- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2010

ARKANSAS

‘Joe the Plumber’ appears on stump

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. | Republican U.S. Senate candidate Conrad Reynolds is making a series of Arkansas appearances with Joe the Plumber, the Ohio man who became a well-known figure in the 2008 presidential race.

Mr. Reynolds is seeking the GOP nomination to run against incumbent Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln. Mr. Reynolds asked supporters at a $100-a-plate luncheon at the Little Rock Club on Monday to volunteer and give money to help him in a race that he calls “the best showdown of our lifetimes.”

Joe the Plumber, whose name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, said he supports Mr. Reynolds, but said voters should research Mr. Reynolds’ positions rather than rely on his endorsement.

NEW JERSEY

Businesses could face higher taxes

TRENTON, N.J. | New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he’ll let a tax hike on businesses take effect if the federal government doesn’t help the state replenish the unemployment fund.

Employers could see an increase of up to $1,000 per employee in their unemployment tax starting July 1 unless the fund is infused with state or federal money.

The fund helps pay unemployment benefits.

The increase is triggered by a growing shortfall in the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Business taxes are increased by law when the fund’s balance dips below a certain level as measured every March. Mr. Christie says the fund will be $1.6 billion in debt by March.

“That’s not my choice, what I would like to have happen,” Mr. Christie said Monday. “But on the other hand, we can’t continue to run that kind of debt.”

The newly sworn-in Republican governor said his administration will ask the federal government to forgive the debt, but he said the state can’t afford to pump money into the fund to stop the tax increase. New Jersey faces a deficit of more than $9 billion for the 2011 budget year, which begins in July.

Unemployment in New Jersey climbed to a 33-year high of 10.1 percent in December — the first time since October 2006 that the Garden State’s jobless rate eclipsed the national average of 10 percent.

TEXAS

Perry slights state’s newspapers

AUSTIN, Texas | Republican Gov. Rick Perry has decided not to spend time seeking endorsements from Texas newspapers before the March 2 primary.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner said Monday that Mr. Perry will not be attending editorial board meetings at newspapers. Mr. Miner says there are better uses of the governor’s time.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s campaign hasn’t said whether she will seek newspaper endorsements. Mr. Perry, Mrs. Hutchison and Debra Medina are vying for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

The Austin American-Statesman first reported Mr. Perry’s decision, noting that many Republicans believe GOP voters are distrustful of newspaper editorial boards.

Some newspapers may endorse Mr. Perry anyway, even though he doesn’t spend time meeting with them.

GUN BAN

N.H. to consider lifting gun ban

CONCORD, N.H. | A New Hampshire state lawmaker is being allowed to file a bill that would repeal a ban on weapons in the Concord Statehouse.

Earlier this month, the House Rules Committee blocked an effort by Gene Chandler, Bartlett Republican, to make the proposal after House deadlines had passed. The committee said then that it was reconsidering the ban, but later left it in place. The ban reinstated a policy that was in force for at least a decade until it was lifted in 2006.

On Monday, the New Hampshire Union Leader said the committee voted to let Mr. Chandler’s bill be introduced.

Mr. Chandler says he hasn’t finished drafting his bill

NEW YORK

Hearing rooms escape budget cuts

ALBANY, N.Y. | New York lawmakers who are weighing whether to cut funding for police, soup kitchens and aid for college students during this fiscal crisis are doing so in some spiffy new digs, thanks to $5.2 million to their own hearing rooms.

The improvements include pairs of 3-by-5-foot television screens, better lighting and technology for TV coverage, new carpeting, refurbished seats in the three theaterlike rooms, and more prominent name plates for lawmakers.

Legislative spokesmen defend the project, begun around 2005, as a way to improve the openness of the Legislature’s work and make the rooms more accessible for the disabled.

The last major renovation was 35 years ago.

SENATE RACE

Ford visits Albany as he mulls bid

ALBANY, N.Y. | Harold Ford Jr. made his first visit to New York’s Capitol on Monday as he publicly flirts with a possible Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, casting himself an independent alternative.

The former congressman from Tennessee and current New York City resident continues to tour his adopted home state. Mr. Ford told reporters trailing him at the Capitol that he had yet to make up his mind on a Senate run. But he spent much of his brief visit acting like a candidate: He introduced himself to scores of state workers and made the case before TV cameras that voters want something different.

“I think a more independent, stronger and steadier voice is something that could be more effective,” Mr. Ford said. “And as I listen to voters, a few things I’ve found … is that many people don’t know who their senators are.”

The Albany stop came after a Sunday visit to Buffalo, and more trips around the state are planned. Mr. Ford admitted he knows little about upstate cities such as Utica and Schenectady but said, “I hope to learn a lot more in the coming weeks.”

Gov. David A. Paterson appointed Mrs. Gillibrand a year ago to fill the unexpired Senate term of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is running for election this year. Polls show the former upstate congresswoman with more support than Mr. Ford, though Mr. Ford is known as strong fundraiser and he has connections to Wall Street through his vice-chairman job at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Mr. Ford took a 30-day leave of absence from his job last week as he makes his decision.

VETERANS

Veterans could get benefits upgrade

A military review could bring millions of dollars in benefits to thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans discharged with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The military has agreed to review the records of recent veterans discharged with PTSD to decide whether they were improperly denied benefits.

The agreement stems from a judge’s order in a class-action lawsuit originally filed by seven combat veterans. They alleged the military illegally denied benefits to those discharged, at least in part, because of the disorder during a six-year period that ended Oct. 14, 2008.

Legal notices are currently being mailed to about 4,300 veterans informing them they can “opt-in” to the lawsuit until July 24 to be part of the expedited review.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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