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January 20, 2017

New figures released yesterday by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development showed New Jersey’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.7 percent in December as the state added an estimated 3,100 new jobs.

Revisions made to initial estimates from November also showed more than 1,000 new jobs were added to the nearly 4,000 total that was initially reported by the state last month, meaning New Jersey closed out 2016 with a net gain of 13,600 jobs. Those additions helped to push the state’s current streak of consecutive years with private-sector job growth to seven.

Still, despite the positive economic news from December, the year-end job figures also reveal a less-rosy long-term trend. The 13,600 jobs that were added in 2016 significantly trailed the average annual growth rate of 42,000 jobs that the state has enjoyed since the end of the Great Recession. The 4.7 percent unemployment rate measured in December also marks an increase from the beginning of the year, when the state’s jobless average was at 4.5 percent. And the 2016 figures also showed that last year officially marked a major dropoff from the banner year for job growth that New Jersey enjoyed in 2015, when it added more than 80,000 jobs.

January 19, 2017

There were 613 organ transplants in New Jersey in 2016, 16 percent more than in the previous year. Tissue donation also increased significantly — up 10 percent on 2015. The recovery and placement of donated organs and tissue for New Jersey residents in need of lifesaving transplants are the responsibility of the NJ Sharing Network, a nonprofit federally designated organization. Five thousand New Jerseyans are currently awaiting transplants.

January 18, 2017

Today is a “day of action” for several groups that oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It begins with a noon press conference at the State House, with Citizen’s Action, Main Street Alliance, Planned Parenthood, the Unitarian church, and a number of unions and others.

The groups are urging activists to join them at a series of vigils at the offices of the state’s Republican congressmen from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. The gatherings will be held in Morristown, Westfield, Flemington, May’s Landing, Marlton, Toms River, and Freehold.

Tom MacArthur is the only one of the five Republican members of New Jersey’s delegation to the House of Representatives to vote against the initial repeal of Obamacare. He represents the state’s 3rd District, which spans parts of Ocean and Burlington counties and is considered a swing district, with more registered Democrats than Republicans. MacArthur said he wanted to see a replacement for the bill before he voted to repeal the ACA. Citizen’s Action is also encouraging those who support the ACA to send messages to all of New Jersey’s Republican congressmen.

January 17, 2017

The number of New Jersey households that do not earn enough money to afford the basic necessities in 2014 was virtually unchanged from two years earlier, despite some improvement in the state’s economy, according to the latest ALICE report from the United Way of Northern New Jersey. Those 1.2 million families include 11 percent with incomes below the federal poverty level — $23,850 — and another 26 percent not technically in poverty but still unable to afford the annual Household Survival Budget of $64,176 calculated by UWNNJ for a family of four with two young children. UWNNJ calls the latter group ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

The basic budget, which includes housing, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare, taxes, and miscellaneous expenses, increased by 23 percent from 2007 to 2014, while inflation rose 14 percent. To afford that, a householder would need to earn at least $32.10 an hour. According to the ALICE report, just over half of New Jersey jobs paid less than $20 an hour in 2014.

The then-United Way of Morris County issued its first ALICE report in 2009 as a way to try to quantify and draw attention to the plight of those too wealthy to fall below the federal poverty level and receive some governmental assistance but not wealthy enough to live comfortably in a high-cost state like New Jersey.

“ALICE is a very important part of our society,” said John Franklin, CEO of the United Way of Northern New Jersey. “About a third of our society works, pays taxes but [is] not able to afford where they live. ALICE is disenfranchised from participating in many societal opportunities.”

UWNNJ has so far done ALICE reports for 13 states and of those, New Jersey households fare comparatively better than average, with typically 40 percent of those in the 13 states falling below the ALICE threshold in their individual states. Iowa, Washington, Maryland, and Indiana all had smaller percentages of households either living in poverty or ALICE. New York has the highest proportion – 44 percent unable to meet basic living expenses in 2014.

While New Jersey had an average 37 percent below the ALICE threshold, conditions varied widely across the counties, ranging from a low of 24 percent in Hunterdon to a high of 59 percent in Cumberland County either living in poverty or ALICE.

January 13, 2017

New Jersey ranks third among the states when it comes to how easy it makes it for companies to buy renewable energy. The Corporate Clean Energy Index, devised by Greentech Media, a renewable energy website and consultancy, looks at 15 indicators of how companies can procure renewable energies, such as solar or wind.

New Jersey’s strength is in the fact that companies here can easily build onsite solar capacity. Indeed, the state is second in the country for corporate onsite solar, trailing only California. And on a weighted basis – the percentage of renewable energies a state generates – New Jersey far outpaces the Golden State.

Iowa and Illinois are first and second in overall ranking. New Jersey ranks just ahead of California and Texas.

January 12, 2017

New Jersey needs to add 120,000 jobs a year over the next three years just to get back to pre-recession levels and to keep up with population growth. This is according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning think tank. In fact, New Jersey had 1,800 fewer jobs in November 2016 than it did at the start of the Great Recession in December 2007.

The number of jobs added in the Garden State during the past 12 months came nowhere near 120,000, with only 21,400 being created. Amplifying concerns about the state’s economic well-being is that its rate of job growth since December 2007 measures -0.04 percent. The corresponding national rate is 4.9 percent and the rate for the northeast region is 3.8 percent.

January 11, 2017

New Jersey residents can stand a bit taller on next Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day: The state was ranked No. 2 for racial progress in a survey recently completed by WalletHub, the personal finances website. The assessment measured the shrinking gap between blacks and whites over time, using the earliest and most recent data available.

Besides finishing second overall (Georgia took the top spot), New Jersey was ranked fourth both in employment and wealth and for education and civic engagement. The state came in 19th for health. New York was ranked 11th; Pennsylvania, 28th.

January 10, 2017

Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill yesterday adding 20 Superior Court judges to the state’s judicial roster, bringing the total for that court to 463.

At the moment, 417 judgeships are filled, and 12 new judicial appointees have just been advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee. If they are approved by the full Senate, that would leave 34 vacant positions (including the 20 just added by the governor).

The full complement of judges is likely to be needed ASAP.

Under changes first authorized in a 2014 law, bail is now determined using risk assessment to prevent lengthy jail terms for nonviolent criminals who can’t post bail. Hearings must also be held within 48 hours to go over the results of a six-point assessment system. A constitutional amendment that was approved by voters in 2014 also allows judges to deny pretrial bail to prisoners accused of serious crimes or considered to be flight risks.

Christie highlighted those changes during the bill-signing ceremony in Trenton, saying Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, who also attended the event, would determine where the new justices will be assigned based on caseloads.

“We want the chief justice to decide where these judges should go, not politics,” Christie said. The additional judges will come with a $9.3 million price tag in fiscal 2018, which begins on July 1, the governor said.

The governor credited Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and other lawmakers from both parties for working together to address judicial vacancies that had disrupted work at some courthouses in recent years. The bill boosting the judicial roster was introduced on December 12 and it cleared both houses a week later.

“This isn’t about politics, it’s about people,” Sweeney said.

January 9, 2017

Sometimes it seems as if everyone in New Jersey has something to say about high property taxes, but no one knows what to do about them. Courage to Connect NJ (CtoCNJ) wants to set that situation right: It’s offering five grants of $1,000 each for out-of-the-box ideas about how to take a bite out of property taxes. Appropriately enough, the deadline to apply for a grant is April 15, 2017.

A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose purpose is to educate the public about ways to create more effective and efficient local government, Courage to Connect NJ, which was founded in 2009, supports fire districts, school districts, and county and municipal governments to find more efficient ways to deliver services to residents.

CtoCNJ’s founding Executive Director Gina Genovese said that she was inspired to go forward with this effort in response to dozens of comments reported to her organization in the past year that convey desperation about property taxes.

Individuals and groups are encouraged to apply for a grant.

January 6, 2017

Being rated No. 1 isn’t always a good thing. That’s definitely true of United Van Lines 40th Annual National Movers Study, which awards New Jersey the top spot when it comes to people moving out of state. In 2016, according to the survey, 63 percent more folks moved out of state than moved in. Nearly 40 percent of those outbound cited employment as their reason; 31 percent said retirement; 20 percent said family; and 18 percent said lifestyle. Nearly half (45.03 percent) of those on the way out earned $150,000 or more a year.

United has tracked migration patterns annually on a state-by-state basis since 1977. For 2016, the study is based on household moves handled by United within the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C.

January 5, 2017

In case anyone doubts that it’s tough to find a job in Newark these days, WalletHub, the personal finances website, has just published its 2017 list of the Best and Worst Cities for Jobs: Newark finished 147th out of 150. Detroit took last place.

WalletHub’s analysts compared 150 of the most populated U.S. cities across 23 key indicators of job-market strength. They range from “job opportunities” to “employment growth” to “median annual income.”

Newark was ranked 149th for socioeconomic environment; 142nd for job market. Philadelphia was rated 129th overall, while New York City was ranked 101st. (The Big Apple also took the bottom spot for longest time spent working and commuting.)

NJ Spotlight readers and members willing to relocate should consider Scottsdale, AZ (1); Plano, TX (2); and Orlando, FL (3).

January 4, 2017

New Jersey’s congressional delegation is now officially tilted in favor of Democrats, after Josh Gottheimer was sworn in on Tuesday to be the new Congressman representing New Jersey’s 5th District, the northernmost in the state. House Speaker Paul Ryan swore Gottheimer into office along with the other members of the 115th Congress, which opened its session Tuesday.

Gottheimer makes the seventh Democrat in the 12-member delegation. He unseated seven-term Republican Scott Garrett last November in a close race. His election gives the blue party a majority in New Jersey’s house delegation for the first time since 2013, when the state lost one of its seats to redistricting.

Gottheimer is one of nine new Democrats in the House. The party gained a net of six seats, but the Republicans still control the House with 241 seats to the Democrats’ 194. The GOP’s lead in the Senate is narrower — 52 to 46, plus two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

Just before his swearing in, Gottheimer tweeted from his new Congressional Twitter feed, @RepJoshG: “Heading over for my swearing in as your U.S. Rep. I’m ready to get to work to deliver results for NJ families. — JG.”

January 3, 2017

We just ended an unusually long and grueling political campaign, but another important election is just around the corner for New Jerseyans. There are only 154 days until we pick the major party candidates for governor; the primary is scheduled for June 6. After that, there are only 130 days until the General Election on November 7.

There’s been a fair amount of shakeup in the lineups for each party of late, and announced — or all but announced — candidates include four Democrats and four Republicans.

On the Republican side, the field is led by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is still unannounced but all indications are that she is planning a run. State Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, of Somerset County, has announced he will seek the office. So too will Nutley Commissioner Steven Rogers and Joe Rullo, an Ocean County businessman.

The Democratic side had been expected to be as crowded as the GOP slate last year, but it’s now been narrowed to four candidates. Phil Murphy, a former executive at Goldman Sachs and U.S. Ambassador to Germany, is the frontrunner, with support from most of the county Democratic chairman. Assemblyman John Wisnewski, of Middlesex County, has also announced his candidacy and is positioning himself as the anti-machine candidate. Jim Johnson, an attorney from Montclair and former undersecretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton, has also announced recently, as has Bill Brennan, who filed suit in municipal court against Gov. Chris Christie over Bridgegate. Brennan has been demanding a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate the governor.

December 22, 2016

According to the state Department of Agriculture, about 69,000 Christmas trees are felled each year in the Garden State. That may sound like a lot of green, but the National Christmas Tree Association indicates that 25 million to 30 million Christmas trees are sold every year in the United States. The association says that Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states, but the peak producers are Oregon, North Carolina, and Michigan. New Jersey is ranked 18th. The most common trees harvested are balsam, Douglas, Fraser, noble firs, along with Scotch, Virginia, and White pine.

Regardless of what kind of tree you favor, or if your celebrations don’t involve any greenery, NJ Spotlight wants each of you to have a happy and safe holiday.

December 21, 2016

Brick-and-mortar malls and mom-and-pop shops aren’t the only ones being squeezed by online shopping. The Salvation Army is feeling the pinch too: More folks buying presents on the web and carrying credit cards rather than cash means less money in their Red Kettles, which show up — along with bell ringers — outside of stores across the state this time of year.

How bad are things? The Salvation Army hopes to reach the $2.3 million campaign goal to support holiday programs and services as well as assist New Jerseyans in need throughout the year. Currently, contributions are down 10 percent at this point in 2015.

Last year in New Jersey, the Salvation Army served over 1 million hot meals; 708,884 individuals received help in various programs and services including holiday and seasonal assistance, food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency disaster services, after-school programs, emergency shelters, and much more.

December 20, 2016

New Jersey has a fund called the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund that helps families deal with the financial consequences of a child’s illness. Since the beginning of the state fiscal year in July, the fund has awarded $2.3 million to 120 recipients.

The CICRF is a dedicated, revolving, non-lapsing trust fund collected from an annual contribution of $1.50 per employee by all employers operating under the New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Law.

“For families that have a child with a catastrophic illness, the cost for medical care can quickly exceed their income and deplete their savings,” according to Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno. The fund was created to help address this issue.

The CICRF was established in 1988 and has distributed more than $171 million in grants to 8,429 families. In Fiscal Year 2016, nearly $7 million was distributed to 369 eligible applicants. New Jersey residents with children who have uncovered medical expenses may apply for grants to reimburse specific, documented, medically related costs.

December 19, 2016

Nearly 533,000 New Jerseyans have enrolled in Medicaid due to the Affordable Care Act, which pays 90 percent of the costs for all newly insured residents, according to statehealthfacts.org, a website supported by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (Before Medicaid expansion under the ACA, the state and federal government split the cost of Medicaid.)

If the Republican Congress, with the support of President-elect Donald Trump, abolishes the ACA, also known as Obamacare, it’s unclear what would happen to the millions of people that qualified for healthcare when the bill was passed. Will New Jersey choose to pick up 100 percent of the cost? Or will half-a-million New Jersey residents find themselves without healthcare again?

December 16, 2016

This is the age that current law applies to infertility, but legislation advanced on Thursday would remove that age from the statute in order to help increase insurance coverage of fertility treatments for New Jersey women.

The bill's sponsors, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Senator Nia H. Gill (D-Essex), said their bill (S-1398) would establish eligibility for insurance coverage based on a doctor's determination of infertility, rather than on age.

“Infertility” currently is defined by law as the disease or condition that results in the abnormal function of the reproductive system when a female under 35 years has been unable to conceive after two years of unprotected intercourse, a female over 35 has been unable to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse, or when one of the partners is considered medically sterile.

The bill would expand the availability of insurance coverage for infertility-related health benefits to some women currently denied coverage under certain health insurance plans. It would amend the current definition to provide that infertility would be determined by a licensed physician.

Having cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, the bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

December 15, 2016

In order to restore wetlands and provide public access to the lower Passaic River and Newark Bay, the state has announced it is awarding $53 million to towns and counties in the watershed area. The money comes from a $190 million settlement between New Jersey and the Occidental Chemical Corp., which is the successor to Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Co. Diamond Shamrock discharged dioxin and other hazardous substances into the river from its Newark plant, where it manufactured Agent Orange.

It is unclear how the remaining $140 million will be spent, although the Christie administration has said that all settlement amounts will be shared 50/50 with the state’s annual operating budget. The cleanup of the waterway itself is being overseen by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, with money that it too negotiated with polluters.

The $53 million in grants were awarded in a competitive process and are being matched by grantees.

The largest of the grants went to the Newark Community Economic Development Corp. for $17.96 million. Newark’s CEDC plans to use the funds to expand Riverfront Park with new paths and trails for walking and running. It also plan to build riparian habitats, buffers, and gardens to help with stormwater management.

The Borough of Carteret received two grants, each for more than $6 million. One, for $6.58 million, will be used for the development of Carteret Waterfront Marina along the Arthur Kill. The other, for $6.67 million, is for the construction of a 1.4-mile walkway along the Arthur Kill. Passaic County and Passaic City were awarded $5 million to restore public access to the river at Dundee Island in the City of Passaic — the first part of a larger vision of contiguous access to the river.

Essex County was given $5 million for the construction of a boathouse and dock for Newark’s Riverfront Park.

Most of the rest of the awards went to towns along the river to build waterfront parks, including Hackensack, Garfield, Harrison, and Middlesex County. Bloomfield also plans to build a park, with a $3 million grant, but after it converts a flood-prone brownfield site.

December 14, 2016

The official count recently released by New Jersey’s Division of Elections found a turnout of 68.1 percent on Election Day 2016. A total of 3,957,303 ballots were cast, of 5,808,260 registered to vote. That was higher than the 66.8 percent turnout for the 2012 presidential election — although studies contend the number who voted in 2012 was likely reduced due to the effects of Superstorm Sandy. In 2008, when President Obama won his first term, 72.7 percent of New Jerseyans voted. This year, the highest turnout was in Hunterdon County, where three quarters of those registered went to the polls, while Essex County had the lowest turnout, 59 percent.

According to the official presidential results, Democrat Hillary Clinton got 2,148,278 votes in New Jersey, besting Republican Donald Trump — who got 1,601,933 — by a 14-point margin. A little more than 3 percent of voters chose one of the third-party candidates. And about 2 percent of those who cast ballots, or more than 83,000 people, did not vote for any of the nine presidential slates on the ballot.

December 13, 2016

Seeking to align its definition of lead poisoning with that of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the New Jersey Department of Health has recommended cutting its current blood-lead levels in half, to the 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood used by the CDC. Its current guideline is 10 micrograms.

Some 225,000 children in New Jersey have been afflicted by lead poisoning since 2000, including more than 3,000 who tested positive for high lead levels last year alone, according to state officials.

The health department will accept written comments on the proposal through February 3, 2017. Follow this link for information about electronic submissions.

December 12, 2016

The New Jersey Schools Development Authority, which is charged with building or renovating the schools in the state’s so-called Abbott districts and lending construction financing to other schools, completed two major projects in 2015.

The A. Chester Redshaw elementary school, a 135,000-square-foot facility with a student capacity of 900 opened in New Brunswick. It cost $51.2 million. A Gifted and Talented Academy was opened in the City of Passaic at a cost of $55 million. Its 115,000 square feet can accommodate 780 students.

The SDA has 12 other projects in the works, according to the annual report, 10 of them new schools. Two are located in Elizabeth, including a new high school; two elementary schools are being built in Jersey City; an elementary school in Keansburg; an elementary school in Newark; two schools in Paterson; and a high school in Phillipsburg. The authority is also renovating two schools in Bridgeton. The entire cost of these projects is projected to be $717.3 million.

The long-awaited Trenton Central is still in the preliminary stages.

The SDA also issued 412 grants to 114 non-Abbott districts totaling $172 million.

December 9, 2016

Saying that spending by independent groups supporting or opposing ballot questions in this year’s election is a “harbinger of things to come,” Jeff Brindle, executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, announced the amount was an all-time high — “by leaps and bounds.”

Brindle warned that without reforms that require registration and disclosure by independent groups, outside organizations will submerge next year’s gubernatorial and legislative elections in a “sea of dark money.”

The ballot initiative calling for new casinos outside of Atlantic City — which failed — garnered the most spending, about $24.6 million both pro and con. An additional $2.4 million was spent on the ballot question about the Transportation Trust Fund. And $884,460 was spent on local ballot initiatives around the state.

December 8, 2016

Parents of babies that were put up for adoption as far back as 1940 have only until December 31 before they can ask for personal identifying information be redacted from sealed adoption records. After that, approximately 300,000 birth certificates will be unsealed at the request of adoptees beginning January 3, 2017.

December 7, 2016

Gov. Chris Christie released his 2015 tax returns Tuesday, showing that he and his wife earned $913,420 last year. The big earner in the family is Mary Pat Christie who reported income of $698,708 from her job in sales at Angelo Gordon & Co., a financial investment firm. The governor’s salary is $160,754. The Christies paid $260,991 in taxes — $208,802 to the federal government. They gave $23,802 to charity.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and her husband Michael also released their 2015 returns, showing an income of $339,686. They paid a total of $77,322 in taxes.

December 6, 2016

For the most part, New Jerseyans don’t think of the state as a major military location. But they’d be wrong. The United States military is the second largest employer in the state with 45,631 people directly employed at military installations. These workers add $3.8 billion to the state’s gross domestic product. And that’s only the direct employees. A state task force estimates that the military contributes 27,603 indirect jobs and in total delivers $9.6 billion to the state GDP.

Most jobs are located at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst – the only base in the country that houses all four branches of the military. The Joint Base employs 35,395 people. The Picatinny Arsenal, which develops new guns and ammunition for all branches of the military, employs 5,196. The Air (2,376), Army (1,641) and Coast Guard (728) have the bulk of the rest of the military workforce in the Garden State.

December 5, 2016

Today starts the second segment of New Jersey’s bear-hunting season, a six-day hunt. The hunt will be halted when the requisite 30 percent of the estimated number of bears tagged this year are killed. This is the first time the controversial bear hunt has been held in two segments; the first part was held in October. Some environmentalists complain that the bear hunts don’t really work and that they destroy habitats. They fear the entire population of bears may be killed off, rather than managed. This week will be pretty busy in the woods. The firearm deer-hunting season will be held concurrently with bear-hunting season. And there are overlapping seasons for bow hunting and for hunting deer with other guns as well as hunting for some birds.

December 2, 2016

Despite the rain of the past week, climatologists are still warning of a severe drought in New Jersey. Most New Jerseyans are unaware of the severity of this year’s drought, although almost the entire state is being impacted. Indeed, an estimated 7,474,550 people are living in drought conditions.

The northern part of the state has the most severe conditions and is classified as in a severe drought. Moderate drought conditions are affecting the central parts of the state, with abnormally dry conditions along the shore and the southern part of Delaware Bay. To see how your town is classified, check out this map and accompanying data table.

December 1, 2016

New Jersey is nothing if not decentralized. There are more operating school districts (586) than there are municipalities (565). And there are 2,522 schools all told, which includes 1,948 elementary schools, 482 secondary schools, and 89 charters.

November 30, 2016

Small business takes the brunt of the $147 billion that large U.S. corporations gain by dodging taxes in various overseas tax havens, according to a new report issued by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. This common scheme puts smaller businesses at a competitive disadvantage, since the extra costs prevent them from investing in their product. The costs can be significant; in New Jersey, each small business would have to pay $5,675 to make up the difference if it were the only entity to make it up.

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