National roundup

March 2
New Jersey
Christie appointees named in toll scheme

Two of Gov. Chris Christie’s appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey led a secretive campaign to quickly push through toll increases on the Hudson River bridges and tunnels, according to a published report.

Citing interviews it conducted with eight people who were familiar with the operation, the Record newspaper reports that the campaign was run by Bill Baroni, the authority’s former deputy executive director, and his aide, David Wildstein.

The goal was to have the bistate agency propose an enormous toll increase so the governors could scale it back and appear to be fiscal hawks, according to the report.

Smaller toll increases were eventually approved in 2011.

Baroni, Wildstein and Christie’s offices declined to comment.

— Associated Press

New York
De Blasio opts for gay-friendly parade

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who plans to skip the nation’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade because participants are banned from carrying signs or banners identifying themselves as gay, joined the gay-friendly St. Pat’s for All parade on Sunday, saying it honors the traditions of the city by celebrating inclusion.

“This is a parade that celebrates inclusion. . . . That is what the city is about. That is what has made this city strong,” De Blasio (D) said after arriving at the parade, an annual tradition in Queens that attracts a few thousand participants.

In a nod to those who started the parade in 2000, the mayor said it was sometimes necessary to “start a positive change, even when it doesn’t seem easy.”

“Over time,” De Blasio added, “people cling to it. They understand it’s the right way.”

— Associated Press

California
Walt Disney Co. to cut Boy Scouts funds

The Walt Disney Company will cut funding to the Boy Scouts of America beginning in 2015 because of a policy that bans gay adult leaders in the organization.

The organization is “disappointed” by the decision, which will affect its ability to serve children, Deron Smith, a Boy Scouts spokesman, said in a statement Sunday. Disney does not provide direct funding to the Boy Scouts, but it donates money to some troops in exchange for volunteer hours completed by Disney employees, he said.

The Boy Scouts lifted a ban on gay youths last year.

— Associated Press

Brown fears pot will hurt U.S. productivity

Gov. Jerry Brown said he is not sure that legalizing marijuana in his state is a good idea because the country could eventually lose its competitive edge if too many people are getting stoned.

Brown (D) said he worries that if pot smoking gains more legitimacy in the nation’s most populous state, it could have negative ripple effects.

“The problem with anything, a certain amount is okay. But there is a tendency to go to extremes,” he said in a wide-ranging interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And all of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”

Californians voted to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. But Brown said he is watching closely to see how Colorado and Washington handle their new laws that go a step further by regulating the growth and sale of taxed recreational marijuana at state-licensed stores. Colorado’s pot shops opened Jan. 1, and Washington’s are expected to open later this year.

— Associated Press

Mud-slide threat recedes: Residents in three foothill communities headed home Sunday after a powerful storm that threatened to unleash mud on neighborhoods beneath unstable hills scarred by recent wildfires. With the storm reduced to sprinkles, residents in the Los Angeles County cities of Glendora and Azusa were allowed back into their homes. Monrovia residents were allowed back late Saturday, officials said. The storm — the largest since 2010 — kept emergency planners and rescue crews busy but didn’t produce enough rain to pull California out of a crippling drought that has grown to crisis proportions for the state’s vast farming industry.

— Associated Press

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