Category: Clips

Auth: State’s tax burden must be reduced

Source: Bergen Record Letter-to-the-Editor -

Regarding “Adjusting excessive limits on state inheritance tax” (Other Views, Jan. 21):

Robert Auth

Robert Auth

I applaud Assemblyman Joseph Lagana, D-Paramus, for recognizing the folly in the Democrats’ high-tax policies, and I hope this is not simply an election-year conversion. New Jersey residents are voting with their feet in reaction to excessive taxation, including the confiscatory and counterproductive “death taxes.”

A recent study found that many millionaire households have packed up and left our state. Millionaires account for one-half of 1 percent of all New Jersey taxpayers but contribute more than 25 percent of the state’s income tax revenue.

My Republican colleagues and I have been calling for a more sensible tax policy that will provide relief to the middle class and also help us keep top revenue producers. Reducing the tax burden is only the first step, however. To ensure that tax relief is sustainable, state government must be more protective of taxpayer dollars. For that purpose, I am introducing “The Revenue Responsibility Act” to ensure that in the future, taxpayer money will be managed carefully and fiscal priorities will be met efficiently.

The act would amend the state constitution to cap state appropriations at 1 percent above the appropriation of the previous year and limit state spending to 98.5 percent of revenues received using a five-year running average as a benchmark. Moreover, it would establish a surplus revenue fund that could be used only to address a huge debt such as funding for public employee pension liabilities or property tax relief.

By making New Jersey more hospitable for all, including high earners, we can combat the loss of revenue to competing states. And by constitutionally assuring responsible revenue management, New Jersey can become more efficient and economical for everyone.

Robert Auth Old Tappan, Jan. 28
The writer, a Republican, represents the 39th District in the New Jersey Assembly.

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Rumana wants to stop all multi-family construction until codes are revised

Source: The Star-Ledger -

Calling the Edgewater apartment building that burned last week a “virtual tinderbox,” a state Assemblyman has proposed halting all multi-family developments in New Jersey until the state’s building code can be revised.

Scott Rumana

“The Edgewater inferno makes it clear that we need new and improved building standards in New Jersey in order to protect residents and first responders,” said Scott Rumana (R- Passaic, Bergen, Essex and Morris). “The lightweight wood construction used to build the Edgewater complex is the reason the fire raced through the luxury apartment development so quickly.”

The fire started late in the afternoon, when a group of unlicensed workers using a blowtorch behind a wall accidentally set some of the lightweight wood on fire, authorities said. They tried to extinguish the flames, and called a superior, but waited 15 minutes before calling 911, authorities added.

No charges have been filed.

No one was killed, though a few dozen pets were lost, and the 240 units were totally destroyed, authorities said. The next morning, officials said the sprinkler system helped give time to get all the people out of the building – but they said the construction materials burned quickly. When asked if they thought the code was sufficient, the mayor and others deferred comment.

“If it was made of concrete and cinderblock, we wouldn’t have this problem,” Chief Thomas Jacobson of the Edgewater Volunteer Fire Department said at the time.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Secaucus construction code official whose district includes Edgewater, told NJ Advance Media Thursday that the state should revisit its building standards – but cautioned against making quick conclusions.

Rumana said he would introduce a bill to change the codes next week – and hoped it would receive an immediate committee hearing.

“Buildings constructed with such highly-flammable materials are virtual tinderboxes,” the assemblyman added. “We need to ensure that better construction standards designed to save lives, are in place before any new multi-family housing is built.”

Some 500 people were displaced by the fire.

Avalon, the owner and developer of the Edgewater complex, lists 20 other communities on its website.

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Bramnick: Sandy aid bill may violate federal law

Source: Star Ledger - After developers in towns that were largely unscathed by Hurricane Sandy got millions in federal disaster relief funds that were distributed by the state, the state Assembly today passed a bill to change the way the state should dole out disaster aid.

Jon Bramnick

By a vote of 45-21, the Assembly approved the “Disaster Victims Protection Act” (A3666), which would require the governor to allocate disaster aid to towns in proportion to the physical damage they sustained…

The legislation follows a settlement with activist groups in which the state agreed to pump more disaster aid into the hardest hit areas from Hurricane Sandy. And the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, which administers the funds, changed its formula in May to better target hard-hit areas in distributing a second round of Community Development Block Grant funds.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) said most Republicans did not support the bill because it may violate federal law, though the bill says it applies “as far as practicable under federal funding requirements.”

“My understanding is that this allocates money according to the amount of damage per town, or per location, and the federal law requires that they incorporate in some way household income,” Bramnick said. “So it completely ignores that portion of the law, that some of the allocation has to be based on household income.”

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Rumana drafting legislation for 2-year moratorium on construction of multi-dwelling units

Source: Bergen Record -

Pressure is mounting for a review of state building codes — and even a potential construction moratorium — in the aftermath of a fast-moving fire that destroyed more than half of an Edgewater apartment complex last week and left hundreds homeless.

Officials in Mercer County on Thursday called for an emergency review of state construction codes before a residential community planned by the same developer for Princeton gets evaluated by the state. And Assemblyman Scott Rumana, R-Wayne, said he is working on legislation that will put a moratorium of up to two years on the approval and construction of multi-family housing developments until the state’s building code is revised.

Scott Rumana

“The goal is not have any New Jersey residents’ lives at stake. But equally as important, it’s to not put our first responders into these buildings, which I would call fire traps,” said Rumana. “I have too much experience in seeing the failures of these types of facilities — if this fire happened seven or 10 hours later, who knows how many people could have died?”

A five-alarm blaze at the Avalon at Edgewater destroyed much of the 408-unit complex, shut schools and roadways, temporarily displaced nearby residents and brought to the surface long-standing issues in the firefighting community about lightweight wood construction — a cheaper, faster and legal style of building that is common in New Jersey and elsewhere.

This type of construction is of particular concern when fire breaks out because of the potential for collapse and materials to burn quickly. Officials said the gutted Edgewater complex had lightweight construction with a truss style of roof framing.

“The lightweight wood construction used to build the Edgewater complex is the reason the fire raced through the luxury apartment development so quickly,” said Rumana. “Buildings constructed with such highly flammable materials are virtual tinderboxes.”

Lempert said if the Edgewater complex was built to code and that did not prevent a massive fire, “there’s something wrong with the code.”

The Edgewater fire was caused by maintenance workers using a blowtorch to fix a leaking pipe. They did not call 911 immediately, first attempting to put out the fire themselves, causing a 15-minute lapse.

Tenants in the building that did not burn were evacuated the night of the fire and began returning to their homes Saturday. Avalon representatives have offered to relocate displaced residents to one of their other developments.

Rumana, meanwhile, said he plans to introduce his bill next week and hopes it will receive an immediate committee hearing.

“I think there is momentum on this, the speaker is involved in the codes. But the idea of this bill is to prevent any further disasters in the meantime. There are lots of applications all over the state, we want to stop this cold and start from scratch,” the assemblyman said.

“The Edgewater inferno makes it clear that we need new and improved building standards in New Jersey in order to protect residents and first responders,” added Rumana. “Until those new standards are in place, a moratorium on new building is urgent.”

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Cape May hosts Asm. Fiocchi’s Eco-Agri Tourism Summit

Source: Cape May Gazette -

Cooperation was the theme for an Ecological-Agricultural Tourism Summit held in Cape May Wednesday, Jan. 28.

The summit was the project of Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi, who took the opportunity to introduce the audience to a handful of bills or resolutions he has introduced to help promote New Jersey tourism in general, and what is being called “eco-agri” tourism in particular.

Sometimes overlapping, ecological tourism refers to attracting people to visit New Jersey’s natural assets, including the shore areas. Agricultural tourism, according to Bill Walker from the New Jersey Department of Agricultural, is establishing farms as tourist destinations.

Sam Fiocchi

Sam Fiocchi

Fiocchi said tourism is all about cooperation.

“We need to create awareness of what we are trying to do, and have cooperation to expand the season and areas we cover for tourism, and get the information out,” he said.

The first speaker at the summit, after an introduction by Cape May Mayor Ed Mahaney, was Diane Wieland, the Cape May County tourism director.

“Tourism is a $544 million industry in Cape May County,” Wieland said.

That includes $2.9 million in sales tax and $1.9 million in occupancy tax raised through tourism, she said. $638 million is spent annually on recreation activities in New Jersey.

Wieland said 30 percent of land in New Jersey is used for nature-based activities. Growing in that area is agri-tourism, which includes area wineries and breweries.

“Agri-tourism extends the traditional tourism season,” Wieland said, adding that it adds to job creation and retention, sustains agriculture, provides farmers with additional income, and provides outlets to sell locally what is produced locally.

“It’s here, we don’t have to build it, just build on it,” she said.

Wieland also said eco-tourism is high on visitors’ lists these days. She said more and more people want to feel good about the carbon footprint they leave. She said the rise of the “foodie” has grown out of agri-tourism.

“People want to go to see how food is grown, how it is prepared. People are coming here to experience seafood, the honey, wine, produce, flowers,” Wieland said. “These are things people are looking to take home.”

According to Walker, tourism is about the “experiential” for today’s visitors.

“They want to do, to buy, take something home, to share it,” he said.

Wieland said people want to hear about and see farm-to-table options – people want to know if something is grown locally and if they can buy it here. And she said there are more potential tourists in several demographics, including the baby boomers, who are now in their 60s and have more disposable income. They will spend $167 billion this year, she said.

“Culinary tourism is on the rise,” Wieland said. “We are finding more and more farm markets.”

She said U.S. travelers, after lodging, spend the most on entertainment and food.

She said there is more of an interest in being “green,” the term associated with being ecologically friendly. She said those who are looking for a green experience expect to pay more and are willing to do it. She said visitors look for eco-friendly businesses, and those who promote tourism have to make these people aware that eco-friendly businesses exist here.

Walker urged farmers who are looking to expand into agri-tourism to ask for help from agencies such as Wieland’s department. Walker said farmers tend to know how to grow produce, but they need help when they venture into the hospitality industry and agri-tourism.

“Farmers are great economists, and producers, but they are not good at tourism marketing. Farmers are not used to being in the hospitality business,” Walker said.

Walker said on-farm activities are expanding, including direct marketing, you-pick farm, farm market sales, hosting school groups, wine tasting, and even entertainment. He said entertainment is where municipalities tend to ask questions about what the farmers are doing. Farms today are hosting festivals, birthday parties, weddings, and other sp-called life events, he said.

Walker said the state has learned just in recent years that there are $57 million in direct benefits to the state from agri-tourism, and another $33 million in indirect benefit (spending on gas, lodging, etc.).
He said New Jersey ranks first nationally in dollars earned from agri-tourism income.

“You have to make a business out of this,” Walker said to farmers.

Some of those efforts were contained in bills and resolutions Fiocchi sponsored in December and January. Fiocchi said he has bipartisan support for a number of bills and is trying to garner bipartisan support for his resolutions.

Assembly Resolution 199 and 201 were introduced Jan. 13. Resolution 199 urged the federal government to renew the 300-mile long New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail, which was established in 1988, but was left without federal management as of Sept. 30, 2011.

Assembly Resolution 201 urged the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to allocate an area in each of its airports to promote local ecotourism destinations. In 2013, tourism was a $35.9 billion industry in New Jersey, and a $544 million industry in Cape May and Cumberland counties.

Fiocchi sponsored five tourism-related bills introduced on Dec. 15, 2014. Assembly Bill 3991 would establish the New Jersey Eco-Ag Tourism Council. The bill calls for 13 members, 10 appointed by the governor, with three seats filled by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, or their designees. The council would report to those three departments, the governor, and the legislature with recommendations concerning tourism initiatives.

Assembly Bill 3992 would require the Department of Transportation to place tourist-oriented directional signs for natural attractions and farms offering agri-tourism on eligible roads, including state roads.

Assembly Bill 3993 would expand the criteria and policies established for the evaluation and priority ranking by the Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program of applications by local government units or qualifying tax exempt nonprofit organizations for eligibility to receive funding from the Green Acres Program for recreation and conservation purposes. Under this bill, the Green Acres Program would consider whether an application would create or promote ecotourism.

Assembly Bill 3994 would establish an annual photography competition to promote and support the many ecological and agricultural wonders of New Jersey. There would be three age categories for the competition, and submitted photographs must be of wildlife, plants, landscapes, wilderness or other points of natural or agricultural interest in the state.

Assembly Bill 3995 would require the Division of Travel and Tourism in the Department of State to establish a webpage on the division’s website that promotes and advertises state and federal ecological and agricultural tourist attractions in New Jersey.

Fiocchi asked the people attending the summit to contact their legislators and the Assembly speaker to urge that the bills get out of committee and reach the Assembly floor for a vote.

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Fiocchi’s Eco-Agri Tourism Summit Focuses on ‘Green’

Source: Cape May County Herald -

Sam Fiocchi

Sam Fiocchi

Assemblyman Samuel Fiocchi (R-1st) hosted an Eco-Agri Tourism Summit Jan. 28 at the Cape May Convention Hall. Sixty attendees ranging from business owners and county freeholders to managing partners of marketing agencies joined Fiocchi at the summit.

At every seat there was an official New Jersey state map, as well as a packet including the five Eco-Agri bills that Fiocchi recently sponsored and two Assembly resolutions that he also sponsored. The Eco-Agri bills range in topic from establishing the New Jersey Eco-Agri Tourism Council to the concern of promoting and advertising ecotourism and agri-tourism. This summit was happening during the same time period as the Science and Environmental Summit that was being hosted by the Delaware Estuary at the Grand Hotel, and a few attendees of that summit were also present at the tourism summit.

Cape May City Mayor Edward Mahaney Jr. focused his presentation on the sustainability and resiliency in the city of Cape May. His presentation aimed to “focus on one element that is the need to work together.” In his speech, he defined sustainability as sustaining the economic growth, sustaining the city’s infrastructure, and sustaining the affordability of the city. He then went on to explain how the city was going to achieve such goals with initiatives such as wind turbines and redeveloping environmental trails.

Mahaney also explained new projects that are in the works in Cape May including upgrading Rotary Park to include rain gardens, seating areas, and a plaza for more celebrations. He emphasized that tourism is the number one prong of Cape May’s economy, followed closely by the Coast Guard base, and fishing, both commercial and recreational.

Cape May’s budget for 2015 reflects a portion set aside solely for tourism and can include projects such as improvements to the beach front, and free events at the Convention Hall in the summer. Mahaney said of the allotted budget for tourism, beaches and water/sewer, that it has “taken these burdens off our taxpayers.” Those who purchase beach tags, not those who pay taxes, pay for the budget for beach related projects. “The point that holds this whole town together is patriotism,” Mahaney said.
Cape May County Tourism Director Diane Wieland focused on the economic impact of nature-based tourism and the benefits of agri-tourism. She listed some benefits as expanding tourism, and job retention and creation.

Visitors to Cape May who are aware of the “being green” movement want to see a commitment to that notion from Cape May. They want to see things such as a commitment to reducing waste, both of food and resources. Food is another aspect of tourism that Wieland talked about.

Culinary travel has become a big part of tourism and Cape May has a lot to offer in that regard. Wineries, breweries, and a farm to table emphasis at many restaurants are just a few of those amenities.

The goal of nature-based tourism and sustainability of Cape May and beyond is to “reinvent the Garden State,” as Wieland put it, and bring back the history of how New Jersey became the Garden State in the first place.

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Carroll voices privacy concerns over government tracking of vehicles on NJ Turnpike

Source: NJTV News [video] -

A report this week that the Justice Department has been building a national database to track hundreds of millions of vehicles across the country has raised concerns about privacy. The Wall Street Journal reports that the domestic intelligence-gathering program stores records about motorists’ movements. All of this pretty much in secret.

Michael Patrick Carroll

“Why is government doing it? Any time government wants to do something, one has to ask the question. Why? And when they’re collecting information about the people one has to be very careful about that,” said Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll.

The existence of the program came to light after Freedom of Information Act inquiries by the American Civil Liberties Union. Jeanne LoCicero is with the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU.

“What we’ve learned is that the Drug Enforcement Agency has a massive surveillance program involving automated license plate readers, and these license plate readers take pictures of license plates by the millions of them. The technology is really advanced on how many they can capture, so everyone driving on the New Jersey Turnpike past their license plate readers is being captured,” said LoCicero, ACLU-NJ deputy legal director.

The program started in 2008, the Justice Department says, as a way to track people trying getting into the country illegally but over the years expanded to include drug runners and others as a way to help the agency with asset forfeitures. Initially employed in border states only, the program expanded to other states, including New Jersey.

Whether this program is tracking bad guys running drugs or worse, it’s also tracking information about where you are, where you’ve been, where you’re going and even who you’re traveling with, whether you like it or not.

“There might well be legitimate purposes to use this information but part of the problem is that the public has been cut out of this conversation and so we really need transparency about why they’re using this program, how they’re using it, the scope of it. What are the reasons? We can’t do any good assessment of whether this is appropriate without having a public conversation about it,” said LoCicero.

Although New Jersey has reportedly been participating in the program for years, none of the state lawmakers we spoke to today knew anything about it. A state police spokesperson acknowledged today that the department has access to a database complied by several license plate readers around the state. But couldn’t confirm if any of those belong to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

“Government is not inherently beneficial. It’s not inherently nice. … Government is, at best, a necessary evil. And you can understand why they’d like to look at situations like this in a case of the Boston Marathon bombing. It’s kinda questionable why you’d want to be keeping track of everybody on the New Jersey Turnpike,” Michael Patrick Carroll said.

The ACLU says it’s studying the information they’ve gotten and will try to find out more about why and what our government needs to know where millions of us are going.

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Munoz bill will help alleviate flooding in Wayne

Source: NorthJersey.com - A bill that will help to alleviate chronic flooding by making it easier for local officials to clean streams recently won unanimous approval from the General Assembly.

Nancy Munoz

Assembly Deputy Republican Leader Nancy F. Munoz, bill sponsor, said that counties throughout the state live under the constant threat of flooding every time there is a major storm and that removing accumulated sediments, debris, garbage, and vegetation from waterways helps reduce flooding risks in communities which can be devastating and costly.

She added that restrictions on sediment removal as stated in current law make stream cleaning difficult for local officials and is vital to keeping waterways flowing to help prevent flooding.

The bill, A-3507, which amends the current law, will allow municipalities to clean and de-snag waterways without having to obtain a Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) permit. According to current law, only stream beds measuring 15 feet or less in width can be cleaned without EPA approval. However Munoz’s bill increases the width to 30 feet…

Scott Rumana

“Everything is a step by step process in dealing with the flooding problem. While this won’t solve the problem overall, it’s at least a step in the right direction in handling it,” said Assemblyman Scott Rumana, former mayor of Wayne Township.

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Angelini bill would expand Safe Haven locations in NJ

NJ 101.5 -

A shocking tragedy that took place earlier this month in New Jersey has one lawmaker calling on her colleagues to approve a measure that would expand the state’s safe haven locations.

On Jan. 16, 22-year-old Hyphernkemberly Dorvilier allegedly set her baby on fire in the middle of a Pemberton Township road. When police arrived, they found a neighbor holding Dorvilier down on the ground and the baby wrapped in a smoldering towel and paper, according to court documents released by Burlington County prosecutors on Jan. 20. The baby was alive and breathing when she was flown to a hospital in Philadelphia, but died two hours later, according to authorities.

Dorvilier has been charged with murder.

Mary Pat Angelini

“The tragic situation in Burlington County really led to me thinking we need to expand the number of safe havens that we have in New Jersey,” said Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth). “Currently anybody can take an infant to hospitals and to police stations, but I felt very strongly that there needs to be an expansion of sites where distraught people can take an infant before another tragedy occurs.”

Under the current “New Jersey Safe Haven Infant Protection Act,” safe haven options are limited to emergency departments of general hospitals and state, county and municipal police stations where someone can leave a baby – no questions asked.

“I want to expand the law to include first aid squads, fire stations, any place that is manned 24 hours by emergency personnel,” Angelini explained.

The legislation was first introduced in 2006. It has been approved by committees in the past, but never passed by the full Legislature. Angelini has been a sponsor for the last two years and said she is very surprised that the latest version of the bill has not even been considered by a committee.

“So many times we are legislating through reaction to an occurrence, but this is something that I’ve been working on for the last couple of years,” Angelini said.

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Webber legislation protects unpaid interns in NJ

Source: NJ 101.5 -

Interns in New Jersey could soon have more rights under legislation being pushed by nearly a dozen state lawmakers.

Under current New Jersey law, unpaid interns are banned from suing a company for discrimination or sexual harassment because they are not technically employees. But a new bill would extend New Jersey worker protections to unpaid interns by amending three state statues: the Law Against Discrimination, the Worker Freedom From Employer Intimidation Act and the Conscientious Employee Protection Act.

Jay Webber

“Once interns are in the door it seems to me they deserve every bit as much the protections that employees receive,” said Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Parsippany), one of the bill’s primary sponsors.

Oregon is the only state that already has such a law, and New York City has enacted similar legislation.

Members of the business community are against the measure though. During testimony before the Assembly Labor Committee on Jan. 15, business leaders said everyone deserves protections, but they are concerned the legislation is too broad and could lead to frivolous lawsuits and other unintended consequences.

Despite agreeing the legislation could be too broad, Webber is in favor of the bill and addressed the question of liability.

“If an intern doesn’t really know what they’re talking about and says, ‘Oh you’re doing something illegal,’ and blows the whistle and the internship is terminated, and they really didn’t know what they were talking about – the case is going nowhere,” Webber said.

The case that brought the issue to light was heard in October of 2013 when a federal district judge ruled that a Syracuse University student engaged in an internship with a New York company could not bring a sexual harassment lawsuit against her boss because she was unpaid and did not have the status of an employee.

The bill, referred to as the “New Jersey Intern Protection Act,” was approved on Jan. 15 by the Assembly Labor Committee and now awaits a vote in the full Assembly. The bill was approved by the full Senate in June 2014.

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