Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Jersey is going no where but down under Governor Christie

Well, in case you haven't noticed New Jersey's economy is in the tank.  And that is not the worst of it.  New Jersey, as an entity, is going further into debt and there is no end in sight.  With last week's announcement from Wall Street's Standard and Poor's downgrade of New Jersey's bond rating, New Jersey is now officially one of the worst states, financially speaking.  With Governor Christie failing, yet again, to make the State's mandatory payment into the public worker's pension fund, our bond rating gets lowered.  With Governor Christie's management, our unemployment rate has not gotten any better.  While he spoke today at the Amerian Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank) in Washington, D.C., he noted that the retirement age for Social Security must be raised. 
I understand that he may believe we are living longer and so we should retire older, as many people do, but what I don't understand is how he managed to leave New Jersey's business behind while he went campaigning in Washington, D.C.   How much did this cost New Jersey?  Did the funds come out of the pension fund account?  I mean if you are on a tight budget, you certainly don't take trips.  You stay home.  Put the television on and watch a free movie on Lifetime.  Better yet, you work and work hard trying to bring home more bacon. 
For all his talk, Governor Christie is not working hard enough.  He is slashing public worker jobs, cutting pension fund payments, and taking trips.  He refuses to tax his wealthy friends any more (which of course will benefit his re-election campaign fund) all while the unemployment lines become longer for middle class workers. 
While he was in Washington, D.C. today campaigning, one of his highly paid staff members, Lori Grifa, the Department of Community Affairs Commissioner told the State's mayors that New Jersey needs to implement pension reforms and also needs to begin consolidation of police departments in Camden, Essex and Mercer Counties.  Apparently, all the layoffs are not really controlling the budget problems in the State.  And this is why I wonder why the Governor and the Commissioner are not considering increasing New Jersey's revenue. 
Cutting the budget and the lay offs and the pension reform may be necessary (at least that is what they say) but if you are really serious, you would raise taxes on the wealthiest residents.  Revenue coming in is needed.  If any of us attempted to run our household budget the way Governor Christie and his highly paid staff are running the State's budget, it would not do us any good.  For instance, try cutting your household budget.  Start with the grocery bill, chop off the junk food.  With cell phones widely used, cut out the house phone.  Don't watch pay movies on cable, or better yet, cancel cable.  Try not to drive your car as much or car pool.  Turn the heat down low.  At the end of the month, how much do you save?  It can be as much as $200 to $300.  But say you have to pay off a credit card, and the washing machine breaks, your kids need new shoes, you have to pay a medical bill, the dog gets sick, and you need to buy a birthday present for your mom.  How are you going to make up the budget hole?  You will have to get another job or cut back more.  But if you only cut back more, and the water heater breaks, and roof leaks, and the car needs a repair, how will you pay for those items?  Another job.  More income.  More revenue.  There is no other way but to add revenue.  Cutting only goes so far.   I wonder how many more jobs will be lost before Governor Christie realizes he and his wealthy friends need to share the sacrifice.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Another South Jersey Polar Bear Plunge, why not?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Public schools in New Jersey getting kicked to the curb again

If you are familiar with New Jersey's public schools, you probably know two things about them:  they are costly and they are very good.  While there are some school districts in the urban regions that are not meeting their burden to educate their students as best as possible, most of New Jersey's schools are excellent.  This is not a matter of opinion but of fact.  Test scores are available and New Jersey ranks high.  In some case, New Jersey has the highest scores in the nation.  Take AP exams.  New Jersey students obtain the highest grades in the nation.  Take a look at the video linked to the end of this blog if you don't believe me.
Despite all the good grades New Jersey's public school districts get, New Jersey's Governor is trying to dismantle the entire system.  Governor Chris Christie is pushing for tax dollars that would go to public schools to be utilized for private schools.  This means that the money public schools now get will be less.  The legislation, the Opportunity Scholarship Act (S1872 ), would allow corporations a tax credit to sponsor scholarships for those students in 13 pilot districts to attend private schools.  The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) website states several reasons why this is not a good idea.  One interesting reason would be the private schools are not necessarily the best schools.   Private school teachers do not have to be certified as do public school teachers.   Additionally, some of the students are already attending private school. The legislation would not always  be helping the students at the "failing' schools.
Again, we are left with the Governor trying to change the public school system by defunding it, slowly. View the website at
It is no secret Governor Christie has called attention to the high cost of New Jersey's public school system.  Last spring, he called on New Jersey residents to defeat their local school board's budget.  Without examining each district on its own merits, the Governor told New Jersey voters to vote down the budgets.  According to New Jersey law, when a school budget is defeated at the polls, it is reviewed by the municipality's governing body.  The local elected officials then can make changes or keep the budget as presented by the school board. 
The end result is typically the local politicians recommend changes and lower the total amount of each budget.  While this can be a good thing in cases where the school board is overzealous in its reach, typically the school boards had already tightened the budget as much as possible without sacrificing education. 
Last year, the voters overwhelming listened to Governor Christie, and school budgets were defeated across New Jersey.  Governor Christie was relentless against the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the teachers' union.  This battle appeared to be a holdover from the prior year's gubernatorial election, where then candidate Christie was not endorsed by the NJEA.  The results were thousands of teacher layoffs and cut programs.
With a little over two months to go before the school board elections are held on April 27, 2011, Governor Christie is waging a different battle. And if the new legislation is passed, the children's education will suffer.  So as not to be redundant, I offer the attached video.  It says it all.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Conservatives applaud each other

The Conservative Political Action Conference is hosting its annual show in Washington, D.C. this weekend.  The festivities began yesterday, February 10th, with events starring such conservative stars as Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, Senator Rand Paul, Congressman Ron Paul, former Congressman Newt Gingrich and Senator Mitch McConnell.  A new player in politics also made a special appearance, Donald "You're Fired" Trump.While it is clear those such as Ms. Bachman and Mr. Trump are using the Conference to beef up their 2012 Presidential chances, others appeared to be trying to step up to the plate to get a bite of the Tea Party's apple in an effort to stay alive.Although not at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Governor Chris Christie left New Jersey to attend a Republican group's meeting.  Governor Christie joined Republicans in Philadelphia to receive the Union League's "Lincoln Award".  The Union League is an old-time GOP club that didn't admit women until 25 years ago.  Governor Christie gave a speech filled with insults to President Obama and the New Jersey Legislature.What is more interesting to note is the reason he was hailed by the group...his work at killing casino worker, teacher, police, and firefighter jobs and by failing to make a payment into New Jersey's public pension fund possibly jeopardizing the pensions of thousands of the State's retirees and future retired public workers.A more interesting award Governor Christie received yesterday was the news that Wall Street lowered its bond rating for New Jersey from AA to AA-.   Apparently, someone is taking notice that the Governor is not paying the State's debt to the pension fund.  The lowered bond rating means the State (i.e., its taxpayers) will pay a higher interest rate on its debt.But Governor Christie's awards yesterday didn't end with the lowered bond rating, he also got news that in addition to the 115 casino workers laid off last week due to his Atlantic City casino deregulation legislation, another 33 will be laid off as well.All in all, I would say it was an interesting day for conservatives in New Jersey and in Washington, D.C.  I guess all they need to do when they get back from their parties is what they promised to do......create jobs.  We are all still waiting for that to happen.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Amidst Republican cuts to the program to hire local police officers, fire departments in Atlantic City and Camden receive over $14 million

While the new Republican majority in Congress are looking to slash the federal budget by cutting funding to hire local police officers, there is some good news ....the Atlantic City and Camden Fire Departments will receive over $14 million dollars from the federal government in order to hire firefighters.  The grant is for two years only.  In Atlantic City, officials will use the grant funds to rehire over 30 firefighters that were laid off as well as 21 additional new hires.  Atlantic City received $9.7 million while Camden received over $5 million. 
Senator Frank Lautenberg announced the grant awards on his website .  Senator Lautenberg is Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.  The grants were awarded under a grant from FEMA funded by the Subcommittee.
While the possibility of Camden rehiring firefighters is welcome news, local police are not having the same luck. The Camden City Council rejected yesterday a property tax increase of over 20% that would have been used to help rehire police officers.  Camden laid off about 160 police officers and 60 firefighters recently due to budgetary problems.   The State approved the Mayor's request to present a 23% property tax increase. 
Let's hope the federal money being used to assist cities like Atlantic City and Camden does not come under attack by the new Republican majority in Congress in their hasty efforts to cut the federal domestic spending by $100 billion.   As noted, one of the programs on the Republican's hit list is the $298 million program instituted by former President Bill Clinton designed to hire local police officers.  So far the funds for fire fighters has not been mentioned.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Republicans are more interested in their social agenda than in creating jobs

The new Republican Congress has been hard at work recently.  They are not, however, working to create jobs or stimulate the economy.  They are working on their social agenda.  Yes, that is right.  After all the campaigns about jobs and the economy and smaller government, the new Republican Congress is working on anti-choice legislation and becoming more instrusive into women's lives than ever before. 

They are currently sponsoring legislation that would limit insurance coverage for women's health including the elimination of tax breaks for employers whose health care plan offer abortion services.  New Jersey Representative Chris Smith, an old hand in Congress, has co-sponsored a bill that would limit abortions to those instances of "forcible" rape.  That means if you are a victim of statutory rape or incest, you would not be covered.

So where is the smaller government?  Why are the Republicans looking to intrude into women's lives?  And, how does this help the economy?  How does this legislation create jobs?

There is no relationship to the recent anti-choice movement and the economy.  The Republicans are not focusing on creating jobs.  They are instead focusing on their political base.  Payback to those members of their base who came out and voted for them.  When you elect conservatives, you get their social agenda more so than their fiscal agenda.

In New Jersey, the politics of abortion is also on the forefront.  Governor Chris Christie has once again vetoed legislation that would provide funding for women's health care.  He talks the game of finances though.  He says there is no money for it.  But the reality is more likely he is interested in playing to his Republican base on social issues. 

And then we have the pro-life group that has been traveling around the nation taping workers at Planned Parenthood centers trying to catch them in dasterdly deeds.  So far, one worker was caught in a mistake.  Planned Parenthood is taking action in order to prevent further mistakes by their workers.  It is certainly not coincidental that the new Republican agenda in Congress and in statehouses around the nation is anti-choice. The anti-choice social agenda is now the main stay of the new Republicans.  So forget about the jobs.  Forget about smaller government.  You wanted a conservative government and you got it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Governor Christie needs to explain

By now most people have heard about New Jersey's Governor, Chris Christie.  He is one of those politicians who have no problem in saying what they want and getting away with it.  It appears he has the "teflon" effect going for him. 
I write this post the day after I attended a Township Committee meeting in Hamilton Township (Atlantic County) New Jersey.  The Township Committee had the unpleasant task of announcing lay offs of over 40 Township employees.  The meeting was packed with residents, employees, and reporters.  To begin with the room is quite large, larger than most local government meeting roooms in New Jersey.  The crowd over flowed into the rotunda where a television broadcast the meeting.  {read the article regarding the Hamilton Township Committee meeting at }.
I am not sure how the word spread about this meeting but I can guess it was via word of mouth of the employees, particularly the police.  But that is a good thing.  Whenever citizens come out to watch their local elected officials take action, it must be a good thing.  The only unfortunate part (besides the layoffs announced) was the absence of our esteemed Governor.
I wish Governor Christie was there last night.  He could have witnessed the looks on the faces of those in attendance.  He could have heard the words of those speaking to the local elected officials after they announced the layoffs.  I am sure he had much more pressing things to take care of, but he should attend one of these meetings.  Last night's meeting in Hamilton Township was the first one in New Jersey where layoffs were announced due to the pressures of this year's budget. 
With the police being the most vocal, the consensus of the citizens speakers were "why?". Why is the Township allowing this to happen?  Why are they sacrificing safety?  Why are they laying off those workers who help senior citizens?  It is not so difficult to answer the question as it is for the reasoning of how this is all came to be.  Surely, property taxes are high in New Jersey in just about every municipality and the Governor's major goal is to reduce property taxes.  But last night, the Township Committee announced the taxes would again be increased. 
Taxes being increased, although capped at 2%, is a common response in New Jersey municipalities facing a budget shortfall.  But now the tax increases are coming with layoffs and services being cut.  And the fact that the Township Committee announced that more layoffs may be coming down the road soon was not the kind of news anyone wants to hear.  But that is what could happen, if the State (i.e., Governor Christie), does not give the Township the same or higher amount of State aid it received last year ($800,000). 
When Governor Christie announced during his first year in office that he needed to make sacrifices in order to save New Jersey from going bankrupt, he asked that it be a "shared sacrifice".  The problem with the "shared sacrifice" argument is that it has not been a "shared" sacrifice.  It has become the sacrifice of those who need services but don't get them, it has become the sacrifice of public workers (namely, teachers, police, firefighters, and other local government workers) and most unfortunately, it has become the sacrifice of New Jersey's school children.
While the wealthiest among us have received tax breaks along with the promise of no new taxes, the remainder of New Jersey is paying the price.  Not only do our public workers get laid off, furloughed, have their wages frozen, benefits cut, told their pensions are "too rich", but we also get increases in our property taxes, increases in our highway's tolls, and increases in the fares for public transportation. 
Governor Christie needs to realize that his way is hurting the majority of New Jersey's residents while bolstering the wealthiest and the largest businesses of our State.  Last week's announcement that the newest Atlantic City casino will receive a $261 million tax break is proof that the Governor's priorities are not with the working people of New Jersey, but with the corporate executives.  It is time for him to take ownership of his deeds.
Governor Christie, come out to a Township meeting and explain to all those in attendance exactly why layoffs and cuts to services and programs are being made while your big business friends are getting breaks left and right.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How much will the new casino industry legislation revamp the real Atlantic City?

Since the 1970's there have been high hopes that the casino industry would pull Atlantic City up and make it not only a premier tourist attraction in New Jersey, but that the casinos would somehow make the City itself a beautiful, safe and friendly town.  To date, it doesn't appear that anything good has come out of the casino industry in Atlantic City.  The day after the new legislation was signed, 115 casino workers lost their jobs due to their positions being deemed unnecessary under the new de-regulation law.
However, casinos have employed many residents from the region.  Many people are attracted to Atlantic City's casinos for day trips, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and just some weekend fun.  But it has never been a destination for week long family vacations, nor a vacation spot for the wealthy crowd, nor has it attracted a large number of people from other places in the nation or the world.
Then in July of 2010, Governor Christie held a press conference touting the rehabilitation of Atlantic City.  He received the initial support of Atlantic City's Mayor Lorenzo Langford.  Mayor Langford's support did not last.  The Governor's plans included taking a portion of the City and making it a State-managed tourist spot.  The Governor's pro-business campaign would make casino industry less regulated.
In January of 2011, Governor Christie's plans came to fruition with the State Legislature signing off on the revisions.  On February 1, 2011, Governor Christie signed both pieces of legislation.  To make things more enticing he signed the laws at the partially constructed Revel Casino in the City's South Inlet.  With the signing of the two new laws, Revel would also receive a $261 million tax break with Revel's promise to re-invest in the community surrounding the Casino.
At first glance, this sounds good.  It will not "cost" the State anything except revenue (which by the Governor's terms is not money being put out - it is simply not money going in). The businesses surrounding the Revel Casino will benefit as will the Absecon Lighthouse, the major tourist attraction in that part of Atlantic City.
But how will it change Atlantic City itself?  That is the question.  Will the tax break reinvigorate the area to the extent it will attract more investors, businesses, tourists, and all good things?  Or will it simply allow a renovation of the deteriorating part of the City and leave all else alone. 
For those who are familiar with Atlantic City, and by that I mean the entire City not only the casinos, you know that the City is poor.  Many of its residents are barely surviving pay check to pay check.  There are many homeless in Atlantic City.  There are many people on welfare and disability.  These people do not benefit from any of the casinos.
If the Governor wants to make the City a place for its residents to thrive, he needs to understand the City's residents, all of them.  Governor Christie needs to put money into the City's residents not only into its businesses.  Many people would say that putting money into businesses gives the residents an opportunity to make more money for themselves.  But it isn't that simple.
If there are not enough safe and clean housing units, and if there are not enough sustainable wage jobs, and if there are not enough competent job training programs, the people are not going to be helped by the revamping Governor Christie has planned.  Speak to any reputable social worker in Atlantic City and I am sure they will add more to the list of things needed to ensure the City's residents begin to succeed.
What Governor Christie and the State Legislature has done is a start. But they need to continue doing more.  He needs to walk down the residential streets in all of its neighborhoods and speak with the people about their needs.  At this time, however, he has only shaken the hands of casino executives.  Once he realizes there are a lot more hands to shake and ideas to listen to, he may just find a real solution to real problems facing Atlantic City.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Corporate America and the economy of 2011

Today was the last day for many reporters at the Daily Record based in Morris County, New Jersey.  While it is a  mostly personal matter for these reporters, many of their readers are wondering what happened.   Certainly the newspaper itself didn't do an article on it.  But in today's world of social media and blogs, it is out there for many to read about.  I  most recently came upon an article posted today on a blog called the Gannett blog.  You can find it at   I also read a bit on the history in a Rob Tornoe piece distributed on his Facebook page.  But the article posted on the gannettblog today is written by a reporter, Frank DiLeo, who was one of those to receive a pink slip.  And he let the world know his thoughts by some how getting his article published.  But it is not on the newspaper's website.  Read it on the blog.  Frank writes about "corporate greed" in his article.  It is an important topic in today's economy.  So I thought I would start my first post of news with this bit on Gannett's Daily Record.
If you have been an employee, whether you were 14 or 24 or 36 or 40 or 55 or however old you are now, you know that your employer can either be encouraging or discouraging.  You can either be appreciated for your hard work or you can be expected to receive that pay check each week and shut up.  Personally, I have experienced both. 
Today is different though.  We have high unemployment in New Jersey and in the nation.  But our corporate executives take home millions in salary and bonuses.  Take a look at Wall Street.  Someone bailed Wall Street out a couple of years ago.  That someone was you and I.  I read in the New York Times in December 2010 that Wall Street executives were receiving millions of dollars in bonuses.  How did that happen?  Where is my bonus?  Didn't I invest in them?  Well, the main reason the bonuses were so high in December was they were afraid the tax cut extensions were not going to go through so they took the most they could get before the taxes went up.  I thought tax cuts were extended in order to stimulate job growth.  Guess not, they kept all their money.  As we know, it turns out, the tax cuts for the wealthy were extended.  They are now safe to receive even bigger bonuses in 2011.
Another example is oil profits.  Take a look at them.  The oil industry made record profits in 2010.  And how is that when unemployment is so high?  How is it that the corporate executives are receiving tax cuts while middle class workers are losing their jobs?  Police, firefighters, teachers, and all other public workers are forced to take concessions, pay freezes, lose benefits, take unpaid furlough days, etc., while the wealthiest among us get the their taxes reduced so they can keep more of their record earnings. I don't know about you, but I believe there is something very wrong with this picture.  Corporate greed is out of control.  And we all better start acknowledging it before we end up like Frank DiLeo...out of a job he worked hard at so that the corporate executives at Gannett can cut costs leaving them with record earnings.