Category: Clips

Auth lauds benefits of mentorship programs in NJ high schools

Source: Excerpted from the Bergen Record -

The Pascack Valley Regional High School District’s robotics team met with state education officials and lawmakers on Thursday to start a conversation on how to build similar programs in “underserved” school districts across New Jersey.

A group of students and their mentors from the robotics team, the Pascack Pi-oneers, spoke to the state education commissioner, David Hespe; the assistant commissioner, Evo Popoff; Norah Peck, the interim executive superintendent for Bergen County; and members of Governor Christie’s policy office at Pascack Hills High School.

The students detailed the advantages that the program has offered them and their belief that state education officials should focus on bringing mentor-based science, technology, engineering, arts and math programs — or STEAM – into districts throughout the state. Such programs would be particularly beneficial, they said, in districts with large numbers of students who struggle academically.

Robert Auth

Robert Auth

Assemblyman Robert Auth, who attended the presentation, said he was “impressed” by the students and wanted to bring the different stakeholders together to discuss the possibility of beginning to roll out more STEAM programs.

“This is a great opportunity, we have a situation where we have mentors who are sowing the seeds of ingenuity in fertile minds,” said Auth, an Old Tappan Republican. “They’ve created this model that is so exceptional. You are creating an environment where students can be safe and still explore their curiosity in a safe manner, and then take it to the next level to become something totally dynamic in the community.”

Members of the Pi-oneers team, which was founded in 2004 and has nearly 80 students at Pascack Hills and Pascack Valley high schools, said they hoped funding from the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which President Obama signed late last year to replace the No Child Left Behind act, could be used to launch mentor-based after-school STEAM programs throughout the state.

The Pi-oneers stressed that their research found that students in groups with mentors, like the Pi-oneers, are more likely to be interested in going to college, taking challenging math or science courses and pursuing careers in jobs that make use of those skills.

 

The meeting ended with the state officials discussing funding options and the possibility of including corporations to help launch programs. They also were shown two of the robots the Pi-oneers built for competitions around the country.

 

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Bramnick: Dems don’t need the governor to pass a TTF proposal

Source: NJTV – Although they spent time on pensions, affordable housing and other issues, the Transportation Trust Fund dominated today’s session.

Jon Bramnick

One hundred fifty mayors and council members heard the four legislative leaders express their views on getting it renewed.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said they’re getting close.

“There’s one cog that’s missing and that’s the governor. And I’m told if we get all of us together in one room then we can hash something out, we can roll something out,” he said.

Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick said Democrats can pass a bill any time and don’t need to wait for the governor.

“The Democrats are in control. They have more than 41 votes in the Assembly and they have more than 21 votes in the Senate. I understand how much we want to work together. They can put the Sweeney-Prieto proposal on the table, vote it up, send it to the governor’s desk and let him CV things he doesn’t like,” he said.

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Bramnick to Dems on TTF: No need to wait for Gov, let the discussion begin

Source: NJSpotlight – New Jersey will run out of money for new transportation initiatives at the end of June, and it’s sounding more and more as if a deal to renew funding for road, bridge, and rail projects is still at least several weeks away…

Jon Bramnick

…the issue could go down to the wire since Democratic legislative leaders say they’ve yet to enter into serious face-to-face negotiations on a renewal of the state Transportation Trust Fund with Gov. Chris Christie, a second-term Republican in the midst of a bid for the GOP’s presidential nomination.

And even getting a straight answer as to who’s to blame for the ongoing stalemate depends on who is answering the question. Christie’s acting transportation commissioner yesterday pointed the finger directly at lawmakers, suggesting the administration is waiting on them to formulate and submit a plan.

A leading Republican lawmaker agreed, calling on Democrats to draft and post legislation for a vote…

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) said the Democrats don’t need to wait for Christie to begin the discussion. With control of both the Assembly and Senate, they could propose and advance their own renewal plan, and then send it to the governor for consideration, Bramnick said.

“They can put the Sweeney-Prieto proposal on the table, vote it up, send it to the governor’s desk and let him (conditionally veto) things he doesn’t like,” Bramnick said.

“To point the finger at the governor? Hey, pass the bill and see how it goes,” Bramnick said.

He also offered a grim prediction of whether the issue would be resolved soon after Christie delivers his budget message on February 16, or closer to the June 30 deadline.

“I have a prediction, and the prediction is it’s probably going to be a cliffhanger because that’s when government acts, when it’s under crisis,” Bramnick said.

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Legislative Leaders talk about TTF

Bergen Record -

New Jersey’s Democratic legislative leaders said Wednesday they are close to working out a proposal to fix the state’s dwindling Transportation Trust Fund.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus, each said they just have a few details to work out on a proposal to replenish the fund – which pays for improvements to the state’s roads and bridges – runs out of money by June 30. Neither offered details of their plan.

But the two Democrats sparred with their Republican counterparts before an audience of several dozen mayors over the timing of such legislation.

Sweeney and Prieto said first they want to hash out a deal with Governor Christie – something they said has not yet happened – rather that pass a measure that he will veto.

Jon Bramnick

But Assembly Minority Jon Bramnick, R-Union, noting Democrats control both the Assembly and the Senate, said they should “just pass the bill.”

“They can put the Sweeney-Prieto proposal…on the governor’s desk and see what he doesn’t like.”

While some Democrats have called for raising the gasoline tax to resupply the fund, others are leery of what Prieto has described as “jumping off the cliff” of a controversial tax hike without working out some consensus between the two parties.

Sweeney said he and Prieto still have a few items in the bill they need to “tweak.”

Prieto said he wants to make sure that any deal is long term and requires substantial pay-as-you-go funding rather than rely mostly on borrowed money.

But Prieto added after the panel discussion that he does not want to “throw something against the wall and see if it sticks.”

“Why do you have to jump off the cliff together? Just pass the bill, Bramnick said. He predicted an agreement will be reached at the last minute.

“It’ll be a cliffhanger,” he quipped.

 

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Assembly Leader Bramnick: What the future holds for NJ [video]

Source: NJ 101.5 [video] -

Republican Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick joined NJ 101.5 to discuss what the future holds for the Garden State, as well as what the expectations are for Gov. Christie following New Hampshire.

You have a governor that has a 30 percent approval rating and the majority of the state upset with him because he has been out of the state campaigning. So what happens after New Hampshire? We have a state with a host of problems and over $200 million in debt.

Where do we start to turn things around? A good start would be to get the governor back in the state to help rectify some of these issues, make some dramatic changes and call these politicians out for the rest of what’s left of his term in office.

Jon Bramnick

While there is a lot of attention put on Governor Christie, there are things that can get done in the state. Assembly Leader Bramnick discussed how its starts with the majority party and Senate President

Bramnick stated “There are a lot of options but they’re painful options. You talked about pension reform. Theres already a bipartisan committee that says ‘hey here’s what we have to do for the future’ that’s never been presented to the legislature for a vote. School funding is fundamentally unfair. It’s run by a Supreme Court formula. You know unless the legislature takes on that 15 billion debt or responsibility, you really cant get to the problems about the state being unaffordable. So some of the focus has to get on the legislature and the majority party and say ‘what proposals are you going to vote on. What proposals are you going to pass to lower the cost of living in the state? That’s the question. And they’ve escaped some of the responsibility because of the focus on Chris Christie.”

Bramnick specifically mentioned two major issues that need addressing to fix the state problems including, the unfair school funding and the so-called 5-7 billion into pension payments.

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Bramnick: ‘It’s definitely not a coincidence’

Source: Excerpted from Politico New Jersey -

The New Jersey lawmaker who made the most laws during the last legislative session was not a legislative leader. He was not a power broker, nor someone known for deep political relationships.

The distinction belongs to Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, 29-year-old wounded Iraq War veteran from Cape May County who had barely served more than one term in the Assembly and who rarely spoke during chamber votes.

He was also one of the few Democrats whose seat was in real jeopardy in last November’s election.

Jon Bramnick

“It’s definitely not a coincidence,” Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick said. “I don’t believe [Democrats] would say it’s coincidence. That might be legitimate politics. It may not be the best policy, but it’s something I can understand — why you would do that, to make your member in a competitive district look like they’re a strong legislator.”

Democrats who control the lower house decide which bills get posted for a vote. An examination of which lawmakers had the most bills passed as well as the most signed shows Democrats in competitive races were often at or near the top of the list, while Republicans in competitive races generally were near the bottom.

Andrzejczak, who did not respond to a phone call seeking comment, was a prime sponsor of 64 bills that were signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie. Seventy-four of his bills were sent to Christie — the fourth most. Most of the bills were not controversial. Many were on veterans’ issues.

The same pattern held for the legislative district just north of Andrzejczak’s.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, a freshman Democrat from Atlantic County who had the most competitive race in the state, had the seventh highest numbers of bills signed into law at 47 and the ninth highest number sent to the governor at 65.

Bramnick, the Assembly Republican leader, said he didn’t fault Democrats for making sure their most vulnerable members rack up legislative achievements. But he did take issue with another practice he said is too common.

“I’ve been in the situation where I’ve come up with the idea and I put the bill in, a Democrat changed a couple words and the posted the Democrats’ bill,” Bramnick said. “I’ve been told on occasion by a member on the other side that if you want your bill passed, I have to be the prime. This is what goes on in Trenton.”

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Rumpf-Gove Want to See ‘Death Tax’ Repealed

 

Brian Rumpf

Source: The Sandpaper – Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove of the 9th legislative district have voiced support for a repeal of New Jersey’s estate tax – commonly referred to as the “death tax” – echoing sentiments in Gov. Chris Christie’s recent State of the State address.

Abolishing both the inheritance tax and the estate tax is “desperately needed to stop the exodus of residents and wealth from New Jersey to states with more reasonable and affordable taxes,” the representatives noted in a joint statement.

The Transfer Inheritance Tax, as explained on the N.J. Department of the Treasury website, state.nj.us, “applies to the transfer of all real and tangible personal property located in New Jersey and intangible personal property wherever situated in estates of resident decedents. In estates of nonresident decedents, the tax applies to real property and tangible personal property located in the State of New Jersey.”

DiAnne Gove

Meanwhile, “the Estate Tax is imposed in addition to the Transfer Inheritance Tax on the estates of resident decedents. An Estate Tax is payable if the Inheritance Tax paid to New Jersey is less than the portion of the federal credit for state death taxes which is attributable to New Jersey property.”

New Jersey and Maryland are the only two states with both taxes. A number of states have neither tax.

“Seniors can’t help but feel they’re specifically targeted by these taxes,” said the delegation. “To protect whatever nest egg that they have saved to pass on to their family, many seniors are forced to flee the state which often means being separated from loved ones and their home.

“Imposing both an Inheritance Tax and the Estate Tax is a glaring and harsh example of New Jersey’s extreme and, ultimately, self-defeating tax structure. The state legislature should act quickly considering how resentful residents are of the inheritance tax and the estate tax and the fact that businesses consistently identify both taxes as impediments to economic growth.”

The legislators believe a repeal of these taxes would strengthen the state’s economy and improve revenues “by keeping wealth in the state.”

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Rumana talks about poverty rate and what can be done to lower it

NJ Spotlight -

Insufficient funding or poor management of state programs in seemingly disparate areas — including welfare, job training, aid for the disabled, food stamps, child care, affordable housing, and mass transit — has allowed high levels of poverty to persist in New Jersey and stymied families’ efforts improve their lives, legislators and advocates said yesterday.

The state’s stubbornly high poverty rate – officially at 11 percent, but considerably higher in practical terms — and the status of programs that could help lower that rate were the topics of four Assembly committee hearings held Wednesday at the request of Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, who launched an anti-poverty policy initiative last week.

While the official poverty rate is 11 percent, but many more families do not meet the state Department of Human Services’ own “standard of need” guidelines, which estimate actual living costs, according to the Ewing-based Anti-Poverty Network of NJ (APN).

Using a “true poverty” measurement based on 200 percent of the poverty line, the organization said 1 in 5 residents are facing economic struggles relative to the state’s high cost of living.

The Christie administration has not commented on Prieto’s anti-poverty agenda, but some Republican legislators offered pushback yesterday, saying more spending is not the solution.

A transportation committee hearing meant to focus on the importance of mass transit turned into a philosophical debate over both NJ Transit’s funding and a proposed increase in the minimum wage, which advocates say would play an important role in reducing poverty.

Working Families director Analilia Mejia said poor commuters have been the only group to see tax increases in recent years, in the form of a 22 percent transit fare hike in 2010 and another 9 percent increase last year.

The state has sharply reduced its main subsidy to NJ Transit even as it has been spending billions in the form of corporate tax incentives, she said.

Scott Rumana

Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Passaic) responded that total state funding for mass transit is at nearly its highest level ever, when diversions from the NJ Turnpike Authority and Clean Energy Fund are included. Public transportation systems elsewhere depend even more on fare revenues, he said.

Rather than boost subsidies, or assist the poor through measures like a higher minimum wage, the state needs to make NJ Transit more efficient and focus on reducing the cost of living generally, he said.

“The alternative view is to try to find a way to bring the cost of living down so that it is an affordable state to live in. It’s the most overtaxed state on just about every single level,” he said. “It doesn’t stop there. The cost of everything is high in New Jersey. Food is high, transportation is high, fees, everything you pay for is high. (Bringing down those costs) helps everybody across the entire economic spectrum, most importantly those people on the lower end and in the middle.”

The high cost of housing was another focus of the day’s discussions. New Jersey is the fifth-most-expensive state in which to rent a two-bedroom apartment, at $1,309 a month, Housing and Community Network president Staci Berger told the Assembly housing committee. If housing is supposed to consume no more than 30 percent of income, that means a family must earn $52,347 a year to afford such an apartment — an impossible task for someone working at the minimum or even average wage, she said.

 

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Dancer to reintroduce Lisa’s Law legislation

NJ 101.5 -

Much to the surprise of its sponsor, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have created a four-year pilot program in Ocean County to electronically track convicted domestic violence offenders using GPS devices that would alert victims on their cell phones if their attackers were nearby.

Ron Dancer

Assemblyman Ron Dancer said he will reintroduce “Lisa’s Law,” soon and refuted the belief of some that the technology to implement the law did not exist.

“We can use today’s technology to minimize the risk and save a life,” said Dancer (R-Jackson). “New Jersey should be a national leader in protecting the women who are victims of domestic violence. We can save lives with this legislation and the technology is there.”

The assemblyman said he knows the technology is available because he saw it when companies demonstrated the devices for them.

Dancer said last session the bill number was A-3806.

Lisa’s Light Foundation pushes for domestic violence awareness

The legislation was in honor after Letizia “Lisa” Zindell of Toms River who was murdered in August of 2009 by her former fiancée, Frank Frisco, who then killed himself. The murder-suicide attack happened the day after just Frisco was released from jail for violating a restraining order that Lisa had filed against him.

If the law was in place in 2009, Dancer said it is possible that Lisa’s life could have been saved because she would have been notified of Frisco’s location and could have taken precautionary measures.

Implementing Lisa’s Law would cost money, but Dancer said the offenders would be forced to pay for the monitoring devices to the extent that they could. A judge would decide how much the offender would be assessed based on their assets.

“They will literally pay for their crime,” Dancer said.

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Rumana discusses fighting poverty in Assembly committee

NJTV  (with video)-

The Assembly Human Services Committee, the Transportation Committee, the Housing Committee and the Women and Children Committee all focused on poverty today.

They looked at things like welfare.

“The cash grant that we provide for a family of three in New Jersey is $424 a month, compared to $2,800 a month which the same department that serves these families recognizes is what you actually need,” said Serena Rice, Executive Director for the Anti-Poverty Network of NJ.

They looked at mass transit and the poor.

They looked at affordable housing, job training and nutritional assistance.

“The administration decided to cut food stamps for 11,000 people, so that’s also an issue we’ve been frustrated with,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

Prieto says he’s not looking to spend more money on the poor, just fix programs and remove bottlenecks.

Advocates for the poor unveiled their wish lists, from better housing for the disabled to better pay for low-wage workers.

“When you raise the wages of workers, when you raise up the working poor, you actually have a beneficial impact on our local economy,” said NJ Working Families Executive Director Analilia Mejia.

Everyone appreciated the opening of the dialogue, but Republicans thought it should be broadened to attack the cost of living itself.

Scott Rumana

“Let’s start with property tax reduction because property taxes affect every citizen of the state, and whether you’re a homeowner or renter it has a direct impact on your life, and it’s a very regressive tax,” said Assemblyman Scott Rumana.

The fiscally conservative group Americans for Prosperity agrees with that.

“We really need to lower taxes here in New Jersey, make our business climate better. That’s the kind of thing that will allow people who are in poverty or transitioning out to have more opportunity here in New Jersey,” Mike Proto said.

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