PLENARY RELEASES LIST OF PENNSYLVANIA REPLACEMENT PROJECTS FOR 2016

A list of at least 263 bridge replacement projects that will be put out for bid in 2016 under Pennsylvania’s Rapid Bridge Replacement Project was published Jan. 22.

This number represents slightly less than half of the 558 mostly rural bridges throughout the state that will be replaced over three years through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s public-private partnership with Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners. Plenary is responsible for financing, designing, building and maintaining the bridges for 25 years. The consortium is funding the construction upfront and will be paid in six installments once it meets specified project benchmarks.

From early June 2015 — when the project began — to the end of December, nearly 50 bridges have been replaced and 80 contracts have been awarded, some of which are still underway, Plenary reported in its winter 2015 newsletter. Bridges in all of the state’s 58 counties are scheduled for construction in 2016, up from 16 counties in 2015. The largest number of projects will be conducted in Allegheny County with 33, followed by Washington County with 15 and Lancaster County with 14.

The P3 has contributed significantly to the state’s employment. Plenary alone has nearly 250 employees working on the project, hundreds more are working for 20 subcontractors and 120 companies are involved in other aspects of the work, ranging from engineering design, excavation, paving and landscaping to ironwork, trucking and utility work. As a result “a large amount of the project’s $899 million costs will remain … in Pennsylvania,” explained Plenary.

The consortium has published a schedule of upcoming meetings for potential bidders on its website. Topics to be discussed include the bid letting process, schedules, bridge locations, materials responsibility and relevant documents.

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Hospitals avoid new local-tax burden-Energy and Environment Bills Signed Into Law

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bipartisan proposal that would have required nonprofit hospitals to pay new fees to municipal governments to help cover the cost of police, fire, and other local services in exchange for maintaining the property-tax exemption they have long enjoyed. The bill was prompted by a landmark state tax-court ruling in 2014 that successfully challenged the property-tax exemption enjoyed by nonprofit Morristown Medical Center, given that it also operates several for-profit services at the same Morris County site.

The pocket veto encourages uncertainty where the bill could have secured the legal future of hospitals. Legislators intended their efforts to avoid similar lawsuits around the state, but with the veto the state may see an untimely increase in litigation.

The move was more of a disappointment than a surprise, legislators said.

Energy and Environment Bills Signed Into Law

S-2617/A-3944 (Cardinale/Garcia, McKeon, Auth, Eustace, Pinkin) – Requires DEP to adopt regulations to allow cultivation of commercial shellfish species in certain coastal and inner harbor waters for research, educational, or restoration purposes; requires community engagement process for revision thereof

S-2880/A-4704 (Lesniak, T. Kean/Diegnan, Wisniewski) – Provides up to $25 million in tax credits under Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant Program for certain infrastructure at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

S-3321/A-4927 (Smith, Van Drew, Bateman/Spencer, Rumana) – Authorizes DEP to require public access to waterfront and adjacent shoreline as condition of waterfront development approvals and CAFRA permits

A-1726wGR/S-308 (Eustace, Lagana, Mosquera, Vainieri Huttle, Wimberly/Gordon) – Amends “Flood Hazard Area Control Act” to require DEP to take certain actions concerning delineations of flood hazard areas and floodplains

A-1812/S-2717 (Mosquera, Mazzeo, Andrzejczak/Cruz-Perez, Oroho, Jones) – Extends protections of the new vehicle “lemon law” to new farm tractors purchased or leased in New Jersey

A-1958/S-1848 (Allen, Van Drew) – Concerns exemptions from permits for certain agricultural activities under “Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act”

A-2839/S-2620 (Burzichelli, Space, Phoebus/Oroho, Turner) – “New Jersey Rural Microenterprise Act”

A-3257wGR/S-2125 (Andrzejczak, Mazzeo, Burzichelli/Van Drew) – Provides that determination by county agriculture development board or State Agriculture Development Committee as to what qualifies as farm-based recreational activity in pinelands protection area is binding on Pinelands Commission

A-3850/S-2467 (DeAngelo, Eustace, Mazzeo, Pintor Marin, Benson/Turner, Singer) – Requires BPU to establish procedures allowing electric power and gas supplier customers to switch energy suppliers

Energy and Environment Bills  pocket vetoed

S-564/A-4186 (Smith, Bateman/Eustace, McKeon, Spencer, Benson) – Establishes “Solar Roof Installation Warranty Program” in EDA and transfers $2 million from societal benefits charge to initially fund program

S-1414/A-2405 (Smith, Bateman/Eustace, Benson, Johnson) – Concerns low emission and zero emission vehicles; establishes Clean Vehicle Task Force

SCS for S-1420/ACS for A-1603 (Beach, Whelan, Smith, Sweeney, Bateman, Thompson/Spencer, Eustace, Quijano, Wimberly) – Requires paint producers to implement or participate in paint stewardship program

S-2491/A-4069 (Smith/Danielsen, Pinkin, Benson) – Establishes position of State Oceanographer

S-2711/A-4128 (Smith, Whelan/Mazzeo, DeAngelo, Spencer, Singleton, McKeon, Danielsen, Johnson) –Permits BPU to approve qualified wind energy project; requires BPU to provide application periods for those projects

S-2769/AS for ACS for A-4197, 4206 (Smith, Bateman/Andrzejczak, McKeon, Spencer, Pintor Marin, Dancer, Vainieri Huttle) – Implements 2014 constitutional dedication of CBT revenues for certain environmental purposes; revises State’s open space, farmland, and historic preservation programs

S-3416/A-4808 (Lesniak, Sarlo/Eustace, Gusciora) – Prohibits possession, transport, import, export, processing, sale, or shipment of parts and products of certain animal species threatened with extinction

A-2586/S-1796 (DeAngelo, Quijano, Benson/Greenstein) – Establishes “Energy Infrastructure Study Commission”

A-4384/S-3145 (DeAngelo, Pintor Marin, Danielsen, Schaer, Johnson/Whelan) – Requires BPU to render decision on case within 12 months of final public hearing or hold another public hearing prior to deciding case

A-4763/SS for SCS for S-2973 (McKeon, Spencer, Pinkin/Smith, Bateman, Greenstein, Codey) – Revises “Electronic Waste Management Act”

A-4773/S-3146 (Eustace, Garcia, Gusciora/Lesniak) – Prohibits possession and transport of parts and products of certain animals at PANYNJ airports and port facilities

 

Atlantic City Rescue Bills Move Closer To Law

Amended versions of three New Jersey bills aiming to stabilize Atlantic City’s faltering economy received final Senate approval Thursday, sealing their passage in both houses of the Legislature. The anchor of the proposal, A3981, calls for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan to stabilize the town’s fiscal health. A3984 would reallocate a casino tax that’s being used for redevelopment projects to help the city pay debt service on municipal bonds, and A3985 would drop a five-year obligation to use casino revenue for marketing purposes so those funds can be redirected to the city coffers.

Lawmakers called the legislation a step toward fiscal recovery for the shore town, which lost four of its 12 casinos to bankruptcies or closures in the past two years and faces a spate of tax appeals settled in casinos’ favor. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, called on Gov. Chris Christie, who conditionally vetoed the bills in November, to sign the modified versions into law immediately.

Gov. Chris Christie had conditionally vetoed the bills in November, commending the Legislature for its efforts to stabilize the city but warning that certain provisions simply shifted resources to the city without demanding accountability on the part of those who would receive the funds or benefit from the “unique tax payment arrangements.”

The governor amended the 3981 bill to eliminate the creation of a PILOT council comprised of casino owners and stipulated that the Local Finance Board, in conjunction with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, would determine the amount of the PILOT payments. A provision requiring casino owners to sign agreements with the city to make the payments was also added. Under the conditional veto, the other two bills would only go into effect upon the passage of A3981.

The legislation was part of a five-bill package introduced in December 2014. In November, Christie signed into law another part of the package, A3983, that would provide additional state money to the city’s struggling public schools, but gave absolute veto to A3982, which would have required casinos to provide proof they are providing “suitable” health care and retirement benefits to employees.

The Senate gave 329-6 passage to A3981, 32-4 passage to A3984 and 36-1 approval to A3985. Each bill was sponsored by Mazzeo, Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, D-Cumberland.

The legislation’s other supporters included Assemblyman Paul D. Moriarty, D-Gloucester, who co-sponsored d A3981 and A3984; Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May County, who sponsored A3985 and A3981; and Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, D-Passaic, who sponsored A3984 and A3985.

Atlantic City’s financial situation has been dire for some time. Twelve casinos made up 70 percent of annual property taxes in Atlantic City as of 2013, but competition from surrounding states and other factors have left the city with eight operating casinos and a tax base that dropped from $20.5 billion in 2010 to $7.3 billion. Christie in January 2015 tapped an emergency manager for the city, after which Moody’s Investors Service slashed the municipality’s bond rating.

New Jersey Legislative Leadership Split Over Revenue Sources for Transportation Trust Fund

New Jersey is already one the nation’s most indebted states, ranking third behind only California and New York when it comes to net tax-supported debt, according to the latest version of the annual state debt report, which was released last year. And borrowing has gone up by roughly 50 percent in just the past decade.

Legislative leaders, nevertheless,  say they are close to reaching final agreement on a package whose key components will include as much as $2 billion in combined annual revenue from borrowing and a likely increase in state fuel taxes to support transportation funding. New Jersey needs a new plan for funding transportation projects in place by the middle of 2016.

Still Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-Hudson)  disagree over how much money should come from borrowing, how much from ‘pay as you go’ sources like higher taxes at the gas pump. In fact, determining exactly what share of the new funds should be generated from borrowing versus more readily available sources like taxes — what’s known as “pay-go” in public-finance circles — may well be the final sticking point.

“We have to start being mindful of that,” Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-Hudson) said yesterday in an interview with NJ Spotlight. Prieto said he’s been advocating for a robust pay-go component in the next long-term transportation-spending plan to ease the heavy reliance on borrowing. (Credit AP).

“It’s got to be a good balance,” he said. “I think that’s the key.” (Credit AP).

But Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) maintains that not all borrowing is bad.

That’s especially true when the project being funded is going to last for several decades, like a new bridge, he explained to observers in Trenton on Monday .

The problem with prior state transportation-spending plans is not that they used borrowing, but abused best borrowing practices, Sweeney said. For example, rather than hike the gas tax, which hasn’t been increased in more than two decades, former Gov. Jon Corzine and others simply refinanced debt for longer terms, adding more costs in the long run.

“What got screwed up here is they kept refinancing the money,” he said. (Credit AP).

Sweeney also talked about striking “a balance” between borrowing and pay-go financing, saying once he and Prieto can reach an agreement on that issue, many others, including how much state gas taxes will need to be increased to fund the new plan, should be resolved.

The outcome of their deliberations will be important for New Jersey motorists who are concerned about a gas-tax increase since every dollar that isn’t raised for new transportation projects from borrowing will likely need to be generated at the pump. Likewise, for state taxpayers concerned about the bottom line, taking on too much new borrowing could threaten New Jersey’s already weakend bond rating, thus adding to the costs the state incurs whenever it needs to generate revenue from bond sales.

Finding the right balance between pay-go and borrowing, according to transportation experts, is also an important factor for the government officials who are tasked on a daily basis with managing the projects funded by the state.

Right now, the state is relying heavily on revenue generated by taxes levied on gasoline purchases and the gross receipts of refineries and distributors to pay for transportation projects and to generate federal matching funds. Together, those two taxes total 14.5 cents for every gallon purchased. Funds from state highway tolls and the Port Authority have also been used in recent years to subsidize the trust fund.

But thanks to the heavy amount of borrowing for transportation that’s occurred in past years, all of the revenue that’s being raised by the gas taxes will have to be used to pay down the trust fund’s significant debt as of July 1, leaving no cash for new projects unless there’s an increase.

Christie authored the state’s latest long-term transportation-spending scheme, a five-year plan that will expire this year at the end of June. And when Christie rolled out that initiative back in 2011, he said it would allow for nearly $2 billion of the overall $8 billion in spending over the five-year term to be financed with pay-go revenue out of the annual state budget.

Doing so would also mean other states would be “looking at New Jersey as the model for restoring a state to fiscal health,” he said at the time.

But Christie never funded the broader pay-go goals that were included in his original transportation-spending plan, except for an initial $76 million contribution in the first year. To make it through the final year of his plan this year, when pay-go financing would have totaled more than $600 million, Christie’s administration is instead relying on draining of $281 million in cash balances, the repayment of a $241.5 million loan to New Jersey Transit, and another $627 million in new borrowing.

With Governor Christie now focusing much of his time in recent months on his bid for the White House, this time the legislative leaders have taken it upon themselves to craft the next transportation-spending plan. Nevertheless, Sweeney and Prieto know that any agreement they reach can hardly be considered a done deal. The proposal will ultimately go to Gov. Chris Christie, who has final say. Both legislative leaders say they also have to keep in mind that Christie is not likely to look favorably upon a big tax-hike proposal in the middle of a GOP presidential primary.

New Jersey Legislation & Regulation Watch For 2016

New Jersey’s weakened gaming industry, workforce pressures and vulnerable environment have driven legislative developments in recent months, giving interested folks plenty of pending bills to watch in 2016.

Atlantic City, the state’s only constitutionally-allowed gaming revenue resource, has suffered  from casino bankruptcies, closures and competition, driving lawmakers to consider tax incentives that would boost the resort town, along with a proposal to geographically expand the market share of casinos.

Casino employees, some of whom have gone on strike in the past year, represent just one industry characterized by a labor pool that wants a better work-life balance. Lawmakers have heeded their calls with legislation that has drawn objections from a recession weary business sector still struggling to cope with ongoing economic uncertainty.

On the natural resources front, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed changes to rules governing the state’s flood hazard areas have riled conservationists who fear the updates lessen protections and pander to developers.

Here’s a summary of critical legislation and regulation that could affect significant  New Jersey State changes in 2016:

Atlantic City Fiscal Recovery Package

Pinning their hopes on reviving Atlantic City, lawmakers are continuing to push a financial incentive package spearheaded by Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Sen. Jim Whalen, D-Atlantic.

Three of the bills have passed both houses of the Legislature as of the Assembly’s Dec. 17 voting session and are awaiting Gov. Chris Christie’s signature. The anchor of the proposal, A3981, calls for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan to stabilize the town’s fiscal health.  A3984 would reallocate a casino tax that’s being used for redevelopment projects to help the city pay debt service on municipal bonds, and A3985 would drop a five-year obligation to use casino revenue for marketing purposes so those funds can be redirected to the city.

In November, Christie signed into law another part of the package, A3983, that would provide additional state money to the city’s struggling public schools, but implemented an  absolute veto to A3982, that would have required casinos to provide proof they are providing “suitable” health care and retirement benefits to employees.

Constitutional Amendment to Expand Gambling

Looking beyond Atlantic City, lawmakers are considering  advisiability of  casinos in the Meadowlands and the Monmouth Park racetrack.  Legislation would reverse the state’s constitutional restriction, and the topic could be left up to voters.

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Dec. 17 approved Sweeney’s SCR185, that would pose the question of non-Atlantic City gaming in a public referendum next November, while the Assembly passed a twin version of the bill on to that house’s Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee.

The legislation would make for a “potentially huge” expansion of the New Jersey’s gaming industry, although the passage of a constitutional amendment is difficult to predict given the expected high turnout due to the presidential election.

Supporting New Jersey Families Act

Casino employees and the state’s labor force in general also stand to get a boost from pending legislation aiming to improve work-life balance and increase paid time off. Along with legislation that would help displaced casino workers prepare to re-enter the workplace, lawmakers are also considering a family-geared legislation package that was unveiled in May by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen. The Supporting New Jersey Families Act, which has yet to undergo committee review, would require employers in all industries to provide shift workers with predictable schedules and time off to attend school activities, expand state employee family leave privileges and establish a commission to do a gender pay disparity study. The bills have twin legislation in the Assembly.

The first prong of Weinberg’s package, the Schedules that Work Act, S2933, provides a private right of action for employees seeking to change their work schedules.

Paid Sick Leave

Among the most controversial legislatative actions are those advocating for employees is the proposed Paid Sick Leave Law, S785 and A2354, under which workers would get the better of five to nine sick days or more generous packages provided under local laws.

The Senate bill, also sponsored by Weinberg, got full approval in Dec. 17, while the Assembly version is poised for a second reading by the chamber. That bill counts Assembly members Pamela R. Lampitt, D-Camden, Shavonda E. Sumter, D-Passaic, Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, Jerry Green, D-Passaic, and Benjie E. Wimberly, D-Bergen-Passaic as primary sponsors.

During a Senate committee hearing in June, the legislation was hailed by unions, think tanks and groups such as the New Jersey Working Families Alliance. Business-centered organizations, such as the New Jersey Farm Bureau and the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, criticized  the administrative and expense ramifications.

Given New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s previous opposition to mandated sick leave, the future of the legislation remains uncertain, since in the aggregate, the  legislative proposals would create new administrative burdens on employers, including smaller businesses and start-ups, and increase the risk of litigation as traditional employer prerogatives are legislatively  prescribed.

Flood Hazard Area Rules

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s planned changes to flood hazard area rules, announced in June drew not only a backlash from environmentalists but twin bills proposed explicitly to overturn the changes. They are presently pending public comment.

Among the biggest changes in store is the increase in the amount of vegetation in riparian zones — where regulated water meets land — that can be disturbed for construction, and the extension of that allowed disturbance to building projects that would normally require a hardship exemption.

Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, served as a primary sponsor of SCR180 that received full Senate approval in October and is pending before the Assembly. Identical legislation, ACR249, was introduced in November by Assemblyman John F. McKeon, D-Morris, and Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, D-Essex. Both bills have been advanced by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.

These rules affect virtually all development in all sectors across the state, and also serve as one of the state’s few points of leverage over federally authorized projects, like pipelines and utility facilitiesThese rules also dictate rebuilding and resiliency policy in and near flood prone areas. The impact would reach beyond the shore to industrial sites, many in low-lying areas along New Jersey Rivers.

Where the state goes on these issue affects not only environmental quality but also the value of properties, and the costs and likelihood of future business expansion.