This past Thursday was a busy day for many of us, but if one just read the mainstream press, you might not have realized it.
It was Women’s Healthcare Week, and many of our women legislators decided to mark the occasion by protesting Governor Christie’s wiping out all the dollars ($7.5million) in the Family Planning budget. As has been noted before, this money is earmarked for uninsured or underinsured men and women who get HIV testing, cervical cancer screening, family planning information and general reproductive health care through these centers. Joined by Assemblywomen Valerie Huttle, Linda Stender, Linda Greenstein, Elise Evans, Cleopatra Tucker, Pam Lampitt, Annette Quijano, Mila Jasey, Joan Voss, and Connie Wagner, we held a well attended press conference, that is except the press! Though, NJN did stop in for a brief moment or two. Apporximately 50 pink shirt supporters joined us bringing along hundreds of signed post cards protesting these cuts! The cards were delivered to the Governor’s office. Do you think he’ll read them? In my remarks, I suggested some cuts to other programs within the budget to transfer much needed funds to this program. Let’s see if the Governor will look at these re-ordering of priorities, and we’ll know if this budget cut is a matter of dollars or a matter of philosophy!
My next stop was the Senate State Government Committee meeting to speak for my bill giving the Governor veto power over the minutes of the Passaic Valley Sewer Authority and the North District Water Commission. These were the only two commissions we could find which were State appointments with no governor veto power. I reminded the committee, that I started on this road several years ago and first coined the description “shadow governments” to describe these authorities. In 2007 when Assembly colleagues Gordon Johnson, Valerie Huttle and I first took a look at the PVSA, we found that over a six year period, they spent more than $13 million on legal fees, and more than $3 million on consultants. Included in the consultant fees was $100,00 for a well connected flak to produce a children’s coloring book called, “Messy Marvin”. Makes Brian Christiansen look like one of the pikers of the hangers on at the PVSA. It’s all so outrageous!
And as outrageous, is it took several years to get this bill posted in committee. Since Governor Christie has rightly made an issue of these “shadow governments” which spend millions of our tax dollars and user fees with very little accountability, this bill should pass both houses before the summer break.
Next was the Judiciary Committee meeting where we approved the nominations of Lori Grifa as the Commissioner of Community Affairs and Harold Wirths as the Commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development. Acting Commissioner Wirths was closely questioned about his lack of experience (he has been a Republican county Freeholder) in the area of labor relations. I was concerned with his continuing in his Freeholder position while serving as an “acting commissioner”. Asked OLS for an opinion on the subject, and they said it was important to get an Ethics Board ruling. It was claimed that such a ruling had been forthcoming last February which gave him permission as long he turned down his Freeholder salary. I still believe this could be a court challenge, but since he was resigning both his elected position and his service on a bank board with his confirmation, it became moot. Both nominees now move to the full Senate for a vote.
We all know we have a reduced statehouse press corps., and they were covering the Millionaire’s Tax hearing and the Lesniak theater action for the voucher bill held on the statehouse lawn. Curious juxtaposition! Several hundred religious and private school students were brought to Trenton to support the Lesniak/Kean bill. I didn’t hear anyone from the Governor’s office refer to them as “Drug Mules” or denounce them as youngsters who had no idea why they were there. Don’t get me wrong – I think it was great that these young people got to see their government in action! They probably learned more that day than they would in classrooms. I do, however, think the Governor’s “double standard” is quite evident! Students who support Christie’s initiatives can get the day off from school, but those students who disagree with his cuts to public schools deserve to be derided and insulted.
The prior Monday, I had the great pleasure of joining Senator Ray Lesniak for our book signing at Kean College for “What’s Love Got to Do With it“, about the fight for Marriage Equality in the New Jersey State Senate. It’s a beautiful book with wonderful pictures and contains many of the words which were shared on January 7, 2010. There were more than 100 people who turned out for this event at the new Kean Human Rights Institute. My thanks to Ray for including me in this adventure. Yes I know: Lesniak & Weinberg – definitely an odd couple – but fun nevertheless!
So all this while the very much smaller group of print media folks were elsewhere. And how about Channel 12? Do they ever really cover New Jersey News live? Seems every time I turn them on they are doing the “Weather on the Ones” or the “Pet Doctor”. We need to keep NJN. They are the only statewide New Jersey television news. I’ve written to the administration to try and find out if anyone has actually worked on a plan to transition NJN into a private company. And what happens to their state owned assets? Lots of unanswered questions here, but we must work to preserve this NJ television news.
Keep your voices heard!