New Jersey's public-employee pension-system debt grew by about $4.5 billion to a little over $40 billion during the past fiscal year, according to new actuarial reports
for the individual funds that were made public earlier this week.
The debt -- known as the pension system's unfunded liability -- represents the difference between the value of what's currently on hand against what is owed to the state's roughly 773,000 current and retired employees.
Though employees have been contributing more in the wake of a 2011 pension reform law, Gov. Chris Christie over the past two fiscal years has reduced promised payments into the pension system that were supposed to be increasing to address the unfunded liability.
The net result of those cuts, which Christie ordered to address budget problems, has been an increase in the unfunded liability
Maybe to few people’s surprise, New Jersey has been given a middling ranking when it comes to “eco-friendliness.” Wallethub, the financial services website that organizes experts to rate all sorts of attributes, recently ranked New Jersey as 16th when it comes to states and the District of Columbia in terms of being eco-friendly.
In specific attributes, such as energy consumption, air and soil quality, number of LEED buildings, and total solid waste, New Jersey didn’t rate among the highest or lowest. Indeed, when it came to a signifier, New Jersey joined most “blue” states as being more eco-friendly.
However, New Jersey did perform better with eco-friendly behaviors -- ranking 11th for environmental quality. Eco-friendly behaviors included number of LEED buildings per capita, energy consumption per capita, energy efficiency, gasoline and water consumption per capita, and alternative vehicles per capita. When it came to environmental quality, the ratings were focused on the status quo based on past behavior or a neighbor’s behavior. These factors included air, soil, and water quality; carbon dioxide emissions; and municipal solid waste per capita.
The racial makeup of New Jersey is changing every day, and nowhere is it more obvious than in its child population. For the first time in 2013, white children accounted for less than 50 percent of New Jerseyans under the age of 17, according to Kids Count 2015, a report put out by the Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
Hispanics grew to 24 percent of the child population, a 13 percent increase from 2009. African-Americans remained 15 percent of the population, and the number of Asian children grew from 8 percent to 9 percent of the population. The rate of “other races,” primarily those that identified as being of two or more races, also grew from 7 percent to 8 percent.
New Jerseyans’ fondness for Gov. Chris Christie is a thing of the past, according to the most recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll. When asked to describe Christie with character traits both positive and negative, 64 percent said he was very stubborn; 58 percent said he was “not at all” presidential; 57 percent said he was very arrogant; and 80 percent said was either not at all (44 percent) or only somewhat (36 percent) trustworthy.
But New Jerseyans will give him one thing: 49 percent say he is very smart. (35 percent said he is somewhat smart).
The other traits that seem to describe Christie for New Jersey voters are self-centered (46 percent said very; 30 percent said somewhat); independent (46 percent said very; 32 percent said somewhat); a bully (45 percent said it describes him very well; 29 percent said somewhat); and impulsive (43 percent said very; 32 percent, somewhat).
As might be expected, Democrats were the harshest critics of the governor with independents somewhat less so. But only Republicans thought he was very much a leader (60 percent) and the majority of Republicans also thought he was stubborn. Women had a slightly harsher view of Christie than men, although more women thought he was very smart (50 percent versus 47 percent).
About 6,000 New Jersey inmates are released on parole every year, and that’s a good thing, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. That’s because those who are released on parole are much less likely to commit new crimes than those who “max out” their sentences. According the report, 25 percent of those released on parole in New Jersey commit new crimes, while more than 41 percent of those that max out do so.
Although the report notes that max-out prisoners tend to be higher-risk offenders than parolees, when the study controlled for factors such as criminal history, current offense, age, and time served, parolees were still 36 percent less likely to return to prison.
About 36,600 New Jerseyans were enrolled in a substance-abuse treatment program on any given day in 2013, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. That number, which is derived from a single-day count, has been on the rise since 2010, when it was 30,000.
Of those, 40 percent were in treatment for drug-use only and 14 percent were in treatment for alcohol use. The remaining 46 percent were being treated for both addictions.
Despite these numbers, SAMHSA estimates that most addicts are not receiving treatment. According to its studies, only 7 percent of New Jerseyans with an alcohol-dependence problem were seeking treatment, which is similar to the national statistic. When it comes to illicit drugs, 77 percent of those with a problem do not seek treatment.
This is a week in which there is a lot of grumbling about taxes -- with good reason. No one likes writing a check to the government. And while it often gets lost in the debate about immigration, it is interesting to note that undocumented immigrants do pay taxes -- just not many income taxes. But whether or not you are documented, you still have to pay property taxes, sales taxes, and excise taxes.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) a liberal-leaning Washington think tank, estimates that New Jersey’s undocumented immigrants contribute $613 million to state and local tax levies. That includes $276 million in sales and excise taxes, $285 million in property taxes, and $51 million in state income taxes. (Federal taxes were not considered.) Income taxes, according to the report, are paid by 50 percent to 75 percent of undocumented immigrants using false social security numbers or other documents used to obtain jobs.
If these immigrants were granted permanent legal status, their tax payments would rise to $701 million, according to the report, with most of the rate increase due to additional income taxes.
Maybe it's time to reintroduce civics to school curriculums. Stockton University’s William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy just completed a survey of New Jerseyans on their knowledge of the U.S. Supreme Court. Professors were disturbed by the findings, such as the fact that most residents ( 54 percent) could not name a single U.S. Supreme Court justice.
Moreover, 44 percent did not know that Supreme Court decisions cannot be appealed to the president of the United States; 40 percent did not know the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights; 60 percent believe the Constitution explicitly protects against discrimination based on sex; and 10 percent of adults could not name any of the rights of the first Amendment (speech, religion, assembly, and press).
Not every finding was as disappointing: 75 percent knew Supreme Court justices were nominated by the U.S. president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and 85 percent knew that the Constitution can be amended. Also, a similar study was conducted in 1989, when it was found that 71 percent could not name a single justice on the Court. Maybe this is progress.
The state of New Jersey’s wellbeing has taken a significant dive, according to the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index, dropping from 23rd to 34th this year.
The index looks at a variety of factors it says make up someone’s wellbeing: purpose (how well people like what they do each day); social (having supportive relationships and love); financial (managing economic life to reduce stress and increase security); community (liking where you live and feeling safe); and physical (good health and energy).
What’s changed for New Jersey? Well, some of it can be blamed on a shift in methodology, since the components of the rankings this year do not line up exactly with those used in the past. But the state also has dropped when it comes to physical metrics. This year, New Jersey was ranked 20th and last year, it ranked ninth in terms of physical health, but only 26th in healthy behaviors.
The other statistic that seems startling -- and is a difficult one to judge -- is that New Jerseyans seem depressed and unhappy. It ranked 43rd this year in terms of purpose and 48th when it came to community.
There are 115,095 professionally active nurses in New Jersey, according to statehealthfacts.org, a website provided by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Of those, 95,041 are registered nurses and 20,054 are licensed practice nurses.
That ratio of licensed practical nurses to registered nurses is somewhat higher nationally, with 833,000 LPNs to 3,083,000 RNs -- a 27 percent ratio. The New Jersey ratio is somewhat more in favor of the RNs; LPNs are about 21 percent of the nursing workforce.
When it comes to physician’s assistants, according to the website, New Jersey has 1,988. Nationally, the number is 91,935.
The average New Jersey taxpayer spent $4,540 to support our national military, according to a data tool called “State Smart,” created by the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan research organization.
That amount includes $983.44 for military personnel and $115.01 for nuclear weapons. It is the biggest slice of the $16,831 State Smart said was the average federal tax receipt for New Jerseyans in 2015.
The next-largest chunk of the tax bill was $4,457.56, which went to healthcare, including $1,990.82 for Medicaid. Interest on the federal debt was third, at $2,576.04.
Federal programs for education, transportation, energy and environment, international affairs, science, and housing each cost the average NJ taxpayer less than $500 last year.
New Jersey women 16 years and older are participating in the workforce at a significantly higher rate than the national average -- 60.5 percent, as opposed to 46.8 percent, according to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research.
The rate of New Jersey men is 71.6 percent.
Indeed, New Jersey women have a higher rate of managerial and professional jobs than men in the Garden State -- 43.2 percent vs. 37.5 percent. Still, women’s wage differential from men remains quite significant: Women make only 80 cents for every dollar a man makes in New Jersey. At the current rate of improving the gender-wage ratio in New Jersey, men and women won’t be earning the same money until 2055.
There were a total of $6.87 billion worth of state contracts in 2014 with business entities that are subject to pay-to-play laws, according to a new report by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
These companies are generally prohibited from donating more than $300 to a candidate's campaign, with some exceptions. According to ELEC, the average contribution by contractors was $1,208.
The top two contractors for the state are health insurance companies: Horizon Healthcare of New Jersey ($3.2 billion) and Amerigroup New Jersey ($892 million.) Verizon followed with $118 million.
The three construction companies on the top 10 list were George Harms Construction Co. Inc. ($110 million), Union Paving & Construction Co. ($98 million), and PKF-Mark III Inc. ($73 million). The two banks on the top 10 list were Colonial Bank FSB (93.8 million) and Magyar Bank ($68.5 million).
Whether it's because New Jerseyans have become accustomed to corruption charges, don’t fully understand the charges, or just like U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a vast majority of voters (58 percent) believe that Menendez should remain in office unless proven guilty of the recent corruption charges against him, according to the most recent Rutgers Eagleton poll. Only 34 percent of those polled said he should leave immediately.
Although Democrats were more likely to support Menendez in office than Republicans, when asked whether an unnamed politician should be allowed to stay in office after corruption charges, Republicans said “yes” at virtually the same rate.
But the poll showed that New Jerseyans of all stripes do like Menendez and are a bit blasé about corruption in politics.
Asked whether they approved of how Menendez is handling his job, Democrats approved by 45 percent and Republicans approved by 31 percent, with 35 percent saying they didn’t know.
And when asked whether New Jersey is more corrupt than other states, most (52 percent) said it was about the same as other states and about the same as five years ago. That’s despite the fact that 51 percent labeled the amount of corruption in politics “a lot.”
If a backyard or local Easter egg hunt was part of your holiday festivities, you may want to consider stepping up your game a bit next year. New Jersey’s nondenominational Liquid Church hosted what it claims is the Garden State’s largest egg hunt -- more than 100,000 eggs dispersed over four campuses in Morristown, Mountainside, New Brunswick, and Nutley. The eggs were divvied up over 14 events, so there’s no need to worry about trampled toddlers or mauled middle-schoolers.
Participants at the 500,000-egg Sacramento hunt -- an attempt to capture the Guinness World Record -- were not as lucky. An unruly crowd of kids and parents flattened some of the smaller tots and, [link:http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2015/04/04/chaos-at-sacramentos-world-record-egg-hunt-attempt/|according to the CBS local affiliate], “Parents reportedly rushed onto the grass and started pushing and cursing at other children.”
The town of Winter Haven, FL, retains the egg crown, an honor it has maintained since 2007, when it held a hunt with 501,000 Easter eggs.
For those homeowners who are still feeling the loss of trees due to superstorm Sandy, the state is distributing 130,000 seedlings for free through May 9.
The state Forestry Services will ship the seedlings to 13 distribution centers, which will in turn allocate them to municipalities. Municipalities that registered for the program will receive 1,500 seedlings. Any resident of the state is eligible to obtain up to five trees, which will be up to knee high when distributed.
The state is providing 38 different tree species, including oaks, dogwoods, and maples.
From now until May 9, each participating community will distribute seedlings on a designated date. Seedling distribution locations will be listed on the State Forestry Services Facebook page and at its website
A new study by WalletHub, a financial website, called New Jersey the second-worst state for doctors to live and work in, when compared with other states and the District of Columbia.
For the most part, that’s because of the competition in the area and the high cost of living.
The study looked at 12 factors, including wages, number of hospitals, number of physicians per capita, and number of insured. It also looked at work-environment issues, such as cost of malpractice insurance and number of payouts.
Oddly enough, New Jersey fared better overall when it came to work environment, ranking 31st in the country. This was despite the fact that its worst ranking -- 50th -- came in one of the factors in the work-environment category. That was due to having the second-highest (after New York) malpractice payouts per capita.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released a report regarding numerous health factors that add up to how healthy a region is. It looked at issues such as smoking and obesity and physical activity, as well those not typically considered “health” factors, including safe housing and poverty.
For the most part, New Jersey fared better than average nationally.
One statistic stuck out, however, which was safe drinking water. According to the report, 6 percent of the state population was potentially exposed to drinking water exceeding a violation limit during the past year. The average nationally is 1 percent.
This may be because certain areas of New Jersey have contamination issues, since the rankings also listed a range of minimum and maximum percentages. In New Jersey, they ranged from 0 percent to 49 percent.
New Jersey has had a harder time recovering from the Great Recession than many other states, so it should come as no surprise that the black unemployment rate in the state was 12 percent in 2014, the 15th worst in the country, according to the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. White unemployment was 5.5 percent, the 13th worst in the country.
Nationally, the unemployment rate for African-Americans was 11.4 percent. Nationally, white unemployment was 4.9 percent.
Hispanics fared somewhere in the middle, with a New Jersey unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, compared with a national rate of 7.4 percent. Asians saw an unemployment rate of 5 percent in New Jersey, compared with 4.9 percent nationally.
Clearly, unemployment impacts African-Americans and Latinos harder than whites and Asians both nationally and in New Jersey. But if there is any good news, it is that these rates, sad as they are, track the overall employment rate and New Jersey fares no worse in racially prejudiced statistics than other states. Unlike Wisconsin, which has a 4.3 percent white unemployment rate but 19.9 percent black unemployment rate and a 9.1 percent unemployment rate for Hispanics.
The state Department of Environmental Protection is getting ready for trout-fishing season, which begins a week from tomorrow, by stocking rivers, lakes, and streams throughout New Jersey with 570,000 rainbow trout. The state estimates that about 100,000 anglers will participate this year.
The state is stocking its waters exclusively with rainbow trout this year because they are more disease-resistant than brown or brook trout. The Pequest Hatchery, located in Oxford, Warren County, will be hosting an open house this weekend to teach children to cast, offer exhibits and art work, and provide a flea market for the purchase of equipment.
The Hatchery curtailed its stock last season due to a fungus disease with its brown and brook trout. One other advantage of the rainbow trout, according to the DEP, is that they are more aggressive, thus easier to catch.
Anglers can still fish for naturally reproducing brown and brook trout on a number of waterways, including the South Branch Raritan River, Pequannock River, and Big Flat Brook.
Gov. Chris Christie filed a “friends of the court” brief supporting Republican governors in Texas, Louisiana, and South Dakota asking a federal district court to put a halt to implementing President Barack Obama’s deferred-action program, which will prevent undocumented children who grew up in the U.S. and parents of U.S. citizens from being deported.
The program, which would allow these people to obtain work permits, driver’s licenses, and attend college, also requires them to pay taxes. The deferred-action program impacts 149,000 New Jerseyans, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Natural gas from the Marcellus Shale is once again causing PSEG residential customers to see a significant drop in heating costs; the company has said it will extend its credit program through April.
The typical residential gas customer will see the April bill cut by 32 percent.
The credit program began in November and will now have continued for six months. The typical resident, according to PSEG, will have seen a $236 reduction in gas bills this winter. This is despite the fact that PSEG experienced four of its top-five peak days ever for gas delivery due to the cold this winter. According to the company, PSEG makes no profit on the sale of natural gas and passes along what it pays to its customers.
Federal budget cuts have created budget tightening across the country, but one area that’s been hit hard is the maintenance of the federal park system. As of last September, the amount of “deferred maintenance” nationally was $11.5 billion. But even here in New Jersey, where there are fewer national parks, the deferred maintenance cost is rising to $181 million.
Deferred maintenance is defined by the federal government as “maintenance that was not performed at the required intervals to ensure an acceptable facility condition to support the expected life cycle of an asset” and is necessary to make sure conditions meet accepted codes, laws, and standards.
In New Jersey, Gateway National Recreation Area has the largest deferred maintenance bill of $89 million. (The New York side of the park has one of $627 million.) Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has deferred maintenance costs of $73.5 million. The Edison National Historic Site needs $10.5 million in repairs and maintenance. Morristown National Historic Site needs $7 million. And even the newest federal park in the state, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, needs $1 million in maintenance.
The budget situation federally is similar to what the state is facing, so it is likely New Jersey’s parks will soon have soaring deferred maintenance requirements if they don’t already.
New Jersey is known as a “payer” state, one where more money goes to the federal government than comes back. In 2013 New Jersey had the fourth-highest per-person contribution to the federal budget at $13,696, according to a data tool called “State Smart,” created by the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan research organization. Only Delaware, Minnesota, and Connecticut contributed more on a per-person basis.
The national average was $8,133. When all taxes are accounted for, including business, excise, and estate taxes, New Jersey contributes $118.3 billion to the federal government.
The same tool estimates that New Jersey receives about $82 billion back, when you consider assistance to individuals, federal contracts, and federal employees. The average per-person federal aid to individuals was $6,024. Most of that was Social Security and Medicare, but it also includes Pell grants, food stamps, and unemployment benefits.
Registered lobbyists spent $58.3 million in 2014, an 8.14 percent drop compared with the year before, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Despite the drop, Jeff Brindle, executive director of ELEC, cautioned against too much being read into the reduction. Lobbying expenditures, he said in a press statement, tend to depend on the number of controversial bills being discussed in the State House.
Most of the reduction in lobbying expenditures in 2014 came from a decrease in communications expenditures, along with cuts in in-house salaries and compensation, according to the ELEC report. Communications outlays dropped from $6.8 million to $3.7 million last year.
Insurance companies were the special-interest group spending the most lobbying money last year, at $4.2 million, followed by hospitals at $3.4 million and energy companies at $3.2 million.
In what is the largest penalty of its kind approved by the state Board of Public Utilities, Public Service Electric & Gas and Henkel & McCoy, Inc. will fork over $1.6 million for their responsibility in a fatal natural-gas explosion in Ewing Township last year. The fine also covers other alleged violations of the state’s laws regarding underground pipeline safety.
In investigating the incident, which left a woman dead, the agency identified specific concerns with actions taken by the utility and the contractor that may have led to the incident. The BPU ordered corrective actions to be taken by both PSE&G and Henkel & McCoy to improve safety operations and to ensure compliance with all laws.
In the settlement, PSE&G will pay $725,00 and Henkel & McCoy $600,000. In addition, the state’s largest utility will pay $275,000 for alleged violations of the state law aimed at protecting underground natural-gas pipelines, which came up during the investigation, but were not causally related to the explosion in Ewing.
New Jersey’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.3 percent in January, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
That inches it closer to the national unemployment rate of 5.7 percent. A year ago, New Jersey’s unemployment rate was 7.1 percent.
New Jersey’s 6.3 percent unemployment rate is still higher than its neighbors. New York’s is 5.8 percent and Pennsylvania’s is 5.1 percent. But the Christie administration boasted of the high number of jobs added in just one month -- 12,400 -- which was among the biggest gain nationally. Most of those jobs (11,800) were in the private sector.
New Jersey tax collections for the current fiscal year through the end of February are up 4.9 percent compared to this time last year, according to the latest revenue report from the state Department of Treasury. But that improvement trails the 5.3 percent rate of growth Gov. Chris Christie's administration is projecting through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Also unclear is exactly how much ground needs to be made up because the administration has stopped releasing that data in precise dollar amounts on a monthly basis
Rutgers School of Nursing (Newark and New Brunswick) is definitely coming up in the world. U.S. News and World Report last week named it to the 25th slot in its ranking of graduate schools of nursing.
Its strong showing put the nursing school in the top 10 percent nationwide.
In 2011, the Rutgers College of Nursing was ranked No. 79. But since then it has been integrated with the nursing program at the former University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ).