Source: Assembly Republican Video -
Source: Assembly Republican Video -
Assembly Republican Press Release -
When Companies Vote With Their Feet, Property Taxpayers Pay Too High A Price
This week, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi introduced legislation to lessen the impact on property taxpayers when big businesses pack up and leave.
“Property taxpayers shouldn’t be socked to make up the difference when big companies leave New Jersey over higher taxes and costs,” said Schepisi. “We have to put the breaks on these built in tax hikes to protect the residents and businesses that are staying to help us rebuild our economy.”
Schepisi’s bill (A-4402) would allow municipalities to apply for short-term transition aid when key businesses that provide significant tax ratables close to lessen the impact on property taxpayers.
In a letter sent to Division of Local Government Services Director Timothy Cunningham, Schepisi called attention to the tax loss in Montvale after the closing of Barr Laboratories. Schepisi requested the division “…grant Montvale transitional aid to assist it as it adjusts to this loss in ratables…Without assistance, Montvale residents will experience a significant property tax increase due to the devaluation of the Barr Labs property.”
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is acquiring the Barr Laboratories facility and it is estimated the town will experience a $750,000 loss in property tax revenue, which will only be partially offset by a payment in lieu of taxes, when the transaction is finalized as a result of Sloan’s tax-exempt status.
In addition to Montvale, Schepisi also identified the closing of Pearson Education in Upper Saddle River, and Hertz and Sony in Park Ridge as other examples of towns that face a similar loss in ratables.
The state Assembly voted Thursday, mostly along party lines, to go on record against Gov. Chris Christie’s administration’s controversial settlement of an envrionmental damages lawsuit against ExxonMobil.
The resolution adopted by the Assembly doesn’t scuttle the $225 million agreement or have any weight beyond urging the Superior Court judge who will ultimately decide whether to approve the settlement to reject it because it’s inadequate and “shocks the conscience.”
Experts hired by the state during the decade-long litigation had estimated the state should pursue $2.6 billion to restore the sites of the oil refineries and related operations in Bayonne and the Bayway site in Linden and $6.3 billion for compensatory damages. ExxonMobil fought the case and said those estimates were developed with faulty methodology.
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, expressed concern the Legislature going forward will involve itself in more active lawsuits. She also said appeals in the case could go on for another 10 years and end with the state getting nothing, if no settlement is struck.
“Endorsing this resolution gives me grave concern that we’re setting a precedent for any settlement, second-guessing any sort of litigation matter that our Attorney General’s Office handles and in doing so that we’re potentially improperly attempting to influence a court as legislators to find in some sort of fashion on an active matter that we have not been privy to for approximately 10 years,” Schepisi said.
The resolution passed by a vote of 45-16, with nine voting to abstain. Forty-one votes are needed for passage.
All nine votes to abstain were cast by Republicans: Christopher Brown, R-Burlington; Caroline Casagrande, R-Monmouth; Ronald Dancer, R-Ocean; John DiMaio, R-Warren; Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth; Gregory McGuckin, R-Ocean; Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon; Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, R-Burlington; and Jay Webber R-Morris.
All of the votes against the resolution were made by Republicans.
The Department of Environmental Protection is taking public comments on the settlement until June 5. After the state formally responds to the comments, the settlement can be submitted to Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan, who had heard the case and was believed to be close to a decision when the state and Exxon instead settled the case. The agreement would require Hogan’s approval.
Star Ledger -
Friday’s federal indictment against his former allies involved in the George Washington Bridge scandal isn’t going to make governing in Trenton any easier for Gov. Chris Christie.
Since the scandal hit in January 2014, Christie’s second-term agenda — with the exception of an overhaul to the bail system and changes to state drug laws — didn’t get very far in the Democratic-led Legislature, which had worked with Christie to cap property tax growth and overhaul the pension system during his first term. The governor’s biggest initiative — further cutbacks to pension and health benefits for public workers — has thus far been a non-starter.
While there was little new information in Friday’s developments, it’s far from the end of the scandal. The specter of criminal trials now loom in which new information could be divulged, leaving open the possibility of more politically damaging revelations.
While Christie’s influence in Trenton is diminished from his first term, it hasn’t collapsed. Republicans in the Legislature, who have refused to join Democrats to override Christie’s vetoes even when it has put them in politically tenuous positions, show no signs of abandoning support for him.
“He did his own internal investigation which pretty much substantiates what took place today,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen), a member of the committee that investigated the scandal. “I really don’t think it impacts his governorship in any sort of way.”
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) said that “now hopefully we can get back to the table with the Democrats and begin to get the job done we were sent down to do.”
“Chris Christie can speak for himself, but at this point there’s no evidence that he was part of this,” Bramnick said.
It’s also not clear whether Bridgegate will factor into this year’s Assembly races. All 80 seats are up in the lower house.
Source: The Star-Ledger -
A co-chairman of the legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal said the indictment of two former Christie administration appointees Friday did not answer the question at the heart of the scheme: Who gave the order to close the toll lanes in Fort Lee?
For that reason, state Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) said he intends to reconvene the Joint Select Committee on Investigation to find the answer.
But the committee’s other co-chair, state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said she wanted to meet with the committee’s in-house attorney before she was willing to discuss the next move. “We have things to talk about. For me, nothing I heard shocked me but hearing it sickened me,” Weinberg said.
“Something like this should be left to those who do it for a living and be investigated by the professionals, and not the politicians who are trying to get into the newspaper or on TV,” Schepisi said, taking a swipe at Weinberg and Wisniewski, who were frequent guests on national cable news channels after the scandal broke in January 2014.
Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, a former top official with the Port Authority, and former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni were indicted on conspiracy, civil right offenses and wire fraud for tampering with the traffic flow around the bridge.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said the scheme was intended to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election in 2013. The case against them stems largely from information provided by former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty Friday morning to two counts of conspiracy and is a cooperating witness.
The legislative committee last year subpoenaed thousands of records and obtained testimony under oath from six witnesses. The committee learned the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, which was under Kelly’s purview, kept track of elected officials who supported the governor and those who didn’t. Mayors considered unsupportive to Christie were treated less favorably than his allies by staffers inside his office, many of whom moonlighted on his re-election campaign.
A top liaison between Christie and local officials, Christina Renna, told the committee her staff would receive “mandatory directives” to brush off calls from unsupportive officials.
The indictment delves into the cross-over between the campaign and the governor’s front office staff. Weinberg and Wisniewski said the indictment makes them want to dig deeper on this front.
Schepisi said the legislative committee should be commended “for bringing this to the attention of the U.S. Attorney” early on. But as the months wore on, she said, “we were a kangaroo court.”
“We unnecessarily put good people through a public spectacle and damaged the reputation of some people who legitimately had nothing to do with this,” Schiepisi said.
In December, the committee released an interim report saying it couldn’t determine if Christie was or wasn’t involved. The report also notes that because “several critical witnesses” have not testified, the record of the incident “remains incomplete and leaves several important questions unanswered.”
With the indictment filed, Weinberg said, she may want to recall some of those witnesses “who weren’t as cooperative before.”
Bergen Record -
Hearing that former Port Authority officials and a top deputy to Governor Christie allegedly caused widespread traffic jams in 2013 by closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge was “sickening,” said the state lawmakers leading a separate investigation into the scandal.
But it was also a reminder, some lawmakers said, that there is more work for them to do.
But it was unclear on Friday how the Select Committee on Investigation would proceed, and a Republican member of the panel said it should stay on the sidelines while the federal charges play out. Otherwise, she said, legislative proceedings could turn into a “witch hunt.”
“To what end is our panel going to do anything?” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-River Vale.
David Wildstein, formerly a top executive and Christie ally in the Port Authority, said that the traffic jams on five weekday mornings were done by closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee. Wildstein pleaded guilty to two charges in the case in federal court in Newark.
A Republican member of the legislative committee, Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, agreed on that point.
“It’s so painfully obvious that until we can identify the clowns, then the Port Authority is going to continue to be a circus,” she said.
Star Ledger -
In the aftermath of Sen. Robert Menendez’s 14-count indictment on Wednesday, Democrats seem to be giving him a lot more breathing room than they provided Gov. Chris Christie after he became entangled in the scandal over the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge.
No one picked up up on that quicker than Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen), a member of the legislative committee investigating the lane closings.
“The hypocrisy is stunning,” Schepisi said Thursday. “Regardless of whether or not you ultimately believe that Sen. Menendez did or do not do anything wrong is almost beside the point. Because the very same people who have en masse stood up and said ‘Don’t rush to judgment’… are the very same people who, without any indictments, without any information other than a couple of salacious emails that got leaked to the press, were calling for the governor’s head on a platter.”
But in the past, Gov. Christie has said that public officials who have been indicted should resign.
“I don’t call on public officials to resign until and unless they are charged by a grand jury,” Christie said in August 2012. “If that happens, you will find that I will call for his resignation.”
But so far, no major New Jersey elected officials — Democrat or Republican ‐ have called on Menendez to resign.
But when it came to Christie — who wasn’t even close to being indicted — Democrats were less circumspect.
In February 2014, when the bridge scandal was broiling and some controversial text messages were released between Christie aides who had orchestrated lane closures in an apparent act of political retribution, Watson Coleman had strong words.
“And this really is what they’re all about, transactional deals, dismissiveness, remarks that are totally, totally unacceptable in a civilized society,” said Bonnie Watson Coleman, an assemblywoman at the time, said during an appearance on MSNBC. “And you know what? The governor needs to think about resigning, and he needs to take all his friends with him because this is sickening.”
Backlash from the remarks caused Watson Coleman to step down from the legislative committee that was investigating the bridge scandal. But her staffers said the comments have to be put in context.
Source: Hillsborough Beacon -
Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli has seen the national news about deadly and spectacular fires from derailment of trains pulling oil tanker cars.
It worries him, knowing trains like those travel through New Jersey and his district every day.
Mr. Ciattarelli, a Republican from Hillsborough, has joined colleague Holly Schepisi in seeking support of the National Transportation Safety Board’s call for rail companies to limit the hazards of carrying flammable material on rails by selecting routes that reduce the amount of such materials traveling through populated areas.
Trains filled with Bakken crude oil make their way across the country and into New Jersey en route to a refinery in Linden.
One rail route goes past suburban subdivisions in Hillsborough and Montgomery, under the major state highway of Route 206 and into built-up Manville, where homes and businesses are a couple of hundred yards away.
In February in West Virginia, a train carrying more than 3 million gallons of crude derailed in a snowstorm. Fireballs erupted. Hundreds of families were evacuated, and water treatment plants were temporarily shut down after oil made its way into a river.
In 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, a train loaded with crude oil rolled into the business area of a town at a high speed, derailed, caught fire and exploded, killing 47 people.
“The sight of the horrific derailment in West Virginia last month and the 2013 fatal accident in Canada is irrefutable evidence of the potential dangers of transporting immense proportions of Bakken crude oil,” said Mr. Ciattarelli. “We would be foolish to think such catastrophes couldn’t happen anywhere, including New Jersey.”
Over a 24-hour period, seven different companies may ship oil by rail through Somerset and New Jersey, he said.
New regulations were proposed by the NTSB last July would require tanker hulls to meet thicker standards and enhance a train’s braking system within two years or risk being phased out. According to the American Association of Railroads, only 15 percent of the 92,000 tankers cars on the rails today meet the latest industry standards.
Mr. Ciattarelli supported the federal recommendations.
“Increasing the thickness standards beyond the current proposal is a sensible suggestion,” he said. “I fully support the safety board’s additional call to select safer transportation routes through less populated areas.”
A press release from his office said a federal Department of Transportation report predicted that 10 trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail each year over the next two decades.
One of reasons for heightened concern is that more oil is being transported from North Dakota oil fields, and that Bakken oil is easily turned into gasoline or jet fuel. Its composition makes the oil more flammable in the event of a crash. Currently, there are no federal rules on what oil producers should do to stabilize the oil before shipping by rail, Mr. Ciattarelli said.
Mr. Ciattarelli said the possibility of an accident places a huge responsibility on local emergency responders. Rail companies have their own fire brigades, but they typically take longer to respond than local fire and rescue departments.
“CSX, which owns the rail cars shipping the product, agrees that increasing safety standards is in order,” said Ms. Schepisi, a Republican Assemblywoman representing Bergen and Passaic counties.
Since 2005, crude oil shipments nationwide have grown from 6,107 carloads, to 435,560 in 2013 — a more than 70-fold increase, according to the Association of American Railroads.
Mr. Ciattarelli said the nation needs to “celebrate the energy independence of the golden age of discovery” but needs to discuss how best to transport energy sources. In comparison to trains, shipping oil by pipeline, for instance, is comparatively much safer, he said.
Assembly Republican Press Release -
With the third crude oil derailment in less than a month, Assembly Republicans Jack Ciattarelli and Holly Schepisi said today they are in full support of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) call for rail companies to limit the hazards of carrying flammable material on rails by selecting routes that reduce the amount of such materials traveling through populated areas.
“The three crude oil derailments involved tankers that actually met the recommended thicker shielding upgrades called for by the NTSB,” stated Ciattarelli, R-Somerset, Hunterdon, Mercer and Middlesex. “Increasing the thickness standards beyond the current proposal is a sensible suggestion. I fully support the safety board’s additional call to select safer transportation routes through less populated areas.
“These derailments make safety improvements a top priority,” commented Ciattarelli. “New regulations should be promulgated as quickly as possible. Protecting lives trumps transporting crude oil or ethanol under regulations that are outdated and leave people vulnerable to a derailment.”
A recent federal Department of Transportation (USDOT) report predicted that 10 trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail each year over the next two decades should provide the impetus for the department to act on the upgraded safety standards proposed last July. .
“Bergen County is one of the most densely populated areas of New Jersey, and is on a route through which Bakken oil is transported,” commented Schepisi, R-Bergen and Passaic. “We will continue to raise legitimate concerns about shipping crude oil so close to homes.
“Telling the public there is a high level of urgency to impose new rules is not enough,” stated Schepisi. “At this rate, the USDOT’s derailment prediction will hit the target sooner than projected. Regulators need to step up and issue new rules, including alternate transportation routes. Explosions and fires from these tankers are frightening. The mere threat of the loss of life should push this issue to the top of the list before the next derailment. The NTSB identified the hazards of oil trains as one of its top 10 safety concerns. That should be more than enough encouragement to immediately improve standards.”
Bakken oil is easily turned into gasoline or jet fuel. Its composition makes the oil more flammable in the event of a crash. Currently, there are no federal rules on what oil producers should do to stabilize the oil before shipping by rail.
Assembly Republican Press Release -
Assembly Republicans Jack Ciattarelli and Holly Schepisi said a recent federal Department of Transportation (USDOT) report predicting 10 trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail each year over the next two decades should provide the impetus for the department to act on the upgraded safety standards it proposed last July.
“The sight of the horrific derailment in West Virginia last month and the 2013 fatal accident in Canada is irrefutable evidence of the potential dangers of transporting immense proportions of Bakken crude oil,” said Ciattarelli, R- Somerset, Hunterdon, Mercer and Middlesex. “We would be foolish to think such catastrophes couldn’t happen anywhere, including New Jersey.
“New Jersey, being the most densely populated state in the country, shipping Bakken crude oil on rails so close to homes is a major concern,” continued Ciattarelli. “We shouldn’t have to wait for another derailment to have the USDOT approve the latest safety improvements.”
“CSX, which owns the rail cars shipping the product, agrees that increasing safety standards is in order,” said Schepisi, R-Bergen and Passaic. “The extraction of Bakken crude oil in North Dakota is a positive development for our energy needs. However, each day we are rolling the dice that a major accident won’t take place in New Jersey which will have significant consequences. The new standards will save lives and protect our environment.
“The proximity of the rail lines to densely populated areas puts people and their property at risk. Instead of discounting this forecast, the railroad companies should be looking for ways to improve safety and minimize damage in the event of a derailment,” continued Schepisi. ”Enough time has lapsed since the recommendations were made. The next step is to take action.”
New regulations were proposed by the National Transportation Safety Board last July. They require tankers to meet current thickness standards and enhance a train’s braking system within two years or risk being phased out. According to the American Association of Railroads, only 15 percent of the 92,000 tankers cars on the rails today meet the latest industry standards.