Category: Clips

O’Scanlon: ‘I have not yet found one person’ who couldn’t find the health care services they need

Source: Excerpt from NJTV Online -

[As the Assembly Budget Committee heard testimony from] New Jersey Department of Health Acting Commissioner Cathleen Bennett … Two lawmakers exchanged words about whether all women in New Jersey have full access to health care.

“It is unjust and unfair to sit here and say that there is women that have that full access,” said Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin.

Declan O'Scanlon

“But they did ultimately get the service that the needed?” asked Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon.

“Yes, after they came to out office though contacting my office,” Marin said.

“I’m glad they got it. Then I can rest my case. That I have not yet found one person after reaching our offices couldn’t find the services that they need,” O’Scanlon said.



read more

Ciattarelli: How to fix school funding inequities

Source: Asbury Park Press -

Jack Ciattarelli

New Jersey public officials have talked, and talked, and talked about the need for school funding reform in the state for what seems like an eternity. The words have been plentiful, but meaningful, specific ideas for action have been scarce. Republican Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, however, has a plan. A likely challenger for governor in 2017, Ciattarelli has been promoting a proposal that addresses the disproportionate amount of school aid directed to the state’s poorest districts as a key step — but not the only one — toward additional pension reforms that collectively could ease the state’s property tax crunch. We asked Ciattarelli some questions about his plan.

You promote your plan as a pension reform proposal, but a key component is a revamping of how the former Abbott school districts are funded, is that correct?

Yes. State school funding is in crisis, with 5 percent of school districts statewide receiving 60 percent of all state aid. Solving this crisis is key to solving the pension crisis, which is key to then solving the property tax crisis. The three crises are intrinsically linked.

Your plan targets those districts that have maintained a disproportionately small tax burden, requiring that none be allowed to pay less than 25 percent of the total school budget through the local levy. How many districts would this affect?

In any given fiscal year, between 25 and 30 New Jersey communities fund less than 25 percent of their district’s school budget through the local levy. Certainly, poorer communities need more resources to ensure every child receives a high quality education, but state school aid was never meant to be a subsidy in perpetuity to every previously eligible community. Communities need to have skin in the game.

So is the simple explanation that those districts would receive less state aid?

Yes. The fact is, school property taxes are unfairly low in those districts, while they are out of control and getting worse in middle-class communities all over the state. The imbalance must be addressed. The school funding formula needs to be changed. Some will say that this approach raises property taxes in poor communities. Let’s not forget how property taxes are distributed — by the assessed value of one’s home. Right now, because of the imbalance, an $845,000 Jersey City home pays less in property taxes than a $325,000 home in Manville.

Your plan also includes a provision that would prevent any district that funds more than half of its school budget through federal and state aid from abating school property taxes on new development. Can you explain what that means?

Some of the communities most dependent on state school aid are notorious for giving developers property tax breaks. If these communities want to encourage economic development, they can forgive municipal and county taxes, but they should not be allowed to forgive school taxes. If this kind of reform is challenged, certain examples should be very instructive to the state Supreme Court, namely: how certain municipalities give tax breaks to developers that disproportionately flow to well-off homeowners, allowing the rich to shirk the responsibility of funding public education; how these tax breaks actually increase and sustain a municipality’s dependence on state aid; how struggling middle-class families statewide are shouldering the burden of funding a very small number of school districts.

The pension reforms involve some reductions in health benefits and a move to 401(k) plans for newer teachers. Which of those proposals do you believe would receive the most pushback?

All of the above. Because the state failed to make the full pension payment after the 2011 reform, union leadership is adamant about not making more concessions. The fact is, however, the 2011 reforms did not go far enough on pension benefits for new hires and post-retirement health care benefits for everyone.

What do you say to the idea that unions shouldn’t be willing to accept any givebacks since Gov. Chris Christie has not delivered on the pension payments to which he agreed?

The pension trust is insolvent not just because we haven’t made the payments. It’s also because the benefits are still too generous and people are living much longer. Even if full pension payments were made, that does not mean we shouldn’t be having a discussion on pension benefits, which are causing a crowding-out effect of epic proportion.

So let’s say your plan is accepted; combining the aid reductions and those pension adjustments, what kind of savings would you be talking about?

We need a reform plan that does three things: reduces the long-term pension liability; decreases the current pension expense; and increases the current annual pension payment to $5 billion. The reductions and adjustments in my plan do that.

You want to channel that money back into funding the teacher pensions? Or would some of that money go elsewhere?

In the very short term, any and all savings generated by my plan go directly to the pension system. Once the system is solvent, monies will then go to property tax relief in communities whose property taxes are exorbitantly high due to the school funding formula, which disadvantages 550 of New Jersey’s 580 school districts.

Suburban school districts have long advocated for some of that extra aid now going to the old Abbott schools to be shifted to their schools. It doesn’t sound like your plan would do that. What do you say to those districts?

No one knows better than suburban school districts that the school funding formula has become like the U.S. tax code — ultra complex and filled with loopholes exploited by the few. Reforming the formula and pensions allows us to address the property tax crisis throughout New Jersey, including suburban districts.

Your proposal covers a lot of bases. Do you envision it gaining any traction, or is it destined to die on the rocks of a Democratic legislature once again?

The bases covered by my plan are all pieces of the same puzzle. My hope is, after the failed 2011 reform, that there is finally a realization that anything short of bold, comprehensive and truly permanent reform puts our state closer to the brink and violates our moral obligation to every New Jerseyan.

Rumor has it that you’re considering a run for governor, which would certainly give you a more prominent platform for your ideas. Care to tell us anything about your plans?

Doing right by the people of New Jersey and pointing our state in the right direction is something I’m very determined to see happen. A prominent role in leading that discussion is certainly made easier if you’re governor. My wife and four children have all given me the “green light.” I’ll be spending the next few months speaking with various leaders around the state to discuss a potential candidacy.

Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is a Republican representing the 16th Legislative District, which covers parts of Somerset, Middlesex, Hunterdon and Mercer counties.

The key points of Ciattarelli’s plan

  • No community is allowed to fund less than 25 percent of the local school budget through the local school tax levy;
  • No community whose local school budget is funded more than 50 percent by federal and state aid can abate school property taxes on new development;
  • All current retirees and teachers with more than 20 years in the system, no post-retirement Medicare part B reimbursement if pension plus social security equals or more than $50,000 per year;
  • All teachers with less than 20 years in system, no post-retirement Medicare part B reimbursement no matter what pension plus Social Security equals;
  • All teachers with less than 10 years in system, pension account is switched over to cash balance defined contribution pension plan (e.g., 401k);
  • All newly hired teachers go immediately into cash balance defined contribution pension plan (e.g., 401k); pension and social security are paid for by school district, not state;
  • “Cadillac/Platinum” health insurance plans are discontinued at end of current contract for all and immediately for new hires (starting in 2018, ACA levies a 40 percent excise tax on employers who offer a “Cadillac Plan” that costs more than $10,200 for single coverage and $27,500 for family coverage).

read more

Handlin hosts conversation on New Jersey’s property taxes

Source: Excerpt from Asbury Park Press -

New Jersey’s property tax system is broke, and it’s making taxpayers feel the same way.

“We’re paying on average $11,000. Our taxes went up by 35 percent within the last five years,” said an exasperated Adam Seyhan, a resident of Equestra, a 55 and older community in Howell.

About 60 people like Seyhan came to Brookdale Community College on Thursday to speak their minds about the state’s most consistently frustrating issue. The free event was part of the “Community Conversations” series jointly sponsored by Brookdale and the Asbury Park Press.

Amy Handlin

It was moderated by New Jersey Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, who said only a grassroots movement could compel lawmakers to make meaningful changes.

“What we need is people who are willing to work together on some shared priorities that can help address this crisis,” Handlin said. “I can tell from my experience in Trenton and my experience in Freehold … a lot of things change in the world of politics and government, but what never changes is that citizens are who brings about major change.”

Joining Handlin were Press reporter Susanne Cervenka; Marc Pfeiffer, senior policy fellow and assistant director of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy at Rutgers; Middletown Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger; and John Donnadio, executive director of New Jersey Association of Counties.

Here’s what people were saying at Thursday’s meeting:

1. It was an older crowd, and many of the residents talked about the danger that property taxes presented to their ability to stay in their home.

“To say to somebody who is now in retirement age that you cannot live in the home you worked for your entire life,” said Jack Baron, a retired accountant from Jackson. “Am I crazy? Isn’t there something wrong with that? Shouldn’t all taxation come from income?”

2. Property taxes are not just pushing people to sell their homes, but to leave the state altogether.

A recent survey by United Van Lines showed that 65 percent of its New Jersey moves are outbound, higher than any other state.

“When they hit 62 they’re asking us where can they move?” said Joan Lorwey, a board member on the Monmouth County Association of Realtors.

3. It’s on you alone to find your way through the property tax labyrinth.

“Nobody really teaches a homeowner about all these intricacies. The system sort of assumes you know, and 50 years ago that made sense. It was pretty simple,” Pfeiffer said, adding that the system has gotten much more complicated today.

4. Property taxes are a symptom of uncontrolled spending.

“No one is being responsible about where the money is coming from. Do we have the money? Can we pay for what we’re going to do?,” said John Haytaian, of Freehold Township. “When you steal from the transportation fund to pay for something else, the roads go to hell.”

Middletown Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger cautioned that not all government spending is out of control. If a typical taxpayer spends $2,100 a year on city services — the proposed budget is actually a little lower than that — they’re getting a lot of value for that, he said.

“That $175 a month pays for police, brush removal, parks and rec, all the services in town … that’s not such a bad deal,” he said.

5. Governments like property tax because it’s predictable

Unlike income tax, estimates for property tax are “pretty much a certainty.”

“That’s a really good thing for governments, knowing that when they budget something they’re going to get that money,” Pfeiffer said, “and that’s the reliability of property tax.”

read more

Bramnick: Rude TSA airport screeners must stop ‘barking’ at travelers

Source: NJ 101.5 -

A New Jersey lawmaker says security agents at Newark Liberty International Airport should undergo some “civility training” and stop “barking” at passengers.

Jon Bramnick

“Yesterday I visited Newark Airport to review the conditions at the security gate. Travelers must wait more than one hour and are treated poorly. This cannot stand. TSA must act immediately and we need to treat the traveling public with respect,” Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, aid Friday morning on his Facebook page.

This wasn’t the first time that Transportation Security Administration agents have gotten a rise out of Bramnick. Back in February he called for the TSA to train personnel on how to “be more respectful to passengers,” saying that the agents “are becoming more and more frustrated with their jobs” and “appear to bark at the travelers.”

“Since the tragedy of Sept. 11, travelers must be silent at all times and are afraid to raise any issue with the personnel that stand at the scanning machines. I am speaking for those who fear raising their voice and I will continue to raise this issue until all TSA agents treat travelers at Newark Airport with respect.”

Bramnick and other travelers should probably get used to it: hours-long lines and missed flights have become routine at Newark and other airports, and they’re about to get worse as the number of flights out of Newark takes off during the summer travel season.

The TSA was created as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While the agency is supposed to be on the forefront of securing the nation’s airports and skies, it has faced enduring criticism of its ineffectiveness and invasive procedures.


read more

Brown Get in Digs at Opposition As Prieto Takeover Bill Advances

Source: Excerpt from PolitickerNJ -

Chris A. Brown

Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2) took the spotlight in the wrangling over the competing state takeover plans for Atlantic City once again on Thursday, as the bill sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32) cleared Assembly Judiciary Committee. Brown criticized what he called the “bipartisan act” of Governor Chris Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), the most ardent defenders of the original and further-reaching Senate version of the bill.

While Sweeney has softened his initially confrontational tone with the city government since announcing his own bill back in January, Christie has characterized the city’s problems as stemming from bloated union contracts in his public appearances. The Senate bill as passed in the upper house would allow the state to alter or tear up city workers’ union contracts, a step that Prieto’s bill would delay by two years.

“There are many Republicans who understand that we should not be demonizing the very employees that we represent,” Brown said of that charge before casting his affirmative vote. The bill cleared committee unanimously and with bipartisan support.

Brown did, however, join chair John McKeon (D-27) in faint praise of the Senate President’s amendments. Brown said he was encouraged by an offer from Sweeney and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) to give the city the summer to reduce per capita spending before the Senate takeover plan would go into effect.


read more

O’Scanlon: Legislative tug-of-war a natural part of politics

Source: 101.5 - Fifteen months ago, then-Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox said New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund was in crisis – unable to pay for future road and rail work unless a new financing plan was found.

Now, 16 weeks until the state literally can’t pay its construction bills, Fox’s replacement is telling panicky lawmakers: Not so much. Plenty of time. Everyone relax and talk it out.

Declan O'Scanlon

Acting Commissioner Richard Hammer, a DOT employee since 1982 who headed the department’s capital program since 2006, said that while it’s true there’s no plan in place for the Transportation Trust Fund’s future, he fully expects legislators and Gov. Chris Christie to figure it out by June 30.

“I would not say that it’s in crisis,” Hammer told the Assembly Budget Committee, repeatedly and in various ways, at a hearing Wednesday.

“Deep down, I am remaining confident that there will be a resolution to this, with all parties working hard and talking with one another. I am confident that there will be a resolution,” he said.

Hammer reiterated Christie’s position – that it’s up to the Legislature, particularly the Assembly, to submit a plan for him to consider. The implication in that is that an increase in the gas tax will be part of the solution and all tax hikes are required, by the constitution, to originate in the Assembly…

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said “this tug-of-war” is a natural part of politics and rejected the idea that the Legislature, a co-equal branch of government, doesn’t take its own initiative…

The Transportation Trust Fund had an $815 million balance as of mid-March. It is expected that it will close out June with around $84 million, then run out of cash by early August. Hammer said the fund is also carrying around $2.5 billion in authorized project costs for which it hasn’t yet gotten bills.

The Department of Transportation is projecting that it will spend almost $4.7 billion in 2017 – but that includes $1.6 billion for the Transportation Trust Fund, which could wind up being different. The total includes $1.5 billion from the state budget and $3.1 billion in federal and other funds.


read more

Schepisi questions Pascack Valley School District’s transgender restroom policy

Source: Christianity Daily - The Pascack Valley Regional School District in New Jersey approved a policy allowing transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity irrespective of the sex mentioned on their birth certificates.

The district board passed the measure by a wide margin of 6-1, which they say will protect transgender students from discrimination…

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

This was the second time the proposal was brought forth for voting, after it failed in February when parents blocked the policy citing concerns.

After the voting, still many parents feared privacy invasion of non-transgender students…

“While bathrooms generally have stalls which provide everyone with a level of privacy, locker rooms do not,” Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi said in a Facebook post. “If a 14-year-old child is uncomfortable getting undressed next to another child who is still biologically a member of the opposite sex, what option does the non-transgender child have? If they tell the school they feel uncomfortable, will an accommodation be made for this child or in a worst case scenario could this child be written up for discriminating against a fellow student and/or bullying?”…

One school board member suggested that the issue was far from being resolved, saying that he expects lawsuits against the school district.

read more

Brown reacts to latest effort

Source: Excerpted from the Press of Atlantic City -

State Senate President Steve Sweeney offered Atlantic City a new legislative deal on Wednesday, giving the resort 130 days to stabilize its finances and avoid a state takeover if it develops a plan to quickly cut its spending by almost half.

Some state lawmakers called the required budget cuts unrealistic, while others thought the proposal offered a reasonable compromise.

Chris A. Brown

Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said he thinks the new proposal is a step in the right direction, but may need some tweaking.

“While I know Speaker Prieto’s bill is still a better deal for Atlantic County families, I’m pleased Sweeney is starting to listen,” said Brown. “I’m hopeful he and other leaders will check their egos at the door and come together so we can get this right for middle class families and retirees … to rightsize Atlantic City government with long-term solutions.”

Brown said Sweeney’s benchmark for city spending needs to be more realistic.

“For him to expect the city to cut its budget in half in 130 days, while the state was unable to reduce the budget by one-third over the past five years, is exactly why we need to see a plan from the state on how they will do a better job than the city,” said Brown. “As it stands presently given the state’s history in Atlantic City it is simply the blind leading the blind.”

Sweeney has joined with Senator Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, Passaic; and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Burlington, Camden, to propose amendments to the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act (S-1711/A-3326) he sponsored, commonly known as the Atlantic City takeover bill.

The amendments require the city to reduce annual spending to $3,500 per resident, from its current per capita level of $6,700, in order to maintain control over its finances. They also give the city a state loan to keep operating for the 130 days, according to a press release from the lawmakers.

With 39,000 residents, the budget would have to fall to about $136.5 million from about $262 million. The decreased spending would have to be in place on the first day of the month following the plan’s approval, according Sweeney’s office.

State intervention would take place if the city fails in its attempt, 10 days after the end of the 130 day period.


read more

Bramnick calls for overhaul of NJ tax sytstem after billionaire’s move out of state

Source: Associated Press -

The departure of one New Jersey resident to Florida has gotten so much attention that lawmakers are calling for changing the state’s tax structure, and a key legislative forecaster is raising concerns over revenue uncertainty.

The spotlight turned to hedge fund manager David Tepper this week when legislative budget forecaster Frank Haines cited the billionaire’s move to Florida as a potential factor in how much income tax revenue the state brings in. Income tax revenues make up the biggest share of cash in state coffers, and a shift in projections of as little as 1 percent amounts to about $100 million, forecasters say.

It’s unclear how much effect Tepper’s departure could have, because his tax returns haven’t been made public and it’s unknown how much taxes affected his move. Tepper didn’t return messages seeking comment.

But his move has caught the attention of the usually headline-shy legislative budget office.

“If a very wealthy individual — potentially a significant taxpayer to the state — relocates and relocates not only as we’ve been reading about it but really relocates for tax purposes … beyond our reach, then that’s something to be aware of,” said Haines, the legislative and budget finance officer.

Jon Bramnick

Tepper’s move spurred Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick to call for an overhaul of the state’s tax system.

“New Jersey can’t afford to keep losing taxpayers and businesses,” Bramnick said.

New Jersey has the lowest estate exemption level in the country at $675,000, affecting about 3,500 residents in 2014. New Jersey is one of only two states to levy both an estate and inheritance tax, and has a top income tax rate of 8.97 percent.

New Jersey’s high tax burden — the state also has the highest property taxes in the country — is regular fodder for Democratic and Republican officials. The prospects for lowering rates are uncertain, with Republican Gov. Chris Christie and the Democrat-led Legislature locked in a debate over how to rescue Atlantic City and fiercely divided over tax policy. Christie has twice vetoed Democratic proposals to raise taxes on the wealthiest residents.

But Tepper’s departure also comes as Christie pushes for ending the estate tax and as the state Senate advances a plan to phase it out.

It also comes amid a debate over how big a role the state’s tax structure plays in people leaving, with Republicans arguing it’s a major factor and many Democrats saying it’s a blip.

New Jersey’s annual Statistics of Income survey, compiled by the treasury shows the number of tax filers with income over $1 million has gone up by an average of about 6.3 percent from 1997 to 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, while filers with income below $50,000 has fallen by an average of 2.14 percent over the same time period.

Tepper, whom Forbes valued in 2015 at $10.4 billion and ranked that year as New Jersey’s richest resident, moved his residence and firm Appaloosa Management from New Jersey to Florida, where there is no income or estate tax. The news was first reported by Bloomberg.

read more

O’Scanlon makes the case for faster commutes

Source: Excerpted from the Asbury Park Press -

How accurate are New Jersey’s speed limits? One legislator wants to find out.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon said Thursday that he’s preparing a bill that would link New Jersey’s speed limits to engineering research, likely including an increase to 70 mph on major highways.

On some smaller roads, there’s a chance that speeds could even decrease, said O’Scanlon, a Monmouth County Republican.

Declan O'Scanlon

“We’re going to take bureaucrats and elected officials who don’t know a thing about setting speed limits and make sure they’re set according to sound engineering criteria,” O’Scanlon said in an interview. “It will not change the speed at which people drive. We want to accurately reflect the speed we’re driving already.

“People should be able to drive at a speed they feel comfortable without the fear of government coming to issue a ticket and steal their money,” he added.

If O’Scanlon’s bill is passed and signed into law, it would use the nationally recognized “85th percentile” formula to set speed limits, based on the speed at or below which 85 percent of drivers are traveling. The bill would mandate a new study to determine the speed limits and put in place regular renewals.

“If you do that, you get the greatest amount of compliance, the least amount of speed differential between cars on the road, the greatest amount of safety and the least amount of punishment,” O’Scanlon said.

According to a 2011 report from the Michigan State Police, posting a speed limit below the 85th percentile creates two classes of drivers – one that simply obeys the law and one that drives at what they feel is a “reasonable and prudent” speed.

Friction between those two classes can result in tailgating, improper passing, reckless driving and weaving from lane to lane, according to the report.

Speed limit talk ramped up this month after the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission voted to increase speed limits to 70 mph on most of the highway, an expansion of a pilot study that targeted a 100-mile stretch in July 2014. The state became the 37th to raise its maximum speed limit above 65 mph.

But New Jersey is a unique state, with a densely-populated north and sparsely populated area in the south. At the same time, the whole state is a thoroughfare for trucks traveling the length of the New Jersey Turnpike to Interstate 95. For example, a 70 mph speed limit couldn’t be applied on parts of the Garden State Parkway in Woodbridge, Colligan said.

One snag to consider is the presence of heavy trucks, especially on the New Jersey Turnpike, where they operate in a separate lane, Noble said. In other states, heavy vehicles adhere to a separate, lower speed limit than standard vehicles.

New Jersey increased the speed limit on some roads to 65 mph in 1998. There has been periodic talk of raising the limit, including a 2013 effort from O’Scanlon, but no bill has ever been introduced.

“We are less inclined to be lemmings and believe the ridiculous things government tells us,” O’Scanlon said. “People are clamoring for engineering and fact-based laws, rather than us to be at the whim of ignorant or greedy bureaucrats or elected officials.”



read more

Page 20 of 364« First...101819202122304050...Last »