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Tram car rates increase as Wildwood braces for minimum wage hike impact

WILDWOOD — The nonprofit that operates the yellow trams on the Wildwood Boardwalk wasted no time in responding to the minimum wage hike that went into effect on New Year’s Day.

The state minimum wage went up $1 to $11 an hour, and the Wildwoods Boardwalk Special Improvement District, in turn, raised the fare for a trip on the tram by 50 cents to $4.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a bill last February raising the minimum wage from $8.85 to $10 by July 1, 2019, and then $1 an hour every year until 2024, when it will sit at $15 per hour.

Those increases will cost the nonprofit about $50,000 per year in additional salary payouts, or $250,000 by the time it hits $15 per hour, said Patrick Rosenello, mayor of North Wildwood and director of Wildwoods Boardwalk Special Improvement District.

Other businesses in Wildwood, many of which rely on temporary workers and the brief upswell of commerce in the summer months, are bracing for impact. Businesses in the county are likely to be hit hard by the increase, said Diane Wieland, the public information officer for Cape May County.

The fare hike will bring in about $60,000 per year, and the nonprofit also will adjust discounted ticket books to make do, he said.

“What we don’t want to do is have a fare hike every single year,” he said. “Our goal is to be able to keep this fare for a number of years. But as we get closer to the $15 per hour, we will have to look at it again.”

Young people looking for their first job, or a summer gig, might be hit first, Wieland said. They could be given less hours or passed over in preference for people who can work longer hours, she said.

“We’re gonna see some changes,” Wieland said. “If it’s a Boardwalk or beach grill, or something like that where they rely on young kids, I think it’s gonna impact jobs for young kids.”

Rosenello said the Wildwoods Boardwalk Special Improvement District, which is supported by businesses on the Boardwalk, operates on “very low” margins.

The trams have not been privately owned since 2003, when the company that operated them went out of business, he said.

“If you look at the needs of the tram cars, as far as replacement of them ... I’m a private business owner. I own a lot of private businesses,” Rosenello said. “I wouldn’t buy the tram cars as a for-profit business owner.”

Tracey DuFault, the executive director of the Wildwood Chamber of Commerce, said she’s heard from a number of “scared” business owners in town who are concerned about their ability to weather the yearly hikes.

“We are a very seasonal community, so it is going to be extremely hard for our small businesses to succeed when we have to raise that rate,” DuFault said. “So there is probably going to be a trickle down effect with an increase for the services and goods.”

Scott Chambers, the owner of Zippy’s Bikes on Pacific Avenue, was one of those business owners who reached out to the Chamber with concerns. Zippy’s staff is bare bones in the offseason, with only one or two staffers manning the shop, but can have up to 15 employees in the middle of the summer.

“With everyone shopping on the internet, and our season so short, we can’t continue to compete,” Chambers said.

They will “unfortunately” have to raise their prices, he said. None of his “return” employees were getting paid minimum wage, Chambers said, but the increase causes a trickle-down effect where employees getting paid $12 per hour now want $15 per hour and those getting paid $15 per hour now want $20 per hour.

“I can’t afford to bring in a teenager at $11 an hour. There’s no way,” Chambers said. “It’s a damn shame because ... it takes a village to raise a child. That’s how we bring up the next generation ... by putting them to work. But between the cell phones and the work ethic of the next generation, I can’t be chasing teenagers or handing them a broom and telling them to keep busy at $11 an hour.”

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Conductor Paul Mishkin waves the clear sign as the tram leaves Cresse Avenue on the Wildwood Boardwalk in 2009.

Galloway GOP leaders rescind Richter nod, endorse Van Drew, as Richter fights back

A group of Galloway Township Republican leaders rescinded their endorsement of David Richter in the second Congressional District race and came out strongly Monday, along with Cape May County leaders, for the re-election of Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd.

“Congressman Van Drew is a proven conservative who has a long and distinguished record of fighting for South Jersey families,” said the Galloway statement, provided by Van Drew campaign manager Ron Filan. “We are grateful that Congressman Van Drew is fighting to defend President (Donald) Trump at every turn, and we are honored to endorse him for re-election to the U.S. House of representatives.”

In Cape May County, Republican Chairman Marcus Karavan and others said Monday in a news release they will follow Trump’s lead in supporting Van Drew.

“We now have an incumbent Republican congressman, endorsed by our Republican president,” Karavan said. “I plan to to follow our president’s lead and work hard to reelect Rep. Van Drew to the U.S. Congress.”

Karavan said all five members of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, Sheriff Robert Nolan and County Clerk Rita Fulginiti “have welcomed Van Drew to the fold and pledged to support his re-election.”

The Galloway endorsement change happened a day after Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis sent an email to local GOP leaders saying Richter’s critical comments about Trump and Van Drew in the media were hurting the party.

He asked anyone who had endorsed Richter to reconsider.

“I commend Galloway Township for their leadership. I’m glad they are following my lead,” Davis said Monday.

Signing the Van Drew endorsement were Municipal Chairwoman Terry Lucarelli, Freeholder Rich Dase, former Mayor and Councilman Tony Coppola, former Deputy Mayor and Councilman Rich Clute, Councilman Tony DiPietro, former Mayor Don Purdy, and Township Republican League President Chris Coleman.

Most had previously endorsed Richter, a longtime Princeton resident who recently moved to Avalon, where he has regularly spent summers.

Richter is standing firm in challenging Van Drew, and fought back Monday against accusations of being critical of Trump over his endorsement of Van Drew in a December Oval Office event, where Van Drew announced his party switch to Republican.

In an email to Davis, Richter said Davis accused him of “name-calling on CNN,” which Richter denied.

“Both the video and the transcript of my CNN interview are available on the web and confirm this. Second, I didn’t ‘question President Trump’s motivations’ in endorsing Jeff Van Drew during my interview with The New York Times,” Richter said. “I simply stated the fact that Van Drew’s party-flipping and the endorsement that came with it was ‘in the best interest of Donald Trump,’ i.e. it was a positive event for the president and his re-election campaign, especially coming as it did in the middle of the House’s impeachment vote.”

Richter said he has “consistently supported the President and his re-election efforts and will continue to do so.”

But Davis said Monday his concerns about Richter go deeper, citing Richter calling Van Drew “a weasel” for switching parties in a December interview with The Press of Atlantic City. Davis also cited Richter’s continuing attacks on Van Drew as unprincipled and not a “real Republican.”

“My concern has always been his immediate reaction was to refer to him as a weasel. That’s wrong and he owes Congressman Van Drew an apology for that,” Davis said. “Then he goes on CNN and an interview with the New York Times — two media sources very much anti-Republican — and expects to be treated fairly. He gives them fodder to go after a fellow Republican, which is not healthy to the party. That’s not going to put us into a better position to be stronger going into this November.”

“No matter his position or party, Jeff has looked to do good work and put politics aside,” Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton said in the Cape statement Monday. “We have joked with him for years about crossing over and joining the party of common sense.”

The release said endorsements are forthcoming from local Cape May County Republicans.

Despite some past political differences, we have always been able to work with Jeff, when it comes to helping the folks we represent,” Lower Township Mayor and Assemblyman-Elect Erik Simonsen said. “A united front ... will be critical if we are to truly push back against the progressive insanity that has infested the Democrat party, both in Trenton and Washington, DC.”

“On the issues that affect our quality of life locally and the principles that are most important to our voters, we stand on common ground (with Van Drew),” said Middle Township Mayor and CapeGOP Second Vice-Chair Tim Donohue.

”I realize that President Trump has made his endorsement, but Republican voters in the Second District deserve a choice,” Richter wrote to Davis. “As Chairman of the Atlantic County Republican Committee ... you have an obligation to run a fair and impartial convention and endorsement process.”There are also two other Republicans in the primary, Egg Harbor Township’s Brian Fitzherbert, who has received many local endorsements, and Bob Patterson, of Haddonfield and Ocean City.

Davis said the convention will remain open to all and fair, but “as a party leader I can’t stand idly by and allow someone to malign the record of a sitting Republican congressman, particularly when the facts (Richter) is putting out there are not accurate,” he said of Richter’s statements that Van Drew is a liberal, when he has long been known locally as a moderate to conservative Democrat.

“Maybe next time he should talk to the Washington Times, not the New York Times,” Davis said.

Who is running in the 2nd Congressional District race?

Murphy vetoes 2% school tax cap exemption, signs several education bills

A bill that would have allowed certain school districts impacted by school funding reform to raise property taxes above the 2% cap was vetoed Monday by Gov. Phil Murphy.

The bill was one of dozens sitting on Murphy’s desk for consideration as the legislative session came to an end. Murphy will deliver his State of the State address Tuesday after the Legislature convenes for a new session.

On Monday, Murphy signed many bills and vetoed just a handful, including the tax cap exemption bill supported by Sen. President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem.

“Before middle-class property taxpayers have to again take it on the chin, we should be asking our wealthiest residents to pay their fair share through a millionaire’s tax,” Murphy said. “This legislation would have created a loophole in our existing property tax cap by making it easier to raise property taxes.”

Murphy said the bill would have further encumbered already over-burdened middle and working-class taxpayers.

Sweeney condemned Murphy’s veto of the bill, which he said would provide cap relief to districts facing aid cuts due to school funding reforms passed in 2018. The exemption would apply only to districts that are spending below the adequacy level deemed necessary under the state’s school funding law.

“The school cap relief legislation was developed with support from the New Jersey School Boards Association and school board members, superintendents and school officials from across the state,” Sweeney said. “The legislation would have provided the same cap relief to suburban and rural districts that are losing Adjustment Aid, taxing below their Local Fair Share and spending below adequacy — as determined by the Governor’s own Department of Education — that is already provided to the Abbott districts.”

The New Jersey School Boards Association also released a statement Monday that it was extremely disappointed in Murphy’s veto.

“S-4289 was well-thought-out legislation that would have enabled school districts to maintain educational programming. It would not have resulted in wide-scale, unbridled property tax increases as inferred by the governor,” said Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director.

NJSBA also took issue with the governor’s linking of the cap relief bill to his proposed millionaires’ tax.

“We are disappointed that Governor Murphy does not recognize S-4289 for what it is: A reasonable approach to help some of the districts scheduled to lose education funding through the 2024-2025 school year,” Feinsod said.

Sweeney called the veto the “height of hypocrisy” and said the governor “owes the parents and schoolchildren in Toms River, Old Bridge, Hillsborough, South Brunswick and Brick an explanation of why he thinks the adequacy of their education is less important than those of children in cities like Newark and Trenton.”

Murphy said the bill was rushed and needed more time to be developed.

“State-level decisionmakers should not delay difficult funding decisions until the end of the legislative session and fast track what amounts to a tax increase on the middle class without first exhausting all other options,” he said.

Some other education-related bills singed into law:

A790 — “Combat to College Act”; grants priority course registration to military service members and veterans attending public institutions of higher education.

A791 — Requires institution of higher education to award appropriate credit for student’s military service.

A1991 — Requires students at institutions of higher education to receive immunization for meningitis in accordance with recommendations of Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

A3160 — Permits cosmetology and hairstyling school clinics to charge certain fees for services rendered to general public.

A4710 — “Strengthening Gifted and Talented Education Act”; establishes school district responsibilities in educating gifted and talented students.

A5263 — Requires four-year public institution of higher education to award college credits to firefighters for certain courses completed at county fire academies.

S775 — Establishes Tuition Aid Grant Study Commission to examine New Jersey’s Tuition Aid Grant Program and make recommendations regarding improvements to program.

S778 — Establishes Campus Sexual Assault Commission.

S1834 — Requires each public institution of higher education to post its budget on the institution’s website.

S2527 — Requires Department of Agriculture to promote school meal programs.

S2980 — Provides that school district may not condition student enrollment in district on fact that Motor Vehicle Commission does not have name or address of parent or guardian on file.

S2982 — Clarifies that child may not be excluded from public school based on membership in protected category under “Law Against Discrimination” or immigration status.

S3064 — Establishes task force to develop State-wide plan to diversify apprenticeships.

S3066 — Creates five year High-Growth Industry Regional Apprenticeship Development Grant Pilot Program.

S3327 — Establishes Commission on Latino and Hispanic Heritage in Department of Education.

GALLERY: NJEA Convention in Atlantic City

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

Vote on N.J. bill to bar certain vaccine exemptions stalls

TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers postponed an expected vote on a bill to eliminate most religious exemptions for vaccines for schoolchildren saying they lacked the votes, and leading to raucous cheers from opponents who had encircled the State House with flags, bullhorns and banners.

Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney and Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said late Monday there was a lot of “misinformation” getting around, leading to lawmakers withholding support for the measure that already passed in the Assembly.

For the third time in a month, the opponents homed in on the capitol complex and lobbed argument after argument at state lawmakers, including that their religious freedom was being violated by the measure.

When it became clear that the bill would not get a vote, they cheered and applauded so loudly that it could be heard inside the Senate chamber.

“They can stand outside and ring sirens and beat pots and believe what they want to believe, but our responsibility is to protect the larger residents of the state of New Jersey, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Weinberg said.

Monday was the final meeting of the Legislature’s current session, with a new one beginning Tuesday. That means any bill would have to be reintroduced and wind its way through the process yet again.

Sweeney promised to do that. He also said he would bring in medical doctors and other experts to respond to all the opponents’ concerns.

The legislation as initially written would have ended a religious exemption to vaccine requirements for children attending any school in the state, but lawmakers amended the bill last week to allow exemptions for pupils at private schools and for siblings of children who had vaccine-related injuries.

Despite the last-minute changes, opponents crowded the Statehouse, even arranging for portable toilets to be brought in. They circled the building, and their chanting was so loud that it made the proceedings in the Senate chamber difficult to hear.

“My choice, my God,” they chanted, along with signs that read: “I’m the parent. I call the shots” and “In God We Trust.”

The crowd also broke out into song and prayer, including “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Lord’s Prayer.

They argue that the measure infringes on their rights as parents to decide what’s best for their children.

They also say they oppose the amended bill because it helps only wealthier families who can afford to send their kids to private schools.

Lawmakers who support the bill say it is necessary to keep children safe amid recent outbreaks of some vaccine-preventable diseases. They have criticized “misinformation and hysteria swirling” around the bill.

If the bill becomes law, New Jersey would join five other states, including California and New York, to do away with a religious exemption.

Every state requires some vaccines for students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but exemptions vary by state.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia allow for religious exemptions to immunizations, according to the conference.

According to New Jersey’s Health Department, there are about 14,000 students who had a religious exemption in 2018-2019. That’s 2.6% of the total number of enrolled students.

It’s unclear whether Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy would support or reject the measure. His office did not return a message seeking comment.

The bill gained traction last year amid a nationwide measles outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was the greatest number of measles cases reported since 1992; New Jersey was among the hardest-hit states.

Democrats will remain in control in the new session in Trenton, though they lost two Assembly seats and a Senate post in November’s election.