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Infrastructure in the News 10.10.16

NATIONAL NEWS

 

Washington Post Editorial: More people are dying on the road. Here’s how to stop it.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/more-people-are-dying-on-the-road-heres-how-to-stop-it/2016/10/07/a5dbd61e-8c01-11e6-bff0-d53f592f176e_story.html?utm_term=.0645efe02fc9

MORE PEOPLE are dying on the road — a lot more. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced this week that road fatalities spiked 10.4 percent in the first half of the year, representing a six-month death toll of 17,775. Though the government did not explain what is driving the increase, one thing is clear: Most of these deaths are preventable. Passing the right laws, installing smarter infrastructure and deploying new technology would save many lives.

 

Washington Post: New data on highway deaths suggest that Congress needs to revisit speed limits, advocates say

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/tripping/wp/2016/10/07/new-data-on-highway-deaths-suggest-that-congress-needs-to-revisit-speed-limits-advocates-say/

The number of people dying on the nation’s highways is climbing, and it’s climbing at an alarming rate that can’t be explained entirely by a healthier economy.

 

Wall Street Journal: Trucking Companies Slashed Jobs in September (full article follows Morning Transportation)

http://www.wsj.com/articles/trucking-companies-slashed-jobs-in-september-1475860318

Trucking companies cut 3,600 jobs in September, ending a streak of job gains over the summer amid reports of modest growth in shipping volumes.

 

Wall Street Journal: Hanjin, Ashley Furniture Battle Over Cargoes, Storage Fees (full article follows Morning Transportation)

http://www.wsj.com/articles/hanjin-ashley-furniture-battle-over-cargoes-storage-fees-1475880653

More than a month after Hanjin Shipping Co. sought bankruptcy protection in South Korea and in courts around the world, customers are still fighting with the company over how to retrieve their goods.

 

CBS: Hurricane poses trouble for East Coast energy infrastructure

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hurricane-poses-trouble-for-east-coast-energy-infrastructure/

Hurricane Matthew is threatening energy infrastructure including power transmission and distribution lines along the East Coast, where power has already been knocked out for thousands.

 

American Thinker: Clinton, Trump, and the Gap in America’s Infrastructure

http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2016/10/clinton_trump_and_the_gap_in_americas_infrastructure.html

Democrats have always gone misty-eyed over metaphors.  Perhaps it is the only means by which they feel their constituents can conceptualize complex ideas.

 

STATE NEWS

 

New York Times: 33 Injured in Collision of L.I.R.R. Trains

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/10/nyregion/lirr-train-crash-injuries.html?_r=0

Thirty-three people were injured, four seriously, when two Long Island Rail Road trains, one carrying about 600 people, sideswiped each other on Saturday night, the authorities said.

 

Associated Press: Train derails east of NYC; dozens suffer injuries

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/commuter-train-derails-east-of-new-york-city/2016/10/08/8e437a52-8dc8-11e6-8cdc-4fbb1973b506_story.html

Dozens of people were injured Saturday when a commuter train hit a work train east of New York City and derailed, officials said.

 

Associated Press: Train service resumes after deadly New Jersey crash

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/train-service-set-to-resume-after-deadly-new-jersey-crash/2016/10/10/d9d74b1a-8e9f-11e6-bc00-1a9756d4111b_story.html

Rail service resumed Monday at a New Jersey transit station damaged less than two weeks ago after a train crash that killed a woman on the platform and injured more than 100.

 

Associated Press: Service restored to 1 of 2 tracks where train derailed

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/transit-officials-warn-of-delays-crowding-after-derailment/2016/10/10/9218a986-8e9f-11e6-bc00-1a9756d4111b_story.html

Crews have restored train service just in time for the Monday morning commute to one of two tracks where a train derailed over the weekend on Long Island.

 

Washington Post: In safety and reliability, Metro ranks in middle of the pack of nation’s big systems

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/in-safety-and-reliability-metro-ranks-in-middle-of-the-pack-of-nations-big-systems/2016/10/08/aa7bb5a6-59b4-11e6-831d-0324760ca856_story.html

Metro passengers worried about safety and maddened by chronic service disruptions might think they’re riding the nation’s worst subway. But they’re not.

 

My Record Journal (Connecticut): U.S. Senate Infrastructure bill could help city with downtown projects

http://www.myrecordjournal.com/news/latestnews/9461276-154/us-senate-infrastructure-bill-could-help-city-with-downtown-projects.html

A $250 billion U.S. Senate infrastructure bill could help the city get funding to complete downtown traffic, housing and flooding projects, U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy told city leaders during a recent meeting.

 

WSGW (Michigan): Congressman Kildee Talks In Bay City On Infrastructure Policy

http://www.wsgw.com/congressman-kildee-talks-bay-city-infrastructure-policy/

Communities in Michigan are finding it difficult to pay for infrastructure repairs with little to no help at the state and federal levels. U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee was in Bay City Friday, Oct. 7 to talk to the Michigan Community Development Association (MCDA) at the DoubleTree Hotel about housing and infrastructure policy issues being discussed at all levels of government.

 

USA News & World Report: New Jersey gas prices to jump after vote to raise tax passes

http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2016-10-07/new-jersey-lawmakers-to-vote-on-23-cent-gas-tax-hike

Gas in New Jersey is about to get more expensive after lawmakers voted Friday to raise the tax by 23 cents per gallon to pay for the state's expired transportation trust fund.

 

By Brianna Gurciullo | 10/10/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Tanya Snyder and Lauren Gardner

DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT: NHTSA's guidance for self-driving cars left open the possibility that the agency could seek the power to approve vehicle prototypes before they hit the market. And while it would take an act of Congress for NHTSA to follow anything but a self-certification model, many in the auto and tech industry are already denouncing the idea of pre-market approval, saying it would gum up rollouts of driverless vehicles, as our Tanya Snyder reports for Pros.

If the federal government had to certify "every model, every car," it would be a "huge barrier to entry and could affect how quickly car models could be introduced," said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association.

You can't always get what you want: Plus, it'd be no easy task to get lawmakers on board, even if NHTSA and safety advocates argued that pre-market approval would help ease consumer concerns about autonomous technology. Katie Thomson, former DOT general counsel who's now at the law firm Morrison & Foerster, said it's "much preferable to use your existing authority and figure out how best to tailor it in a specific setting than try to get Congress to take action."

"It's slow, it's cumbersome, and you can't guarantee what you might ultimately get, if you get anything," Thomson said.

Pros and cons: Still, there's a possible business advantage to the government endorsing new vehicles: liability protection. Pre-market approval "may make it more difficult for plaintiffs to prevail on product liability claims premised on theories of design defect or failure to warn," according to attorneys at King & Spalding.

HAPPY MONDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Please send tips, feedback and, of course, song lyrics to bgurciullo@politico.com or @brigurciullo.

"He said, 'My name is Private Andrew Malone. And if you're reading this, then I didn't make it home. But for every dream that shattered, another one comes true. This car was once a dream of mine, now it belongs to you. And though you may take her and make her your own. You'll always be riding with Private Malone.'"

Want to keep up with all of MT's song picks? Follow our Spotify playlist.

SITTING, WAITING, WISHING: A federal appeals court could soon reach a decision about whether DOT regulations on electronic logging devices are legal. As our Lauren Gardner reports for Pros: "The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sued DOT in December 2015 over the final regulation, which DOT argues makes it harder for motor carriers and drivers to falsify their duty logs to make it appear like they're getting adequate breaks - or for truck companies to pressure their drivers to work beyond their required hours." OOIDA argues that the rule doesn't meet a requirement that electronic logging devices automatically record any changes in duty status. But other trucking groups, like the American Trucking Associations and the Trucking Alliance for Driver Safety and Security, are standing behind regulators.

N.Y. TRAINS 'SIDE-SWIPED EACH OTHER': NTSB is investigating after a commuter train derailed in New York on Saturday night, leaving 33 people injured, four seriously. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the 12-car Long Island Rail Road train, with 600 people on board, and a maintenance train were going in the same direction near the New Hyde Park station when "they side-swiped each other," The Associated Press reports . The work train had moved into the LIRR train's space. Since January 2011, LIRR trains have been involved in 72 accidents, including 15 derailments and three collisions, the AP reports. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority runs the railroad.

THE LATEST ON HOBOKEN: NJ Transit's Hoboken terminal is set to return to partial service today, with the reopening of eight tracks out of 17. The train that crashed into the terminal, killing a woman and injuring over 100 people, was removed Thursday. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has now called for trains that serve the New York City area to be equipped with cameras to record engineers, The Associated Press reports.

NEW JERSEY SET TO HIKE GAS TAX FOR FIRST TIME IN DECADES: New Jersey's legislature OK'd a package of bills Friday to increase the state's gas tax by 23 cents per gallon, cut other taxes and authorize billions of dollars in infrastructure spending.When Gov. Chris Christie signs the legislation, which he's agreed to do, it will "end a months-long stalemate that has left thousands of construction workers on unemployment and billions of dollars in projects shut down," POLITICO New Jersey's Ryan Hutchins and Katherine Landergan report . The state's Transportation Trust Fund had become insolvent in August. The gas tax hike is New Jersey's first since 1988. The tax is currently the second-lowest in the country at 14.5 cents per gallon.

THIS WEEK:

Tuesday - The Association for Commuter Transportation kicks off its TDM Forum in Boston. The Competitive Enterprise Institute holds a discussion on DOT's driverless car guidelines.

Wednesday - The Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation begins a three-day meeting.

Thursday - FAA's Office of Hazardous Materials Safety and PHMSA's Office of Hazardous Materials Safety hold a meeting to prepare for ICAO's Dangerous Goods Panel meeting later this month. The Unified Carrier Registration Plan Board of Directors holds a meeting via conference call. The United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board meets via teleconference.

AGENCY SHUTS DOWN TAKATA TRANSPORTER: FMCSA has ordered Industrial Transit, Inc. to "immediately cease all intrastate and interstate operations" after one of the company's trucks carrying Takata air bag parts crashed and caught fire, causing the components to explode and leading to one death. The truck was in Maverick County, Texas on Aug. 22 when it "approached a curve at an unsafe speed, traveled off the roadway, striking a culvert, and rolled over," according to FMCSA. The truck then caught on fire and the Takata parts exploded, which leveled a house, killing one person inside. FMCSA has designated Industrial Transit as an "imminent hazard to public safety" after determining that it was violating at least half a dozen safety regulations. The agency also said it "may refer this matter for criminal prosecution."

OBAMA SIGNS FAA VETERAN EMPLOYEES BILL: President Barack Obama signed into law on Friday a bill (S. 2683) to make sure that disabled veterans working at the FAA can take advantage of a new category of sick leave. The bill was sponsored by Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). The National Air Traffic Controllers Association and Veterans of Foreign Wars backed the legislation.

NUMBER OF THE DAY: 4,500. Airlines canceled about that many flights from Wednesday to Saturday because of Hurricane Matthew, USA Today reports. The most affected states included Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):

- "Are you safer in a Tesla on autopilot, as Elon Musk says? Let's do the math." The Washington Post.

- "Former Christie staffer details 'complicated' relationship with Bridgegate defendant." POLITICO New Jersey.

- "Norwegian eyes Buenos Aires as $150 transatlantic tickets loom." Bloomberg.

- "New data on highway deaths suggest that Congress needs to revisit speed limits, advocates say." The Washington Post.

- "Appellate judge: Taxis and Ubers are dogs and cats when it comes to regulation." The Chicago Tribune.

- "Airlines want their money back from Venezuela: They're asking the U.S. government for immunity from antitrust law so they can work together to retrieve $4 billion." Bloomberg.

- "In safety and reliability, Metro ranks in middle of the pack of nation's big systems." The Washington Post.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 60 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 354 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 28 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,454 days.

THE DAY AHEAD:

Nothing on our radar for today.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at transpocalendar@politicopro.com.

To view online:
https://www.politicopro.com/tipsheets/morning-transportation/2016/10/industry-pre-market-approval-would-stifle-driverless-car-innovation-019539

Stories from POLITICO Pro

Industry wary NHTSA may step in front of driverless cars Back

By Tanya Snyder | 10/10/2016 05:00 AM EDT

While NHTSA's recent guidance on driverless cars has been largely greeted with praise, the suggestion that the agency may seek the authority to approve vehicles before they go to market has sent shockwaves through the industry.

Congress would have to act before NHTSA could shift from the current self-certification model to one where it reviews and certifies each vehicle prototype before it hits the market. And, so far NHTSA isn't asking for that authority.

But the agency's updated guidance, released Sept. 20, held out the possibility of doing so in the future, saying it could help ease consumer fears about the technology, thereby speeding adoption.

"A pre-market approval approach - used either in conjunction with or as a replacement for DOT's existing self-certification and compliance testing process - might have potential for expediting the safe introduction and public acceptance of [highly automated vehicles]," the guidance reads.

Much of the auto industry, however, says such a major change could drastically slow down the rollout of driverless cars.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, said having to have "every model, every car" certified by the federal government would be a "huge barrier to entry and could affect how quickly car models could be introduced."

David Strickland, former NHTSA administrator, now counsel for the industry group Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, said while it was premature for his group to "be stepping out and saying, 'this is a real problem,'" they were carefully studying the proposal.

"That said, there were some things [the guidance] mentioned, like pre-market approval, which is very different - it's actually the opposite regulatory regime for compliant cars in the United States," he observed.

Another former DOT official-turned-industry lobbyist, Katie Thomson, suggested that pre-market approval probably isn't worth it for NHTSA to even attempt, merits aside.

"I will tell you, having spent seven-and-a-half years at the department, it is much preferable to use your existing authority and figure out how best to tailor it in a specific setting than try to get Congress to take action," said Thomson, now with Morrison & Foerster LLP. "It's slow, it's cumbersome, and you can't guarantee what you might ultimately get, if you get anything."

Bill Ford, chairman of Ford Motor Company, wouldn't commit to a position on pre-market approval authority, but he indicated that he favored a slow and cautious approach.

"One of the things I don't want to see is a rush to market and then have some issues, because that would set everything back a long way," Ford said. "So we really need to get a lot of these issues discussed thoroughly upfront and agreed upon. Because, if you look at, traditionally, the auto industry, we all rush to get things out ahead of our competitors -- and while we don't want to be laggards, certainly, on this, we also want to do it right."

But some believe there's a business case for having NHTSA's tacit endorsement of new vehicles, primarily in the form of liability protection.

A group of attorneys from Atlanta law firm King & Spalding wrote at Law360 that "increased regulatory oversight prior to market introduction and compliance with more rigorous federal regulations may make it more difficult for plaintiffs to prevail on product liability claims premised on theories of design defect or failure to warn."

This kind of shield could be key in the early years of the technology. Before rulemakings exist to set clear standards, automakers may have a hard time being sure their self-certification is truly compliant.

NHTSA's own guidance notes that "the absence of established metrics could make it more difficult for manufacturers to anticipate the Agency's evaluation and conclusions regarding the safety of their vehicles' performance."

Some have compared NHTSA's idea about pre-market authority for automated vehicles to the way the Food and Drug Administration regulates pharmaceuticals, a process many think would be overly cumbersome, especially for an industry that's not accustomed to the practice.

While Bill Kohler, an auto industry attorney with Dykema Gossett, worries that a self-certification regime could be "like the professor that gives a vague assignment," he cautioned that "an FDA-style pre-market approval system could be onerous and delay safety improvements."

"Imagine the stakes involved that may create a governmental roadblock," he said. "Not only will the carmakers have their normal safety, liability and corporate image concerns at stake, but the government may play it too safe, politically, by delaying life-saving approvals."

Meanwhile, safety advocates are firmly on the side of as much government assurance as possible.

Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, immediately asked Congress to grant NHTSA pre-market approval authority, saying the potential safety benefits adherents tout "will only come once they are able to operate safely and without fail under all operating conditions and at all times."

"During this transition between old and new, which may take many years, federal agency oversight and involvement are essential to ensuring that public safety doesn't take a back seat to private enterprise," she said.

Back

Trucking groups, regulators wait for final say on electronic logging devices Back

By Lauren Gardner | 10/07/2016 06:25 PM EDT

Trucking groups and federal regulators are awaiting the final word from a federal appeals court on whether DOT rules requiring electronic logging devices on big rigs pass legal muster.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sued DOT in December 2015 over the final regulation, which DOT argues makes it harder for motor carriers and drivers to falsify their duty logs to make it appear like they're getting adequate breaks - or for truck companies to pressure their drivers to work beyond their required hours.

The trucking group also challenged an earlier version of the rule in 2011 - and won - on the grounds that regulators didn't address a statutory requirement that they ensure the technology isn't used to harass drivers. The department was forced to redo the regulation, which is before the appeals court now.

Congress got into the fray in 2012 when it explicitly required the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to write a rule mandating ELD usage for most drivers who are already required to keep paper records to comply with hours of service regulations.

OOIDA maintains that FMCSA didn't do enough to comply with the law requiring ELD usage, arguing the rule doesn't meet the statute's requirement that the device automatically record any changes in a vehicle operator's duty status, even when he or she isn't driving. Under the rule, drivers would have to manually record when their duty status changes while they aren't behind the wheel.

The group also contends FMCSA didn't do enough to address its harassment concerns, despite the earlier court decision, and argued its case before the same court in Chicago on Sept. 13.

But other organizations representing commercial truck drivers -including the industry's largest - have come to the regulator's defense, arguing that FMCSA struck a smart balance between implementing congressional intent and avoiding a Big Brother approach to ensuring truck operators stick to the rest rules.

Paul D. Cullen Sr., OOIDA's lawyer, faced tough questioning from judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, one of whom remarked that the group's argument appears to be that Congress ordered FMCSA "to invent a square circle" by requiring use of a device that would "seem to have to be unbelievably intrusive" by having to detect whether the driver was asleep, all while not bothering the driver or violating his or her privacy.

Cullen said technology exists to fulfill what OOIDA argues Congress required of the devices and that FMCSA failed to follow through on that in the rule.

"There is nothing in the record that develops the nature of the device that can accomplish these things, or that proposes any activities, actions, safeguards, which would prevent undue intrusion," he said.

DOJ attorney Joshua Waldman, representing DOT, argued that ELDs have existed for years - indeed, many trucking companies already voluntarily use them in their vehicles - so it's more likely that Congress intended DOT to mandate adoption of the existing technology rather than something that would be "a highly intrusive sea change into the industry."

While existing technology could monitor every move a driver makes, FMCSA wrote in its final rule, that capability hasn't been regularly used to electronically document their hours of service - and doing so would constitute a massive intrusion into drivers' lives.

"FMCSA does not believe that Congress, in directing the Agency to require use of ELDs, envisioned this level of monitoring and the inherent privacy invasion that would occur," the agency wrote in the rule. "Indeed, given the privacy concerns raised by OOIDA and other commenters, we find it difficult to reconcile OOIDA's argument that the ELD functionality required in today's rule is not sufficiently broad because it does not record all of a driver's duty statuses."

Government lawyers argued that FMCSA did plenty to ensure drivers' bosses couldn't use ELDs to harass their drivers and specifically responded to truckers' concerns.

The agency included requirements in the rule for the devices to have mute or volume control functions so drivers could keep ELDs from waking them up in their sleeper berths, as well as civil penalties to deter harassment. The original records made by ELDs must be maintained, and the devices themselves have to be tamper proof.

OOIDA also argued FMCSA didn't do enough to ensure that state police officers, who are largely charged with enforcing federal motor carrier rules, only use data from ELDs to verify hours of service mandates.

During oral arguments, Waldman cited an FMCSA memo to agency staff providing compliance guidance for states for the rule. But OOIDA maintained in a supplemental brief filed the following week that the memo doesn't have any legal force since it wasn't published more broadly, wasn't clearly sent to state agencies, and doesn't include language explicitly limiting how ELD data can be used.

Still, groups like the American Trucking Associations and the Trucking Alliance for Driver Safety and Security banded together to defend FMCSA to the court, asserting that the agency did what Congress intended the second time around.

"The actions taken by the agency are both reasonable and appropriate to improve compliance, and the voluntary adoption of electronic HOS recording technology by motor carriers prior to the final rule illustrates the value of such devices for increased compliance as well as improved operational safety," ATA said in its amicus brief.

Back

Legislature passes $16B infrastructure plan, sends Christie gas tax proposal Back

By Ryan Hutchins and Katherine Landergan | 10/07/2016 02:39 PM EDT

TRENTON - With sponsors calling it a "very, very, very difficult" vote, but a needed one, the State Legislature on Friday passed a controversial $16 billion infrastructure plan that will raise taxes on gasoline for the first time since 1988 while cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in other taxes.

The legislation, which pairs a series of sweeping tax cuts with a 23-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike, now heads to Gov. Chris Christie's desk. The Republican governor has agreed to sign the legislation.

The proposal, which also looks to cut the state sales tax a fraction of a penny and eliminate a major tax on inherited wealth, represents one of the biggest policy changes Trenton has tackled in decades.

One veteran lawmaker called it "the most significant bill we have ever seen in 40 years."

The first bill (A12), which includes both the tax cuts and the tax increase, passed the Senate by a vote of 24-14 and the Assembly by 44-27. A second bill (A10) authorizing the Transportation Trust Fund to spend $2 billion a year on infrastructure passed the Senate, 23-14, and the Assembly, 45-27. Five Senate Republicans voted in favor, as did seven members of the Assembly GOP.

The Legislature's action and the governor's ultimate signature will officially end a months-long stalemate that has left thousands of construction workers on unemployment and billions of dollars in projects shut down.

Democratic leaders and the governor had been unable to agree on the right mix of tax cuts even as the state ran out of money to spend on transportation work.

Christie froze spending in July and the trust fund became insolvent in August, the culmination of years of over borrowing.

"Members of both sides of the aisle, including governors, have kicked the can down the road and borrowed and borrowed on the backs of future generations," Sen. Paul Sarlo, a Democrat and sponsor of the legislation, said on the Senate floor before the vote. "Well, today, we're going to stop that borrowing."

The legislation authorizes the Transportation Trust Fund to spend $2 billion per year over the next eight years on road, rail and bridge projects throughout the state. Much of it, despite Sarlo's comments, will come from new debt service. But the additional gas tax revenue - more than $1.2 billion per year - should allow the state to pay down the existing trust fund debt and spend less money from its general fund on bond payments.

Republican lawmakers, as well as Democrats in competitive districts, have been facing enormous pressure from conservative groups who wanted them to vote against the legislation. Constituents have flooded the phone lines of some legislative offices with demands that they kill the gas tax hike. Radio hosts have spent weeks railing against the plan.

Some members of the GOP said there was no way they could vote for the bills; such a large increase in the gas tax could cost some families hundreds of dollars per year, they said, and may ruin the state's economy.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto discredited the idea the deal would blow a major hole in the budget, saying the legislation will instead "jolt our economy."

"This is the right thing to do for the state of New Jersey," he said. "I know people don't want to pay more at the pump but this is a public safety issue."

New Jersey's gas tax is currently 14.5 cents per gallon - the second-lowest in the nation - and would increase to 37.5 cents under the legislation. The tax increase would likely kick in next month, though it could be reflected at the pump before then.

"I stand today on behalf of New Jersey's residents in opposition to one of the largest tax increases in New Jersey history," said Sen. Jennifer Beck, a Monmouth County Republican who noted she had received 25,000 signatures on a petition opposing the legislation.

"I stand to oppose this tax increase for the working class, middle class and those living in poverty that make 15,000, 40,000, 45,000 dollars a year that do not qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit," Beck said on the Senate floor. "I stand in opposition on behalf of the seven million licensed drivers in the state, half a million of which drive vehicles from the 1980s; 2.5 million of which drive vehicles that are 15 to 20 years old. They are not efficient vehicles."

But a few Republicans were strong supporters, including Assemblyman minority leader Jon Bramnick. He said he wasn't happy with the final product, but that it was the best piece of legislation everyone could agree to.

"I would want many more tax cuts," Bramnick said on the Assembly floor before the vote. "I would want a lower tax on gas. But none of us as individuals control this chamber or control the state of New Jersey. We came to a compromise and that's what I believe good government is."

Sen. Kevin O'Toole, a close ally of the governor who is not seeking another term, also voted in favor of the legislation and appeared to be a key supporter. He gave a fiery speech on the floor.

"How do you support it? I say how do you not," he said. "If we don't do this - if we don't thread this needle today - what do we do? Wait another decade? Wait another 20 years? Irresponsible. Stand for something. Stand for something."

To win the support of Christie and those Republicans, the legislation includes numerous tax cuts that would eliminate about $1.3 billion in general fund revenue by fiscal 2020, according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. Over eight years, the entire plan could cost the state as much as $9.1 billion in revenue, OLS estimates.

Under the legislation, the 7 percent state sales tax would be reduced by 3/8 of a point - down from a full point reduction that Christie and Prieto had agreed to in June. For consumers who spend $10,000 a year on taxable goods, the change would save them just $37.50.

The estate tax, which has a threshold of $675,000, would see that limit increased to $2 million in January under the bills. By January 2018, the estate tax would be eliminated entirely.

Each of those cuts would cost the state upwards of $600 million per year in revenue. The legislation would also increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits low-income workers, from 30 percent of the federal level to 35 percent.

And the amount of retirement income eligible for tax exclusion would increase from the $15,000 to $75,000 for a single taxpayer, from $20,000 to $100,000 for married couples filing jointly, and from $10,000 to $50,000 for married couples filing separately.

Veterans would also be able to claim a personal income tax exemption.

Some Democrats called the tax cuts "a recipe for disaster," saying elimination of the estate tax would benefit the state's wealthiest residents while leading to draconian cuts to social programs, school funding and payments to the public employee pension system. The sales tax cut, they said, does next to nothing to help the poor and working class.

"We are going to rue the day when the chickens come home to roost," Sen. Shirley Turner said. "We cannot pay our bills now. We cannot fund education, we cannot make our payments into the pension fund that we have committed ourselves to for our employees. But at the same time, we're giving all of these taxes cuts to people that do not need them."

Republicans also were critical of the tax cuts legislation, saying it would do little to achieve the "tax fairness" that Christie had been demanding in exchange for increasing the gas tax.

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin called the sales tax cut "a mirage" and said it was part of a "shell game," providing no real savings to consumers. "Promising people unfair fairness is a little bit like gas: It's really slick, but when you get close to it, it smells," she said.

In the Senate, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle also raised concerns about a more obscure component of the legislation that would create a four-person committee to review transportation projects.

The Annual Transportation Capital Program Approval Committee would include three public members from different regions of the state, as well as the commissioner of the Department of Transportation. The legislation says the committee would "ensure that Legislative input is provided in the process of selecting the transportation capital projects."

While Sarlo said it would merely provide another layer of oversight, some feared it would become a tool for the governor and legislative leaders to make political decision about transportation spending.

Sen. Nia Gill, a Democrat, said it was unconstitutional and would take power away from the Legislature. Sen. Raymond Lesniak, another Democrat, said it would give the governor and legislative leaders "the power to decide what projects gets funded in your district."

"This bill is the most dangerous bill that has ever been presented to the Senate certainly in the 39 years I've been here. The most dangerous bill ever presented to the senate," Lesniak said. "This will make the shenanigans at the Port Authority look like a walk in the park."

Even though Sarlo dismissed the concerns, he left even some high-ranking allies unhappy with the change. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a fellow Bergen County Democrat, said she abstained from the vote on the TTF bill because of that component.

"I was not happy with the four member committee," she said. "I think there was a misunderstanding here, I think they actually do have veto power. I think it's very inappropriate."

--additional reporting by Katie Jennings and Katherine Landergan

Back

Former Christie staffer details 'complicated' relationship with Bridgegate defendant Back

By Linh Tat | 10/07/2016 05:06 PM EDT

NEWARK - Christina Renna, a former staffer in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs who worked for Bridget Anne Kelly, a co-defendant in the Bridgegate trial, wrapped up her court testimony Friday describing the "complicated" relationship she had with her former boss.

After a morning spent testifying that she and a colleague discussed a plan to convince other IGA employees to "turn their backs" on Kelly because she felt she was being passed over for a promotion, Renna spoke of feeling badly for her boss in the wake of the Bridgegate fallout, even inviting Kelly to stay the weekend with her after she'd been fired for her alleged role in the lane closures.

"Bridget and I had a complicated relationship but I never hated her. And during this time period, I just wanted to help her," Renna said in U.S. District Court.

Kelly's attorney spent the first part of the day attempting to cast his client in a sympathetic light, portraying her as a scapegoat in the Christie administration who took the fall for an intern's joke, and who was the target of an office plot to undermine her authority.

But in the second half of the day, defense attorney Michael Critchley turned his attention to Renna's motives.

Renna had testified Thursday that Kelly asked her to delete an email exchange they had on the last day of the lane closures - one in which Renna described an angry phone call another staffer received from the mayor of Fort Lee, where traffic had come to a standstill because access lanes to the world's busiest bridge had shut down. The mayor had described how bad traffic had become in the borough, which hosts the bridge, and said he thought it might be some kind of act of political retribution.

Critchley said Friday that Renna did not delete the email until after Christie said during a news conference that he was not aware of any of his aides being involved in the lane closures.

"Is it just coincidence that you delete that email shortly after the governor says no one has evidence of retribution?," Critchley asked.

Renna said she did not recall deleting it during the press conference and dismissed suggestions by the attorney that she deleted the message out of concerns the evidence would somehow jeopardize efforts by her husband's company to build a pipeline in the Pinelands, an environmentally sensitive area in South Jersey. Her husband, Michael Renna, is president and chief operating officer of South Jersey Industries, the parent company of South Jersey Gas.

Renna on Thursday also walked back a comment that she had texted to a Christie aide in which she claimed the governor had "flat out lied" when he said close associates were not involved in the scheme. She testified that she actually had no direct knowledge of what Christie did or did not know at the time and chalked up the comment to "a poor choice of words."

Kelly and Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the second defendant in the Bridgegate case, face charges of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations. They are accused of helping to orchestrate the lane closures against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to endorse Christie during his reelection campaign.

Court adjourned for the day after Renna's testimony.

Deborah Gramiccioni, who was a deputy chief of staff to Christie and later the Port Authority's deputy executive director after Baroni, is scheduled to testify Tuesday.

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Wall Street Journal: Trucking Companies Slashed Jobs in September

Trucking companies cut 3,600 jobs in September, ending a streak of job gains over the summer amid reports of modest growth in shipping volumes.

 

Logistics employers added more than 5,000 jobs in September, with warehousing and courier services bringing on 8,000 new workers ahead of the busy holiday shopping season, according to U.S. Labor Department figures released Friday. With e-commerce expected to drive holiday sales growth this year, many retailers have been bringing on staff to handle and deliver online orders, in addition to adding staff at brick-and-mortar stores.

 

With an additional 5,300 jobs in September, warehouse and storage companies have added nearly 50,000 jobs over the last 12 months.

 

But hiring in transportation sectors—including air, rail, water and trucking services—fell in September. Transit and ground passenger companies slashed 14,100 jobs, pulling the overall transportation and warehousing sector down for a loss of 9,000 jobs last month.

 

The sector’s uneven performance comes as the overall job market expanded by 156,000 last month, a tepid gain that was behind analysts’ expectations.

 

October could see various sectors strengthening, particularly transportation and logistics, as factories appear to be regaining their footing. The Institute for Supply Management said Monday that U.S. manufacturing—a strong source of demand for truck transportation—expanded in September. And although manufacturers slashed 13,000 jobs last month, overall hiring at goods-producing businesses grew by 10,000 jobs, with construction employers adding 23,000.

 

Retailers also added 22,000 jobs in September, a show of confidence in the coming holiday sales season following reports of strengthening buying from consumers.

 

The Global Port Tracker report, released Friday by the National Retail Federation and research firm Hackett Associates, estimated that import activity at U.S. ports fell from August to September but that the volume was up 0.9% over September 2015.

 

Major U.S. ports imported 1.7 million twenty-foot equivalent units, a standard measure for container cargo, in August, and an estimated 1.64 million TEUs in September. The NRF, which recently forecast this year’s holiday sales topping $655 billion—up 3.6% from last year—estimates that October’s port volumes will rise to 1.65 million TEUs, an increase of 6% over the same month last year.

 

Wall Street Journal: Hanjin, Ashley Furniture Battle Over Cargoes, Storage Fees

More than a month after Hanjin Shipping Co. sought bankruptcy protection in South Korea and in courts around the world, customers are still fighting with the company over how to retrieve their goods.

 

Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. said it has been left on the hook for cleaning up the logistical mess in the wake of Hanjin’s bankruptcy and is asking a U.S. judge to allow it to withhold damages from fees it owes to Hanjin. The South Korean shipping company, however, is refusing to release some of Ashley Furniture’s cargo until it is paid in full.

 

Some of Ashley Furniture’s containers have been delivered or otherwise retrieved by the company, many of which are weeks behind schedule. Other containers, still stocked with goods, are floating on Hanjin ships or sitting idle on port tarmacs waiting to be released by the shipper.

 

During a hearing Friday in Newark, N.J., lawyers for Ashley Furniture asked Judge John Sherwood of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to help it recover damages of more than $1 million it said it is owed for having to pick up containers delivered to the wrong ports.

 

The Wisconsin-based furniture maker also said it has had to store empty containers and chassis—the wheeled trailers trucks use to transport the containers—that it would ordinarily return to Hanjin but which the shipper has abandoned in bankruptcy.

 

Lawyers for the furniture maker said the company is being charged daily to store the empty containers and chassis, which are taking up valuable space at U.S. ports. Some ports have begun turning away empty containers because they are running out of space to store them.

 

Ashley Furniture had about 700 containers aboard Hanjin ships when the company filed for bankruptcy, court papers said. Who is ultimately responsible for those goods and containers as well as any damages is a question the bankruptcy court will have to answer, according to Ashley Craig, a maritime lawyer with the Venable firm in Washington, D.C.

 

“Bankruptcies are never clean but in this instance, the complexity is easily times 10 of what it normally is, and only the bankruptcy courts will be able to work this out,” said Mr. Craig, who’s not involved in the Hanjin case.

 

In court Friday, Edward Kiel, a lawyer for Hanjin, told the judge that Ashley Furniture is attempting to “weasel out” millions of dollars that the embattled shipping company needs to fund its business, which is continues to operate while in bankruptcy.

 

The family-owned furniture maker and retailer, the largest in the U.S. should take any claims for damages to the court in South Korea, Hanjin’s lawyer said, which will ultimately oversee distributions from the shipper’s estate. Until it is paid, Hanjin has a right to hold on to the cargo, lawyers for the shipper said.

 

Judge Sherwood, who is presiding over Hanjin’s bankruptcy in the U.S., agreed that Hanjin needed to be paid and that customers would likely not make it through the bankruptcy unscathed.

 

“Everybody’s suffering here, and everyone’s not going to be made whole,” he said in court Friday.

 

But the judge also criticized Hanjin’s lawyers for holding on to cargo that could otherwise be unloaded.

 

“You’re really playing hardball and using leverage against these people,” he said.

 

Judge Sherwood said he needed more time to consider the dispute and put off ruling on Friday. Another hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20.

 

Hanjin, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, filed for bankruptcy in South Korea in late August and days later launched another bankruptcy proceeding in the U.S.

 

In the aftermath of the filings, some ports were unwilling to unload Hanjin ships for fear they wouldn’t be paid, and Hanjin was reluctant to send some of its ships into ports in the U.S. where they could be seized by creditors owed millions of dollars for fuel, leasing containers and other services.

 

At one point, more than half a million containers stranded at sea.

 

But Judge Sherwood has since barred creditors from taking possession of Hanjin’s assets and protected the company’s ships from seizure while docked in the U.S. With that protection—and with new financing to pay terminal operators and others who had previously refused Hanjin vessels—ships have begun pulling into port and released their cargo.

 

Hanjin said that it won’t be able to finalize a formal list of creditors until next week. The company hopes to file a plan of reorganization with a Korean court by Dec. 23, court papers show.