Friday, September 25, 2009

The Debate that Never Happened

Republican mayoral candidate, Tom Aljian, has been seeking a debate with his democratic opponent, Fred Tagliarini. In all likelihood, Tagliarini will decline for the same reasons Aljian wants to debate. Tagliarini has far greater name recognition and deeper ties to the community than Aljian and a debate would raise Aljian’s profile. Tagliarini is also viewed as more qualified, given his long years of community service, his years on the planning board, and his present role as interim councilman; a debate would give Aljian the opportunity to demonstrate that he, too, is qualified.

However, the refusal to debate also betrays weakness. Unlike Aljian, Tagliarini has a record. As councilman, he supported the tax increase, supported the pension deferral, and supported taking “surplus” library funds. While on the planning board, he supported controversial development that fueled spending rather than provide tax relief. Lastly, Tagliarini, a lifelong Republican, chose to become a Democrat this year and thereby attach himself to all the scandals and unsavory individuals connected to the local Democratic Party.

Still, his personal relationships in town and reputation for integrity should help him make the argument – Don’t judge me by my friends. But will it be enough?

In 2005, Mayor Sobel narrowly won with 80 votes. In 2007, the Democrats won with an average 250-vote margin, notwithstanding that the Green Party candidates captured over 300 votes each.

Let’s assume the Green Party votes will split evenly among the two parties. Let’s also assume that the scandals, tax increases, coah and section 8 housing, unwanted development, and patronage games have disenfranchised a number of democratic supporters. In order to win, Tagliarini has only three options – 1) Increase democratic turnout 2) Attract republican voters 3) Discourage republican support. All three will be tough challenges.

I don’t believe Tagliarini will be able to outdo Councilman Vinci’s get-out-the-vote efforts. Especially not this year with Corzine trailing badly in the polls, Obama’s poll numbers dropping, and the simple fact that Tagliarini isn’t the political animal that Vinci is.

Regarding republican votes, the overwhelming majority of people who personally know Tagliarini will vote for him, including republicans. As for all the other republicans, not a chance. Tagliarini voted to raise taxes during a recession. There’s just no way to spin that.

Discouraging republican support may have been a possibility if there wasn’t a gubernatorial election. Republicans will turn out in the same numbers they did the last time, if not more.

There is one other possibility. Tagliarini could showcase his opponent’s shortcomings and characterize Aljian as unqualified for the mayoralty. But that would require a debate. Otherwise, Tagliarini’s only strategy is to hope the Republicans fail more than he does.
>>> Read more!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Aberdeen's Revised Budget Needs Revision

Click Here for the Revised 2009 Budget

Hear that? That’s the sound of one hand clapping. That’s about all the support I can muster for Aberdeen Township’s latest financial masterpiece.

Here are some excerpts from the township’s press release, that beacon of truth.

  • “The 2009 budget is $577,000, or 3.8%, below the $15.33 million allocated in 2008.”
  • “Thus, the average home in Aberdeen assessed at $280,000 will see their municipal taxes increase $52 per year to $1,100.”
  • “[T]he Mayor, Council and Administration worked diligently with the Matawan-Aberdeen Public Library and with the borough of Matawan to obtain a reimbursement of surplus funds, ultimately delivering about $184,000 in funds to the municipality”
  • “Savings from this strategic move [joining the Central Jersey Health Insurance Fund] should be realized beginning in the first quarter of 2010.”
  • “[W]e continued to invest in our future by working on major projects at the train station and Anchor Glass that, when real estate market conditions allow, will ultimately significantly increase our ratables and reduce our tax burden.”
  • “Mayor Sobel expressed his gratitude to management staff, all municipal workers and fellow council members for ‘delivering such an austere and responsible budget.’”
Well, well, well, where shall we begin? Let’s start with the $577,000 cut. On April, 7, 2009, the town council voted to defer pension payments of $457,898. On that day, the Dow closed at 8025. Today, the Dow is over 9700. We’ll have to fund any shortfall due to our deferment. That’s the risk when you borrow money without knowing how much you’ll have to pay back.

Next, let’s look at that $52 tax increase for the average “home”. The average “home” may be assessed at $280,000 but not the average “house”. A cursory review of house sales this year (which should approximate assessments) suggests the average house is assessed around $330,000. Toss in the deferred pension payments and the $184,000 in library funds, and you’re looking at close to $150 for the average house were it not for costly one-time gimmicks.

In other words, if this was an honest budget (i.e. not an election year), we’d be seeing a 25% tax increase since the last municipal election two years ago. Even by the town’s calculations, municipal taxes have increased 16% in two years.

Then there’s the “savings” from the new health insurance plan. I don’t know what the story is, but compare the original and revised budgets for health insurance. Somehow, between April and September, in just four months, the cost of insurance jumped $90,000 (8%). How did that happen?

Then there’s that great abyss the township refers to as “major projects”. Commercial developments would be fantastic for our community. So, uh, where are they? What exactly does “working on major projects” mean when we’ve been talking about development for over a decade? Does “working” mean more talking or can we expect to see a shovel in the ground that doesn’t involve a photo op.

As for Mayor Sobel’s comment that this is an “austere and responsible budget”, I’d find that statement far more convincing if, during this period of great austerity, some of the Democratic Party’s fat cats were taking it on the chin with the rest of us.

There’s our township attorney, who’s getting a $40,000 bump, over a 30% increase from last year. (Sheet 13) And our road improvement program (read CME) remains fully funded. (Sheet 40c) (Correction: The increase for the attorney is likely overstated since some of that increase may go to other line items in the budget.)

As for “responsible”, that’s not the word I’d use when the township’s assets drop one-third in two years. (Sheet 39)

Meanwhile, the town council refuses to adopt a pay-to-play ordinance or introduce competitive bidding for professional services.

Kudos to Councilman Perry for voting against the budget. Unfortunately, we won’t know why for some time. The township hasn’t published council meeting minutes since January. Maybe that’s another phantom savings from the “austere and responsible budget”.

Still, the revised budget spends $60,000 less than the original budget. (Sheet 11) You can almost hear the applause.
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Have You Seen April Goodwin?

Note: Thank God, April has been found.

Reprinted from the Asbury Park Press

Police are asking for the public's help in their search for a 16-year-old girl who has been missing since Sept. 6.

Police said they believe April Goodwin is a runaway.

Goodwin left her Ivy Way home on the morning of Sept. 6, and phone and Internet records indicate she may have been heading to the Boston, Mass., or Monticello, N.Y. areas, or to New York City, according to police.

Family members told police she may have entered a small blue pickup truck driven by a black man.

Goodwin is about 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighs about 150 pounds, and has a light brown complexion and black hair that was recently highlighted with red streaks.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Detective Manny Carabel at 732-566-2054 ext. 206. >>> Read more!

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Remember 9/11

My (now) wife, Jennifer, had just returned the prior night from California. She was tired and missed me so she decided to call in sick that day, her first sick day in years. Jennifer worked for a small insurance agency on Vesey St., across the street from the World Trade Center. She usually walked to work from her apartment on South Street, near the Fulton Fish Market, and would arrive about 8:30 AM. Instead, I arrived from Brooklyn to spend the day with her.

That morning, her mom called to say a plane had just crashed into one of the towers. We assumed it was some tourist plane, a tragic but not cataclysmic event. At first, we didn’t even bother to turn on the TV. Then we got another call. There was a second plane.

On TV, we could see the fires, the constant replays of the second plane crashing headlong into the towers. Men and women holding hands as they leapt from a hundred floors high into the abyss.

But it was Manhattan and I had to move my car before I got ticketed. As I got to my vehicle, South Street was being shut down by a stream of police cars and emergency vehicles. A cop yelled at me to move my car and then drove toward what later became known as Ground Zero.

I found a spot in front of Jennifer’s building. As I got out, I witnessed the beginning of an endless stream of people just walking away from Ground Zero. I have no idea if they had any idea where they were going. Not the Brooklyn Bridge, which they just passed under. Maybe the Williamsburg Bridge? Or maybe they were just following the East River to nowhere in particular.

I asked a young lady if she was coming from the Twin Towers. She responded they’re no longer the twin towers. There’s only one tower. I didn’t understand what she was talking about so she pointed over her shoulder to the skyline. Sure enough, in the smoke and haze, there was only one tower standing. It looked awkward, unbalanced, like it didn’t belong and couldn’t last.

I returned to the apartment, told Jennifer, who was trying to contact her sister on Greenwich St., about the wandering masses, and that I was going to try to help.

In my car, I had a bunch of recently purchased office supplies, including a case of Poland Spring bottled water. At this point, most of the people on the street were covered in white cake, debris from Tower Two. I offered them whatever I had. Other residents from the apartments did the same, as did the local grocery store owner.

After I emptied my car, I rejoined Jennifer and watched Tower One collapse on TV. Our apartment had RCN so we still had television and telephone service, though our cell phones went dead.

We gathered with friends and neighbors on South Street, offering our help to anybody willing to accept. Most did not.

We later heard about the other planes, the one that hit the Pentagon, and Flight 93 where the passengers fought back.

That night and the next day there was back to back coverage in every news media imaginable. The carnage, the heroism, and the sacrifice. My wife’s cousin is married to a firefighter. Her roommate was a police officer. We heard the stories. We saw the pictures. And we were there.

The firefighters, police officers, and emergency personnel who lost their lives trying to save others. The workers who could have been saved but were instructed to stay at their desks. The hospitals that were ready for the flood of people who never arrived because few survived. The extraordinary devastation. And the TV images of Palestinians dancing in the streets and handing candy to children.

The day after 9/11, President Bush fingered a terrorist group I had never known but will never forget – Al Qaeda. Our country was a nation at war with militant Islamic Fundamentalists.

Every time I drive along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in Brooklyn Heights, I look at the Manhattan Skyline and try to remember exactly where the towers once stood. I cannot.

But I will always remember 9/11 and I will tell the story to my children.
>>> Read more!

The Republican Response

Dear Aberdeener:

As the Republican candidate for Mayor, thank you for the opportunity to respond to your open questions regarding the state of our town. As many of your posters have noted, the Republican candidates, Anthony Garaguso, Sheilah Balavram and Mike Vail and I, have been out walking door to door in our community for the past two months, talking to our neighbors and listening, - in fact, a lot of listening. In case there is any question – ABERDEEN – WE HEAR YOU LOUD AND CLEAR! You had had enough and want change and accountability from your local officials.

You told us you want transparent government – not back room dealing.
You told us you want real financial control – not gimmicks and giveaways.
You told us you want real tax stability – not election year trickery.
You told us you want a vision and goal to make Aberdeen a community we can be proud of – not a place where the select few get the perks.

The same party has been in control for over a decade. In 2007, in return for your vote, they promised more accountability and a pay to play ordinance. Come 2009 – nothing. In 2007 they promised you senior housing – Come 2009 – nothing. In 2007 they promised you a revitalized beachfront - Come 2009 – nothing.

I will not promise you things I can not deliver, but I will pledge to you that if I am elected:

• First, a pay to play ordinance will be introduced for a vote before July 1, 2010 and I will vote in favor of that ordinance;

• Second, I will not seek election to more than two terms. New blood and new ideas are vital to good governance and allowing perpetual tenure of elected officials leads to a mentality of corruption and entitlement;

• Third, any monies paid by Aberdeen Township to anyone will be posted online for public scrutiny and review and all matters of public concern will be open and transparent. All meetings, public or private, attended by me as Mayor will be posted for public review. Lastly, I will make myself available on a weekly basis to discuss any matters of concern with any resident during evenings and weekends;

• Fourth, I will convene a series of public meeting in ALL areas of our community to map out our strategic vision, priorities and an achievable set of long range goals that we, as a community, hope to reach. Without public input and agreement on our goals and priorities, we merely end up floating where the tide takes us. Conversely, if we all know where we are going and we all row a little, together we can achieve great things;

• Fifth, I will actively seek out ways to ensure our seniors can remain in their homes and vibrant members of the community via volunteerism or other community based programs;

• Sixth; I will not accept any contribution from any developer who has business in Aberdeen, nor will I place a developer or their cronies in official positions such as the COAH mediation team as the present council did. Our town is not for sale to developers. Development must be balanced to ensure our local resources are properly preserved;

• Seventh; when a financial problem faces the community, I will not take the quick fix for the sake of my re-election. This year, instead of facing the town’s distressing financial situation head on, Mr. Tagliarini and the Council voted to side step the issue by taking money from the library and not making payments into the pension fund. Unfortunately, taking library money is a one time fix and the deferral of the pension payments means the money will have to be paid back in the future, leaving next years budget in the red before the year even starts. I pledge to face all issues which come before me as Mayor with the best interest of the Township as my first and only concern. If that means it will cause me a political problem in the future – so be it;

• Eighth; Aberdeen expends far more money on engineering, legal and professional services than other comparably sized communities in Monmouth County. Why – because these are the very people who fund the current party in power. In return for the volume of work they are given by the Council, they contribute handsomely to the Aberdeen Democratic Party. In 2007, the Democratic Party expended over $50,000 to win the election. Guess where the money came from. I pledge to thoroughly investigate the excessive amount paid to these professional consultants and further promise that the all future professional contracts will go to the lowest responsible professional service provider – not the best donor to the party;

The residents of Aberdeen deserve to know where the candidates stand on these issues and many others discussed on this blog. To that end, I have invited Mr. Tagliarini to join me in an open public forum in October to fully discuss and debate these issues. Click here to link to that letter. All of the glossy fliers, slick political mailers and campaign money mean nothing if the residents do not know where their candidates stand on the issues. I certainly hope Mr. Tagliarini agrees join me to have an open and frank discussion about the issues facing our community. I ask all members of the Aberdeen community to join us, question us and demand answers.

In the end, I ask for your vote because Aberdeen deserves better than we have received in the past decade. But, in addition to your vote, I also ask for your involvement. I believe it is only by each of us contributing in some small part that we will be able to build a community in which we all take great pride. Finally, if you should honor me with your vote, I must ask that you tell me your concerns about the state of our community. I fully expect residents to question me frequently on any matter of public concern and demand I fully and directly answers questions. After placing your trust in me with your vote, you deserve no less. Should anyone wish to contact me, my e-mail address is


Tom Aljian
Republican Candidate for Aberdeen Township Mayor

>>> Read more!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Debate in Healthcare Reform

President Ronald Reagan once said “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.” Those words come to mind when I think about the proposed healthcare reform bill, HR 3200.

Last night, President Obama once again delivered a beautifully crafted speech but much of what he said, to be generous, I believe is improbable. I’ve detailed my concerns and I’d be happy if someone could allay my fears.

Nationalization of Healthcare
Last night, President Obama proclaimed that the public option would simply be one option among many in a healthcare exchange; that only 5% of the public was expected to enroll. Furthermore, the public option would be subject to the same rules as all Qualified Health Benefits Plans (QHBP) and would have to be self-financed, following an initial startup fund of $2 billion. SEC. 222. PREMIUMS AND FINANCING (1B) requires premiums be set “at a level sufficient to fully finance the costs of” benefits plans and administrative overhead.

Weren’t social security, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Amtrak, and the post office supposed to be self-sufficient? Are politicians really going to allow the government to charge market rates for healthcare? Is there any government sponsored organization that serves a large portion of the public and doesn’t receive subsidies, direct or indirect (i.e. loan guarantees)?

Will it be a true level playing field? The government can dictate reimbursement rates that the private market cannot. The public option has no enforcement mechanism to meet private industry’s accounting standards and obligations. The public option can afford to run at a loss. A private company cannot.

President Obama has admitted he is a “proponent of single-payer universal healthcare coverage,” i.e. nationalization. Won’t he and his congressional allies be sorely tempted to advance the public option by gaming the system? Personally, I would not invest in a health insurance company competing directly against the government.

National Debt
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the costs of the proposed legislation will escalate to $200 billion per year by 2019 or about $1,300 per worker plus interest. That’s on top of a projected $9 trillion deficit, or about $60,000 per worker. And that’s assuming that illegal aliens won’t be covered, that the public option plan won’t operate at a debt, and that cutting a consumer’s cost for healthcare won’t increase his demand. How are we going to pay for everything?

These projections are also assuming that we only insure two-thirds of the uninsured. Insuring the last third, another 17 million people, could easily add another $100 billion a year to the deficit.

Quality of Care
President Obama insists that the proposal won’t ration or diminish the level of care we receive. Yet, he projects that by 2019, we’ll save $88 billion a year in Medicare and Medicaid through future “efficiencies”. Given the government’s track record, what if those savings don’t materialize? What if costs are above projections? How are we going to restrain costs without reducing care? Can we take money away from doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies without diminishing care?

Keeping My Insurance
President Obama claims that I can keep my current plan. I get my insurance through my spouse’s employer. Under HR 3200, that plan would have to be a Qualified Health Benefits Plan (QHBP) whose standards would be set by a Health Choices Commissioner.

My fear is that, in time, those standards would become too burdensome for my wife’s employer and it would stop providing coverage. Even if our coverage plan did qualify, her employer would have a powerful financial incentive to drop us.

Under the current proposal, my wife’s employer could either cover her healthcare or pay 8% of payroll. (SEC. 313. EMPLOYER CONTRIBUTIONS IN LIEU OF COVERAGE) 8% of payroll is far less than what her company is currently paying and it would be hard to justify to Wall St. paying millions for healthcare if the employees had an affordable alternative.

President Obama claimed the bill would not cover illegal aliens. He was referring to SEC. 246. NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS, which states “Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.”

The section is specifically referencing Subtitle C—Individual Affordability Credits. That means illegal aliens would NOT be able to get subsidies, but they WOULD be able to purchase the public option. Since pre-conditions would not be a barrier, it would be a mighty incentive for the ill to seek treatment in the United States.

Notice the clause references “lawfully present” rather than the customary term “U.S. citizens or permanent residents”. Those who are here lawfully, such as students or people on work visas, would be entitled to subsidized care. Unfortunately, the bill does not provide any enforcement mechanism to distinguish between those who are here legally and those who are not. The IRS provides Taxpayer Identification Numbers to aliens both legal and illegal. Since the government will need to use taxpayer ID numbers for aliens “lawfully present”, I’m afraid the government won’t distinguish between those who are present lawfully and unlawfully.

Another concern is that President Obama supports “a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.” In other words, he supports changing an illegal alien’s status to “lawfully present”, which would trigger the subsidies.

Another possibility is the courts could simply nullify the clause. If the government can find one federal judge to rule that healthcare is a “right”, then the government could choose to abide by the ruling, not appeal, and provide subsidies to illegal aliens. In Pyler V. Doe, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment requires schools to provide the same services to illegal aliens. Surely, there’s one federal judge who would use that as a basis to expand healthcare coverage.

Lastly, nobody is suggesting that illegal aliens would be barred from purchasing the public option. If the public option operates at a deficit (which I believe it will), then that’s a de facto subsidy.

If the illegal aliens presently in the country are covered, now or in the future, cost projections would explode.

During the presidential campaign, government workers illegally released damaging information on Joe the Plumber to discredit a private citizen who had unwittingly entered the political arena. SEC. 241. AVAILABILITY THROUGH HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGE.- (d) ACCESS TO DATA – allows the Health Choices Commissioner to access your tax records if you seek “affordable credits”. Why expand access to tax records rather than have the treasury department make the determination?

The president declared that the program would not fund abortions. Actually, the bill does not proscribe funding abortions but does require the public option to conform with “individual rights and remedies under State laws”. (SEC. 151. RELATION TO OTHER REQUIREMENTS. (b) COVERAGE OFFERED THROUGH EXCHANGE) So, yes, there will likely be government-funded abortions. Personally, I don’t consider abortion equal to murder but I’m sure that those who do would not want their taxes to cover the procedure.

Other Options
It’s also troubling that a host of simpler, less costly, and less intrusive options are not being considered. Selling insurance across state lines, tort reform, catastrophic-only plans, expanding health savings accounts, and healthcare tax credits for the needy are off the table. Why?

Tennessee tried universal coverage and failed. Massachusetts tried universal coverage and failed. Yet, President Obama says this is change we can believe in. In ancient times, the Romans would test their bridges by forcing the master builders to stand under them while large loads crossed overhead. When our government reaches that level of accountability, I’ll believe. Till then, I’ll heed President Reagan’s warning. I support reforming healthcare but I do not support this bill.
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Aberdeen’s Election Issues

Normally, election issues are defined by the candidates. No such luck, here. Labor Day has passed and the parties’ platforms remain a mystery. So, at the risk of being called elitist and divisive, the following are my concerns regarding Aberdeen’s council elections.

Pay-to-Play, Inside Deals, and Cronyism
These pages have detailed extensively the craziness that passes for business-as-usual in Aberdeen. Doling hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in no-bid contracts to the biggest political contributors. Allowing builders to overdevelop properties while giving them huge tax breaks. Buying votes and loyalty through unsavory backroom deals. And the list goes on and on.

The most recent example of showmanship was the town’s draft pay-to-play ordinance introduced last January and then left to die on the vine. We, the citizens, have a right to expect our elected representatives to act in our interests, not theirs.

My question is – What will you do as a councilman to gain the people’s confidence that you will faithfully, impartially, and justly perform all the duties of the office to the best of your ability?

Smart Development
For the past decade, Aberdeen has been working on four major property developments – Aberdeen Forge, Transit Village, Anchor Glass, and senior housing on Church St.

To date, we haven’t broken ground on a single major development in the past decade, unless you count the condos built around town.

Naturally, the residents prefer commercial development that doesn’t strain our schools or dramatically raise our COAH obligations.

My question is – How will you promote smart land development?

Aberdeen is among the highest taxed municipalities in the county. Although municipal taxes are a minor component of overall property taxes, the township is the only public body that directly represents our interests.

My question is – How will you reduce our taxes?

Campaign promises have a dubious reputation. As an example, immediately prior to the 2005 council elections, the township newsletter quoted Councilwoman Gumbs (who was campaigning for her fellow Democrats) claimed the senior housing development would be completed by early 2007, “if all goes according to plan”. Then, prior to the 2007 elections, the township claimed a sales trailer would be operating on the site. Well, the site's still empty.

In 2007, the township crowed there was no tax increase. Then 2008 saw the largest tax increase in the township’s history. The 2007 town council also promoted plans to develop the beachfront, which never happened.

My Question is - Why should we trust you?

An election is a competition. Candidates have to play offense and defense. Whoever answers best wins my vote.
>>> Read more!