NJ Spotlight finishes 2010 with more than 680 stories, photos, videos and other items. They have included coverage of a controversial new governor, analysis of decades-old problems like pension reform and new perspectives on energy and environmental policy. NJ Spotlight has aimed to provide thoughtful and thought-provoking journalism about critical issues facing our state. Here are just a few highlights that made news in 2010 and will likely continue to resonate well into 2011.
The Pension Crisis
Gov. Chris Christie has made no secret of his enmity to the pension plans of public service employees — and what he considers expensive, unwarranted benefits. The governor has the ear of the public, much of which appears to agree with his assessment. But will Christie go so far as to raid public-sector pension programs to help offset the state’s multibillion dollar budget shortfall?
Behind the Race to the Top Furor, Five Nameless Judges
New Jersey’s failed entry into the Race to the Top competition cost the state $399 million and the then-Commissioner of Education his job. Particularly frustrating was the fact that the state missed making it into the Top 10 by only three points.
By assessing the report cards of the five anonymous judges who ultimately decided New Jersey’s final score, NJ Spotlight built up a complex picture as to where the state succeeded and where it fell short — and where those three points might have gone.
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
PSE&G’s Largest Gas Customer Dodges Major Utility Fee
NJ Spotlight broke a story early in May that is still having repercussions more than a half year later. It disclosed that PSEG Power, one of the nation’s largest power suppliers, had avoided paying a special surcharge that virtually every other gas customer has to pay. By some accounts, avoiding the fee saved the Newark company more than $300 million.
The story triggered calls for an investigation by the Attorney General’s office and also led to ongoing proceedings at the Board of Public Utilities (BPU). Meanwhile, there is a bill pending that would allow other power suppliers to avoid paying the fee, a move that might lower customer electric bills and create a level playing field for generators.
Bill Would Subsidize New Power Plants, Lock Ratepayers into Long-Term Contracts
According to advocates, a bill moving through the legislature would lower consumer electric bills by facilitating construction of badly needed power plants. Foes deride it as a sweetheart deal for a developer in the home district of Senate President Stephen Sweeney. They argue it leaves ratepayers on the hook for up to $1 billion in payments with no assurance their utility bills will drop.
After moving on the fast track last fall, the bill has been held up by opponents who want to broaden its scope, a step they say would lower power bills. A key vote on the measure is expected in early January.
Opinion: Newark Needs More than Facebook Reform
For decades, Newark has been the regional hub for ambitious — mostly failed — reforms. It will take more than $100 million to fix what’s wrong.
NUMBER OF THE DAY
Number of the Day: 30%
A surprising look at New Jerseyans April 15.