Tag Archives: Star Ledger

What New Jersey Pays for its Police

This Sunday’s Star Ledger ran cover story on salaries for New Jersey’s police force. The median salary for a police officer in the Garden State is about $90,000. The Ledger also compiled a database for police salaries by municipality. Their analysis reveals that three out of every 10 officers makes over six figures and that the largest salaries are generally paid to officers in towns with the least crime.

Keep in mind these are strictly salary figures and exclude pensions, health benefits, overtime pay and other perqs. As an example, the average salary for an officer in Camden is $79,656, which ranks number one in violent crime. Bay Head Borough in Ocean County ranks 450 in violent crime and the average salary for a police officer is $100,309.

Some officers argue these salaries reflect New Jersey’s high cost of living and unions contracts that permit officers to rise quickly through the payscale. 

Saddle Brook Township’s Police Chief seems to think New Jersey’s policeforce are a well-paid profession, “Any police officer that says they’re not making enough money needs to re-examine themselves.”

Blinded by the Light: Will New Jersey finally sell off its race tracks?

Today the Star-Ledger editorial board has put it bluntly, “Get N.J. out of horse racing”, and sell the tracks.

While the Meadowlands Race Track and Monmouth Park once attracted a robust audience willing to bet and spend. Today, they are losing $10 million a year, kept alive with subsidies and casino profits. This isn’t just a Garden State phenomenon – empty seats at the races reveal that tastes change. (One theory for dwindling interest in watching the races posits technology-induced ADD.) Of course, the same can be said for any sport, the arts, or entertainment – no matter how deep its cultural roots.  Bullfighting in Barcelona is on the decline.

The casino industry is no longer amused at having to foot the bill for the tracks.  They agreed to give $90 million over three years as a protectionist measure. In return, the state agreed to keep slot machines out of the racetracks. No matter what form they take, subsidies to entertainment are a bad deal. The state should not be in the business of deciding which sports and recreations get to live past their profitability. That decision belongs to consumers.

But it’s hard for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to let go. At a recent hearing its CEO likened New Jersey’s tracks to a profitable brand, like Coca-Cola. As Governor Christie has indicated, the state can ill-afford such handouts. And more than that, as the governor discovered, the breeders associations were using tax dollars to lobby the government.

Xanadu or “Xanadon’t?”

The Star Ledger asks if it’s time to rename the Meadowlands. Suggestions: Fairyland, Fantasyland, or Delusion, NJ. Xanadu, a 2 million square foot unfinished entertainment complex is a structural eyesore and financial catastrophe.The Meadowlands Racetrack is losing $10 million a year. And the Izod Center is still standing because of subsidies.

This should be low-hanging fruit for incoming Governor Christie: take a close look at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. Set up by the state in 1971 to manage the Meadowlands, Mounmouth County Racetrack, and other gaming centers, the NJSEA has overseen the development of Xanadu, including a deal with The Port Authority to build a $150 million rail spur into the entertainment complex. The $182 million, 2.3 mile, spur is  now open, Xanadu is a skeletal enigma, and the NJSEA has long since run out of money.

Once NJSEA’s financing ventures were kept afloat with gambling revenues, but “those days are long gone.” Senate President Richard Codey can think of two reasons to keep it open, to “manage the racetracks” and to save jobs. Yet, both of these would result if the NJSEA was abolished and the racetrack privatized, with the added bonus of saving the state and taxpayers money.

Today, the state is servicing $691 million in NJSEA debt issued for Meadowlands maintenance. On top of this the Meadowlands projects a $3.1 million loss.

As the Star Ledger puts it, “If horse racing can’t support itself, let it die. Close Izod. Dump most of those six-figure salaries on the NJSEA payroll. Figure out what to do with the land, which is valuable real estate, and stop asking taxpayers to foot the bill for an agency whose time has passed.”

N.J. Attorney General to sue Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken

Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ is in the crosshairs of the New Jersey Attorney General’s office.

A lawsuit to be filed today accuses the school of misappropriation of endowment funds and excessive compensation. If successful in its case, management of the university may be ceded from the university’s nonprofit Board of Trustees to the state.

At the center of the suit are the Board’s chairman, Lawrence Babbio, and university president Harold Raveche (whose salary – in excess of $1,000,000 – is offered as evidence of overcompensation).

According to the Star-Ledger, in 2004, after a decade of aggressive expansion and growth of the university which doubled the number of students, an internal review of the school’s finances called into question the school’s financial health — including a large debt, operating losses, and a deficit of $8.5 million in 2003.

Stevens isn’t sitting quietly. The university pre-empted the state’s lawsuit, filing its own against Attorney General Anne Milgram on Wednesday accusing her of overstepping her authority and making inaccurate allegations.

The state’s claims against Stevens’ budgeting and spending practices are, in a word, ironic.  New Jersey’s fiscal and accounting practices are nothing to emulate. Debt has tripled to $45 billion since 1990. Budget shortfalls are a regular occurence (last year’s shortfall was an historic $7 billion), and recent reforms have tried to tackle the state’s long-running problem of state employees padding their salaries and pension benefits.

This doesn’t make the state a particularly convincing auditor.

Xanadu Doomed, or just Delayed?

XanaduThis year was to mark the year that Xanadu, a 2 million square foot entertainment/shopping complex, was to open in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Promising an indoor ski slope, tunnel-diving, movie complex, and warehouse-sized shops, the project has few cheerleaders.

Bergen county residents call it “structural graffitti” with its proposed Pepsi Globe Ferris wheel blocking the Manhattan skyline.  Senate President Richard Codey says it’s “yucky-looking,” and the FAA wonders if the Ferris wheel will interfere with air traffic control.

Then there’s the timing: a Disney-meets-Vegas inspired retail center in the midst of a recession?

What’s worrying however is that it won’t matter. “The largest retail and entertainment complex in the United States” partially owes its existence to subsidies, bonds, and taxpayer-financed site remediation.  Can taxpayer life-support be far behind?

Xanadu is a hybrid: last decade’s euphoric consumerism kept alive by misplaced government bets.

The vision belongs to partially to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, a state agency that oversees New Jersey’s tracks and stadiums. The Meadowlands has been a government target for economic redevelopment for decades. Xanadu is the most recent attempt to fill unused parking lots next to the stadium. The vision also belonged to a real estate developer, the Mills Corporation, which has since backed out.

While not directly subsidized,the $2 billion center is being built on state-owned land, and nearly $80 million is being spent on transportation. Site remediation has cost $2 million. The NJSEA received a $160 million 15-year lease from the private developer Xanadu Meadowlands.

Today, the main players are in financial difficulties. Real Capital Analytics put the project on its “Troubled Assets List.” The NJSEA is in the red. Years of using surplus track betting revenues to finance stadiums, convention centers, and the authority’s penchant for issuing bonds have come to a screeching halt.

Now scheduled to open some time next summer, as Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club notes, “We’ve given millions in incentives, tax breaks and transportation on a project that was pushed through because of political connections — not because we needed it.”

Consumer preferences will reveal how much it is loved or loathed next summer, in theory. Unless the state decides it is “too big to fail.”

Here’s a report from the Star-Ledger on Xanadu:

Ledger Live: Meadowlands Xanadu – A boon or boondoggle?

Mayors of Hoboken and Secaucus taken into police custody

The New York Times reports that a major FBI sting operation is currently taking place across New Jersey.  The mayors of Hoboken and Secaucus are a few of the elected officials currently in custody at FBI headquarters in Newark. The probe centers on charges of money laundering and political bid rigging.

According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt (R-Ocean), Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, Secaucus Mayor Denis Elwell and Jersey City Council President Mariano Vega are among those who have been already been brought to the FBI building in Newark. Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini has also been arrested. A total of 30 people have been taken into custody, officials said.

The corruption centers on, “an international money laundering and corruption probe that includes rabbis in the Syrian Jewish communities in Deal and Brooklyn.”

Other sweeps are taking place in Ocean, Monmouth, Hudson, and Bergen counties.

The sweep follows last year’s arrest, prosecution, and conviction of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, who is currently serving a 27 month sentence for fraud and conspiracy. And there was also the arrest of 11 elected officials in 2007 on bribery charges. The mayor of Atlantic City briefly disappeared last year pending a corruption probe.

Here’s the Star-Ledger‘s rundown of recent corruption probes and scandals throughout the state.

More on this subject as it develops.

The Fiscal New Year in New Jersey and IOUs in California

New Jersey begins its fiscal year today. FY 2010 will usher in a host of new taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, incomes, and insurance premiums. Here is the Star Ledger‘s rundown of what those hikes will look like for taxpayers.

California is issuing IOUs to its creditors and is now the state with the worst credit rating in the country, according to the Financial Times.