Tag Archive: Steven Sweeney

Horizon Blue Cross BS

So here we are. Chris Christie told Senate President Steve Sweeney that there would be no deal on the state budget or on a modified school funding formula unless the legislature passes a bill giving the state more control over Horizon Blue Cross Blue…
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CEC Investigation: There’s A Lot Of Dirt In Them Thar Hills

Eleven months after an inmate was killed at CEC’s Delaney Hall, Governor Christie served as keynote speaker for its 2010 10th-anniversary celebration. He said, “This is where I need to be, because even as governor, you treasure the times when you can come and be someplace where the work is purely good.”

Following the New York Times three-part series, countless other newspaper articles over the years, NJ Comptroller Boxer’s report, an SCI report Gangs in Prisons, information from prisoner advocacy groups, and many Blue Jersey diaries, the need for a full independent investigation of Community Education Centers (CEC) is apparent. Its facilities are not places where “the work is purely good.”

The problem as Charles Stile points out is that founder William Clancy, his family, and CEC since the early 1990’s have donated over $600,000 to elected officials at the state and local level. That’s a lot of dirt and many enriched hills. Essex County has proven particularly fertile ground for CEC, but Clancy’s largesse has included governors of both parties and officials in counties where CEC operates or would like to operate. Particularly troubling has been Governor Christie’s past participation as registered lobbyist for CEC, his frequent visits to the centers where he spews praises, his acceptance of donations, failure to address publicized problems, and his close relationship with CEC Senior Vice President William Palatucci.

In addition to the largesse, which constitutes conflicts of interest for those who might investigate CEC, the problem for any investigatory group is the sheer number of issues to be examined: “pay-to-play,” public safety when inmates “walk away” from a facility, violence, rape, and drugs within the institutions, lack of quality counseling and education, lack of financial accountability and collusion with local authorities to obtain business.  

With so many pockets of enriched hills and so many varieties of dirt, what group is independent enough with sufficient staff and skills to attack the problem?

Charles Mainor (D-Hudson), Chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, is one of two individuals who has called for legislative hearings. How independent can he be, however, as his county houses and receives monies for CEC’s Talbot Hall in Kearny. In Part I of the NY Times series he was quoted as being asked for his estimate of how many people escaped from halfway houses in 2011. “I have heard of no more than three,” he responded. According to state records, the number was 452. Another member of the committee Sean Kean (R-30) in the NY Times article appeared dismissive, saying about the escapes, “It’s not really a problem. It’s a cheaper way of doing business, so that’s why it behooves us to use that option.” In summary, this committee is not a promising group to investigate the matter.

Senator Barbara Buono is the other individual who has expressed concern, stating, “They should be held accountable for their failures.” One of her key staffers said that with the current budget issues on the front burner, she has not yet developed a strategy on how to move forward. She is Vice Chair of the Senate Oversight Committee. Although she has received a combined $2,600 in donations in 2010 and 2011, she has shown the independence and fervor necessary to undertake such an investigation. She has not discussed the matter yet with Chair Robert Gordon (D-38), nor Paul Sarlo (D-36), neither of whom reside in a county where CEC operates. However, another committee member Teresa Ruiz (D-29) is a part of the Essex County Democratic machine which is probably the largest recipient of CEC largesse. With a small committee and an even smaller staff it would be difficult for this group to undertake such a far-ranging investigation.

Because of conflicts of interest and the broad scope necessary, a legislative investigation does not seem the best course. Individual committees, however,  can review matters within their purview and promote legislation. There is currently a Senate bill (S927) sponsored by Jeff Van Drew (D-3) and Steven Sweeney (D-3) which would require the State Auditor to review Department of Corrections privatization contracts to determine whether privatization yields a reduction in costs and whether there was any malfeasance on the part of DOC with the contract. It has been reviewed by two committees, however, the identical Assembly bill (A1880) has seen no committee action. If the bill were to gain passage it would represent a step forward, with some dirt removed, but large mounds still remaining.

There are other more promising venues for investigation which will be discussed in Part II of this diary.  There is a lot of dirt, a lot of hills and we need heavy duty equipment to level the land.  

More “Blowback” – No “Comeback”

On Wednesday State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff will present a Budget Revenue update to the  Assembly Budget Committee. As we receive further economic news for May, it just gets worse. Governor Christie’s “Jersey Comeback” looks increasingly like “Christie’s Blowback.”

The Star Ledger Editorial Board, NJ Public Policy President Gordon MacInnes and others agree this is not the time to saddle the State with the cost of an income tax reduction or property tax relief program. Neither of these competing plans are “free.” Their costs are added into a budget based on a tax revenue forecast which is collapsing amid problems in unemployment, foreclosures, higher cost of borrowing, and slow economic growth. Both Governor Christie and Senate President Sweeney this week appeared resolute in pursuing such a program. Their reasons seem to be for personal political gain as current forecasts do not justify their approach. Instead, we should spend what funds we can realistically anticipate on the basics, such as health, education, social safety net, and pensions.

Some updated/additional facts:

  • 1 in every 1,842 NJ housing units received a foreclosure filing in April 2012, (RealtyTrak) and NJ’s percentage of home mortgage loans in foreclosure continues to rise, as rates nationally have fallen. NJ now has the second-highest percentage of mortgage loans in foreclosure – at 8.4% – behind only Florida at 14.3%. (NJ Real Estate Report)
  • Unemployment in April rose to 9.1%, as opposed to the national average of 8.1%, and NJ was only one of five states to have an increase in unemployment in April. (U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

  • The state’s seasonally adjusted job count fell by 8,600 in March. In the private sector, the loss totaled 11,600. (Treasury Department Chief Economist Charles Steindel) However, the number of new jobs added in April was insufficient to reverse the March loss. (NJ Department of Labor)

  • Our Indexes of Economic Indicators for March show economic activity grew at a robust pace in New York State, a healthy clip in New York City but a diminished pace in New Jersey. (N.Y. Federal Reserve Bank)

  • Our May general economic index, falling to a minus 5.8%, signals contraction in the area covering southern New Jersey. (Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank)

  • Fitch in August lowered NJ’s credit rating on general obligation bonds to AA-, its fourth step. The downgrade duplicated actions by Standard & Poor’s in February and Moody’s Investors Service in April. (New Jersey Newsroom)

  • Tax revenues through April are $230 million below the forecast for the first ten months of the current fiscal year. (State Department of Treasury)

  • Christie administration is now facing at least a $121 million shortfall in energy tax collections atop the $230 million shortfall revealed on Tuesday. (Assembly Budget Chair Vincent Prieto)

  • Christie administration and the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services are now about $850 million apart on revenue projections through fiscal 2013. (estimate of Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo)

    My guess is that on Wednesday the Treasurer will lower the tax revenue forecast somewhat, but leave open the possibility for a tax program to be negotiated.

  • NYT: Steve Sweeney – Stooge and Traitor?

    A fairly damning piece from the New York Times yesterday highlights questions around Steve Sweeney’s drive to “reign in” state employee healthcare costs. The piece is first notable in that it essentially deflates Sweeney’s claims that the state employee health benefits plan is under great duress. There’s this:

    While Mr. Sweeney has asserted that the program is doing poorly, interviews with state officials and state records, including the program’s audited financial statements, show that it has neither lost money nor required public subsidies to bail it out.

    …followed by this:

    Pressed on his assertions, Mr. Sweeney conceded through a spokesman that “no state or local group subsidies are used to cover losses.”

    But what’s more striking is how the article focuses on Sweeney as a stooge for George Norcross, and a possible traitor to the people of New Jersey. “The main beneficiaries… would be companies like Mr. Norcross’s Conner Strong,” states the article, which starts off by noting that the two men have been friends since childhood. Sweeney tries to deflect, handing New Jersey a fresh turd, painted gold:

    “Everybody says, ‘Oh, you’re doing it for George Norcross.’ But that’s not what it was,” Mr. Sweeney said. “Have I ever spoken to George about it? Sure, I talked to George. He thinks it’s a good idea that we start to do something. But it’s about controlling health care costs.”

    The net result, of course, is leaving public employees out in the cold… again:

    An indefinite moratorium could mean a slow death for the program, officials said. Those employers with the healthiest workers would, as ever, leave for better deals on the private market. But without the addition of new employers, those that remained – with sicker workers and costlier claims – would have to shoulder more of the burden, at fast-rising rates.

    Who are those employers? They are cities, towns and school districts all over New Jersey. And who will help them pay that “greater burden?” Well, duh.  

    Forgetting Who We Work For

    promoted by Rosi

    Cross-posted from deciminyan.

    Before I retired, I worked for Lockheed Martin and its predecessor companies for over 40 years.  Like most large conglomerates, Lockheed Martin has established a corporate slogan to instantly summarize its values and goals.  Several years ago, it chose the grammatically-challenged slogan “We never forget who we are working for.”  Part of the reason for this choice was to remind employees as well as customers that their ultimate customer is the American taxpayer, who foots the bill for a vast majority of the corporation’s military and civil programs.

    It would be a good idea if Governor Christie, Senate President Sweeney, and the other leaders of the State of New Jersey could adopt a similar attitude.  

    Continue reading to find out why…

    Sweeney questions tax cut to super rich. Finally.

    The NY Times is out tonight with a story about some of the spending cuts and proposals in the Governors budget. The other day the Auditor reported Senator Sweeney was not in favor of extending the tax on people making more than $400,000 and and the Governor would veto it. We questioned why not make him veto it and send him a bill that had the extension. Apparently, Sweeney had a change of heart and is questioning the lack of even considering it tonight:

    “The fact that the governor took that higher income tax off the table, I think is a major mistake on his part,” said the Senate president, Stephen M. Sweeney, a Gloucester County Democrat who has been an ally of Mr. Christie’s in cutting public-sector pensions. “This is a very cold budget. There has to be a little more compassion for the middle class and poor, because all the burden is being put on them.”

    Speaker Oliver already said the other night that she believes there is support in her caucus for an extension. The public opposes getting rid of the tax on the super rich across the board, including the more well off. If the Governor wants to take this stand, the Democrats should make him do it and not just talk about it. That can only happen if Senator Sweeney and the Senate join the Assembly sending the Governor a bill that includes it.

    And this brings me to the point that we saw back in the marriage equality debate.  Sweeney wants to be the Senate President, which is, by definition, a LEADERSHIP position.  Which, of course, means he should LEAD.  By claiming that Christie will just veto it anyway, he is being a defeatist and not leading HIS caucus to do what the majority of New Jerseyans want anyway.

    Say what you want (and we certainly do) about Republicans – but they stand up for what they want, do it unabashedly and don’t care if the polls show otherwise.  It is one of the things that people actually respected about George W. Bush – you may not agree with him, but you know exactly where he stands and he won’t back down from what he believes.  And the problem with many Democrats – and from what we have seen so far, Senator Sweeney is one of them – they may feel one way but won’t stand up for it because of some weak reasoning that makes the public feel that they really won’t stand up for what they believe in or what their constituents want.

    This is nice that Sweeney is starting to come around, but he should be ahead of this no brainer of an issue – especially as a LEADER.  

    In title only, apparently.