Christie kills legislation meant to guarantee $80M for open-space funding

Njspotlight.com 01/20/2016

On Tuesday, January 19, Gov. Chris Christie pocket vetoed a bill which would have allowed $80 million to go towards protecting open space and farmland, as well as to preserve historic structures. The bill originally passed unanimously in the Senate with bipartisan support in the Assembly. Bills like this are usually a routine when it comes to NJ annual funding, so Christie’s veto is peculiar and resulted in uncertainty as to why he chose to veto the bill and what the funds would be used for. The veto could leave municipalities, counties and other organizations that hoped for funding, hostage to the changes of the state’s budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Neither Christie nor his spokesperson, Joelle Farrell, has elaborated on exactly why the bill was killed, however, Farrell implied that it was due to too many measures that were pushed through at the end of the prior legislative year. He stated that passing more than 100 bills in a scrambled way is not an effective approach in conducting public business. The Open- Space Bill was one of more than 10 environmental measures that were pocket vetoed on Jan. 19. Speculation emerged as to how Christie will spend the $80 million; in the current fiscal year, the governor and Legislature used $20 million of the open-space fund to pay for salaries and maintenance at state parks. NJ Keep It Green, a coalition of more than 180 park and conservation groups, portrayed their disappointment with the veto; however, they vowed to work with the governor and legislature to help distribute the voter-approved funds. Next month, Gov. Christie will announce his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, so the questions of where the $80 million will go will be answered.

Straub plans casino at reopened Revel

Courierpostonline.com  01/19/2016

Developer Glen Straub said on Tuesday that he plans to reopen the shuttered Revel resort with a casino, although a smaller one than what was there before. Staub, who owns the site, told The Associated Press he has made up his mind to offer casino gambling at the resort, ending a long period of uncertainty about its future. “We’ll have a casino that’s about 50 percent of what was there,” he said. He gave no timetable for the opening of a casino, which he indicated would come after other plans that are already underway for the resort. Straub said he is moving forward first with plans for a water park at the resort, which could start construction in late May. Hotel rooms could be open by June, he said.

The Florida developer’s application for a state casino license is incomplete, and it appears unlikely a casino could open at Revel this summer, given the lengthy investigation state gambling regulators would be required to undertake. Straub said he plans to hire an operator to run the casino, which would include Asian gambling attractions. Revel had high hopes of reinvigorating Atlantic City’s struggling casino market when it opened April 2, 2012. But it never caught on with gamblers, filed for bankruptcy twice and shut down on Sept. 2, 2014. It was one of four Atlantic City casinos to go out of business that year. It cost $2.4 billion to build, but Straub bought it for $82 million from bankruptcy court. If Straub succeeds in reopening Revel with a casino, it would become the city’s 9th casino. Its next-door neighbor, the former Showboat Casino Hotel, was bought last week by Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein, who has yet to decide whether to reopen it as a casino or as a non-gambling attraction.

Taken together, the two developments could represent some hope for growth in the Atlantic City casino market, even as the area braces for losses from two new casinos being proposed for the northern part of the state. A bill is pending in the state Legislature for a November referendum in which voters would be asked whether to approve the new casinos. Atlantic City’s eight surviving casinos have begun to stabilize their finances with less competition, and it remains to be seen how a reopened Revel or Showboat might affect that tenuous balance. Straub has also said the new casino won’t be named Revel, but he has yet to decide on a new moniker. He cleared away a major obstacle to its reopening last fall when he decided to buy the power plant that was at the heart of months of litigation that was preventing the complex from being occupied again.

NJ ranked among highest-taxed states

NorthJersey.com 01/21/2016

In a ranking that will surprise no one who has ever paid a tax bill, New Jersey landed near the top in a list of high-tax states released Wednesday. According to the Tax Foundation, 12.2 percent of all income in New Jersey went toward state and local taxes in fiscal 2012. That tax burden was the third-highest in the nation, right behind New York and Connecticut. New Jersey has consistently ranked near the top in terms of taxes paid going back to the 1970s. That is in large part because it also consistently ranks among the nation’s wealthiest and highest-cost states. In 2014, according to census figures, New Jersey had a median household income of about $72,000, second-highest in the nation, after Maryland. Looking for the lowest taxes? Go to Alaska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The Tax Foundation, a right-leaning tax policy research organization, ranked the states according to state and local taxes paid. On average, Americans paid about 10 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes in 2012, the foundation said. Since 1977, that percentage has moved within a narrow range of about 9.4 percent to 10.5 percent. Economists say that wealthier places tend to pay a higher share of their incomes in taxes, because affluent people are generally more willing to pay for a higher level of public services, such as better schools and roads. In addition, wealthier taxpayers are more likely to face capital gains taxes.

Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a progressive think tank, said states with a high cost of living, such as New Jersey, must pay public workers more. “If police make $35,000 in Wyoming and $80,000 in New Jersey, that’s reflected in higher taxes, because we want our cops and teachers to live near their jobs,” he said. State tax rankings, MacInnes said, do not “reflect very accurately how well states do in creating jobs and opportunities for their residents.” Wednesday’s ranking included a wide range of taxes, including property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco, individual income taxes, corporate income taxes and estate taxes.

Another Natural-Gas Power Plant for New Jersey, Courtesy of Genesis Power

NJspotlight.com 01/21/2016

New Jersey may be getting another natural-gas-fired power plant thanks to a project that would be built in Hillsborough Township, if it can obtain the necessary approvals. The $1 billion project would be big enough to supply power to 700,000 homes during summer months, according to a website on the proposed facility, the Amwell Energy Center. Genesis Power LLC is the developer of the project. The proposal is the latest natural-gas power plant suggested for New Jersey, which has encouraged their development in recent years under policies adopted by the Christie administration. Four other gas units have been built, planned, or are under construction in West Deptford, Woodbridge, Newark, and Sewaren.

With plentiful supplies of natural gas being extracted in neighboring Pennsylvania and other states, the fuel is growing in use, especially as older coal-fired plants are retired, unable to comply with tougher environmental regulations to curb emissions into the air. Although cleaner than coal, natural gas is not backed by some environmentalists, who fear the spate of investments in the sector could siphon off money that otherwise might be directed to renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects. “What we see happening is we are awash in natural-gas electricity,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. The abundance of the gas projects is a consequence of the expansion of natural gas pipelines in the state, he said. At least 15 pipeline projects are under consideration in New Jersey.

The Hillsborough project, expected be about 640 megawatts, is situated to take advantage of that boom. Its site is at the intersection of three Texas Eastern interstate gas pipelines, as well as high-voltage electric transmission lines. Having both reduces costly upgrades that would be necessary, but lessen their overall impact on the environment. The company said the project would generate 800 construction jobs during peak periods, and employ about 30 full-time workers during operation. The company has not applied yet for any permits from state and local agencies with oversight over the project. Amwell Energy Center, however, recently applied to the state Department of Environmental Protection to determine the location of wetlands on the 423-acre site, along Amwell and Hamilton Roads. The gas project will be located on 10 percent to 15 percent of the larger parcel, according to the website. This past June, Newark-based PSEG Power acquired a 755-megawatt natural-gas plant from Genesis Power in Prince George County in Maryland. The facility is expected to be operational in 2018.

PSEG Solar Puts Down $110 Million to Buy Two Solar-Energy Systems out West

NJspotlight.com 01/21/2016

PSEG Solar Source is spending close to $110 million to acquire two facilities in California and Utah. The latter, once it’s finished, will be twice as large as any of the other 14 grid-size solar systems in which the company holds an ownership stake the acquisitions will increase to more than 214 megawatts of capacity the company’s solar portfolio. PSEG Solar Source is a subsidiary of PSEG Power, which is part of the Newark-based Public Service Enterprise Group. The subsidiary develops, builds, owns, and operates large-scale solar facilities outside the franchise territory of Public Service Electric & Gas, which is also owned by PSEG. It has solar projects in 10 states, including one in New Jersey, the PSEG Mars Hackettstown Solar Garden, and a 2.2-megawatt facility adjacent to Mars Snackfood’s U.S. headquarters.

PSEG has invested heavily in promoting solar power, not only from PSEG Solar Source, but also from its regulated utility. Three years ago, PSE&G won approval to spend nearly a half a billion dollars on solar projects, including developing solar farms on landfills and brownfields, former manufacturing sites that were vacant. None of those projects come anywhere near the size of a proposed 62.7-megawatt solar facility in Millard County, Utah. The project is located on 415 acres about 110 miles south of Salt Lake City. The project has a 20-year power-purchase agreement with PacifiCorp and its commercial operations are expected to start at the end of the year. It is projected to produce enough power to serve about 46,000 homes in Utah. “We are excited to add such a large-scale solar installation to our fleet and extend our presence in Utah, providing safe, clean, and reliable energy for so many residents,’’ said Diana Drysdale, president of PSEG Solar Source.

The other facility acquired by the company is a 3.9-megawatt solar project under construction by juwi Inc., which is also building the California installation on the grounds of Livermore National Laboratory, about 45 miles east of San Francisco. It is scheduled to go into service in the first quarter of 2016 and also has a power purchase agreement of 20 years. Besides Utah, California, and New Jersey, PSEG Solar Source has facilities in Maryland, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Vermont.