’s transcript.

Mr. Christie’s internal investigation into the bridge scandal found that the governor wasn’t involved in the lane closures, nor was his current staff. Five people tied to Mr. Christie have stepped down from their public roles since it came to light last year.

Last month, the committee subpoenaed five people to testify about the lane closures. Mr. Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, is scheduled to testify next Tuesday, while former Christie campaign staffer Matt Mowers is slated for May 20.

Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye is scheduled to testify on June 3, along with commissioner William “Pat” Schuber.

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Fiocchi proposes tax credit for seasonal tourism employers coping with increase in minimum wage [video]

Source: NBC 10 [video] -

Sam Fiocchi

Sam Fiocchi

Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi has introduced legislation allowing a tax credit for employers who hire seasonal employees. Those employers have been hard-hit by the $1-per-hour increase in the state’s minimum wage and may reduce hiring for the critical summer months.

“It will increase the cost of soda and popcorn and rides, and in a sense it may cause employers not to hire as many people,” Fiocchi said.

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Fiocchi says Tax Credits Possible for Seasonal Employers

Source: NJ 101.5 -

Shore-area businesses being hit with higher costs associated with the minimum wage increase could get some assistance, under proposed legislation announced during a press conference on the Wildwood boardwalk Monday.

New Jersey Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi (R-Vineland) is sponsoring a bill that would provide seasonal employers with credits against their corporate business tax and gross income tax, due to increased labor costs caused by the state’s 14 percent rise in the minimum wage in January.

Sam Fiocchi

Sam Fiocchi

“It gives them a credit between the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25, to the state minimum wage, which is $8.25,” Fiocchi said.

It’s a win-win for everybody, according to Fiocchi.

“The employees will get the increased minimum wage, but then the employers are able to maintain prices and maintain employment levels,” Fiocchi said.

Not providing a credit such as the one he is proposing would hurt the middle class, Fiocchi said, adding, “All we’re trying to do is keep jobs and spur people to come to the shore. In the end, that creates more taxes and it actually pays for itself.”

The assemblyman was joined at the event by Cape May freeholder Will Morey, who owns Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, and Ocean City mayor Jay Gillian.

The measure has some bipartisan support, Fiocchi said, noting the bill must go through a legislative committee and then to the floor for a vote. He’s hoping to have it passed by the end of June.

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Webber questions New Jersey school funding

Source: San Francisco Chronicle (AP)- Amid another budget crunch, New Jersey lawmakers are wrestling with a question of fairness: Is it better to give more state aid to school districts with the greatest need, or to use the state’s subsidy to help all schools equally?

Members of the Assembly Budget Committee posed questions about the issue to Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe at a hearing Monday…

Jay Webber

Assemblyman Jay Webber, a Republican from Morris Plains, said that one town in his Morris County district — North Caldwell — is in line to get $233,000, or less than $350 per student. He compared that to Asbury Park, where the proposed allocation is $55 million, or about $28,000 per student.

“I know that the students in Asbury Park are facing some challenges that students in North Caldwell aren’t,” he said. “I’m not sure they’re 79 times greater.”

Hespe, an appointee of the Republican governor, said that urban schools get more to pay for teaching English to non-native speakers, more special education programs and health clinics, among other items. Hespe said that technical support from his department and other changes such as new curriculum standards might help struggling districts more than another major infusion of funding.

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