Category Archives: Op-Ed

Return to Normal After Sandy

Memorial Day, the traditional start to summer, is once again upon us. Less than seven months removed from Superstorm Sandy, this holiday weekend is certain to be marked by mixed emotions across the shore region – awe in the power of nature, sadness over the tremendous losses we experienced, pride in our resolve to recover.

The Jersey shore is indeed coming back strong. Yes, we have many challenges ahead, but our hardest hit communities are starting to rebuild. And in parts of the shore, most signs of Sandy are already gone.

Boardwalks are humming with early-season visitors. Hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, mini-golf courses, and so much more are back in business. In fact, we have both been down to the shore for work and pleasure and have seen the shore’s resurgence.

Marinas and charter fishing boats are geared up to help you enjoy our beautiful waters or land that trophy fish. Water quality is excellent. And perhaps most important, New Jersey’s beach communities are open and ready for visitors.

This remarkable recovery, in the face of what last fall and winter seemed to be impossible odds, is the result of strong leadership from Governor Christie, unprecedented cooperation among all levels of government, and an unfailing determination by our people to get back to normal.

Visitors planning their summer vacations to the Jersey shore can rest assured that everything possible is being done to ensure they have a safe and enjoyable time.

The state began work immediately after Sandy struck to clean up and get the shore ready for the summer season, which is so important to our state’s economy and identity.

First we worked closely with our towns and counties to spearhead the swift and safe removal of some eight million cubic yards of land debris, one of the largest undertakings of its kind ever in the nation.

Then we shifted focus to making sure our waterways are safe for boating and fishing, removing intact houses, boats, cars, trees, pieces of docks and bulkheads, and much more. We’ve also been working hand-in-hand with our state and local partners to ensure our beaches are safe for swimming.

We still have a lot more to do this summer and ask for your cooperation and caution as all of this work continues.

In general, Sandy’s record storm surge pushed debris and sand into our bays, creeks and rivers. Cleanup priority has been given to navigation channels, which have been re-marked as necessary.

Still, boaters need to be aware of potential obstacles and adjust their speed accordingly for safety, especially if they venture from the marked channels. We will continue working on removing remaining debris and sand from these waterways throughout the summer and the fall.

Work has been ongoing for months out on the ocean beaches, where municipalities have worked tirelessly to remove big debris, and then thoroughly raked the sand for any smaller pieces. This work has been supplemented by volunteer efforts and by the New Jersey Clean Shores program, which uses inmates to keep beaches clean.

To ensure your protection, state aircraft will be flying over the coastline all season long searching for any debris that might have been missed. State water debris removal contractors are also using side-scan sonar, a tool commonly used to detect obstructions on the seafloor, to search for debris off the beaches.

As we do every season, the state is working closely with municipal governments as they conduct thorough safety sweeps before opening beaches. We’re encouraging municipalities to take an extra look each day. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Department of Health have advised lifeguards to keep a very close eye on the beaches and surf zone.

Of course, you should always use common sense and caution and be aware of your surroundings when swimming in the ocean. While we are not seeing very much debris in the ocean, normal currents and wave action could uncover materials at any time. If you see any debris, it is important that you contact a lifeguard immediately. If no lifeguard is available, contact local police or the local health department.

Enhanced pre-season water quality monitoring, meanwhile, indicates that water quality meets state and federal standards. We expect excellent water quality throughout the summer, as usual.

The Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program, a state, local and federal partnership, will continue to monitor water quality at beaches all summer long. The counties and municipalities play a key role in the process of ensuring water quality and making determinations about beach closures. Should any beaches need to be closed for any reason, they will be posted at: www.njbeaches.org

You can also find a wealth of information on the DEP’s Sandy recovery efforts at: www.state.nj.us/dep/special/hurricane-sandy/

New Jersey certainly has come a long way in a short time. While we still have much work ahead of us, the upcoming summer season will be one of healing – and one that will give us a deeper appreciation for this special place we call the Jersey shore.

Bob Martin, Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Mary O’Dowd, Commissioner New Jersey Department of Health

Stephen Boracchia: Republican Primary Candidate – 13th District

My name is Stephen Boracchia.  I am running for the general assembly this Republican Primary, June 4, column 3.  I am part of a team of conservative Republicans called Republicans for Conservative Leadership.  My positions and reasons for running are in part set forth below.

All RCL candidates have taken a pledge not to increase taxes or debt.  We are pro-life and strong supporters of the second amendment.  But I believe one of the biggest problems we face in NJ is the property tax.  We need a stable, predictable property tax system in NJ to help guarantee our family’s prosperity.  There are several components that go into property taxes, pension and health care benefits, school tax, and affordable housing. 

While there has been some slow down in property taxes, the decision to limit rebates left many paying higher taxes than under Jon Corzine.  In addition, the pension reform passed in 2011 (which all Republicans are very proud of this election cycle) really doesn’t work in the long run.  Although the legislation passed in 2011 made public workers contribute to their pension and healthcare benefits, it removed by statute the ability to negotiate health care benefits for only four years after the current contract expires.  Unions can still negotiate pension contributions and other benefits and the health care component sunsets after four years.  This allows collective bargaining over all benefits to resume at that time.  This simply delays the inevitable and allows the system we had to return to full strength after four years.  It does allow bragging rights for incumbents to get re-elected though.  I would support legislation that makes the contribution amounts permanent.

Then there are school taxes, the major part of your property tax bill.  Since Robinsion vs Cahill (now Abbott) in the early 70’s, the NJ Supreme Court has taken over the function of the legislature by involving itself in school funding and ordering higher and higher amounts of our tax money to go disproportionately to those school districts.  The result is we pay twice for schools – once for Abbott and once for our districts. 

The NJ constitution places the responsibility for funding in the Legislature.  But the court continues to take over this function even though in 1992 it said that one branch of government cannot meddle in the constitutional duties of another branch (this was a 7-0 Separation of Powers decision in Florio vs Communication Workers of America).  So why doesn’t the Legislature act upon their constitutional mandate and fight for us?  Each coordinate branch of government has a responsibility to interpret the constitution independently and act.  Unfortunately, our Legislature and Governor simply roll over when the court tells them to do so.  Remember the “bad law” in 2010 where the court ordered a $500 million surplus in tax revenue be spent on Abbott schools and the Governor grudgingly went along with their order?  I would not.

I believe it is easier for the Legislature to hide behind the judge’s robes and simply say the court made them do it.  In this manner they don’t get blamed directly for the high taxes and we vote them back in.  But remember what Joe Lewis said, “You can run but you can’t hide.”  We know what they are doing now.

I want to see a constitutional amendment that takes the judges out of the school funding decisions.  There are two ways to do this.  We can’t get a 3/5 majority vote in the legislature, but our NJ Constitution also allows for a 51% majority two session in a row and then the amendment goes on the ballot.  I believe the people will overwhelmingly support this.  Why don’t our current representatives push this issue?

Then there is COAH.  Even if the court found abolishing COAH permissible, we would still have to follow the law laid out in Mt Laurel, where the court said it did not care how much it costs our towns – that they must meet their affordable housing obligations.  We subsidize these lower taxed properties in our neighborhoods and add to our tax burden. 

We need to eliminate Mt Laurel by amendment and allow our towns to make these critical decisions, not unaccountable bureaucrats in Trenton.  We could have a regional alliance where several towns work together to meet the need without forcing intrusive development in our towns.

Until these changes are made, we will continue to have the highest property taxes in the nation. Our current representatives have been largely silent on this issue.  I will fight to get these measures on the ballot. 

If you want to know more, please go to www.r4cl.com.

Stephen Boracchia is a resident of Atlantic Highlands. He graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1983. In 2007, he graduated from Rutgers Law School. As a former Captain in the US Marine Corps, he served six and one half years as a pilot, flying CH-53D helicopters until 1990. Since the military, Mr. Boracchia has been employed in the oil and chemical industry.

Solar Plant Too Much for Too Little

AARP agrees that we need to move to greener, more environmentally-friendly forms of energy generation. However, we need to avoid creating a problem while we are working toward this goal: we need to avoid burdening the people who pay utility bills with the costs of moving to new technologies — those should be the responsibility of the utility companies, not their customers. Yet PSE&G and the Board of Public Utilities are discussing a proposal that will allow the utility giant to unfairly charge its customers $450 million to pay for its new solar energy generation project. This means that NJ utility bill payers, already paying the 7th highest bills in the country, will not only be shouldering the burden of paying for energy generation projects that are not their responsibility, but also will be funding the swelling bottom line of PSE&G by as much as $45 million along the way. This solar energy program costs too much, helps too few, and, ultimately, is not the bill payers’ responsibility to pay for.

Dave Mollen

AARP New Jersey State President

Residents Urged to Make Lifestyle Changes During Air Quality Awareness Week

The Christie Administration is urging New Jersey residents to consider making simple lifestyle choices and changes to help improve air quality for everyone in our state, as we celebrate Air Quality Awareness Week, April 29 through May 3.

Some basic changes to everyday practices, such as burning only well-seasoned wood in your fireplace, keeping your vehicle properly maintained, using environmentally friendly products or just turning off some lights in your home or office, can reduce air pollution and decrease your impact on the environment. 

New Jersey’s air quality has improved greatly over the years as a result of laws regulating power plants and industrial emissions; better pollution controls on cars and trucks, especially dealing with diesel emissions; upgrading dry cleaning equipment, and many other efforts to control pollution.

Governor Christie has battled to improve air quality in New Jersey for the health and welfare of our residents. He has particularly targeted major out-of-state polluters. 

The Christie Administration won a major victory with the EPA’s approval of New Jersey’s Clean Air Act petition that has resulted in a 70 percent reduction this year in sulfur dioxide emissions that had long poured across the Delaware River and into North Jersey from coal-fired units at a Portland, Pa. power plant. Those emissions must be reduced even further, by 81 percent in three years, and the owner has announced the company will shut down those coal-fired units. 

The DEP also has taken the lead in lawsuits against owners of the Homer City Station plant and against Allegheny Energy Inc., to cut massive emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pouring into New Jersey from those western Pennsylvania plants. 

As a result of these and other steps, New Jersey’s air is getting gradually cleaner. But there is still more work to do. Air Quality Awareness Week emphasizes that everyone can take personal steps to help improve our air quality.

Air Quality Awareness Week is timed to the beginning of the ground-level ozone, or smog, season, which coincides with the onset of warmer weather. Each day during the week the DEP will focus on a specific air pollutant, and control measures and recent actions taken by New Jersey to control that pollutant.  Details on each day’s theme and actions New Jersey has taken to address those pollutants can be found at: www.state.nj.us/dep/aqaweek

Overview

Monday: Wood smoke. Burning firewood releases harmful particles. Reduce health impacts by burning only well-seasoned wood and upgrading to a cleaner U.S. EPA-certified wood stove or fireplace insert.  Visit: www.epa.gov/burnwise/

Tuesday: Consumer products. Common household products such as paints, cleaners and air fresheners may contain volatile organic compounds, which contribute to ground level ozone.  VOC emissions can be reduced by avoid painting on hot days, and by purchasing consumer products and paints with little or no VOCs.  Before you paint, check your local forecast using the Air Quality Index at www.njaqinow.net/Default.ltr.aspx

Wednesday: Automotive emissions.  Idling vehicles do not burn fuel completely, resulting in an increase in harmful emissions that contribute to the formation of ozone. Improve the air by idling no more than three minutes. Visit: www.njinspections.com/

Thursday: Diesel engines. Diesel emissions contain more than 40 carcinogens, including fine particulate matter, or soot. Encourage your city or town to increase idling enforcement, purchase cleaner diesel vehicles and equipment, and require municipal construction contractors to use newer equipment or be retrofitted with emission controls. Visit: www.stopthesoot.org

Friday: Dry cleaning. Perchloroethylene, also known as perc, is a cancer-causing chemical used in dry-cleaning and some consumer products, such as leather care products. Decrease exposure by purchasing clothing that does not require dry cleaning, or patronize dry cleaners that use more environmentally friendly techniques. Look at the label and make sure the consumer products you purchase are free of this chemical.

CHECK THE AIR QUALITY DAILY

Look up your local air quality forecast each day and act to reduce emissions, using these tools:

•   Subscribe to EnviroFlash, an online alert system, for air quality information sent to your email inbox or cell phone. Visit: www.enviroflash.info  Get updates through Twitter and RSS feeds.

•   Add a link to New Jersey’s air quality forecasts, complete with warnings for sensitive populations, to your website. Visit: www.njaqinow.net/

•   Get real-time, location-specific air quality information sent straight to your mobile phone through EPA’s new mobile application, AIRNow. Visit: www.airnow.gov

We can all make a difference in our air quality, to improve our health and quality of life through some simple choices. We ask you to join the DEP and residents around the state this week and all year help in that effort.

William O’Sullivan is Director of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Air Quality


Medical Marijuana Program Takes, Does Not Give

To the Editors:

I bring to your attention a highly unsatisfactory system perhaps exhibiting negligence by the N.J. Department of Health regarding our Garden State’s medical marijuana program.

My wife was diagnosed with cancer in November of 2012. We had just (barely) survived Hurricane Sandy and were happy to be back in our previously evacuated apartment to celebrate Thanksgiving when the shocking diagnosis hit us.  

Her tumors were large, spread through the abdominal membrane, so debulking surgery would need to wait until nine treatments of chemo shrunk the cancer for surgery to safely be performed and get whatever cancer remained visible to MD’s naked eye. Then, another nine treatments of chemo intended to wipe out any microscopic cancer cells lurking in her body.

We were thankful to know that NJ had recently passed the State MMP (Medicinal Marijuana Program) law allowing marijuana to be prescribed for the symptoms she was suffering. We were hopefully expecting this would greatly minimize her nausea and increase her appetite. Her weight was precariously low and the marijuana should act as an antinausea. She sure  could use some “munchies” to put on weight before her surgery.

Even though it is not difficult to purchase marijuana “on the street,” I wanted to work  through the system. Encouraged to know my state now had a Medicinal Marijuana Program, I  was willing to spend the money and time necessary to legally aid my ailing wife. I felt this  would not take too long since we responded quickly to find and make appointments (four  required!) with one of the few MD’s who handles this new practice. Little did I know how  much money would be needed and the inordinate amount of time it would take! Here we are  almost five months later having spent close to $1,000 and still unable to get an appt for pot.

I feel like the victim of a scam perpetrated by my very own state. “Unprepared” and  “inexperienced” would be the kinder words I could use. However, “corrupt, criminal,  unscrupulous and incompetent” are more likely to register in my mind. 

 

See below:

11/15/2012- Received diagnosis

12/03/2012 First of four obligatory four separate (inconvenient) MD visits with Dr. Perry Stein in Montclair, NJ 516 578 7814. Each visit was perfunctory without any medical attention other than swiping my credit card. Merely playing by the rule book- Cost: $175

12/19/2012 Second visit. Cost $100

12/26/2012 Third visit $100

01/02/2013 Fourth visit $100

                  Total MD cost $475

01/23/2013 Was given appointment for Fingerprinting cost $75.00

01/29/2013 Received account number and could finally submit to NJ GOV’T SERVICES 609-586-2600 
NJ at a cost of $205.40 each card. One for me as caregiver; one for my wife as 
patient $205.40 x 2 = $410.80

02/04/2013 NJ Department of Health Medicinal Marijuana Program issues card as caregiver and patient.

02/12/2013 Received cards in mail

2/11/2013 Wife admitted to hospital for surgery

03/07/2013 New chemo rounds begin. Wife very ill from side effects. 

04/22/2013 Still undergoing chemo and my wife is unable to gain a few pounds she so urgently needs.

AND STILL no phone call from Greenleaf Compassion Center. When called, their recording basically states that any new patients will be given a phone call, “In the order that  they receive the MMP card from the state…Please wait for someone to contact you.” Well it’s going on three months since I received the MMP cards and no return calls from anyone. 

I learned today that Dr. Perry Stein refuses to take on any patients until the State gets their act together. This is admirable. Yet, the NJ DOH will still take your money for $200+ cards that are essentially worthless. Shame, shame.

 

Greenleaf Compassion Center 

395 Bloomfield Ave

Montclair, NJ

973 337 5670

www.greenleafcompassion.com

 

The kicker is -there is an expiration date two years later on the card (now 3 1/2 months old 

and never used). This will require more money ($200+ each?).

Sincerely,

Fred Schecter

A Market-Based Zoning Plan Can Put Sandy Victims Back in Their Homes

Some of the most visible damage from super storm Sandy was, of course, to oceanfront properties. And most people rightly associate oceanfront properties with relatively wealthy people. But in fact, many of the victims of Sandy were middle, sometimes even lower middle income people, many of whom did not even live that close to the water. Many of these Shore residents did not have flood insurance and if they did, it seems unlikely that there is going to be adequate funds to rebuild.

This is a real shame, because these people are the backbone and spirit of the Jersey Shore. I think we have a social responsibility to help get these folks get back into their homes and neighborhoods, and I also believe that we should try avoid spending public funds if at all possible.

Fortuantely, there are some alternatives that municipalities should consider that can provide relief.

There is a section of the New Jersey redevelopment statute known as Section f, which allows municipalities designate certain areas in need of redevelopment in the event of a natural disaster. Superstorm Sandy certainly meets this criteria. I under stand that redevelopment is a bad word in today’s environment, but perhaps the flexibility of a redevelopment zone would be best for everyone concerned. I believe, however, that eminent domain actions should avoided at all costs, and instead redevelopers can be selected to assist existing property owners in the redevelopment of their neighborhood using Incentive Zoning.

Incentive zoning is a relatively new concept, but can be a  powerful tool to help these people in need of new homes. The idea is simple: if a property owner has a 50′ x 50′ lot, under current zoning that property owner can build one single family dwelling, subject to a variety of bulk (size) and yard requirements (front, rear and side yard setbacks, height, etc.). Incentive zoning permits higher densities for larger parcels. So let’s say that four neighbors with 50′ x 50′ lots get together create a 100′ x 100′ lot, which is equal to 0.23 acres. Under incentive zoning, the permitted density can be increased to say, six townhouses or condominiums, a net gain of two units or 50% higher density. Take it a step further and merge sixteen 50′ x 50′ lots to create a 200′ x 200′ parcel. The density can be increased to permit even more units, let’s say 32 units total, double the original density.

For the sake of discussion, let us say that each of the 16 single family homes in this scenario would be worth $500,000 each or $8,000,000 total. And let us go further and assume that the  32 condominium units would be worth $400,000 each apiece, or $12,800,000 total. The additional density would allow the property owners to sell off the excess units to fund the construction of their new homes on the Shore.

Will the character of the neighborhoods change? Without question. But I think that ship has already sailed. The face of the Shore is going to change, and change permanently. But  the question before us is this: who will the Shore belong to in the future ? Only the wealthy with money for second homes? Or should also do everything we can to keep middle class people here? After all, they have been here for years and are the often the teachers, the first responders, the coaches and the volunteers that make our towns work.

To date, I have seen no ideas brought forward that would assist these property owners that are not simply a payments out of the public coffers. An Incentive Zoning plan as I have outlined here would allow homeowners to remain in their neighborhoods, grow the municipal ratable base and limit the cost to the taxpayers. It is time we got creative and work towards a new and improved Jersey Shore.

– Robert Gagliano, MAI, CRE, FRICS  is a Real Estate Consultant and Appraiser and Principal of his own firm, Gagliano & Company, Shrewsbury. He is a lifelong resident of the Jersey Shore.

 

The Facts About Development in Middletown

Whenever a major development application is submitted to the Township’s Planning or Zoning Board, the question that is invariably asked of the Township Committee is: “why can’t you just tell them no?”  Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as the question may imply.

There are strict laws governing land use in New Jersey that are rooted in our very Constitutional rights.  The boards are independent bodies.  Their review process is dictated by State laws that provide criteria for determining if an application meets the terms of the statute.  Thus, an application cannot be denied simply because a board does not want it.  There must be sound legal grounds to deny an application based on some conflict with existing laws or local zoning restrictions.  Under State law, the Planning Board, with the aid of the planning staff, drafts a Master Plan.  After public notice and hearings, it is adopted and zoning ordinances setting out what is permitted or prohibited are adopted by the Township Committee.

Making matters worse, the State dictates to the Planning Board and Township Committee that much of the new housing in Middletown has to meet the Supreme Court’s affordable housing quotas.  This requirement severely limits the local zoning powers of the Township since State law requires that we provide for an obscene number of affordable housing units, which total over 2,000 units to date.  Middletown has aggressively challenged  this affordable housing mandate and is currently awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision.

About 30 percent of our households are at or below the State’s requirements to qualify for affordable housing. It is our position that the law and the Supreme Court decisions that started all of this were intended to stop towns from being “Exclusionary,” in other words from purposely acting to keep lower income families out.

Middletown has never done that. In fact, Middletown developed plenty of affordable housing through the free market in the 1970s and 1980s, long before there were court-imposed mandates to do so.  Middletown has never been opposed to affordable housing designed in a sensible and meaningful way that does not detract from the quality of life of our community.

What we do oppose are huge mandatory numbers for new construction on top of our already abundant supply of existing affordable housing.  Governor Christie tried to abolish the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) and unburden towns from this oppressive mandate, only to be overruled by a court order.    Middletown is currently pursuing a legal challenge to what we see as a grossly unfair and costly system that takes away the town’s ability to decide its own development destiny.  We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will understand our legal position and rule in Middletown’s favor and allow us to decide on how we develop, not a court order. We must be mindful that until the laws change dramatically or the courts make major changes, the problems towns face relative to affordable housing requirements and their associated quotas will unfortunately continue to be a burden on local taxpayers.

Fortunately, Middletown has very strong, knowledgeable Planning and Zoning Boards that do everything within their legal powers to limit the negative effects of development on the Township.  The Boards must always be diligent in giving an applicant a fair and impartial hearing, while protecting the Township from a legal challenge in the event that an application is turned down.  The latter is often an inescapable part of the process.  As a result, it is imperative that the boards not overstep their bounds and follow the law so the Township can defend its position if it ends up in court.

Even with all of the pressure on the town from court mandates and COAH quotas, Middletown’s efforts to rein in overdevelopment have been largely successful.  Evidence of this lies in the fact that Middletown’s population has remained flat from the year 2000 until now.  In addition, Middletown has a very aggressive open space program that has successfully preserved thousands of acres over the years. 

Although the planning process is guided by State law, the public can and does play a very important role.  When an application comes before a board, the public is encouraged to attend meetings and provide input, either through oral testimony or written comment.  This is extremely valuable for the Planning Board, since many issues and potential flaws in an application will only come to light through this exchange with the public.  Here are some points to remember when appearing before the boards:

–        Review the zoning ordinances that govern development on the proposed property.

–        If you oppose an application, have concrete reasons and facts based on conflicts with the applied variances as to why the application should be turned down.  Just saying you don’t want it is not grounds for denying an application.

–        Whenever possible, provide expert testimony to support your position.

–        Always remember to present your position in a respectful manner.  Insults or threats will only damage what may be a very legitimate objection.

In closing, it is a well known fact that New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the union.  As such, it is critical that all future development be scrutinized and any negative impacts to the community  mitigated as much as humanly possible within the law.  The Middletown Township Committee is dedicated to keeping development in town to a minimum within the constraints of what the law will allow.  To that end, we have aggressively pursued expanding the amount of dedicated open space in town, either through direct purchase or conservation easements, while fighting destructive policies like excessive government-subsidized, low and moderate affordable housing that threaten the remaining open spaces and quality of life we all currently enjoy. 

Keep listening for news about this important issue.

Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger

Middletown Township

A Chained CPI Is Not Fair to America’s Veterans

A little-understood proposal to cut federal spending would demand sacrifice from a group that has given more than its share — our nation’s veterans, including those with severe disabilities and elderly survivors of World War Two.

The proposal, known as the chained CPI, is touted as a more accurate way to compute cost-of-living adjustments to federal benefits than the current inflation index. Unfortunately, that’s not true for older Americans, including many veterans and people with disabilities, whose hard-earned benefits would no longer keep up with inflation if this proposal takes effect.

Even more troubling, permanent adjustments for the cost-of-living take a bigger and bigger bite over time. The effect would be a stealth and growing benefit cut for the rest of a veteran’s life.

“America’s heroes deserve better from a grateful and caring nation,” declared Barry A. Jesinoski, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, in a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

A chained CPI underestimates the health care spending of seniors, as well as others who may have chronic conditions and disabilities, because it is based on a younger, working population. Further, it overestimates the ability of older veterans and many others to substitute services and products when prices rise.  (While veterans may qualify for Veterans Administration health care coverage, rising health care costs have forced many to pay an increasing amount out of their own pockets.)

Nationally, 23 million veterans would lose an estimated $19 billion over a 10-year period. In New Jersey alone, almost 460,000 vets would lose over $200 million.

What do these statistics mean for an individual? Consider a 30-year-old veteran who has severe disabilities. Compared to current law, this warrior’s VA benefits would be reduced by $1,425 a year at age 45, $2,341 at 55 and $3,231 at 65, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Reductions would also build up for Social Security benefits, which millions of veterans depend on as the foundation of their financial well-being in old age. Under a chained CPI, a retiree who lives to age 92 would actually lose a month’s worth of benefits each year.

For people who survive on modest, fixed incomes, every dollar counts, and this proposal would mean real sacrifice. Under a chained CPI, the outlook becomes bleaker the longer you live. That is because the benefit cut grows over time, and the gap continues to widen between current law and the benefit cut under a chained CPI. Adequate inflation protection is crucial, especially for those who are unable to compensate for losses in their purchasing power.

Now, I want to be clear about something: Veterans respect the value of personal sacrifice. They know what it means to step up, and they have proven this in their actions. Veterans also understand the need for fiscal discipline. Their lives are testament to a belief in keeping America strong.

But budget decisions should be fair, and promises should be kept. Reducing the cost-of-living adjustment by shifting to an improper formula falls short on both counts. That is why the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and more than a dozen other veterans’ organizations oppose the chained CPI.

Surely, our great nation can find a way to strengthen its finances without taking even more from those who already have given so much.

 

Signed,

 

Sy Larson

Past State President

AARP New Jersey

Farmland Preservation – Why It Must Be Done

We have recently seen Met Life announce intentions to close a major office facility in New Jersey and consolidate operations in North Carolina.  It isn’t the first major corporation to make such a decision and there’s nothing we can do about it. Offices can go anywhere.  What we can do, and I believe we must do, is intensify our support for the resource-based industries that cannot be taken away. The list is short. We have coastal tourism. We have agriculture. And have the synthesis of the two in agri-tourism.

We have tragically seen what a single sudden storm can do to the coast and we must invest in its reconstruction. At the same time, however, we must not lose sight of the far slower but more permanent threat that is slowly destroying our agricultural base. This is not a storm that can’t be avoided. This is the ongoing march of development that is consuming agricultural acreage year after year. Two simple facts make this need increasingly pressing. Developable land is becoming scarce and farmland is typically the easiest land to develop. As the housing market recovers, demand will drive up land prices and make preservation efforts more difficult and costly.

Perhaps the hardest thing for some segments of the public to understand is the need to preserve farmland. These people aren’t farmers. They may never even see a farm where they live. In their minds food is something that simply comes from the grocery store and how it got there is not their concern. The truth is that farmland is the essential anchor of a multi-billion dollar industry that includes planting, growing, harvesting, packing, shipping and selling New Jersey farm products across the world. It employs people who work directly in it and indirectly supports jobs for all the people who produce everything from tractors and fertilizer to the small containers for strawberries and blueberries that come in through the summer. 

And farmland does far more than support farming. In much of New Jersey, farmland either sits on top of aquifer recharge areas or in water supply watersheds. Keeping open land like this open and not paving it over for the next subdivision protects the water supply that millions of New Jersey residents who have never seen a farm rely on in their daily lives. Preserving farmland also provides another benefit to every homeowner in New Jersey.  Taking land out of the market means fewer new homes can be built and demand for housing will necessarily be directed back onto existing homes making them worth more.

Preserving farmland isn’t just about providing a pretty scenic landscape to drive through. It is about sustaining a vital resource-based industry, protecting our drinking water supply and helping to support the value of homes across the entire state. The only people who truly should have no interest in farmland preservation are those who don’t own homes, eat food or use drinking water. Everyone else should make this one of their highest public priorities. Right now the need is to preserve a minimum of 500,000 acres to maintain farming industry and time is running out. Once this land is lost it cannot be replaced. We must have a dedicated source of funding for this effort and vocal public support. That’s why I’m raising my voice now. I hope more of you will join me.

Freeholder Lillian G. Burry, liaison to parks, open space, farmland and historic preservation. 

Stop Monday Morning Quarterbacking About Sandy Clean-Up

In the days immediately following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, towns as well as the State of New Jersey were faced with the daunting task of beginning the clean-up process. Neighborhoods, especially coastal towns, were damaged and destroyed with debris everywhere blocking streets and creating a health hazard. Residents gutting their homes and disposing of all that had been destroyed were lining their streets with debris, turning roads into one-lane canyons. Given all that towns were facing during this time, I find the constant drone of the media as it tries to find some scurrilous political issue in the hiring of Ashbritt by some communities to be an insult to all of those devastated by this storm.

Here are the facts. Many vendors that towns purchase equipment from or acquire services from are under “state contract.” This is a way to ensure quality contractors have been previously vetted at a fair price. New Jersey typically selects state contractors via a competitive bidding process. Obviously during an emergency, that process needs to be accelerated when the public’s health and safety are at risk. In the days after Sandy, towns that were greatly impacted knew they would be facing huge costs for clean-up that would amount to many millions of dollars. It was, and remains vitally important to towns, that everything be done in a manner that would ensure full reimbursement from FEMA. This was not a time to risk a contractor selection process that might put that reimbursement in jeopardy. One way to ensure this was to hire the vendor who had the state contract, in this case, Ashbritt. I can assure everyone that virtually no one in New Jersey had ever even heard of Ashbritt, let alone knew of their “political connections.” They simply were the company available to municipalities that assured full compliance with the law and all applicable rules and regulations.

If someone wants to question how and why Ashbritt was selected by the State of New Jersey, that is their prerogative, but do not suggest that the affected towns’ motives were anything less than having the job done quickly and efficiently, while getting the maximum financial reimbursement possible from FEMA.  There was no time to have politically motivated debates or discussions about who to hire for what was needed.

It’s easy for those sitting on the sidelines to play Monday Morning Quarterback, second-guessing decisions made by decision-makers during an unprecedented crisis. It is quite another thing to be in the position of having to make decisions that will impact not only people’s lives and safety, but their overall long-term well-being. I am quite certain that few if any of those writing these articles or anonymously blogging behind silly screen names, were actually in the trenches, manning Emergency Operations Centers and making fast and critical decisions. Certainly, if any town or even the State did not select Ashbritt, but instead went with another company that did not perform well or quickly enough, we would all be reading articles about the inept decisions made by hiring a lesser company “just to save a few bucks on the backs of storm victims when Ashbritt, a company everyone knew had the resources to get the job done, was available.” After all, how many people would hire a contractor of unknown ability to work on their home and pass over a known expert, just to “maybe” save a few dollars?  Our residents and taxpayers, especially those so impacted by this horrible storm, deserve the same level of consideration from their elected representatives that we all have for our own homes.

Anthony P. Mercantante, P.P. AICP
Township Administrator, Middletown Township