Monday, February 25, 2008 

SCI Details Wasteful Spending at N.J.Colleges

Investigator details wasteful spending at NJ colleges

Cary Edwards, chairman of the State Commission of Investigation (SCI), told the Assembly Higher Education Committee that wasteful spending is rampant at New Jersey public colleges and universities and urged lawmakers to impose stricter oversight.

New Jersey has 31 public colleges that enroll more than 385,000 students and will receive $2.2 billion in state aid this fiscal year.

The SCI, an independent state agency created to uncover government corruption, found officials taking gifts from contractors, indecipherable accounting, patronage and questionable borrowing, hiring and spending.

Saturday, May 05, 2007 

Partisan Homeland Security Funding

Returning to fiscal sense on homeland security

Friday, May 04, 2007

Remember when the bulk of state homeland security money was doled out mostly to Democratic towns? Turns out that in the rush to stuff cash into town coffers, little was done to figure out how to spend it.

Now a certain Democrat with a background in finance, namely Gov. Jon Corzine, wants the money back.

The funds were allocated by James E. McGreevey's administration over a three-year period. But the Corzine administration, at a time when the state is struggling to close a budget gap, says $2.78 million of the homeland security money has gone unused, so it should be returned to the state treasury.

Newark, for example, never claimed $191,250 it was due. Edison requested $170,000 in state money to buy a mobile command vehicle and other equipment but then never spent the money. Jersey City spent $521,000 but left another $143,000 unused.

In addition to the $2.78 million, the state Attorney General's Office says there is another $1 million set aside but never allocated that will be put back in the general treasury for the upcoming budget.

When the McGreeveyites came up with the spending plan for homeland security, Republicans said politics, not need, was the basis. The astonishing fact that more than 90 percent of the money went to Democratic districts was proof of a rotten system, they argued -- convincingly.

At least two Republican assemblymen went so far as to call for a federal probe. They noted that some municipalities in Democrat-controlled legislative districts actually got more money than they requested.

Seems they were right about the motives for sharing the money.

The Corzine administration, to its credit, has pulled the plug on the entire state homeland security program and is now taking the extraordinary step of demanding that municipalities return the money if they haven't made purchases.

Many communities readily admitted they were unable to spend the money. Good for them. To rush to try to spend the money willy-nilly would have been irresponsible.

Five years after 9/11, homeland security remains a top priority. Helping municipalities prepare for potential catastrophes is sensible. Letting money sit unused isn't.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007 

Illegal Immigrant Amnesty Fraud in New Jersey

Lawyer lied to government to help hundreds of illegal aliens

Jonathan Saint Preux, an attorney specializing in immigration law, has pleaded guilty to falsely representing that his clients had lived unlawfully in the United States before 1982 so that they could qualify for legal residency under a 1986 federal illegal alien amnesty program. Preux admitted that the scheme which ran from 2004 to February 2006 brought his Irvington law office hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Saint Preux, 44, of South Orange, is the third person to plead guilty in the case. His wife, Michele Saint Preux, 40, who was his office manager; and Bharat Kotak, 56, of Iselin, who referred illegal immigrants to the firm, have also pleaded guilty. They remain free pending sentencing. Immigration fraud carries up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A fourth defendant, Naranjan Patel, 47, of South Plainfield, pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial in June.

The scheme involved the fraudulent preparation and filing of at least 800 fraudulent Applications for Status as a Temporary Resident (Forms I-687), and other immigration documents. An I-687 is a petition for an alien to become a lawful resident in the United States.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007 

New Jersey Civil Unions

Civil-union applicants jump 62 pct. but N.J. law is called flawed by gays

After a landmark lawsuit in which seven same-sex couples argued they had the right to marry, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled in October that same-sex couples should be granted all the rights and responsibilities of married couples, but left it to the Legislature to determine the nomenclature for the unions. New Jersey’s legislature, controlled by Democrats, opted for the term “civil union”.

Since Feb. 19, when the law creating civil unions went into effect, local registrars have reported 339 female couples and 236 male couples have applied, for a total of 575 couples. Steven Goldstein, head of the gay-rights group Garden State Equality, blames the low number of applications on the Legislature’s choice of the term civil union over marriage.

Goldstein is probably partially correct in his assessment. A New Jersey civil union imposes major financial obligations, but provides few tangible benefits beyond access to a partner’s healthcare benefits. Many have their own insurance or work for one of the numerous private and public employers already offering healthcare insurance to domestic partners. Most other “rights” can be achieved through a contract, a living and regular will, financial and healthcare Powers of Attorney.

It’s not surprising so few couples are bothering to take advantage of the new law. The financial impetus to apply for a same-sex union just isn’t there, especially because the benefits are confined to New Jersey and that’s true whether it’s called a civil union or a marriage. It’s federal recognition of a union that confers significant benefits, from inheritance tax breaks to pension rights.

That’s Goldstein’s real goal - a state marriage law that can be leveraged in federal courts to achieve a national right to gay marriage. Same-sex couples “married” under a New Jersey law would be able to sue in federal court, arguing that the federal definition of marriage in DOMA is unconstitutional as a matter of federal equal protection and substantive due process.

This is why Goldstein is working so hard to have the term changed in New Jersey’s law from civil union to marriage. It’s the necessary next step. He’ll continue pressuring state lawmakers to make the change and if that effort fails, the backup plan is already in place. He’s preparing for a trip back to the New Jersey Supreme Court for a same-sex marriage edict based on real or imagined instances where civil unions are not being acknowledged on a par with marriage.

Goldstein does a great job of keeping his name and the gay marriage issue in the news. His success is truly amazing considering the tiny constituency for gay marriage.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006 

Assemblyman and Union City Mayor Brian Stack

SCC alleges the price of school site inflated:

Assemblyman and Union City Mayor Brian Stack along with political allies in his hometown helped coordinate the hasty construction of an apartment building that added more than $1million to the cost of property the state purchased for a new elementary school, state attorneys claim in new court documents.

Attorneys for the state Schools Construction Corp. spelled out the charges in a 43-page brief filed in a Superior Court case over the acquisition of an apartment building at 1501 Palisade Ave. in Union City.

The brief claims the building's quick construction was aided by a web of conflicts, political manipulation and direct gifts and political contributions to officials in Union City.

The state claims the SCC sent a letter in August 2003 to the land's owners and declared its intentions to purchase the vacant lot to build a replacement for the city's Christopher Columbus Elementary School. The land was appraised at $326,000. This past summer, the state was forced to pay $1.48million for the property.

The escalation in price was the result of construction of an apartment building on one corner of the property, a project that began four months after the SCC sent the letter to the owners.

"Discovery in this case reveals disturbing facts," attorneys for the schools corporation say in the brief. "Facts which confirm that the (Lopezes) sought nothing more than to purposely inflate the value of their property and force the taxpayers to pay millions more to them for their property than it is really worth."

Among other things, the state's attorneys cite testimony by John Medina, a former Union City Zoning Board member, who claims critical zoning concessions needed to get the apartment building erected before the state bought the property were approved at the direction of Stack's representative, city construction official Martin Martinetti.

"Mr. Medina admitted during his testimony that the Zoning Board's decision to approve the (Lopezes') zoning application was pre-determined and in fact directed by Martin Martinetti, Union City's Construction Code official, acting on behalf of Mayor Stack," the brief states.

Quoting from Medina's Jan. 30 deposition, the brief says Martinetti met with board members before their Sept. 11, 2003, meeting and told them the Lopez project was "important" and "that it would be approved." "I was told by Martin Martinetti that this was the agenda and that these were the outcomes of the agenda," Medina testified.

The brief also claims Lopez gave Martinetti a case of wine -- which later was returned -- in appreciation for his help getting the building approved, and says the developer bought $5,000 worth of tickets to a fundraiser for Stack's political action committee, Union City First, shortly after the state had made a $1.48million payment for the building.

Because of such "misconduct," the state argues, the Lopezes should receive only $326,000 for their property -- the price of the land before the building was erected.

"Certainly the Lopez brothers should not be rewarded and enriched for their misconduct and/or the misconduct of public officials acting in concert with them," the state's brief says.

Besides questioning Stack's role in the zoning board decisions, the state's brief points up numerous personal and political ties between the controversial project and officials with Union City and the Union City Board of Education, which selected the Lopez property for use in the school project.

For instance, Luiz Martin, the realtor who attempted to sell the property for the Lopezes in 1998 and again after the new building had been erected, serves in Union City government with Stack as public works commissioner.

Martin's wife, Tatiana, works for the Union City Board of Education. Jose Ortega, the real estate agent in Martin's office assigned to handle the 1501 Palisade sale last year, is also married to a Union City Board of Education employee.

In addition, the Lopezes' zoning attorney, Luis Diaz, is a former business partner of Alicia Morejon, a member of the city board of education.

This incident is one in a series of dubious deals that have plagued the SCC, an agency set up about three years ago to manage a court-ordered overhaul of public school buildings in 31 needy communities.

A Star-Ledger review found that schools built by the SCC cost, on average, 45 percent more to build than schools built by local school officials at the same time. A series of reports by the state inspector general has documented millions of dollars in cost overruns and questionable expenditures, and a special task force is scheduled to propose new changes to the agency in a March 15 report to Gov. Jon Corzine.

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Monday, March 06, 2006 

New Jersey Lawmakers Created State’s Financial Disaster

N.J. paying for fiscal inaction: States that made tough choices during tough times have surpluses. New Jersey has a big gap.

A report released by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services this week estimated that New Jersey would end the fiscal year with more than a $600 million surplus. Yet, Gov. Corzine has said the state is "pretty much broke" and has been bracing the public for tax increases and spending cutbacks to close a budget deficit of more than $4 billion.

Neighboring states, New York and Connecticut, can afford tax cuts for the first time in years. Pennsylvania and Maryland have extra cash for health care and education programs. Other state’s coffers are also flush with money. States from Florida to Hawaii are pushing for tax cuts, while states such as California, Oklahoma and Massachusetts have proposed broad new spending.

New Jersey stands alone, fiscal experts say, because lawmakers refused to make tough choices that other states made - choosing instead to borrow its way out of hard times. Most states chose to cut spending rather than raise taxes.

New Jersey lawmakers have no one but themselves to blame, said Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (R., Hunterdon). . "The situation goes beyond embarrassment. It's nothing short of a public scandal."


Sunday, March 05, 2006 

Milking New Jersey’s Taxpayers

When 2 jobs add up to 1 big pension

In New Jersey’s Legislature 42 of the 120 lawmakers have two -- or three -- elected or tax-paid positions, a search of public and legislative records by The Star-Ledger found.

After conducting an ethics review last year at the request of Gov. Richard Codey, Seton Hall professor Paula Franzese and former Supreme Court justice Daniel O'Hearn called for banning dual office holding, saying it "creates the obvious potential for abuses of power."

It is illegal for federal officeholders to hold a second elected office and 38 states prohibit holding dual offices because of the potential for conflicts of interest. But in New Jersey lawmakers have turned the holding of multiple government jobs and elected offices into an art form.

Assemblyman Brian Stack (D-Hudson) is a triple dipper as he's also the mayor of Union City and a Hudson County freeholder.

Newly elected Assemblyman Charles Epps Jr.(D-Hudson) is also the superintendent of the beleaguered Jersey City school district, one of three failing urban districts where the state has assumed control. Epps was specifically recruited by the Hudson County Democratic Organization seeing no problem with Epps doing both jobs.

Epps new three-year state contract as superintendent provides him with more than $730,000 in salary, incentives and bonuses. He also has a car and driver at his disposal, $1,000 a month housing allowance and can make $575,000 more if he doesn't use 493 sick days he accumulated as a teacher and administrator. Add on his $49,000 a year salary as an Assemblyman and you can imagine his huge taxpayer financed pension check.

And the trend for dual office holding is getting worse. Five other newly elected lawmakers kept the public offices they held before winning election in November. Assemblywomen Valerie Vanieri-Huttle (D-Bergen) and Marcia Karrow (R-Hunterdon) are freeholders. Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester) is mayor of Washington Township. Assemblywoman Pamela Rosen Lampitt (D-Camden) serves on the Cherry Hill township council. Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) is on the Passaic city council.

However, two freshmen gave up their other offices. Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-Monmouth) stepped down after 15 years as a freeholder. Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) resigned her seat on the Red Bank borough council.

Beck has introduced a bill to make dual office holding illegal. But in a Legislature where so many members hold two offices --Assemblyman Albio Sires was speaker of the lower house and mayor of West New York for four years -- such measures find little support.

Gov. Jon Corzine is not opposed to dual office holding, but as part of his ethics reform agenda believes double dippers should have to pick one job for calculating pensions and benefits. No action has occurred.



Paul Madison - An observer of the Garden State from Central New Jersey. Read More