NEW JERSEY POLITICS

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DEAR CONGRESS: GIVE US $$$ - OR ELSE

By Walter Elliott


NEWARK - Mayor Ras Baraka, in his Thursday night press conference here at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, said that the city is facing a $143 million deficit on its $725 million budget and is calling on the federal government for more funding.


The Mayor said, without funding from Congress to compensate its battle against the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus, the city may have to cut services and lay off employees far and wide "very soon." By "very soon," Baraka may mean decisions may have to be made as early as mid-May or during the summer.


"We're coming to a wall now where we believe, if we don't act or ask for the support that we need," said Baraka, "then we're facing a deadly situation. (It's) not just from COVID-19 but the wrecking of our budget and our ability to provide services to the people in a safe and healthy way."


The serious avenues and harsh choices Baraka laid out were almost simultaneously being echoed by Gov. Phil Murphy just a block south of NJPAC.


Murphy (D-Rumson), during his regular "Ask the Governor" call-in show at WBGO-FM's Park Place studio, said he is also hoping for federal help - and is having to plan severe budget and personnel cuts if necessary.


"There's one thing that New Jersey and the states can't do that the federal government can - print money," said Murphy to New Jersey Public Radio host Nancy Solomon, of Maplewood. "We and most other states have to have a balanced budget, just like families do at their kitchen tables."


Murphy was fresh from the latest of his daily coronavirus briefings from the Trenton War Memorial.


It was as early as April 19 there where he said he would have to make "layoffs that would be historic," if federal aid does not arrive.


It was as late as 2 p.m. Thursday where Murphy railed against the U.S. Department of Treasury's just-imposed restrictions on how New Jersey could spend its $1.8 billion in CARES Act stimulus funding.


"(U.S.) Treasury's guidance renders much of this funding literally unusable," said the Governor. "Without additional flexibility, we'll likely not be able to use it and return a good chunk of it back to the federal government."


Baraka, while wearing a face mask on stage, explained that the budget deficit is more than just spending $43 million pay for Personal Protection Equipment and personnel overtime in virus spread combat, prevention, education and executive order enforcement. That amount has come from exhausting some of the Temporary Calendar Year 2020 Municipal Budget's line items and carving out funds from surplus and departmental budgets.


The Mayor has also projected $110 million in revenue losses on or by Sept. 1.


Closing all but essential services means that the City of Newark is not receiving payroll, parking, hotel, entertainment and other special tax revenue from many commercial, industrial and individual sources like it is used to and had been predicted for the CY2020 Budget.


The city and state "shelter-in-place" and curfew executive orders have suspended most parking regulations for the duration - which means fewer municipal ticket and fines issued.


It is not immediately clear whether property, water and sewer taxes - normally due April 1 - are having at least their late interest penalties waived.


Baraka, Thursday, said he has been talking with all public employee unions to come up with contingency plans around May 15. He had circled May 15 on his calendar because he hopes that Congress will have voted on any additional federal stimulus bills by then.


The virus' outbreak and the widespread "stay-home" orders came while Newark, New Jersey and other government entities were sharpening their budget pencils and turning on their calculators. This is usually the season where administrators and council members hold department budget hearings towards a final budget ratification.


Congress and President Donald J. Trump's Administration have passed so far $4 trillion in coronavirus fighting, compensation and economic stimulus bills since April 1. A $523 billion bill, being up for a vote by press time, may grant aid to states and hospitals as well as revive the Personal Payroll Protection plan that ran dry last week.


The first bill - the $2 trillion CARES Act - has added as much to the federal deficit. It has various criteria which may help some jurisdictions and people - but not others.


The CARES Act, for example, applies to jurisdictions whop have at least 500,000 in population.


Newark, at 280,000-plus residents, did not qualify for CARES Act aid. Since Newark is New Jersey's largest city, none of the Garden State's 565 municipalities qualified.


Newark, however, makes up roughly a third of Essex County's 800,000 overall population.


With Essex County eligible for CARES Act money, Baraka, Thursday night, said he will ask County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo about being in line for a prospective share.


Murphy meanwhile said that he will "fight to the death" to get the U.S. Treasury's restrictions removed or relaxed. "The alternative is to massively gut programs and layoff hundreds of workers - some of whom are the very same people on the front line."

GOVERNOR MURPHY SHAKES UP LOCAL SPRING ELECTIONS

By Walter Elliott


IRVINGTON - One of Gov. Phil Murphy's executive orders has left at least this "Local Talk" town's municipal staff in a quandary here since his March 19 declaration.


Murphy (D-Rumson) announced that Thursday that all April 21 public board of education elections and any earlier elections in New Jersey will be added onto the May 12 nonpartisan municipal election ballot. The Governor added that the May 12 municipal/school board/special elections will be Vote-by-Mail only.


Murphy, furthermore, announced that the State Legislature had passed Assembly Bill 3863 concerning the upcoming June 2 major party primary elections March 16. The State Senate passed A3863 that Thursday and Murphy signed the bill into law March 20.


A3863, whose final version passed the General Assembly 65 to 15 not voting, extends the primary candidates' signed petition filing deadline two weeks - from 4 p.m. March 30 to 8 a.m. April 13.


"All candidates who have signed petitions as of now (2 p.m. March 19), may still file in person or mail them in," explained Murphy. "From now to April 13, candidates must file their signed petitions online to their election clerks. We want to keep possible exposure to the corona virus to a minimum."


Murphy's order was made for several other COVID-19 novel coronavirus-related reasons.


First, the Murphy's earlier State of Emergency Order has "essential governmental services" conducted behind closed town hall, school board and county hall of record doors. What business being conducted, including election preparations, with minimal to no interpersonal contact.


Second, that interpersonal contact concern extends to the candidates, their campaign workers, election challengers, polling station workers, election division staff and any volunteers that would have been on-site May 12, April 21, March 31 and March 24. (March 24 was for a West Amwell volunteer fire department election, March 31 an Atlantic City referendum.)


The Governor's order - in a nutshell - holds April 21 Irvington and Newark board of education and school budget question elections alongside Orange, Irvington, Montclair, Belleville and Nutley's municipal elections.


The change, however, puts Irvington in a unique situation. The township clerk's office has drawn ballot places for both its school board and ward council candidates.


Irvington Township Clerk Harold Wiener and his staff, as of press time, are weighing at least two options.


One option is to add the Irvington Public Schools 2020-21 budget question above and the board of education candidates’ places below the municipal candidates’ places. This move would require renumbering the school board runners.


Another option would be to hold a re-drawing of ballot places for either the school board or ward council candidates.


"We're going through this situation day-by-day and minute-by-minute," said a clerk's office employee who answered the call of "Local Talk" 9:15 a.m. March 25.


The May 12 elections will be the first VBM-only in state history.


The Governor, depending on whether COVID-19's infection rate and death toll ebbs after Easter, may consider making the June 2 primaries all-VBM.

2019

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SOME, BUT NOT ALL, OFFICIALS TESTIFY IN FEDERAL LEAD-IN-WATER HEARING

By Walter Elliott


BLOOMFIELD - There are those, after observing Cong. Mikie Sherrill's Oct. 15 public hearing on the lead-in-water-infrastructure, who are hoping that she and her subcommittee came away with enough of a snapshot on the local problems, needs and suggestions here at the Forest Glen School Auditorium.


Sherrill (D-Montclair) and two of her House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology members witnessed testimony from Essex County Executive Donald D. DiVincenzo (D-Roseland) and respective Bloomfield and Nutley mayors Michael Venezia and Joseph Scarpelli.


Sherrill and Cong. Jennifer Weston (D-Winchester, Va.) and Don Beyer (D-Alexandria, Va.) also heard testimony from Rutgers-Newark Emergency Medicine Director Dr. Diane Calello among four experts and entrepreneurs that Tuesday morning.


The freshman Congresswoman convened the "Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Field Hearing" in part of her New Jersey 11th Congressional District. CD-11 includes Nutley and the upper two-thirds of Bloomfield, Montclair and West Orange in a district which otherwise includes parts of "West Essex," Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties - all or parts of 54 municipalities.


Bloomfield and Nutley are also among the Newark Water Supply-Pequannock System's clients who have been affected by Newark's lead-in-Lead Service Line crisis. It was therefore natural for her to invite DiVincenzo, Venezia and Scarpelli to testify.


Sherrill also acknowledged Cong. Donald M. Payne, Jr.'s presence for being "laser-focused on solutions to address lead exposures his constituents are facing in Newark."


Payne (D-Newark) represents CD-10 which includes the latter parts of Bloomfield and Montclair, the lower third of West Orange, the western two-third of Newark plus East Orange, Glen Ridge, Irvington, Maplewood, Orange and South Orange.


Sherrill, DiVincenzo, Scarpelli and Venezia all mentioned Belleville in their remarks or territory - yet Belleville Mayor Michael Melham was not present. "Local Talk" learned, on Oct. 21, that Melham had not been invited.


"I only learned about the hearing in the news the day before (Oct. 14)," said Melham.


It is to the understanding of "Local Talk" that Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was invited but his schedule kept him from appearing or speaking.


"Local Talk" has not received a response, as of Noon, Oct. 23, from Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese on whether she too was invited. Hillside, like Belleville, has 60 residents directly served by NWS-Pequannock. Baraka, earlier this month, said that both are part of his city's Lead Service Line Replacement Program.


Nor has "Local Talk" received a response from Sherrill's office on whether her committee would accept written or e-mailed statements from public officials.


What all three "Local Talk" area officials who testified touched on was that LSLRPs are expensive propositions for them.


"In the many discussions in which I participated, the only permanent solution is to replace lead service lines with copper pipes," said DiVincenzo. "Newark had started a program to replace (its) 18,000 LSLs but it would've taken Newark at least a decade to complete the task given the City's fiscal restraints. Because of the AAA bond rating we received in 2017, Essex County and our Improvement Authority were in good position to…bond $120 million and loan that to Newark at a low interest rate, reducing the amount of (LSLRP) time to 24-to-30 months."


"Nutley has two major water suppliers (including) 436 homes that are supplied by Newark Water - less than five percent of the total homes and businesses," said Scarpelli. "Nutley has already begun the replacement of all known LSLs as part of pour long-term infrastructure upgrades; of the eight "known" LSLs in the Newark area, three were lead and five had been changed over to copper and weren't documented. Unfortunately, like many small townships with limited resources and manpower, our recordkeeping over the years have been inconsistent."


"We also started an in-house Township program of replacing LSLs that we discovered in areas where formal testing showed lead exceedances over 15 parts per billion," said Venezia. "At the same time, we applied for a low-interest loan from the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank in the amount of $1.1 million to fund more repairs where we found LSLs. That process took months to secure funding - our people want repairs now, not to be told to wait eight to 12 months - we need help!"


Venezia, recalled that Aug. 8's news of Newark finding two of three PUR water faucet filters having failed "created a panic" in Bloomfield.


"On Aug. 19, we held our third public hearing on this matter," said Venezia. "In the previous two meetings, although advertised the same way, we had no more than 20 people attend those hearings. This meeting had over 150 people in attendance - all very upset and concerned about water quality."


Dr. Calello, a pediatric toxicologist specializing in lead poisoning, outlined the effects of lead in the human bloodstream.


Sherrill's committee will make recommendations to Congress on what programs will help municipalities and water systems eliminate lead in their infrastructure.

NEW MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE NOW IN EFFECT

TRENTON - Effective July 1, 2019, New Jersey’s minimum wage has increased from $8.85 per hour to $10 per hour.


“Today marks a monumental step on our path to a stronger and fairer New Jersey,” said Governor Murphy. “Our economy grows when everyone can participate in it - every hardworking New Jerseyan deserves a fair wage that allow them to put food on the table and gas in their car. Together, we are making New Jersey more affordable and giving over a million New Jerseyans a pathway to the middle class.”


Under the law Governor Murphy signed in February, after this increase, the statewide minimum wage will continue to increase by $1 per hour every January 1st until it reaches $15 per hour on January 1, 2024. 


For seasonal workers and employees at small businesses with five or fewer workers, the base minimum wage will reach $15 per hour by January 1, 2026. By January 1, 2028, workers in these groups will receive the minimum wage inclusive of inflation adjustments that take place from 2024 to 2028, equalizing the minimum wage with the main cohort of New Jersey workers.


For agricultural workers, the base minimum wage will increase to $12.50 per hour by January 1, 2024. No later than March 31, 2024, the New Jersey Labor Commissioner and Secretary of Agriculture will jointly decide whether to recommend that the minimum wage for agricultural workers increase to $15 per hour by January 1, 2027, as specified in the bill. If they cannot come to an agreement, a third member, appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, will break the tie. If there is a recommendation to disapprove of the scheduled increases or suggest an alternative pathway, the Legislature will have the ability to implement that recommendation by passage of a concurrent resolution.


“Today’s minimum wage increase to $10 per hour gives low-wage families firmer ground on which to stand and moves us closer to Governor Murphy’s vision of a stronger, fairer economy. The law’s multi-year phase-in to $15 per hour gives the state’s businesses the time they need to adjust to the higher wage requirements,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo.


"The fight for a living wage takes a step in the right direction today, when New Jersey's minimum wage will be raised to $10,” said Sue Altman, CEO of Working Families. “This is a long-fought victory by labor, grassroots activists, and advocates, and we commend Governor Murphy and legislative leadership for taking action. With every raise in the wage toward our fight for $15, we secure greater economic justice for working people across New Jersey, who can now support their families by covering the basics and buying goods and services from New Jersey businesses."


“New Jersey small business owners understand what’s good for their employees and businesses, and that starts by putting New Jersey workers on the road to be paid a livable wage,” said Raj Bath, Business Representative for the New Jersey Main Street Alliance. “Paying workers a decent livable wage means they will play a vital part in the local economy which is a win-win for Main Street. New Jersey will have a thriving economic future as long as we continue to invest in our middle-class workers and our Main Street.” 


“As SEIU’s flagship campaign, 32BJ SEIU worked tirelessly for years to see the minimum wage in New Jersey begin its rise to $15.00,” said Kevin Brown, SEIU 32BJ Vice President and New Jersey District Director. “Today our uphill battle finally pays off as the lowest paid people in our community earning $8.85/hour take home $10.00/hour instead. This is a real and meaningful change for the lives of over one million working families who will benefit from the long-lasting economic impacts of this legislation. Our union sisters and brothers rallied, canvassed and fought to raise the bar for the entire state because we know that a rising tide lifts all boats, and it starts from the bottom. We thank Governor Murphy, the legislature, and the support of labor allies behind us. We will celebrate again when the minimum wage increases to $11.00 on January 1, 2020, and 32BJ will continue to lead in the fight for working people, immigrants and people of color who deserve better.”


“At times, we don't even know if we'll be able to pay rent with what we make,” said Rosa Fernandez of New Labor. “With a minimum wage raise now and every January until 2024, workers around New Jersey can make ends meet and breathe a little easier.”


“As the minimum wage begins to increase on July 1, New Jersey is taking an historic step towards a dignity wage for about one million workers who are mostly people of color, women, and low-wage workers,” said Renee Koubiadis, Executive Director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey. “With the increase to $10 an hour, more individuals and families will be able to afford basic needs instead of going without.”


"Raising New Jersey's minimum wage to $15 an hour is one of the most consequential, pro-worker policies passed in decades," said Brandon McKoy, President of New Jersey Policy Perspective. "With the first increase to $10.00 an hour, approximately half a million workers will see a boost in their take home pay. This will help alleviate poverty and promote spending in local communities, benefiting workers, their children, and businesses alike."


"This next increase in the minimum wage will help many more working families put food on the table and pay bills,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, Associate Director, New Jersey Citizen Action.“It's an important step forward to providing all New Jersey workers a livable wage. No one who works full time should struggle to make ends meet.”


“At Foley Waite LLC, our New Jersey architectural woodworking firm has employed skilled cabinet makers, helpers and apprentices since 1978,” said Kelly Conklin, Managing Partner at Foley Waite LLC. “We have supported raising the minimum wage from the start. Governor Murphy recognizes as we do, a living wage grows our economy, not in boardrooms and mansions, it grows the economy on Main Street. This increase is long overdue and we thank the Governor for his leadership on this critically important policy.”


“We're very happy New Jersey's minimum wage is increasing,” said Gail Friedberg, CEO of Zago Manufacturing. “We support a $15 minimum wage because no one who works full-time should live in poverty. And we know from experience that fair pay is better for business. It brings low turnover, which helps us innovate. With a higher wage floor and more dependable workforce, business owners can think about ways to make the business better instead of spending time and money to replace people who left to find a job that pays the bills. I look forward to seeing the economic ripple effect our state will experience thanks to raising the minimum wage.”


“Today’s historic step toward $15 minimum wage with an increase to $10 dollars per hour from $8.85 dollars per hour will give the working men and women the pay that they deserve,” said Tony Sandkamp, CEO of Sandkamp Woodworks. “At Sandkamp Woodworks, we stand with the Governor’s commitment to increase the wage so that every person in the state has the opportunity to improve their lives whether it be providing for their families or meeting their financial needs.”


“At Bergen New Bridge, we have been committed to ensure that workers at our hospital are paid wages of $15 per hour,” said Deborah Visconi, Bergen New Bridge Medical Center. “We applaud the Governor for his efforts to bring this issue on a statewide level, providing every resident of New Jersey the compensation they deserve.”