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1-19-06 News Articles Trenton Times, The Record, Star Ledger
Governor Corzine's first day and recap of his talk with the League of Municipalities yesterday: shared services and positive incentives for towns and schools noted; Trenton Times article re: New Special Education Code - school & parent reactions cited.

Trenton Times 1-19-06

Corzine to mayors: Try sharing services

Thursday, January 19, 2006

By TOM HESTER JR.

Staff Writer

Warning of tough budget times ahead, Gov. Jon Corzine told New Jersey mayors yesterday that sharing local government services would help check property taxes.

With the state's highest-in-the-nation property taxes remaining a top concern, Corzine, in his first full day as governor, also said he didn't yet know how much state aid to municipalities will be available for next fiscal year, when the state is facing an estimated $5 billion budget deficit.

State aid to counties, municipalities and schools help control property taxes, but because of the state's continuing budget woes, the local aid hasn't increased significantly in years.

"I'm not ducking questions, but until we have made the review and choices of how we're going to put the budget together, I think it would be speculative and I think it might prejudice the discussions that are needed," Corzine said.

Still, he emphasized, tough choices loom. "There's going to have to be shared distribution of the fix on this budget," Corzine said. "Can't do all things for everyone."

Corzine met with mayors at a New Jersey League of Municipalities gathering in the State House and told them they could help themselves.

"I think there's a lot consolidation, and certainly cooperation, if not consolidation, of activities that can save a lot of resources with the taxpayers," Corzine said. "I'm going to look to find those places."

Corzine isn't the first governor to suggest that approach. But prior attempts to promote it amid the state's 21 counties, 566 municipalities and 618 school districts haven't been that successful, particularly with residents enjoying local rule. Corzine acknowledged that, but said, "You don't have to give up identity to have greater consolidation of services."

He cited cooperative purchasing agreements as a potential cost-saving measure and said the state could provide financial incentives to induce shared services.

"Change doesn't come easily," Corzine said. "I'm not a Pollyanna about this. There's going to be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to get good things done, but I think we are now at the precipice on finances."

Bill Dressel, the league's executive director, said sharing among local governments must be discussed on services ranging from police and firefighting to collecting taxes and leaves.

"It's not going to be that total answer, but it can help," Dressel said.

But others, like Denville Mayor Gene Feyl, weren't impressed.

"We're the solution, not the problem," Feyl said.

Dressel said he hopes Corzine understands that increased municipal aid helps control property taxes.

"I'm concerned every year, irrespective of who happens to be governor, but I also recognize this is his first day on the job," Dressel said.

Corzine cited his promise to boost property tax rebates by 10 percent and support a constitutional convention on property taxes, an idea heavily supported again yesterday by Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden.

Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio said reform is even more essential if municipal aid isn't going to increase.

"If that's going to be case, it becomes more important than ever," DelVecchio said.

Montgomery Mayor Louise Wilson was among those pleading for reform, conceding her community is among the wealthiest in the state but is losing senior citizens stung by property taxes.

That prompted Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Parsippany-Troy Hills, to tell mayors the constitutional convention would be a ruse to increase taxes, especially the income tax.

"You people are probably going to get hurt more than anyone," DeCroce told Wilson. "I'm telling you, your people are going to get hurt in Montgomery."

Wilson said she understood that concern, but "What it comes down to is fairness." NOTE: Contact State House bureau chief Tom Hester Jr. at thester@njtimes.com or at (609) 777-4464.


Star Ledger 1-19-06

Corzine softens inaugural lecture on ethics

On his first day, governor discusses reaction to speech and issues warning to towns

Thursday, January 19, 2006

BY DEBORAH HOWLETT AND TOM HESTER

Star-Ledger Staff

On his first full day in office, Gov. Jon Corzine toned down some of his tough talk about ethical lapses in the Legislature and warned local officials they will have to share the pain in dealing with the state's financial difficulties.

Speaking yesterday during the New Jersey League of Municipalities' annual legislative day at the Statehouse, Corzine acknowledged that some lawmakers felt his inaugural address Tuesday was unduly harsh.

"I said all I had to say -- perhaps too much," Corzine joked.

"I want to make sure people know I believe there are way more people in public life who are serving for the right reason," Corzine said. "Any sense that there's a broad brush painting strokes about people serving in the state, I don't want to leave that impression."

But, he added, "That doesn't mean we don't have a problem."

Some lawmakers, including prominent Democratic state Sens. Sharpe James of Essex County and Wayne Bryant of Camden County, made it known Tuesday they did not appreciate the reproachful tone of some of Corzine's remarks.

In his 22-minute speech, Corzine called on public servants to join him in "an historic effort to end the toxic mix of politics, money and public business" and help restore public trust and confidence.

"You had some folks only focus on that element," Corzine said yesterday. "By the way, I'm not backing away from the point that we have a lot to do, and there are a lot of things that have been neglected."

Corzine spent his first night as governor at Drumthwacket, the official residence, and had breakfast there yesterday with his family and senior staff.

He spent much of the workday in the governor's office, getting squared away and "filling out" his administration, naming James McElwain the acting director of counterterrorism, and reappointing Col. Rick Fuentes as superintendent of State Police and Jeanne Fox as president of the Board of Public Utilities.

In the afternoon, Corzine traveled to Washington for Sen. Robert Menendez's swearing-in. Corzine chose Menendez, a Hudson County Democrat, over several other members of Congress to finish the final year of his term in the U.S. Senate.

Before he left, Corzine made a pitch to about 120 mayors and council members for teamwork and cooperation in dealing with the state's financial problems, especially the property tax crisis.

He said it is too early to talk about the outlook for increased state aid to cities and towns in the 2007 state budget. Municipal aid has not increased in five years.

"I think it would be speculative and I think it might prejudice the discussions that need to be had," Corzine said.

The governor then said he wants to see shared public services among the 566 municipalities and 618 school districts in the state and his administration may use financial incentives or credits to encourage the practice.

He noted, however, that during the campaign he heard much support for local control, or home rule, and he stopped short of calling for combining municipalities as a way to reduce property taxes.

"There is a lot of consolidation -- and certainly cooperation, if not consolidation -- of activities that can save a lot of resources with the taxpayers," he said. "I am going to look to find those places. You do not have to give up identity to have greater consolidation of services."

Corzine also told the local officials he intends to push for a citizens convention on alternatives to property taxes as a way to fund local government and education.

"I go to a Giants game and I cannot watch the game," he told the officials. "People are tapping me on the shoulder and asking what I am going to do about property taxes."

Mayor Gary Passanante of Somerdale, Camden County, stood up in the audience during a panel discussion after Corzine's appearance and said he met with then-Gov. Richard Codey last year to ask why the Legislature did not approve a tax convention. The mayor favors a convention, while Codey, as Senate president, favors a special legislative session.

"He told me directly it was all about special interests," Passanante said. "My stomach turned. If you have a special session, you will not be able to have it without special interest groups."

Deputy Mayor Wandra Ashley-Williams of Franklin Township, Somerset County, said property taxes are a constant issue at council meetings. "At every council meeting, I listen to citizens of Franklin, some with tears in their eyes, talk about property taxes," she said. "This debate should not be going on like this. It is not rocket science. If every other state can deal with property taxes, why can't New Jersey?"

Deborah Howlett covers politics. She may be reached at (609) 989-0273 or dhowlett@starledger.com


The Record 1-19-06

Corzine tells towns his budget may hurt
Thursday, January 19, 2006






Governor Corzine, a day after putting the state on notice that he won't tolerate political corruption and rising government spending, told about 100 mayors that he didn't mean all politicians in New Jersey were ethically challenged.

But when it comes to sharing the budget pain, everybody will feel the hurt this year, Corzine said, telling local officials that they should do more to share services and consolidate operations to cut property taxes.

"I want to be a partner in making that happen," Corzine told the gathering hosted by the New Jersey League of Municipalities in Trenton.

That means towns and schools need state incentives to scale back individual operations in favor of combined purchasing agreements and other shared services, Corzine said.

New Jersey, with nearly 600 town governments and even more school boards, has "an incredible tapestry of political units," Corzine said. While residents value the control that home rule allows, they can't handle the increasing price tag, he said.

That means officials must look beyond their borders for savings, Corzine said.

"We're not helping out taxpayers in practices or policies as best we can," he said. The goal is to look at "not so much what we are spending money on but how we spend money," Corzine said.

The newest governor did not offer specific details, but told officials his administration is considering a range of options while it prepares to deal with its next state budget. Corzine and his new financial team are facing what is predicted to be a $6 billion shortfall between state revenues and expenses.

Corzine did not back away from his campaign promise to boost property tax rebates by over $1 billion. He plans to do that by increasing the average check 10 percent a year over the next four years.

He and all elected officials must work to cut property taxes, Corzine said. "That really is the most regressive tax," he said.

Governors have long pushed towns and school boards to consolidate, but few have done so. Prior administrations have offered carrots such as greater state aid to towns that shared services.

Corzine said after the meeting that his administration is considering those methods and more to push towns to save. It is not a direct call to abandon local government, he said.

Corzine again endorsed the call for a constitutional convention to deal with property taxes, an issue the League of Municipalities has pushed for years.

Mayors who heard Corzine's message Wednesday said that many towns were already cutting costs and sharing services.

Several said they were glad to hear that Corzine was talking about incentives and not new laws that would cut back local governments. "He's reaching out to people," said East Orange Mayor Robert Bowser.

Cities like his have struggled and would not be able to provide services and stabilize property taxes without state aid, he said.

"We know what kind of pain there is," Bowser said.

Peter Cantu, mayor of Plainsboro in Middlesex County, said he welcomed Corzine's attempts to promote consolidation. But many towns, including his, share municipal courts, police departments, public works and other services, Cantu said.

"What I would like to see is incentives to encourage consolidation," Cantu said.

Grants to schools and towns - money that's designed to keep property taxes in check by offsetting rising local costs - is a major portion of the state budget.

Corzine declined to say if towns and schools would get more money this year or be faced with less. Even a freeze in aid means higher property taxes in most towns.

Corzine's call to end political corruption and restore honesty in government rankled at least one elected official, state Sen. Sharpe James, the powerful Essex County Democrat who is also Newark's mayor.

"A majority of the men and women of the Senate and Assembly already agree with his hue and cry for reform and do not deserve to be painted with the same brush of mismanagement, neglect and being concerned only about re-election," James said after Corzine's inauguration speech.

Corzine told the mayors on Wednesday that he did not want them to think he was talking about all politicians in his speech.

"I don't want that broad brush to mean everyone. That doesn't mean we don't have a problem," he said.

Corzine later told reporters that he was not responding to any single politician or complaint.

James was not available to comment Wednesday, a spokesman in the Senate office said.

E-mail: mcalpin@northjersey.com

 

 

Trenton Times

Parents protesting special-ed changes

Thursday, January 19, 2006

By MARK PERKISS

Staff Writer

Parents and other advocates for special education students yesterday complained that proposed new regulations by the state Department of Education will harm children and give more decision-making power to school districts.

"If these new rules go into effect it will diminish the rights of children and our rights as their parents," Bob Witanek, a leader of the New Jersey Student Advocacy Union, said last night at a State Board of Education public hearing on the proposed regulations.

Among the proposed new rules, which are designed to meet revisions in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, are those setting special education class sizes and staffing requirements for districts, and elimination of mid-year assessments of students' progress.

The proposed changes drew a group of 25 protesters who held a candlelight vigil last night outside the Department of Education's offices in River View Plaza in Trenton before the public hearing.

"Our children need the rights and protection they rely on and deserve," said Susan Fiordland of Upper Freehold, a co-chairwoman of the Student Advocacy Union.

Plans call for the State Board of Education to adopt a new special education code in time for next school year, said department spokesman Richard Vespucci.

In a November memorandum outlining the proposal, acting Education Commissioner Lucille Davy said the new rules will improve "learning opportunities for students with disabilities through improved procedural protections."

While there are parts of the proposed regulations they like, advocacy groups for parents of special education students, school districts and teachers say the new rules will create problems and increased costs.

"One of the big things is that they're proposing to get rid of short-term goals and objectives for students," said Diana Autin, executive director of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network.

"The Individual Educational Programs for these students require annual goals and the short-term goals are the tool the parent, the teachers and the case manager use along the way to show progress toward the annual goals," she said.

She also criticized a provision that allows districts to make changes in special education students' programs without meeting with parents. "That swings the pendulum too far toward the districts," she said.

Autin and Witanek criticized a proposal to allow regular education teachers to skip meetings where students' academic programs are being developed.

"The regular education teacher is the link to the core curriculum content standards," Autin said. "The special education teacher may know how best to deliver the material, but the regular education teacher knows what material needs to be delivered."

Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the powerful statewide teachers union, agreed. "We oppose that provision because the regular education teachers are the best judges of the students and it's a mistake to excuse them and lose their expertise."

While parts of the proposed special education code will help districts, such as provisions that reduce paperwork and administrative procedures, the plan has major drawbacks, said Mike Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

"The negative side deals with the extra costs that will be loaded onto districts," he said. "Requiring smaller classes and reducing the number of students who can be in a class before an aide is required will cost money. Our conservative estimate is $16.5 million in added costs statewide and it's probably higher than that." NOTE: Contact Mark Perkiss at mperkiss@njtimes.com or at (609) 989-5723.

 


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