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December 17, 2014

A new survey by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that in 2012 New Jersey spent $31.4 billion on education -- $24 billion for elementary and secondary education.

Of that $24 billion, $2.3 billion was funded by the state and $21.6 billion was funded by local governments.

The remaining sums were spent on higher education ($5.9 billion, of which $4.6 billion was provided by the state), as well as capital outlays, other education services, and libraries.

December 16, 2014

Business leaders, most legislators, and transportation advocates may be unhappy to learn that despite their recent campaign to fix our transportation infrastructure, most New Jerseyans are still against a hike in the gas tax, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll.

Only 41 percent said they would favor a gas-tax hike even after being told the state’s gas tax is among the lowest in the country.

Nevertheless, the campaign, which has targeted the gas tax as one of the few solutions available to fix the state’s crumbling infrastructure, appears to have moved the needle somewhat. In October, only 38 percent of poll respondents were in favor of the tax hike. But David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling called the uptick “not statistically significant.”

One reason for the opposition, according to the poll’s analysis, is that New Jersey drivers don’t seem to think the roads are that bad. Fifty-four percent replied that state roads -- not including the Turnpike or Garden State Parkway -- are in either good (48 percent) or excellent (6 percent) shape.

December 15, 2014

President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the country’s only triservice (U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force) defense base this afternoon. Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is home to 38,000 active-duty, reserve, and guard service, as well as civilians and family. It contributes at least $4.2 billion to the state’s gross domestic product, according to a 2013 report by the Rutgers Economic Advisory Service of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

The White House is billing the trip as an opportunity for the president to thank members of the base for their service, but at least one local politician sees it as a possible sign that the base will not be affected by the next round of closures. “I hope the President’s visit is a sign that he will join me in doing whatever is needed to preserve the Joint Base and enhance its operations as our military continues to evolve,” said Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) in a statement.

December 12, 2014

It may be two years away, but if Gov. Chris Christie thinks he can carry New Jersey in a presidential election, he has a lot of work to do. According to a new Quinnipiac poll, 53 percent of New Jersey voters said Christie would not make a good president, with only 40 percent saying he would. And 50 percent said they would not like to see him run in 2016.

Only Republicans said Christie would make a good president -- Democrats, independents, whether they were male or female of any age, said he would not.

What’s more, 62 percent of those polled said that if he does run for president he should resign as governor because he cannot serve effectively while mounting a presidential bid. Only 32 percent of voters said he should stay in office.

Who do Garden State voters like? Hillary Clinton. She not only beats Christie 50 percent to 39 percent, if an election were held today, but also she beats the rest of the Republican field by even larger margins

December 11, 2014

Black bears and their habitat have become a controversial issue in New Jersey, with animal-rights advocates once again complaining about the state’s annual bear hunt, which takes place this week.

The hunt, which is expected to bag about 250 black bears, is deemed necessary by the state Department of Environmental Protection in order to cull the population. Although black bears have been sighted in all 21 counties, about 2,500 bears are estimated to live in the Northwest corner of the state – north of Route 78 and west of Route 287.

The annual bear hunt remains controversial, even after a Rutgers student was mauled by a black bear while hiking and died.

Animal advocates argue that the hunt encourages bears to forage for garbage, since human food is used to attract them to hunters. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, says the death of the student proves that the hunts don’t work -- since it is the first such death in New Jersey history. Aggressive bear incidents have gone up since the bear hunts began five years ago, with the harvesting of 1,600 bears.

“This is not a sustainable hunt,” said Tittel in a statement. “This is a trophy hunt.” He notes that the hunts take place in the deep woods, not on the outer perimeter closer to the population.

December 10, 2014

A new report by the Justice Policy Institute pegs the true cost of incarcerating a juvenile in New Jersey at $535.36 a day, or $196,133 a year. Although it is one of the more expensive states in the country for juvenile jailing -- Louisiana spends only $127.89 a day or $46,662 annually -- New Jersey does pay out less than many other states. The most expensive is New York, where it costs $966.20 per diem or $352,663 per juvenile per year.

The report concluded that these confinements are, for the most part, inefficient, harmful, and cost the public too much. They also don't reduce the rate of recidivism. Instead, the report recommended that the public shift its emphasis to community-based options. Incarceration should be a last resort.

The report also noted that the juvenile crime rate has dropped significantly in the past 10 years, as has the rate of incarceration of youths being housed in juvenile jails and the crime rate.

December 9, 2014

Elizabeth elementary school science teacher Tracy Espiritu is one of 40 nationally recognized recipients of the 2014 Milken Educator award, which comes with a $25,000 prize.

Espiritu is a former product engineer who now who teaches at School 29 Dr. Albert Einstein Academy. She has introduced astronomy to hundreds of Elizabeth’s students and families through family astronomy nights and stargazing. And she’s also been recognized due to her contributions to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering Architecture and Math) curriculum in the city.

Espiritu was instrumental in getting the Einstein Academy, a magnet school, named a NASA Explorer School. She’s also enhanced STEAM instruction through partnerships with the College of New Jersey, the Greater Newark Conservancy, Kean University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and NASA.

Surmounting economic and other challenges, more than 80 percent of Einstein's students have scored proficient or advanced proficient in math over the past four years, in part due to Espiritu's efforts in her classes and throughout the school, according to the state Department of Education.

Espiritu was surprised by the the award announcement at a school assembly attended by acting Education Commissioner David Hespe and NJ First Lady Mary Pat Christie. A full list of this year’s recipients is available online.

December 8, 2014

New Jersey commuters to New York will pay $14 in cash to cross the Hudson River using any connecting bridge or tunnel. This includes the George Washington Bridge, Lincoln Tunnel, and Holland Tunnel.

The same rate applies to other New Jersey-to-New York crossings: the Bayonne Bridge, Goethals Bridge, and Outerbridge crossing.

Drivers with E-ZPass get a discount to $11.75.

The new pricing represents at least a $0.75 increase for E-ZPass customers and a $1.00 increase for cash customers in regular cars. The E-ZPass prices are for “peak hours,” which are weekdays 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., as well as Saturday and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The cost for off-peak hours with E-ZPass is $9.75. There is no charge for returning to New Jersey from New York.

Trucks will find it even more expensive to enter New York, with a cash price ranging from $38 for vehicles with two axles to $114 for trucks with six axles. Trucks with E-ZPass also get a discount, with the lowest cost being $30 for a two-axle vehicles.

The Port Authority does offer discount plans for carpools and low-emission vehicles, but cars must be enrolled ahead of time.

December 5, 2014

New Jersey jailed a total of 22,452 people in its state prisons in 2013 at a cost of $1.51 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

About 4.8 percent of the state budget’s general fund is devoted to jails and prisons. The cost and large number notwithstanding, that was the lowest number of prisoners being held in New Jersey since 1990.

New Jersey’s rate of 252 people incarcerated per 100,000 population is among the lowest in the country, joining Vermont, Utah, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, and North Dakota at the bottom of the list.

The rest of the country, however, is experiencing historic highs in the rates of incarceration. Louisiana, which has the highest percentage of prisoners in its jails with 847 per 100,000 spends 8.7 percent of its general fund on prisons. Texas, which also has among the highest rates of incarceration, had 160,295 prisoners in 2013, or 602 people per 100,000. That’s the highest number of prisoners of any state in the country. Texas spent $3.1 billion on its jails or 7.3 percent of its state’s general fund.

To see how the country has changed in terms of prison populations, see the interactive graphic at the CBPP.

December 4, 2014

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is proposing a $7.8 billion spending plan for 2015 on revenues of $4.67 billion -- including an operating budget of $2.9 billion.

The agency boasts that the operating budget has only increased 1.8 percent, which is at or below the rate of inflation for the ninth year in the row. But it also notes that revenues are $250 million higher -- in large part due to higher tolls.

The capital budget is $3.6 billion: 45 percent of which will be devoted to the World Trade Center; 22 percent to tunnels, bridges, and terminals; 21 percent to aviation; and 7 percent to the PATH system.

The $1.6 billion World Trade Center spending includes $632 million in World Trade Center infrastructure other than One World Trade Center; $350 million for the subway/PATH station; $294 in retail development; and $349 million to finish One World Trade Center.

When it comes to interstate transportation (tunnels and bridges and PATH), the authority plans to spend $1 billion. That includes $273 million for raising the Bayonne Bridge; $260 million to improve the access infrastructure to the Lincoln Tunnel; $40 million for the Goethals Bridge; and $35 million for the George Washington Bridge bus station. Another $233 million is planned to upgrade the Harrison St. PATH station, as well as modernize signaling systems under the river. About $6 million will be devoted to extending the PATH line to Newark Penn Station.

Although the report said that part of the aviation improvements will be dedicated to Newark-Liberty airport Terminal A, almost all of the $779 billion in capital aviation improvements will be to La Guardia Airport ($505 million) and reconstruction of a JFK airport runway ($207 million.)

The Port Authority will vote on the proposed budget next Wednesday.

December 3, 2014

New Jersey doctors, many of whom still work in small offices, have never been known to rapidly embrace technology. But a recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics said that office-based physicians in the Garden State rank last in the country for adoption of electronic health records. Only 21 percent have installed what is considered a “basic” EHR, while the national average is 48 percent, according to the study.

New Jersey also ranked last when it came to office-based physicians using “any” EHR, with 66 percent having implemented one. Nationally, the rate is 78 percent, with Minnesota having a rate of 94 percent.

December 2, 2014

New Jerseyans may need to take note that today is Giving Tuesday, a new international day of giving designed to kick off charitable giving during the holidays. That’s because the state ranked 48th among U.S. states and the District of Columbia in terms of charitable giving as a percentage of income. New Jerseyans gave an average of 2.01 percent, just slightly more than Vermont (2 percent), Maine (1.95 percent), and New Hampshire (1.74 percent)

Mercer County is the most generous in the state. That ranking was based on Internal Revenue data from 2012, which also showed New Jerseyans gave 13 percent less in 2012 than in 2006 -- for whatever reason. It's interesting to note that 2012 was the year Sandy hit.

Religious organizations are the beneficiaries of much of the country’s charitable giving, which can partially explain why Utah, with a rate of 6.54 percent, and the Bible belt southern states of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina -- all of which gave more than 4 percent of income to charity -- top the list of most-generous states.

December 1, 2014

The season of excess when it comes to consumerism is now -- today is Cyber Monday, after all. So it’s interesting to note that New Jersey -- for all its excesses -- isn’t quite so excessive when it comes to consumer spending.

Wallethub, an online financial website, ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of personal spending, including metrics such as credit-card debt, number of cars, home size, and whether residents spent more than they earned. It then adjusted the rankings in terms of cost of living and income.

New Jersey came up 45th. Before adjustment due to cost of living and income, New Jersey ranked 12th.

New Jersey was singled out as among the lowest spending on healthcare (48th) and number of cars per household (47th). Indeed, spending on cars seemed to be a key factor in the rankings, since the states with mass transit that allows people to own fewer cars performed well in the rankings: New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and Massachusetts all were at the bottom of both the auto ownership and full rankings.

November 26, 2014

In the mid-1800s, turkeys disappeared from New Jersey due to habitat changes and being harvested for food. So in 1977, the state Division of Fish and Wildlife decided to reintroduce turkeys into New Jersey, releasing 22 birds into the wilds of the Garden State.

There are now approximately 23,000 wild turkeys throughout the state -- and semiannual hunting seasons -- one in the spring and the other in the fall. Each year about 3,000 birds are harvested.

Hunting areas reach from Warren and Sussex counties in the north to Cape May, Burlington, and Atlantic in the south. Wild turkeys have been spotted everywhere, including urban areas.

November 25, 2014

Child and adolescent obesity is on the rise in New Jersey, to the point at which [link:/assets/14/1124/2228|14.2 percent] of low-income kids are obese. That’s the highest level of 44 states that report obesity statistics through low-income programs.

And low-income children are not alone. Nearly one in four (24.7 percent) of children between 10 and 17 are either overweight or obese, while 9 percent of New Jersey high-school students are overweight and another 14 percent are obese, according to the state Department of Health.

When it comes to diet, only 19 percent of high-school students eat five servings of fruit or vegetables a day and 12 percent drink a can of soda each day.

Still, 49 percent of high-school students say they exercise an hour or more five days a week.

November 24, 2014

New Jersey’s infrastructure is crumbling. We hear this over and over again, but for the most part, the discussion centers on the state’s antiquated roads, bridges, and mass-transit systems.

But water systems are at least as big a problem for New Jersey. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, New Jersey needs to spend $32.5 billion on upgrading its wastewater facilities over the next 20 years.

Another $8 billion is needed to ensure that the infrastructure for drinking water remains intact. The ASCE estimates that the country needs to invest $3.6 trillion in its infrastructure in order to remain globally competitive.

November 21, 2014

New Jersey Policy Perspective’s Erika Nava estimates that about 204,000 of New Jersey’s estimated 525,000 undocumented residents will be affected by President Barack Obama’s announced executive action program on immigration. The centerpiece of the program would enable parents of U.S. citizens to defer any deportation by registering for a new program that requires them to submit to criminal background checks, pay taxes, and in return get a work permit.

According to Nava, the executive order is a positive step. “The executive actions will remove substantial economic barriers faced by the undocumented, increase state and local tax collections, and help shrink New Jersey’s underground economy.”

November 20, 2014

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection says that as of last Wednesday, 347 holdouts are still refusing to sign easements to their beachfront land to allow for construction of protective dunes. Those homeowners are mostly grouped along a stretch of coastline south of Manasquan on the Barnegat Penninsula.

The state has pledged to fortify its coastline to make communities less vulnerable to storms like Sandy, but it's faced opposition from some residents who are frustrated that their land is being taken away or feel that other physical defenses would be more effective than dunes.

In July of last year, the State Supreme Court ruled that a Harvey Cedars couple, was only entitled to $1 compensation for the loss of their view, since the protection the dune would afford them and their neighbors was tantamount when it came to preserving the value of their home. That ruling effectively opened the door for the state to pursue condemnation proceedings against uncooperative landowners, which officials plan to do more aggressively in the coming months.

November 19, 2014

By many measures, New Jerseyans are pretty healthy when compared with other Americans. But not so much when it comes to chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, and asthma, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Datahub analysis.

In 2011-2012, 21.4 percent of New Jerseyans said they had one or more of those illnesses. Nationally, the figure is 21 percent.

That percentage is on the rise; the same question posed for 2001 through 2010 was 12.9 percent for New Jerseyans and 17.8 percent nationally. In the past two years, the rate was 21.3 percent for both whites and Latinos in New Jersey, while it was much higher for African-Americans at 26.6 percent. That division was similar nationally.

November 18, 2014

The fall picking season has just about wound down, and New Jersey has sold about 29.7 million pounds of apples this year.

That’s up slightly from last year, when 29 million pounds were harvested but only brought in $11.2 million in sales. In 2012, New Jersey apples were sold fresh to market for $27.6 million; 35 million pounds were harvested.

New Jersey grows more than 30 different varieties of apples but among its favorites is Winesap, which is the oldest and has been grown in the state since the 1700s. Other favored varieties include Red and Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Granny Smith.

November 17, 2014

Motor vehicle theft -- particularly automobiles -- is down significantly in New Jersey this year. So far, it has dropped 19.5 percent. Theft of autos has decreased from 8,085 this time last year to 6,480. Thefts of trucks and buses have also fallen 14.6 percent, and thefts of other types of vehicles have declined about 18 percent.

The reduction seems to be a trend across the entire state.

November 14, 2014

If you think a 13-year-old boy convicted of a crime in New Jersey won’t have that record follow him, think again. New Jersey is below the national average when it comes to protecting juvenile records; the Juvenile Law Center gave New Jersey a 43 percent rating. The national average is 46 percent.

According to the study, New Jersey excludes too many crimes from being allowed to be expunged and it requires that youths seek it themselves instead of having it occur automatically. However, the Garden State was particularly criticized when it comes to record confidentiality. It was rated 15 percent when it comes to law enforcement and court records being kept confidential.

November 13, 2014

New Jersey has total unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities of $200 billion, according to State Budget Solutions, a Washington D.C. public policy think tank. That ranks it sixth in the country with a per capita debt of $22,491.

Oddly enough, that’s good news, since in 2012 the same group said New Jersey had $289 billion in unfunded liabilities and ranked it fourth.

Regardless, almost every state in the nation is facing this problem. The total unfunded liability for the country is $4.7 trillion, with the average American facing a debt of about $15,000. The best-case scenario states, such as Wisconsin, have a 67 percent unfunded liability.

November 12, 2014

About 16 percent of the New Jersey population is enrolled in Medicare, according to statehealthfacts.org, a project of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s about 1.4 million people, 85 percent of whom are eligible due to their age. The rest of those enrolled in Medicare are disabled.

Of the 1.4 million New Jerseyans on Medicare 15 percent of them have enrolled in a Medicare Advantage managed plan.

November 10, 2014

An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 New Jerseyans suffer from a traumatic brain injury every year, according to the state Department of Health, and about 1,000 people die from them.

About 175,000 New Jerseyans are currently living with disabilities from traumatic brain injuries.

The most common causes of brain trauma are motor vehicle crashes, falls, assaults, and self-inflicted injuries.

The age pattern for all brain injuries is the same for every racial and ethnic group. A majority of these type of trauma affect those younger than 35, but injury rates rise sharply after age 65, due to falls.

November 7, 2014

Since implementing a new program known as the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, New Jersey has had 71 percent fewer juvenile incarcerations.

The program, which is being funded in large part by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, offers the courts alternative detention methods, such as electronic monitoring, home detention, and reporting centers. It also offers other youth programming efforts aimed at keeping young people out of jail.

Since being adopted in New Jersey, the program has also allowed the state to close five of its juvenile detention facilities. Cost savings can be significant. For instance, Passaic closed its 45-bed facility in 2009 and agreed to send youth to nearby Essex County. Passaic saved $9.1 million a year while paying Essex County about $3.8 million a year in fees.

November 6, 2014

There are approximately 3,527 people in New Jersey who are waiting for an organ or tissue transplant, according to the Motor Vehicle Commission, and about 2.3 million have signed up to be donors.

The MVC administers the organ-donation registration program in New Jersey. In the northern 14 counties of the state, about 37 percent of drivers have signed up for the program. Drivers can register when they obtain or renew a license.

Those who don’t drive can contact the New Jersey Sharing Network or the Gift of Life donor program.

November 5, 2014

Only about 35 percent of registered New Jersey voters went to the polls yesterday to vote in the 2014 midterm elections, fewer than any federal election in the state’s history. The turnout number, however, is still preliminary. It excludes Monmouth County, which early this morning only had about 33 percent of its precincts reporting.

Still, in 2010, which was the prior midterm election year, 42 percent of the registered voters cast their ballots, which was one of the lowest vote turnouts in New Jersey history.

Years in which only the state Senate or state Assembly seats are up for grabs have resulted in turnouts just north of 30 percent -- but never an election for Congress. Presidential elections usually pull in more than 70 percent of voters -- with one exception, 2012. That year, in which about 62 percent of the electorate cast its vote, was seriously affected by superstorm Sandy.

November 4, 2014

Once again, Wallethub, a social media financial site, has created an index that it says indicates how politically engaged citizens in various states are. New Jersey? It came in a dismal 37th.

This is despite the fact that New Jersey bucks the national trend for political engagement: it’s a blue state with a highly educated workforce.

To determine engagement, Wallethub looked at voting turnout in both presidential and off-year elections, as well as political contributions. Massachusetts and Colorado were deemed the most politically engaged states and West Virginia and Oklahoma judged the least politically engaged.

New Jersey fared a bit better when it came to ranking determined by the number of citizens between 18 and 24 who actually voted in the 2012 Presidential election -- winding up 32nd, with 39 percent of eligible voters going to the polls. When it came to senior citizens voting, New Jersey ranked 35th, with 68 percent of eligible voters going to the polls.

November 3, 2014

For once, there is good news on the NJ transportation front. The widening of the New Jersey Turnpike between exits 6 and 9, construction of which has snarled turnpike and surrounding traffic for the past five years, is now complete. The northbound lanes were scheduled to be opened today, and next weekend the southbound lanes are slated to be opened. It will be just in time for holiday travel.

The $2.3 billion project, which came in $200 million below the original $2.5 billion budgeted, began in 2009 and was paid for with state toll money.

The project added 170 lane-miles -- doubling the capacity along a 25-mile stretch of corridor from Middlesex to Burlington counties, as well as adding an additional lane to the outer roadway between Interchange 8A and 9 in East Brunswick.

At its peak, the construction, which also included upgrading or building new toll plazas and building or modifying 102 bridges and culverts, among other things, was the largest active roadway project in the Western hemisphere.

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