Author Archive: the_promised_land

Cookie cutter states: Christie’s lack of NJ loyalty

This caught my eye:

One assistant commissioner, Penny MacCormack, was hired last fall for three months at $1,000 a day until she could be confirmed by the state Board of Education as a permanent hire in January. She is now earning a salary of $135,000 a year, officials said.

Cerf defended the extra pay, saying MacCormack was a critical hire and the consultants on the funding report – including some notable national names in the school funding debates – were invaluable.

“This level of talent and expertise comes with a price tag,” he said.

So I looked up who Penny MacCormack is. She’s moving here from Connecticut where she’s been working in education for a while. And joining other people from around the country jetting in to reshape NJ’s education system.

It used to be that part of conservatism meant knowing a place well and being skeptical of outside big ideas. But now it means being part of a shadowy national Koch Brothers funded network that tells each state what to do.

Ms. MacCormack might be a fine person for all I know, and I don’t mean to cast aspersions on her personally. It’s just that there is a lot of value in knowing a place well. States, and communities, are different from one another. Yet so many of Christie’s ideas, especially on education, are much more one size fits all – like the idea that charter schools are always better even when local communities don’t want them.

Looking at big ideas too often misses that different things work in different places. Here is perhaps my favorite story (outside of NJ) about this – a school reform effort that looks NOTHING like what everybody thinks should work but is getting results.

We need more outside the box thinking from the ground up and fewer national “experts.” Unfortunately, Christie is not someone who gets that – unlike, say, Tom Kean, who did an amazing job building a talented, homegrown staff. And our state is the poorer for it.

Bruce, Play AC – Just Not the Revel

It is the second Bruce-related post of the week. But, hey, it’s New Jersey.

Today, Chris Christie publicly called on the Boss to play the new Revel casino in Atlantic City.

“I think Bruce, if he’s true to his lyrics, would love the fact that the state used taxpayer funds to invest in this place to create jobs for working men and women,” Christie said.

Let’s look at what kind of jobs we paid to create.

Revel’s jobs are in many cases part-time and non-union, in contrast to the union jobs with good benefits at other casinos.

And they are “term contracts” which appear to be designed to discriminate based on age and to find ways to demote women not considered attractive enough.

That’s Chris Christie’s kind of workplace. But it’s not one that reflects Bruce Springsteen’s values, or New Jersey’s. So Bruce, come on back to AC – but play somewhere else.

“Lynching” comment out of line, reflects deeper trend

Sen. Kevin O’Toole called Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over Philip Kwon’s nomination a “lynching.” As Tom Moran has already pointed out, this was out of line. In case anyone needs a refresher, according to Wikipedia, “Lynching is an extrajudicial execution carried out by a mob, often by hanging, but also by burning at the stake or shooting, in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate, control, or otherwise manipulate a population of people.” OK? Serious stuff there, that happened way too often for way too long in our nation’s history. It’s like someone saying that “the upcoming election will be a Holocaust for the Republicans.” It’s not something to trivialize.

But there is something broader here too. Look back just a week or two to when Assembly Transportation Chair Wisniewski got subpoena power to investigate the really sketchy seeming Christie patronage going on at the Port Authority.” Republicans reacted by calling it a “witch hunt” (that word was used in the judiciary hearing too) and suggested that Christie himself was already taking the necessary steps (to investigate his own patronage apparently).

Often conservatives accuse progressives of being entitled. But this Governor and the party he leads have started to act with a huge sense of entitlement. They feel that if they can cut deals with the Democratic Legislature on some issues (pen/ben) that means they are entitled to whatever they want, with no oversight, acting like they have a mandate to do whatever they want.

As Sen. Sweeney pointed out in his statement on the court process on Friday:

The governor talks often of how ‘elections have consequences.’ For him, the consequence of the people electing a Democratic Legislature concerned with protecting the integrity of our legal system is now clear. The governor must work with us to put together a balanced tandem of candidates for the Court. The Senate will not consider anything less.

Let’s hope that the message from the Legislature continues to be that Christie doesn’t get what he wants by having his surrogates make outlandish accusations, but rather by genuinely negotiating and making concessions.

A supermarket story

This is good news.

East Camden is getting a new Fine Fare supermarket, a chain that focuses mainly on Hispanic customers. It will be only the third supermarket of any size in the city. It will bring $3 million in investment – before the store even opens – and 45 permanent jobs.

What’s also good about it is the role Mayor Dana Redd’s government is playing. Here’s what is interesting:

Getting the project together has already taken a year, according to the businessmen.

They were aided by Camden officials, particularly Vincent Basara, Mayor Dana Redd’s business ombudsman.

The city helped get them through the application and permit process, said Basara.

The city persuaded the two to install energy-efficient lights and refrigeration. That qualified them for a $25,000 grant dedicated to upgrading their façade, said Basara.

The city is also moving to take down two abandoned properties, long off the tax rolls, in the rear. That should allow the business to expand the parking lot, said Basara.

The city has unfulfilled hopes of bringing in a major grocery – 50,000 square feet – to the downtown area.

Often times cities focus just on the big projects – like that downtown supermarket. They are hard to pull off, they require a ton of money, and they often fail.

It’s good to see Camden also making things work on the smaller stuff – in a neighborhood location (not downtown), 15,000 square feet (not 50,000 square feet), and so on. That small stuff adds up – with 45 jobs here and 45 jobs there. And it’s much more likely to stick over time because it starts from someone who sees an opportunity, not a preconceived notion that it would be great to have a downtown supermarket.

Not to say that big plans aren’t important – often they really are. Imagine Hudson County without the PATH train or Atlantic City without the boardwalk. But cities often make the mistake of thinking that only big things make a difference. And often it’s the small things that do when they add up, and government has an important, if not flashy, role to play.

Well done, Mayor Redd.

Legislation advances to fund Legal Services, modernize courts

Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Peter Barnes that would provide a new sources of funding for Legal Services throughout New Jersey and help modernize our antiquated courts has passed two Assembly committees with bipartisan support in the last week.

The bill increases user fees in the court system for three main objectives: providing funding to set up an electronic filing system in the New Jersey courts (for which New Jersey is only 15 years behind the federal courts, which started implementing e-filing back in 1996); providing funding for court-related services such as the Victims of Crime Compensation Office; and most importantly, funding Legal Services throughout the state, which has taken a huge funding cut in Gov. Christie’s budgets, through line item veto of significantly greater appropriations by the Legislature.

Indeed, Legal Services of New Jersey head Melville D. “De” Miller, Jr., testified on Monday before the Assembly Appropriations Committee alongside former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz (in a rare appearance of a former Supreme Court justice before the Legislature, remarked upon by committee chair John Burzichelli) about the impact of Christie’s budget cuts as you can watch below (thanks to deciminyan’s unparalleled State House coverage):

Miller’s testimony was striking: they’ve had to lay off nearly half of their staff, and only 1 in 6 lower income New Jerseyans who would qualify for legal representation actually can get it through Legal Services. It’s scary to think, in tough economic times, of how many people risk losing their homes or going through other important legal proceedings without any legal help because of these cuts. Lots more on that subject here.

More after the jump.

Tom Kean, Jr.: Property Taxes Don’t Matter So Much

Wait a second – did the Minority Leader of the State Senate just try to claim property taxes don’t matter that much? He says that when Democrats bring property taxes up, they are trying to “change the subject.”

Guess so. Guess he kind of has to, since they’ve gone up 20 percent under Governor Christie. So it makes sense that’s a subject that they don’t want front and center.

The context: defending Christie’s decision to focus on the income tax cut instead of property tax issues. The claim: “the income tax matters for job creators.”

Yep – give those millionaires more money, and they’ll create jobs.

I don’t need to say “we’ve heard this one before.” I mean, this worked super well at the national level, right? The Bush tax cuts brought us all into a new era of job creation and prosperity that we’re enjoying?

Let’s change the subject to property taxes. They are too high, and our system of government is overly dependent on them.

And if we want to talk about jobs (where NJ is doing a lot worse than the nation as a whole in reducing unemployment so we should talk about that), let’s talk about jobs – and not some specious claim, backed in Kean’s article by anonymous quotes from supposed business owners, that we’ll get there indirectly through cutting taxes on millionaires.

Christie’s creative accounting (or not doing the “big things”)

Chris Christie likes to claim that he’s doing “big things” and breaking with the past bipartisan tradition of kicking the can down the road.

But it’s hard to escape that his latest budget proposal for FY 2013 is – well – exactly what he criticized his predecessors for.

You see, his proposed budget is over $3 billion bigger than Gov. Corzine’s final budget. And in order to make it all work, it’s based on smoke and mirrors – one shot gimmicks and crazily optimistic revenue projections.

One could say quite a bit about this, but this article pretty much sums it all up, by giving us a choice of whose analysis to believe – independent Wall Street analyst Standard & Poor’s, who calls the budget “structurally unbalanced” – or Assembly Budget Committee Ranking Minority Member Declan O’Scanlon, who says “I respect S&P and they are some smart folks, but there are holes in their reasoning in this report that I don’t get.”

It does not appear that O’Scanlon has any background as a financial analyst – the closest he gets is having owned a small business. But, hey, if you want to take his analysis over an independent expert’s, go ahead.

Indeed, it was just last year that Christie accused Democrats of inflating revenue projects – even though at that point independent analysts (there, the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services) agreed with the Democrats.

It’s pretty hilarious to watch Christie propose a budget that was bigger than Corzine’s, based on unrealistic revenue projection. Perhaps he’s realized that he can’t keep cutting state aid, because he’s already caused property taxes to increase by 20%. To go along with this budget and especially the tax cuts Christie proposed as part of this would be patently irresponsible – as Chris Christie would have pointed out repeatedly and ruthlessly, if anyone else had proposed this.

Haiku: marriage equality edition

Haiku time again – after an eventful week for civil rights in New Jersey!

You know the rules: 5, 7, 5 again. Take the topic suggestion left you, then set the topic for the next one. I’ll start (with the disclaimer that I say “towards” as one syllable):

Marriage equality

One Governors pen

May slow down but will not stop

Movement towards justice

Next topic: Obama’s popularity skyrockets in NJ

How does senatorial courtesy work for people with two homes?

Senatorial courtesy is the longstanding and controversial practice in which a senator from the same county as a gubernatorial nominee can block a nomination from being considered. It’s been around for a long time, been held legal by the courts, and probably isn’t going anywhere.

Ron Rice has been blocking Chris Cerf’s nomination to be Education Commissioner for a year or so, based on his refusal to appear before Rice’s committee and answer questions about Cerf’s prior consulting work. This is based on Cerf living in Montclair, in the same county as Rice’s Newark.

So Cerf went out and got a second house. He is now renting a home in Montgomery, Somerset County (conveniently home to only Republican Senators) and also living in his home he owns in Montclair. He splits his time, supposedly to shorten his commute some days.

The interesting question is – does renting a second house suffice to get around senatorial courtesy, when you’re still living part time in your first house?

We shall see how the Senate rules. It’s worth remembering that not all nominees have the cash to pay for two houses at once and that Cerf got a bunch of that cash by doing consulting based on a certain world view in the same school districts he would now be supervising.

Perhaps the new rule will be: Senatorial courtesy – a way to block nominees, but not if they are wealthy enough to have two homes.

Jobs and Taxes #4: Property Taxes Up 20% Under Christie

In the middle of the marriage equality debate and the controversy over Christie’s ill chosen words, it was easy to miss this: according to the Christie Administration, property taxes are up 20% since Chris Christie took office.

Why? Mainly this: prior to Christie taking office, the state’s property tax credit program rebated the average New Jersey homeowner $1,000 a year off property taxes.

Now? The average homeowner gets only $480 a year in rebates instead.

The difference? A total of $1.1 billion a year – the same cost as Christie’s proposed tax cuts that are focused disproportionately on people making over $1 million.

This isn’t that complicated – in fact, it’s surprisingly simple given the two numbers are the same. Christie has a choice – between stopping the runaway increase in property taxes under his watch and cutting income taxes for millionaires. And he’s choosing cutting income taxes for millionaires. Meanwhile, we all keep paying, and paying, and paying more property taxes.

It’s rare in politics that choices are this clear. Let’s hope that there’s some serious focus on this as budget season begins.