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October 24, 2014

For the second time this year, PSEG has announced it will credit customers on their winter gas bills due to newly found natural gas deposits in the nearby Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale. The state’s largest energy supplier said it will cut the average residential gas heating bill by 31 percent this winter -- and this is in addition to a previously announced 9 percent reduction that was put into effect in October.

PSEG said the reduction would depend on meter-reading schedules, but many customers will see some of the credit in November, December, and January with the remainder coming in February. The average customer will see a total credit of approximately $118 for the three months.

According to the company, PSEG makes no profit on the sale of natural gas and passes along what it pays to its customers. Costs of natural gas account for about half of a customer’s monthly bill.

October 23, 2014

For years, New Jersey has had some of the most forward-thinking public policies and incentives for business and residents to invest in solar power. And while the incentives have dwindled, the public policies are still among the country’s most aggressive, according to Solar Power Rocks.

A group of young solar advocates committed to spreading the gospel of solar power, Solar Power Rocks has rated states for their underlying policies regarding the renewable energy and ranked New Jersey fifth.

According to the group, New Jersey gets an “A” for having a solar power carve-out in its renewable portfolio standard, net metering, tax exemptions, and performance payments. It’s 5-kilowatt payback period averages 8 years and allows for solar leasing. It calls the state's SREC program “rocking.”

The Renewable Portfolio Standard only gets a “B,” however, as does the average electricity cost. Solar interconnection also only gets a “B.” Meanwhile, state rebates and tax credits -- which have been phased out -- each earn an “F.” New York State was rated No. 1 in these categories, followed by Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Oregon. At the other end of the scale were Idaho, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

October 22, 2014

Governor Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno released their 2013 tax returns on Tuesday, with Christie reporting an income of $698,838 and the Guadagno family reporting $440,897.

Currently, the big breadwinner in Christie’s household is his wife Mary Pat, who earned $475,854 from her job as an investment banker at Angelo, Gordon & Co, and $34,698 from a previous post at Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald. Christie earns $160,054 as governor and the two also had almost $40,000 in investment income.

The Christies paid a total of $193,510 in taxes and donated $29,260 to charity.

The Guadagno’s income was a bit more modest, with a total of $440,897. Guadagno earns $128,454 as Lt. Governor and her husband Michael, an attorney, earned $161,991. However, Michael Guadagno also earned $130,000 in executor fees.

The Guagagnos paid $113,555 in taxes and donated $3,285 to charity.

October 21, 2014

New Jerseyans are cooling on gambling in general and gambling expansion in Atlantic City in particular, according to a new Rutgers Eagleton poll.

The poll was meant to gauge voters interest in expanding gambling in Atlantic City to include sports betting and online gambling, as well as expanding it to other parts of the state.

Only 33 percent of respondents said gambling has been good for New Jersey -- down from 72 percent in 1999. Yet more people (47 percent) believe it should be expanded to other parts of the state than want it limited to Atlantic City. (43 percent).

But when it comes to new types of gambling, the topic met a decidedly cool reception. Most people (55 percent) believe online gambling will be bad for the state as well as Atlantic City. Only 5 percent think it's been good for the town. And only 7 percent of respondents have tried it.

Sports betting gets a bigger welcome, with 44 percent thinking legalizing it in Atlantic City and at racetracks will be good for Atlantic City, although 31 percent said it will make no difference and 17 percent said it will be bad.

Finally, fewer people want Atlantic City to mimic Las Vegas’s freewheeling ability to carry open alcoholic drinks between casinos and outside. Opposing that idea were 62 percent of respondents, while 35 percent supported it.

October 20, 2014

How much do those specialty license plates earn? Maybe not a whole lot, but every little bit counts. The license-plate fund has collected $48,185 since its inception.

The New Jersey Historic Trust, which created the “Discover NJ History” License Plate fund in 2010, announced two new $5,000 grants last week. One will be given to the Medford Historical Society to develop a tour highlighting the life of Dr. James Still, a 19th century African-American physician, that will incorporate several historic sites related to Dr. Still and his family. Another $5,000 grant will go to the Cape May County Historical & Genealogical Society to help create a “passport” visitor program consisting of five historic sites.

Previous grant recipients have created a smartphone app, marketing guide for historic sites, and collaborative tour development. Any New Jersey nonprofit county or municipal entity is eligible for grants of up to $5,000 and they may be awarded quarterly.

October 17, 2014

About 16 percent of New Jersey students -- or 231,279 school-age children -- are enrolled in after-school programs of some sort, according to a new survey by the Washington, D.C.-based Afterschool Alliance.

But 19 percent of children are left unsupervised at home. Indeed, the survey asked parents whether they would enroll their children in after-school programs if they were available and 36 percent said they would.

The survey cited the benefits to both children and parents. It is an essential source of support for working parents, according to the study. Parents also praise the fact that after-school programs keep their children safe; teach them workforce skills such as teamwork and STEM (science, technology engineering, and mathematics) and help with homework. Girls and boys enroll at about the same rates.

Most interestingly, according to the report, parents support government-funded after-school programs regardless of their political affiliation, race, or ethnicity.

October 16, 2014

New Jersey has not one, but two, competitive Congressional races this November, but the one that has the best chance of unseating the incumbent is a surprise to many pundits, according to a new poll.

The Monmouth University Poll recently surveyed voters in the 5th District and found that Democrat Roy Cho is “within striking distance” of unseating incumbent Republican Scott Garrett, consistently rated as one of the most conservative members of Congress.

Garrett, who won his district by a 12-point margin two years ago, saw his district reconfigured after the 2010 census with a number of Bergen County Democratic towns appended to what had been an almost purely Republican district. The 5th District encompasses the most northern part of the state.

The Monmouth poll showed 48 percent of potential voters saying they would support Garret and 43 percent saying they would support Cho. About 6 percent are still undecided.

“This race was not even a blip on most political prognosticators’ radar screens,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth Polling Institute, in a statement. “It should be now.”

The race that was supposed to be the tightest in the state and that has garnered national attention is the 3rd Congressional District. That district is located in South Jersey and encompasses much of the Philadelphia suburbs, stretching from the Delaware to the Jersey shore and is fairly split between party registrations. It pits Republican newcomer to the region, former Randolph mayor Tom MacArthur, against Democrat Aimee Belgard, a Burlington County freeholder.

The Monmouth Poll has MacArthur leading Belgard 51 percent to 41 percent with 6 percent undecided. Earlier in the season pollsters had the two candidates in a dead heat.

October 15, 2014

New Jerseyans may feel as if they are quite poor, but that’s not the reality, according to WalletHub’s most recent ranking, which had the Garden State as No. 1 in net worth.

To judge net worth, Wallet Hub looked at three criteria: the income per capita of residents; GDP per capita; and federal taxes paid per capita.

New Jersey ranked third in income -- just below Maryland and Alaska and ahead of Hawaii and Connecticut. It ranked among the lowest five states with the percentage of households earning between $25,000 and $49,000 and among the top five for households earning $100,000 or more. (It was second only to the District of Columbia for households earning $200,000 or more.)

Surprisingly, New Jersey ranked fifth when it came to federal taxes paid per capita. New Jersey ranked ninth in terms of Gross Domestic Product per capita.

October 14, 2014

The most recent political poll conducted by Rutgers-Eagleton shows Gov. Chris Christie with an unfavorable rating of 45 percent, outweighing his favorable rating of 42 percent.

This is the lowest rating the poll has recorded for Christie since becoming governor, and the first time since 2011 the poll showed unfavorable opinions outweighing favorable ones.

The reasons for the drop? Voters said they disapproved of Christie’s handling of New Jersey’s economy and jobs (54 percent disapprove, 38 percent approve); taxes (58 percent vs. 33 percent); education and schools (52 percent vs. 39 percent); state budget (52 percent vs. 37 percent); and the state pension-fund crisis (58 percent vs. 24 percent)

On the other hand, respondents do approve of his work with crime and drugs (52 percent vs. 32 percent) and Hurricane Sandy recovery (60 percent vs. 33 percent).

Oddly enough, despite these ratings, when asked if they approved of the job he is doing -- as opposed to their general impression of him -- 49 percent said they approved and 46 percent disapproved.

Since his approval ratings have shown a steady drop in all of the aforementioned areas, David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and Rutgers professor of political science, said the rebound following Christie’s Bridgegate ratings collapse looks like it was a “temporary blip.” He said by nearly every measure, Christie is now “losing support.” Redlawsk said Christie is losing support among Democrats and independents, although his support from Republicans remains strong despite their concerns about the economy.

October 9, 2014

There are 5,028 female farmers in New Jersey, according to the 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture census, which comes to 4.4 percent. That number has dropped since 2007, when there were 5,713 female farmers.

October 8, 2014

New Jersey is not an energy-efficient state. At least that's according to Wallethub, the social media financial network, which ranked all the states and the District of Columbia in terms of energy efficiencies.

The Garden State performed most poorly on car-related energy efficiency, ranking 40th in terms of annual vehicle-miles driven and gallons of gasoline consumed. That may have a lot to do with large SUVs being driven in stop-and-go traffic.

New Jersey fared somewhat better in terms of home-related energy efficiency, ranking 24th. This ranking was determined by looking at the total residential energy consumption with weather calculations, both hot and cold.

Vermont, New York, Wisconsin, California, and Rhode Island ranked as the top five energy-efficient states.

October 7, 2014

New residents of the greater four-state New York metropolitan region (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania) are choosing to live in urban centers rather than suburbia, according to a Rutgers report from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Since 2010, the urban core gained 85,284 new residents (69 percent), while suburban towns gained only 37,742. This is directly the opposite of what occurred in the post-World War II years since 1950.

Brooklyn has been the unquestioned growth leader, but in New Jersey, Bergen County has gained the most population with 18,731. Other population gains were, in order of size, Hudson, Middlesex, Union, Morris, Somerset, Ocean, Essex, Passaic, and Mercer.

Out of 27 surburban counties in the region, 12 lost population. With the exception of Monmouth, which the report’s authors, Rutgers professors James W. Hughes and Joseph Seneca, believe was impacted by Sandy, all were in the outer ring of suburbs. In New Jersey, those counties losing population were Monmouth, Hunterdon, Sussex, and Warren.

The population shift is being led by young adults.

Hughes and Seneca admit in the report that three years of data should not be equivalently compared to a 30-year span of a postwar economy. However, they cite the job opportunities available in the inner core, the preference of foreign-born populations for these regions, and the high costs of commuting and maintaining single-family homes as contributing factors to what may be a long-term trend.

October 3, 2014

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed seven cases of enterovirus D68, also known as EV-D68, in New Jersey. EV-D68 can result in severe illness, particularly in children.

The virus can cause difficulty in breathing, sneezing, fever, muscle aches, and in rare cases, death. It can require hospitalization -- particularly among those with impaired immune systems or asthma.

The seven cases in New Jersey are children, ages 1 through 9, located in Burlington, Camden, Morris, Essex, Camden, and Sussex counties. All children are recovering and have been released from the hospital.

Symptoms of the virus range from mild sneezing, cough, and aches and fever to more severe wheezing and difficulty breathing. Children with asthma are at particular risk for severe symptoms.

The state Department of Health is advising parents to ensure frequent hand washing and to avoid close contact such as sharing utensils or hugging anyone who is sick. The department warns that hand sanitizers are not effective against enteroviruses. It also advises a flu shot, although there is no specific vaccine or medication for enterovirus infections.

October 2, 2014

Public-safety experts advise that all homes have carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, as well as fire extinguishers. But a new Rutgers-Eagleton Public Health Series poll showed that only 65 percent of New Jerseyans have all three in their homes.

Carbon monoxide poisoning and fires are quite common in the Garden State, and poll Director David Redlawsk adds that just this year there have been 55 fire fatalities.

The poll showed that almost all respondents (98 percent) have smoke detectors in their homes. Carbon monoxide detectors are installed in 86 percent of homes and 75 percent are equipped with fire extinguishers.

The presence of carbon monoxide detectors is especially important in homes that use natural gas or oil for heat. Slightly more (89 percent) of respondents with gas-fueled homes report having a CO detector than those who heat their homes with electricity (80 percent).

October 1, 2014

About 7 percent of residents seek help from a poison control hotline each year, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Public Health Series poll, and the state said it receives 65,000 calls to its poison control hotline annually.

But that could be just one response to the huge problem of unintentional poisoning, since 92 percent said they would also call 911, and 85 percent said they would also call their doctor in case of emergency.

Unintentional poisonings are the leading cause of injury death both in New Jersey and nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Less-effective responses, according to the poll, but ones that many adopt would be to search the Internet (31 percent), ask family and friends (42 percent), or call 211. Younger respondents were more likely to rely on the Internet or 211 calls.

September 30, 2014

If New Jersey’s teachers are looking to work in a positive academic and work environment they've chosen the right state, according to the most recent study by Wallethub, a financial social network. But if they are looking for opportunity and competition for jobs -- well, not so much.

Overall, New Jersey ranked 11th in the country as a place for teachers

When it came to academic and work environment, the state scored second to Vermont. But in terms of competition for jobs and opportunity, New Jersey scored 31.

In many areas that are considered important for education, New Jersey scored very high: first when it comes to the best schools; fifth when it comes to the lowest pupil-to-teacher ratio; and highest public-school spending per capita. But New Jersey fell somewhere in the middle of the pack when it came to salaries adjusted for cost of living, number of job openings, and the overall unemployment rate.

September 29, 2014

The recent death of a 22-year-old Rutgers student hiking in West Milford has drawn attention to the bear population in northwest New Jersey and its growth. The most recent official statistics are from 2009 and 2010, when the state estimated that there were 3,400 black bears living in the state.

The number of black bears increased 133 percent from 2001 to 2009. Complaints about bears increased 200 percent during that period.

The state runs a five-day bear hunt every year, in which between 250 and 300 bears are typically taken. Critics of the bear program say that this is not nearly enough to keep up with the population growth.

September 26, 2014

How big a problem is domestic violence in New Jersey? Pretty big, it seems, with 65,060 domestic violence reports to the police in 2012, the most recent year for which there are statistics.

Although that shows a slight decline of 7 percent over 2011, it included 42,602 cases of assault and 28,285 of harassments. It also included 38 deaths and 194 sexual assaults. Arrests were made in 31 percent of the cases.

Women were the victims in 75 percent of cases. Wives (10,829) ex-wives (2,187) and female coparents (9,025) were the most frequent victims.

The vast majority of cases did not involve a weapon, although there were 128 cases that included a gun, 873 that involved a knife, and 1,370 that made use of another serious weapon.

Children were involved or present 29 percent of the time. Alcohol or drugs were involved 27 percent of the time.

September 25, 2014

If you’ve ever shaken your head in wonder -- or gripped the wheel in white-knuckled fright -- at some of the antics of your fellow Jersey drivers, you may want to consider that 27 percent of them admitted to reading email or texts while driving.

That’s according to a new poll from Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute and New Jersey Medical School.

Participants were asked about their perceptions of safety both as drivers and as passengers, which revealed an interesting disconnect. A full 87 percent of passengers reported that it’s very unsafe for the driver of a car to read emails or texts while driving. In addition, 57 percent felt that it’s very unsafe for a driver to talk while holding a phone, with another 27 percent finding it to be “somewhat” unsafe.

But 63 percent said they’ve taken or made phone calls while driving.

At least one activity appears to be thankfully beyond almost all drivers: reading a book, newspaper, or tablet. Of those polled, 96 percent said this was very unsafe and only 2 percent said they have ever done it.

September 24, 2014

New Jerseyans are not known for their cheerfulness, and perhaps that’s reflected in the state’s ranking in the latest study by Wallethub, a financial and social media network. According to the study, the Garden State ranks 24th in the country when it comes to happiness.

New Jersey does fare quite well in a number of quality-of-life categories -- it has among the lowest rates of depression (3), suicide (3), and divorce (4). And it ranks an overall 14th in terms of community, environment, and recreational activities.

So why did New Jersey fall to 24th? It seems work is stressing us out. The state ranked 38 in the "work" rankings, which looked at commute time, number of hours, job security, and long-term unemployment. Indeed, New Jersey ranked 47th when it came to inadequate sleep.

September 23, 2014

A majority of New Jerseyans take at least a little pride in rock star Bruce Springsteen, who celebrates his 65th birthday today, according to a new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll.

Springsteen is closely identified with his home state -- as evidenced by this poll, which had 80 percent of respondents aware of his Jersey residence. About 22 percent said they take a lot of pride in that fact, with 32 percent saying they took a little pride in it.

Springsteen can count Democrats, independents, and Republicans among his fans, although Democrats outweigh Republicans 46 percent to 36 percent. Springsteen is most popular with his own demographic, white residents who are over the age of 55, as well as those somewhat younger (35 years and older.) He has less popularity with African-Americans and Asians, as well as those between the ages of 18 and 34.

Nevertheless, no matter the age or race, few New Jerseyans (4 percent) disapprove of him. The rest are split between having a favorable opinion (47 percent) and no opinion (49 percent).

What most seem to agree on is that Gov. Chris Christie’s adulation of the rocker is “kind of cool” (48 percent), while only 19 percent believe it is “kind of embarrassing.”

September 22, 2014

In 2012, 99.7 percent of children in foster homes in New Jersey were free from child abuse or neglect, according to the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services.

That’s above the national median of 99.6 percent, an achievement the state has attained since 2009.

The federal government requires that caseworkers visit foster children monthly, and New Jersey met that requirement 96 percent of the time. Nationally, the norm is 90 percent.

There are 7,484 children in foster care in New Jersey.

September 19, 2014

Autumn officially begins this weekend, and one way to enjoy the cooling weather is to visit one of New Jersey’s 60 public gardens and arboreta, located in 15 counties.

New Jersey has a rich and varied history of public gardens that include former estates of the wealthy such as Duke Farms and Willowwood Arboretum, public parks like Branch Brook in Newark, university settings like Rutgers and Princeton, botanical gardens such as Skylands, as well as specialties such as a Shakespeare Garden, butterfly gardens, and wildflower trails. A list is available online.

September 18, 2014

NJ Transit was a major winner in a regional competition among 13 states for transportation infrastructure funding. NJ Transit won $1.27 billion from the Federal Transit Administration out of an available $3 billion to fund five major resiliency projects.

The first is what’s being called NJ TRANSITGRID, a first-of-its-kind electrical microgrid that can supply highly reliable power during storms or other times the grid is compromised. This will distribute energy to key NJ Transit locations as well as allow NJ Transit trains on critical corridors to stay in service, even when the conventional grid fails.

A second project is the replacement of the North Jersey Coast Lines’ Raritan River Drawbridge. The money will also fund a project to elevate Hoboken Long Slip, as well as build six new tracks and three platforms in Hoboken. Elevating the slip with fill will also contribute to the Rebuild by Design flood mitigation project.

Also funded was a project to create a permanent safe-haven storage facility for rail cars, as well as a service and inspection facility, along with a project to harden signal and communication systems along commuter and light-rail lines.

September 17, 2014

Despite its weak economy, New Jersey is still considered one of the wealthiest states in the country. But that just means some people have very high incomes, because a new report by Legal Services of New Jersey estimates that there are more than 2.7 million people living in poverty, or 31.5 percent of New Jersey residents.

The report estimates that given the high cost of living in New Jersey, 250 percent of the federal poverty level is a conservative poverty line. There were 900,000 people living at the federal poverty level, and the number of those living in severe poverty -- 50 percent of the federal poverty line -- has grown to 438,665 in 2012. Young children, young adults, female-headed households and the very elderly are those that dominate the poverty-level population.

September 16, 2014

The state Department of Environmental Protection announced a $190 million settlement in its lawsuit with Occidental Chemical Corp. over the intentional dumping of deadly toxins into the Passaic River. Occidental is the legal successor to Diamond Shamrock, which was found guilty of dumping dioxin, a carcinogen, among other toxins, into the river over decades.

This settlement brings the state a total recovery of $355.4 million -- Occidental Chemical being the largest -- but environmentalists did not applaud the agreement. Only last year, noted Debbie Mans, executive director of the NY/NJ Baykeeper, the Christie administration estimated the total settlement would be $530 million. What’s more, Christie has issued language in his most recent budget that has all settlements above $50 million being shared 50/50 between the state DEP and the general operating fund. “Settlements to compensate the public for years of damage to the environment should not be used to plug gaps in the general fund,” said Mans in a statement.

“The settlement should be for a lot more money,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This has gone on for 40 years and should be about the people impacted by the pollution, not for the budget." In announcing the settlement, the state attorney general’s office said that $50 million of this settlement or $67.4 million in total payments to the state would be used for natural resource restoration projects in and around the Newark Bay Complex.

In addition, Occidental agreed to pay “certain” costs associated with a $1.7 billion plan for the cleanup of the lower eight miles of the Passaic River, which has been proposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Tittel voiced concern that the EPA wants to dredge and cap sediment that contains dioxins, PCBs, mercury, and other toxins, rather than completely remove it.

“The people who live along the Passaic River, especially in Newark, have been robbed of the use of their river,” said Tittle, who fears capping would not last generations. “Rivers should not be Superfund sites, they should be places where people can walk along the river bank or kayak.”

September 15, 2014

The United Way of Northern New Jersey estimates that a family of four -- two adults, one infant, and one preschooler -- needs an income of $61,200 just to survive in this state.

A new report, called ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and conducted by the United Way, estimated that was the income required to afford the five basic necessities -- housing, childcare, food, healthcare, and transportation -- a family of four would need. In 2012, the median family income in New Jersey was $69,667.

The budget calls for $1,245 for housing, $1,341 for childcare, $592 for food, $549 for transportation, $453 for healthcare, $456 for taxes, and $464 for miscellaneous.

Basic necessities increased 19 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the survey.

A single adult is estimated to need $27,552 to live on a survival budget. The Household Survival Budget was estimated to vary across counties. The basic essentials were judged to be least expensive in Essex County -- $49,038 for a family of four, $23,209 for a single adult. They were estimated to be most expensive for a family of four in Hunterdon County at $73,120. For a single adult, Passaic County was judged the most expensive at $33,494.

September 12, 2014

The Girl Scouts Research Institute took a look at key issues facing the state of girls between 5 and 17 and ranked each state by key social, economic, and health issues. New Jersey ranked ninth in the country. New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Massachusetts, and Vermont ranked as the top five.

Predictably, New Jersey scored highest when it came to education and educational performance, ranking third. It scored less well when it came to emotional health and participation in extracurricular activities.

When it comes to emotional health, New Jersey ranked 14th. Eight percent of New Jersey’s girls need treatment for emotional, behavioral, or developmental issues. Six percent of them have experienced neighborhood violence. (Nationally, the figures were 9 percent and 11 percent, respectively.) As for extracurricular activities, 82 percent of girls participate -- both in New Jersey as well as nationally.

September 11, 2014

Two polls released this week -- from FDU PublicMind and the Stockton Polling Institute -- show Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker leading his Republican challenger, former U.S. Senate candidate Jeffrey Bell, by 13 percent.

The PublicMind poll showed Booker over Bell by 42 percent to 27 percent -- with 27 percent saying they are undecided. The Stockton poll had only 12 percent undecided.

September 10, 2014

Funding for the repair of New Jersey’s roads and bridges is highly dependent on tolls and user fees in comparison with other states, making up 32.8 percent of the transportation budget. That ranks it second in the country, according to the Tax Foundation, the Washington think tank. (Delaware was first.)

The national average is 8.3 percent.

New Jersey’s gas tax, however, somewhat rebalances the situation. It only pays for 12 percent of road repairs in New Jersey, while the national average is 27 percent. When gas taxes, tolls, user fees, and license taxes are combined, they pay for 58.5 percent of road repairs. This ranks New Jersey eighth in the country. The national average is 50.4 percent.

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