Category: Clips

Rible weighs in as Wall tax assessor placed on leave; contract reviewed

Asbury Park Press -

The municipal tax assessor has been placed on paid administrative leave as Wall officials review the work completed by the company hired to place values on all of the properties in the township.

Wall Township Administrator Jeff Bertrand said Wednesday he asked Tax Assessor William FitzPatrick to “not be in the office” while he and the township’s tax attorney undertake the review of Realty Appraisal Company, which won a $715,000 contract to conduct a town-wide revaluation.

Those “nuances” were highlighted in an Asbury Park Press investigation into Monmouth County’s Assessment Demonstration Program, a pilot program that radically changes the county’s property tax system.

Among the findings: FitzPatrick — along with Tinton Falls Assessor Scott Imbriaco and the father-in-law of Monmouth Tax Administrator Matthew S. Clark — is a part-owner of a photography company that has been hired by Realty Appraisal for revaluations. While the photography company is not currently doing work in Monmouth County, it took pictures for Realty Appraisal under the revaluation it is performing in Union County’s Roselle Park.

FitzPatrick has been Wall’s assessor since October 2012 and is considered an active employee, according to township records. He is paid $87,019 annually from Wall. He’s also the assessor in Neptune City and Shrewsbury since July 2014, where he makes $22,000 and $25,500, respectively.

Wall’s actions come as Assemblyman David Rible, R-Monmouth and Ocean, once again called for the Monmouth County Tax Board to suspend the program.

Dave Rible

Rible wrote a letter to Tax Board President James Stuart Tuesday after the board met, but did not suspend the program. Tax board members say they don’t know if they have the jurisdiction under the law to suspend the program. A New Jersey Department of Treasury spokesman told the Press that the tax board can vote to suspend the program.

Rible said he is seeking opinions directly from the treasury department and the Attorney General’s Office to see what agency would need to act to suspend the pilot program.

“I feel, right now, it would be in the best interest of the county to suspend the program,” he said. “It would be a sign of assurance to make sure everything has been done properly and will be done properly.”

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Bramnick talks about NJ gas tax hike

NJ 101.5 -

Talk of a gas tax hike to replenish the nearly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund will dominate the lame duck session in Trenton after the November elections.

There had been a lot of discussions about linking an increase in the gas tax to the elimination of New Jersey’s estate and inheritance taxes, the so-called death taxes. Garden State residents can expect a gas tax hike bill, but it won’t include death tax cuts.

At a State House press conference Monday, State Senate Budget Committee chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge), who wants to cut the estate tax made it sound like a gas tax hike proposal was a foregone conclusion, but a death tax cut was not.

Dating back to 1892, the transfer inheritance tax is one of New Jersey’s oldest taxes. The 16 percent tax is applied when property is transferred outside the immediate family. Another so-called “death tax,” known as the estate tax, is applied on property valued at more than $675,000.

The top Republican in the Assembly said Democrats need to give GOP lawmakers the lay of the land before they started pushing for an increase in the gas tax.

Jon Bramnick

“Let me hear my friends across the (political) aisle who’ve raised 115 taxes tell me what taxes they’re going to lower and then we’ll start talking about the gas tax,” said Assembly GOP Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield). “I don’t care about the word ‘linked.’ What I care about is hearing them say there is something in New Jersey that they want to reduce.”

One existing proposal would completely repeal the transfer inheritance tax and amend the estate tax to increase the filing threshold to $5.1 million. The only other state to impose both of the so-called death taxes is Maryland.

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As Gateway project looms, Handlin vows to keep pressing for Port Authority reforms

Source: Bloomberg -

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is still recovering from the 2013 traffic-jam scandal that led to top-level resignations and investigations. It’s two years behind on raising the Bayonne Bridge, has no plans to replace its obsolete Manhattan bus terminal, and bills to overhaul its management structure have stalled.

Now, the federal government must decide whether to entrust it with Gateway, a new commuter-rail tunnel under the Hudson River that President Barack Obama’s administration says is the most pressing U.S. infrastructure need.

The $20 billion project has been revived as equipment failures on the existing century-old tracks lead to increasing delays along the Northeast Corridor, the nation’s busiest passenger rail route. As federal and state officials negotiate funding, they must also agree on who will lead the work. To lawmakers, the authority’s record should give them pause.

In 2014, after blocked access to the George Washington Bridge was linked to a plot of political revenge by allies of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, elected officials in both states vowed to reform the troubled authority. Ten months ago, though, Christie, a Republican running for president, and Cuomo, a Democrat — who appoint the agency’s top officials — vetoed bills requiring annual authority reports to lawmakers, more accessible public records and a reorganized inspector general’s office.

The governors since have approved a records law, and both support a new management structure, a conflict-of-interest code and a return to a transportation focus and away from real-estate interests. Restructuring can’t happen, though, unless lawmakers and governors approve in both states. Democrats who control New Jersey’s legislature want the reform to go further by requiring quarterly reports on capital plans, independent oversight of large construction projects and giving lawmakers power to question senior officials at public hearings.

Amy Handlin

“The Port Authority as an organization has lost the public’s trust — they’re very far from regaining it,” said New Jersey Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, a Republican from Middletown who is part of the legislative committee investigating the traffic jams. “I won’t let up on the pressure to have more reforms signed into law.”

One Port Authority project, the transportation hub at the World Trade Center in Manhattan, is costing about $4 billion, twice what was estimated. Another, the Bayonne Bridge, is running two years behind, the authority announced last month. Though the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the world’s busiest bus depot, has been operating over capacity for almost 50 years, its 10-year capital plan doesn’t include a replacement.

Gateway, proposed by Amtrak, the national railroad, is an alternative to Access to the Region’s Core, a New Jersey Transit project that had federal backing and would have opened as soon as 2019. Christie canceled that $12.4 billion tunnel in 2010, citing design issues and potential cost overruns. Critics say he killed the tunnel so he could use the money to avoid raising the gasoline tax and boost his presidential prospects.

In addition to a tunnel, Gateway includes upgrades to New York’s Pennsylvania Station, expanded track capacity and replacement of a 105-year-old bridge over New Jersey’s Hackensack River. It will finish in 2030 at the earliest.

 

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Bramnick, Schepisi discuss options for solving Transportation Trust Fund riddle

Source: NJTV News -

It’s the biggest issue nobody seems ready to do anything about. The Transportation Trust Fund, that mechanism for funding bridge and highway maintenance and mass transit projects, is mired in debt and unable to fund much of anything nowadays. But what is this TTF? What was it supposed to do and how did it get so broke. Martin Robbins spent more than a quarter century as a policy planner for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the Port Authority, NJ Transit and a host of other transportation entities.

“It started off funding about $350 million worth of transportation capital,” he remembered, “and it was a mix of “pay as you go” and a limited amount of bonding and it was supposed to be – and now it seems almost laughable – it was supposed to be self-replenishing, that is, as the bonds would mature, the money that would come in every year from the appropriations would pay off the bonds and we would be able to then using the revenue flow, be able to generate more pay as you go and some more bonding.”

But that was the 80’s, when only about 2 cents of the state’s gas tax was dedicated to the TTF. Today, all of the gas tax goes to the fund but it doesn’t pay for any critically-needed new stuff; it essentially paying the debt that’s been accruing over the years, creating what almost everyone believes is a crisis.

“It’s not a crisis at the moment,” is what governor Christie said in February.

But that is a minority opinion; every lawmaker we talked to for this story says the TTF is one of their biggest concerns. The solution, says Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto – and just about everyone else in Trenton – is an increase in the gas tax.

“The gas tax that I’ve been talking about as a funding source for this has not been raised since 1988,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. “We are second lowest in the nation; we are some 40 cents cheaper than our surrounding states. Almost 40 percent of it is bought by people out of state – we are a corridor state – and our roads and bridges are in deplorable condition. They need to be fixed and this will help our economy.”

But, this is election season and every seat in the Assembly is up this year, which means that nobody wants to take credit – or blame – for a tax hike. So, nothing on that until after the election. Then, there’s the other side. Republicans, like Transportation Committee Member Holly Schepisi who says a gas tax is something she’s ready to discuss, if it can be revenue neutral.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“If there’s a proposal that gets put on the table that can maybe lessen a burden for the people who I represent, while continuing to fund our projects and our roads and our bridges and tunnels, would I look at it? Absolutely,” she said.

Schepisi and others in her party have called for a cut in the inheritance and estate tax, which would offset the impact of a gas tax increase, a compromise that everyone seems ready to embrace.

Committee Chairman Jon Wisniewski and other Democrats blame Christie – who as a presidential candidate has signed a “no tax” pledge, and threatens a veto of any bill that would raise a gas tax.

Jon Bramnick

Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick says Democrats need to sing a different song.

“Pointing the finger at the governor is just a cop out,” he said. “It does not answer the question of why you haven’t passed the fix for the last 13 years and when you have an opportunity to talk about the majority party, the Democrats, that’s the question to ask them.”

Some sort of compromise is expected on the gas tax. Then voters will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment that puts those funds in a lock box for transportation fixes only. The only question then is how much do you raise the gas tax? 10 cents, 15 cents a gallon? Robins says unless you talk about a 30 cent a gallon increase, you’re just filling a gas tank with a hole in it.

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O’Scanlon on lottery vendor as Democrats take fresh aim at Christie

Source: Bergen Record -

After nearly two years investigating a lane-closure scandal that has lingered over Governor Christie and his presidential campaign, New Jersey’s Democratic legislators are preparing to triple their workload in what they say is a check on the executive branch.

In the last month, lawmakers have said they intend to hold hearings on a pair of contentious issues within the Christie administration: a lottery privatization that has yet to pay off for the state as promised, and allegations of cronyism and racism in New Jersey’s National Guard, along with the reported failure of the Guard’s commander to meet physical fitness standards.

Those hearings would add to the work of the joint legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures, a scandal familiar not only to Garden State residents but to many voters across the country. Federal authorities are also investigating the 2013 lane closures and other issues related to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that have arisen since. While Christie, who has spent much of the year outside New Jersey campaigning for president, cites his record at home and his ability to work across the aisle, the legislative inquiries shed light on some of the more problematic aspects of his tenure as well as the widening rift between him and Democratic lawmakers.

It isn’t clear what, if anything, lawmakers will be able to do beyond fact-finding on either the National Guard or the lottery, but they say it’s their duty to investigate issues in the executive branch. Christie’s office said the planned hearings are distractions from larger problems facing the state.

“Democrats controlling the Legislature have completely walked away from the hard work required to bring more tax relief to New Jersey taxpayers, continue the growth in private-sector jobs realized under Governor Christie, and to move our economy forward.

“The Assembly hasn’t been to work since June, and it is instead caught up in election-year partisan politics while the big issues that the governor has offered solutions to simply languish,” Brian T. Murray, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, said the three different issues the Legislature is looking at “are not scenarios that anybody in the Legislature created, but they are scenarios that we have a constitutional right to look at and try to right some of the wrongs, and the governor, like us, has to be held accountable to the taxpayers of New Jersey.”

The lottery contributes to the state budget for programs to benefiting senior citizens, disabled veterans and students. Since the state outsourced lottery sales and marketing in 2013, the private operator, Northstar New Jersey, has missed its contractually defined income targets for the state budget by at least $160 million despite record ticket sales, according to budget documents. That same group spent close to $500,000 on lobbying firms led by some of Christie’s closest allies before and after it won the 15-year contract.

Gary Schaer, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, said his panel will hold a hearing on the contract soon after the Nov. 3 elections, in which all 80 Assembly seats are up for vote. He said legislators want to learn more about the parameters of the bid, how the request for proposals was written and what the experience was like for two other states – Indiana and Illinois – that privatized their lotteries.

The Senate Legislative Oversight Committee also plans to question Northstar as part of a broader look at the state’s contracting oversight, said Sen. Bob Gordon, the committee’s chairman. Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, said that in “a number of areas, I think the failing of the state is not [being] able to monitor” contracts, and “the lottery is just the latest example.”

Declan O'Scanlon

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, the Republican budget officer, said that through his own research of the contract, “at this point, the deal seems fair and reasonable.” He added that evaluating the contract is “a little more nuanced” than looking at the bottom line for the state, because there’s value in some of the other work Northstar has done, such as upgrading technology and adding about 800 retailers.

“If there’s going to be irrational political grandstanding with that, that’s not productive,” said O’Scanlon, of Monmouth County. “I think it’s a matter of [having] open discussion and hearing the public so that their questions are answered in a way that reassures them that we’re paying attention to this.”

As governor, Christie also is commander in chief of the New Jersey National Guard, a unit of more than 9,000 soldiers and airmen. The Guard provides security for the state and helps respond to severe weather and emergencies, and in 2012 it shone nationally for its response to Superstorm Sandy. But from the beginning of Christie’s tenure, the Guard also has been clouded in scandal.

In 2011, Army Maj. Gen. Glenn Rieth, a childhood friend whom Christie appointed to lead the National Guard, resigned after he was caught having a physical relationship with a woman who worked for him. Christie then appointed Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael Cunniff to serve in his Cabinet and command the reserve military force.

More problems arose this year after a series of reports by NJ.com. Officers accused Guard leadership, including Cunniff, of blocking their advancement because they are minorities. Other officers accused leadership of retaliation, waste and creating a toxic environment. The state’s former comptroller, Matthew Boxer, was hired by the state this spring to conduct a “thorough and independent review” of the claims against Cunniff and his deputy, Brig. Gen. James Grant.

Last month The Washington Post reported that Cunniff had been reprimanded by the Pentagon for being overweight and avoiding annual physical fitness tests for three years.

Christie then ordered Cunniff to meet the fitness standards within 90 days.

The Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee plans to hold a hearing on the reported National Guard problems after the state investigation is complete.

 

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Bring competition to legislative races – Bramnick

Source: The Daily Record Editorial -

Jon Bramnick

Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick has been preaching political civility in Trenton for many years. He has been, if not exactly a lone voice in the wilderness, a rare champion for governing a better way.

Many candidates and officeholders pay obligatory homage to the need for more bipartisanship, but it’s mostly words; they know it won’t happen. Bramnick comes at it a little differently. He argues that New Jersey’s political system has a fatal flaw that inhibits change and cooperation — the redistricting process that maps out the state’s legislative districts every 10 years.

We couldn’t agree more, and with another redistricting on the horizon at the end of the decade, it’s not too soon to develop a better way.

All 80 seats in the state Assembly are being contested in this November’s elections — two apiece in 40 districts — but we use the term “contested” very loosely. Politicos say that a few districts might be competitive this year — a couple in South Jersey, one up north, and perhaps the 16th in Central Jersey — but that’s it. Eighty seats, and maybe a half-dozen or so that aren’t already foregone conclusions. That’s pathetic, and it fuels widespread citizen apathy. It also generates no motivation among politicians to change. Why should entrenched incumbents in dominant parties in their own districts listen to the other side?

The problem lies within the redistricting format itself. In New Jersey five Democrats and five Republican get together and invariably fail to agree on how to draw up the legislative borders. So they each put together their own map, gerrymandering the districts to favor their own parties as much as possible. Some districts dip in and out of towns — or parts of towns — for no other reason than to include an area of partisan strength for the incumbent party. Party strongholds might be clustered into one district to weaken the same party’s presence in a neighboring district. It’s all about maneuvering around the demographics for maximum advantage.

Democrats as the majority party in the Legislature are able to choose the tiebreaking member of the redistricting panel, and since a 5-5 tie is all but inevitable, the tiebreaker ends up with the choice of two partisan maps and must pick one. That decision, not surprisingly, just as inevitably goes the Democrats’ way. Republicans like to blame the use of the Democratic map for the lack of competition, but the GOP version is no less cynically constructed.

Bramnick has already proposed making competitiveness a key factor in determining districts. That’s a step in the right direction, but what’s really needed here is a more independent approach that isn’t driven so directly by partisan interests. Other states have systems that at least reduce party control over the process; in Iowa, for instance, two geographers and an attorney carve out the maps, which state legislators can accept or reject, but not change.

New Jersey’s legislative elections are, by and large, a waste of time. The outcomes are essentially predetermined. Nothing will change until the lawmakers themselves have something at stake.

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Bramnick explains the solution to New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation taxes

Source: NJ 101.5 -

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick was a recent  guest with Bill Spadea on New Jersey 101.5. Bramnick and Spadea discussed the high taxes that make New Jersey unaffordable, and what New Jersey families can do to change it.

Jon Bramnick

“If people want to change government, you have to look at the major issues. For the last 14 years, you’ve had one party in control in the Legislature. You now have the highest taxed state in the country. You have the most debt-ridden state in the country. You have the No. 1 exit state, according to United Van Lines. … We’ve polled this. What is the No. 1 issue in this state? It’s that people simply can’t afford to pay property taxes. And the policies are the same policies, over and over again. They want to blame Gov. Christie. He hasn’t signed one tax increase in six years.” – Jon Bramnick

“[We need a school funding] formula that rewards success, that is not just a formula set by the Supreme Court where money goes into a district regardless of results. We’re going to start on Day 1, if they change the leadership in the Legislature, to address the big spending items. We’re going to take care of the small things, as well, but the most important thing is to make this state competitive again. And if you send the same Democratic majority down there, actually today they are going to do a press conference on their new policy. Well, it’s about time there’s a new policy, because the old policies have not been successful.” – Jon Bramnick

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Angelini on OTC Cough Medicine Prohibited to NJ Minors Without Rx

Source: Pharmacy Times -

New Jersey has enacted a law to stop the sale of OTC products containing dextromethorphan (DXM) to children under 18 without a prescription.

Gov. Chris Christie signed the law amid growing rates of youth overuse and abuse of the cough suppressant DXM, which is a component of more than 120 OTC cough and cold medications such as Robitussin, Nyquil, and Theraflu.

Effective February 1, 2016, DXM will join alcohol, tobacco, and pseudoephedrine in a limited-access category of products.

Mary Pat Angelini

“DXM is affordable, easy accessible, and legal. … Unfortunately, that’s a combination which makes it appealing to teenagers who are taking increased doses to get high,” said state Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, who co-sponsored the legislation.

One in 30 teenagers abuses OTC cough medicines containing DXM, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2014 Monitoring the Future survey.

Abuse of DXM-containing products has been linked to hallucinations, loss of motor control, seizures, liver and cardiovascular damage, and even death.

In light of this, Consumer Healthcare Products Association president and CEO Scott Melville praised the New Jersey law in a statement.

“New Jersey is the ninth state to implement a law addressing the issue of cough medicine abuse among teens, and the enactment of similar legislation in state across the country has indicated that limiting teen access to DXM is a proven way to prevent abuse,” he said.

The states with similar laws limiting children’s access to DXM are Arizona, California, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.

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Is it time for a constitutional convention?

Asbury Park Press -

A Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll in 2006 found public support by nearly a 2-to-1 margin for a constitutional convention to lessen local government dependence on property taxes, even if it meant possible increases in other taxes.

Lawmakers at the time said they would support a constitutional convention only if they weren’t able to do something themselves about high property taxes.

Jon Bramnick

Jon Bramnick, a Republican, said it would be “extremely difficult” to execute a convention fairly.

“I’ve never seen a fair plan for a constitutional convention,” Bramnick said.

“If this was a true, bipartisan, open constitutional convention with citizens, equal representation from both parties, and not rules that would be set forth by the majority party, I’d be 100 percent in favor of that,” he said. “That will never happen. The Trenton Democrats will never allow that to happen.”

Business groups organized an entire summit in Atlantic City, held in mid-September, because they believed their concerns aren’t being heard by the Legislature. But even they aren’t keen on tackling taxes through a constitutional convention.

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What state leaders say about the property tax issue

Asbury Park Press -

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union:

Neptune,  NJ Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, R-Union, in an Asbury Park Press editorial board. Bramnick is GOP leader in the Assembly and potential 2017 gubernatorial candidate. 100714  Tom Spader/Staff Photographer

“Just polled it in my district. It’s (the property tax issue) still number one.

“This answer is pretty clear. In order for the state to help communities lower property taxes, it’s all about revenue to the state. We need revenue in the state in order to help municipalities with property taxes. That means you have to start to reform the healthcare costs. I’ve already proposed going from a platinum to a gold plan, which would save $3 billion. You would take the blue-ribbon panel’s decision on pensions, which incorporates the reduction in the healthcare plan, because otherwise you’re going to have to use more and more state revenue to save this pension plan that may not be salvageable to begin with.”

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