Sunday
May152016

It took 13 deaths for MN to raise its gas tax

145 victims, 22 children, 13 deaths, one bridge collapse.  Finally, some action from the Legislature.

Senator Steve Oroho doesn't think we should wait until we are burying children, for the state to face the fact that the Transportation Trust Fund is going bankrupt.  

Others disagree, like approved Herald commentator Michele Guttenberger.

Senator Steve Oroho doesn't want homeowners and businesses to face a property tax explosion when the inevitable tragedy leads to lawsuits against government for negligence.  Steve Oroho is behaving the way we expect adults to behave in a crisis.  He isn't screaming.  He isn't crying.  He isn't blaming.  He isn't having a hissy fit  -- or an attack of the snarkies.

But some, like failed politician Kenneth Collins, would rather close their eyes and cling to cheap slogans instead of being an adult.

Senator Steve Oroho is an adult.  He isn't taking the easy way, the political way.  Steve Oroho is taking the responsible way. 

In the real world, we know that when the money runs out, and the workers don't get paid, the repairs will stop.  Here's how it works. 

The Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) collects money from the gas tax and then uses that money to maintain and repair state roads and bridges.  The TTF also sends money to local governments (counties and municipalities) so that they can afford to maintain and repair the roads and bridges that they own. 

The TTF is nearly bankrupt.  There will be no money for the maintenance and repair of the roads and bridges owned by the state AND there will be no money to send to local governments to maintain and repair their roads and bridges.

When that happens, local governments will have a decision to make:  Either they raise property taxes on every homeowner and business to pay for the maintenance and repair of roads and bridges; or they allow those roads and bridges to fall into disrepair, and become unsafe. 

If local governments take the second option and allow roads and bridges to become unsafe, they will be left with just two choices:  Close those roads and bridges as they become unsafe, or accept that there will be lawsuits for negligence when people are injured or killed on those unsafe roads and bridges.  Of course, the legal bills and settlements for such lawsuits will also result in the need to raise property taxes -- so the taxpayer will lose either way.

Approximately one-third of gas tax revenues in New Jersey come from out-of-state travelers.  All property taxes come from the people of New Jersey.  So which do you think is the best way to pay for improvements to roads and bridges, an increase in the gas tax or an increase in property taxes?

Let us know and we'll publish your thoughts and suggestions.  Unlike some in the corporate media, we are not afraid of having an open debate.

Watchdog has reached out to victims and to families of victims of those who failed to act like adults -- until it was too late.  Watchdog will be hosting a telephone town hall in which the folks here in Sussex County can talk directly with the people who have suffered when government kicked the can down the road instead of dealing with it like adults.  We believe it will be instructive.

Sunday
May152016

Oroho trying to prevent property tax explosion

To media insiders like Amy Paterson, New Jersey's transportation funding crisis is way too complicated to even try to have an educated debate about it.  It's a lot more complicated than those kitten videos newspaper internet directors use to attract viewership (as opposed to readership).  In fact, she so much doesn't want to have a debate, that she has actively censored attempts to make the TTF issue more understandable. 

To insiders like Amy, just as the kitten will miraculously get its head unstuck, the roads and bridges will miraculously get maintained and repaired regardless of whether or not there is money to pay for those repairs.

Of course, in the real world, we know that when the money runs out, and the workers don't get paid, the repairs will stop.  Here's how it works. 

The Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) collects money from the gas tax and then uses that money to maintain and repair state roads and bridges.  The TTF also sends money to local governments (counties and municipalities) so that they can afford to maintain and repair the roads and bridges that they own. 

The TTF is nearly bankrupt.  There will be no money for the maintenance and repair of the roads and bridges owned by the state AND there will be no money to send to local governments to maintain and repair their roads and bridges.

When that happens, local governments will have a decision to make:  Either they raise property taxes on every homeowner and business to pay for the maintenance and repair of roads and bridges; or they allow those roads and bridges to fall into disrepair, and become unsafe. 

If local governments take the second option and allow roads and bridges to become unsafe, they will be left with just two choices:  Close those roads and bridges as they become unsafe, or accept that there will be lawsuits for negligence when people are injured or killed on those unsafe roads and bridges.  Of course, the legal bills and settlements for such lawsuits will also result in the need to raise property taxes -- so the taxpayer will lose either way.

Approximately one-third of gas tax revenues in New Jersey come from out-of-state travelers.  All property taxes come from the people of New Jersey.  So which do you think is the best way to pay for improvements to roads and bridges, an increase in the gas tax or an increase in property taxes?

Let Watchdog know and we'll print your thoughts and suggestions.  We are not afraid of having an open debate.

***

Now we have had a suggestion on how counties and municipal governments could save some money and then direct that money to road and bridge maintenance and repairs.  

Currently, every property taxpayer in New Jersey SUBSIDIZES newspapers.  Here's how it is done:  State law requires that advertisements be placed in newspapers for many official actions -- like notices of sheriff sales and local government budgets.  Millions of property tax dollars are spent each year by local governments for these advertisements and that money goes directly into the pockets of the corporate entities that own and control the newspapers.

But modern technology has made this expense antiquated and unnecessary.  Today, notice could be given on government-owned websites for a tiny fraction of the cost property taxpayers are paying now to newspapers.

And who benefits from this subsidy?  Mostly they are out-of-state corporations who have no stake in our communities.  Often they push the agenda of some anonymous corporate tycoon , while all we see is their corporate shills -- people like Amy Paterson. 

***

No doubt there are other savings to be made, but can they be made in time?  The money in the TTF has already started running out.

Now here is something that "censor-in-chief" Amy Paterson doesn't want you to know.  Last month the town of Montville, in Morris County, went to the TTF for funding to repair a road.  It was turned down.  Many of the subsidized big corporate newspapers missed it , but a small Morris County newspaper did report on it and noted the shock of township leaders:

Due to the New Jersey Transportation Fund’s unfunded state, Canning said he saw something he had never seen in 25 years of working in government: a grant denial.

“There were 641 applications to the NJ Department of Transportation requesting more than $253 million of the $78.75 million available in municipal aide grant funds,” said Canning, “and they did not approve our Brittany Road project, therefore, all $650,000 will have to be self-funded.”

What that "will have to be self-funded" means is that the property taxpayers of Montville will be stuck paying for those repairs.  Now magnify that by all the roads and bridges that need repair in Sussex County, divide by the number of property taxpayers, and that will give you some idea of what is coming our way if leaders like Senator Steve Oroho don't get the support they need to fix the bankrupt TTF.

 

Friday
May132016

Mudrick shills for solar

Fresh from hosting a big fundraising event for Freeholder candidates David Gray and Kathleen Gorman,  ex-Freeholder Dennis "it's sexual discrimination not sexual harassment" Mudrick has been making the rounds to public meetings trying to hard sell the solar scam all over again.  Hey, has he been down to see the FBI yet? How about the State Attorney General?  We've asked, but he hasn't told us anything.  Maybe he should try the hard sell with them?  On the record.

Mudrick lost his place on the Freeholder Board last year, not only because he voted for the solar bailout and spent the county's rainy day fund, but because he tried to bully the board's only woman member into voting for it too.  Some guy!

Mudrick would like us to forget the sad, sordid story of the solar scam that left Sussex County taxpayers on the hook for upwards of $40 million.  But we won't forget .  We read about it week after week... in the Herald, the Star-Ledger, the Record, the Sparta Independent, and the New York Times.  We don't forget!

Thursday
May122016

Gray-Gorman website praises solar scam

Yesterday we lauded the first mailer sent out by the Freeholder campaign of David Gray and Kathleen Gorman.  We sincerely thought that their first piece of mailed campaign literature was well done.

Within an hour of our post praising their mailer, the Gray-Gorman camp sent out an email blast in which they lied by claiming to be Watchdog.  And for perhaps the tenth time, they used a false Pennsylvania address in an attempt to place the blame for their attacks on the shoulders of Senator Steve Oroho, who employs a consultant from the same town and state.

David Gray is a lawyer.  Gray is an officer of the Court and a candidate for public office.  We asked if this kind of false misrepresentation was really allowed by the New Jersey Bar Association and it was suggested to us that we file an ethics complaint.  Actually, we feel kind of sorry for David Gray.  Why does he need to lie and claim to be someone else? 

The Gray-Gorman email attacks Gail Phoebus and George Graham for refusing to support the bailout of the solar scam last year.  You remember that scam, don't you?  In February of last year, the Sparta Independent reported on the solar scam and asked these questions:

How did a solar power company that had only been in business for two years get loan guarantees of nearly $90 million from Sussex, Morris and Somerset counties?

And why would Sussex County, with a budget of about $100 million, put at risk $27.7 million through bond guarantees for a private company?

Sussex County Administrator John Eskilson says Sussex County is potentially facing $26 million in losses after SunLight General Capital, a solarpower energy company, was unable to pay back most of the $27.7 million in bonds the county took out for them through debt issued by the Morris County Municipal Authority.

The solar bailout that Gail Phoebus and George Graham voted against took another $10 million -- all of the "rainy day" money the county had put aside from the sale of the county's nursing home plus $3 million more -- and threw it at the failed solar project.  The three Freeholders who voted for the bailout -- Richard Vohden, Phil Crabb, and Dennis Mudrick -- are big supporters of Gray-Gorman and held a big fundraising event to fund the Gray-Gorman effort.

Now you might be asking why are Gray-Gorman attacking Gail Phoebus, who was elected to the state Assembly and isn't even a Freeholder anymore.  Gail Phoebus isn't even on the ballot this year, so why would Gray-Gorman waste the effort? 

Well, it is very clear that the Gray-Gorman campaign is being directed by the solar lobby and the vendors and lawyers responsible for the scam in the first place.  They will never forgive Mrs. Phoebus for standing up to them.  In the words of one solar watcher:  "They want her dead." 

Remember the Solar Proposal Evaluation Team that wrote the 2011 document used to sell the solar deal to the Sussex County Freeholders?  The Gray-Gorman email praised the members of this corrupt or incompetent team and criticized those who held them accountable.

Birdsall Services Group was a big part of the Solar Proposal Evaluation Team and the Group pleaded guilty in 2013, was fined $1 million and its assets sold in bankruptcy proceedings.  Birdsall's top executive recently got a prison sentence of 4 years, while another executive pleaded guilty late last month.  The Asbury Park Press reported:

BIRDSALL GOES TO PRISON FOR CORRUPTION

Toms River - Howard Birdsall, the former head of one of New Jersey's oldest and most prestigious engineering firms, was sentenced to four years in prison Friday in the pay-to-play corruption case that brought about the demise of the company that bore his family's name.

...Birdsall and six other of the firm's executives, as well as the firm itself, were indicted in 2013 on charges that they masked corporate campaign contributions as individual political donations in order to skirt the state's pay-to-play laws and get contracts it otherwise would have been disqualified from.

The evaluation team was put together by then County Administrator John Eskilson.  In 2015, Freeholders Richard Vohden, Phil Crabb, and Dennis Mudrick supported the bailout of the failed solar scheme.  These same freeholders later rewarded Eskilson with a position as a Trustee with the Sussex County Community College. 

Why are Gray-Gorman plainly aligning themselves with the solar scammers who raped Sussex County taxpayers for upwards of $40 million?  It is all about killing the county's investigation to put together a lawsuit to get our money back.  If the scammers can keep the money and plea bargain their way into paying a fine to resolve the criminal investigations, then they will come out ahead.

That's how these things often work out.  The fine is just a cost of doing business.  United States Senator Elizabeth Warren complained bitterly when HSBC Bank was caught laundering nearly a billion dollars in drug cartel money and ended up paying a fine with no prosecution.  Here is the Senator at a hearing discussing this subject:

Wednesday
May112016

Gray and Gorman are campaigning hard

In contrast to their opponents' anemic  campaign style, Republican Freeholder candidates David Gray and Kathleen Gorman dropped a solid piece of direct mail this week.  Styling themselves "outsider conservatives" is a smart move -- open to controversy -- but smart given the reticence of the other side to even bother itself with a retort.  Their slogan of "a fresh conservative perspective" is spot on and could only be improved by underlining the word "fresh," while their three-point "conservative plan" to "cut taxes, reduce the size of government," and "protect property rights" is succinct and understandable.  We might add that it is not too early to put the date of the election -- June 7th -- on your literature.  Overall, a job very well done!

As for the other side, Watchdog thinks the incumbent is listening too much to a county bond counsel's advice -- who is probably part of the same crew behind Gray and Gorman.  All this points to an underhanded deal to screw Hopatcong Mayor Sylvia Petillo and her husband, SCMUA chief Ron Petillo.  The Petillo family are long-time stalwarts of the GOP in Sussex County, who have generously given to the party and to Republican candidates, both their time and money.

In years past, nobody would have even considered doing dirty a family that has given so much to nearly everyone involved in the county GOP, but the solar scam, the bailout, the ongoing criminal investigations, and especially the county investigation, has changed all that.  Now money is flowing into the county from new sources with a very different agenda.  Even the Space family has hedged its bets. 

Looks like Sussex County is all grown-up and joining the ranks of counties dominated by the likes of John Inglesino.  That's nothing to cheer about.