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July 22, 2016

Going to college in New Jersey is expensive, even for students and families paying in-state tuition at state schools. And a rate increase is never good news, but the 1.7 percent bump at Rutgers University for the 2016-2017 school year is being billed as modest, according to a news release announcing it.

“I am pleased that, once again, we are able to keep tuition and fee increases at Rutgers to a minimum,” said Greg Brown, chairman of the Board of Governors.

The 1.7 percent increase is below Rutgers five-year average of 2.4 to 2.5 percent depending on campus location.

Typical in-state, full-time undergraduate tuition and fees at Rutgers University-New Brunswick will be $14,372 for commuters; students who live on campus will pay $26,632. Comparable increases will be in effect at the Camden and Newark campuses.

July 21, 2016

New Jersey residents favor a variety of schemes to help curb gun violence, but there’s no consensus about what can be done to prevent another mass killing like the one in Orlando last month.

Among the solutions endorsed by Garden State adults, the most favored is preventing those on no-fly lists from buying firearms (81 percent), according to the most recent survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.

New Jerseyans also favored providing greater funding for mental health services (73 percent), an “assault weapons” ban (63 percent), and reducing magazine capacity (56%).

There’s far less consensus as to what can be done to prevent mass shootings. A third (36 percent) said that banning so-called assault weapons would make the most difference. Only 5 percent believe that reducing a weapon’s magazine capacity would do much to curb mass killings.

July 20, 2016

Accusations of plagiarism leveled at Melania Trump’s speech to the Republican National Convention have flooded social and conventional media. But Gov. Chris Christie has decided that no plagiarism has taken place, because “93 percent is completely different.”

How the governor arrived at the percentage or his quirky definition of plagiarism is not known.

Trump’s speech came under immediate scrutiny because of striking similarities with Michelle Obama’s address to the Democratic convention in 2008.

Christie also attributes the flap to the speech being delivered on the first day of the convention, “the worst day.” He’s certain that the story won’t even be mentioned after the convention’s second day.

July 19, 2016

The sizzling temperatures and sweltering weather may have some of us thinking about unchecked fires, but it appears that arsonists prefer slightly cooler weather to undertake their crimes: April, to be exact, at least according to the Uniform Crime Report of 2014 (the last year for which data was available).

The most common targets of arsonists were structures (55 percent), with single-occupancy residences accounting for 23 percent of the structures torched.

Arsonists tended to be men (80 percent) and predominantly white men (72 percent). Juveniles accounted for 42 percent of arson arrests.

All told, arson destroyed $9 million worth of property. The average residential loss was $25,051; commercial/industrial losses averaged $17,090.

July 18, 2016

It doesn’t always seem like it, but New Jersey’s population is pretty young. More than two million of our nearly nine million residents are under 18 years old; that’s 23 percent of our population. And 26 percent of those two million are under the age of five, according to the 2016 Kids Count, an annual survey of child well-being.

Of New Jersey’s children, 48 percent are white; 25 percent identify as Hispanic; 15 percent, black; nine percent, Asian; and 9 percent, “other.” That equates to an increase in the population of Hispanic and Asian children and a reduction in the population of white and black children.

July 15, 2016

Between Zika, West Nile, and encephalitis, virus-carrying mosquitoes have become quite the threat to New Jerseyans. The first human case of West Nile virus in 2016 has been identified as a 48-year-old Camden County man who has been hospitalized.

In 2015, there were 26 cases of West Nile virus in New Jersey, three of which were fatalities, according to the state Department of Health.

There are 59 confirmed cases of Zika virus so far this year, all which are travel-related. The DOH reminds residents to use insect repellent when outdoors, and take other precautions such as using mosquito netting on infant carriers and strollers and eliminating standing water, including wading pools and bird baths.

July 14, 2016

Right now is the time New Jersey residents should be particularly watchful regarding Lyme disease, since the month with the highest rate of confirmed cases is typically July. In 2014, New Jersey had an incidence rate of 29 per 100,000 individuals. Previously, the state has seen rates of up to 53 per 100,000.

Only 14 states contribute to 96 percent of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the country. New Jersey is one of them, along with the rest of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, plus Wisconsin and Minnesota.

July 13, 2016

Data analyzed by Rutgers University found that 4,733 children under the age of 18 entered out-of-home placements in 2015. It also found that the rate of children entering foster care (per 1,000) was 2.3.

According to the most recent data available from the NJ Department of Children and Families, 7,805 children are currently awaiting adoption (“in placement”). Of these children, 2,814 have the goal of adoption, and approximately 90 percent of those will be adopted by foster parents.

The DCF estimates that it finalizes adoptions of nearly 1,000 children every year.

July 12, 2016

Those advocating casino gambling in northern New Jersey have their work cut out for them this November, according to the most recent FDU Public Mind poll.

Only 35 percent of New Jersey voters say they would support a constitutional amendment allowing two counties in north Jersey to each have a casino, in addition to what’s available in Atlantic City. Fifty-eight percent said they were opposed to more casino gambling in the state in general.

The opposition to more casinos held across the board – regardless of gender, political party, level of education, or age. A casino expansion amendment is on the ballot for November.

July 11, 2016

New Jersey ranks ninth in the country when it comes to the number of Latinos who will be eligible to vote in this November’s election, according to the Pew Research Center. That translates to about 831,000 voters.

Less than half of the Latinos in New Jersey -- 48 percent of 1.73 million -- are eligible to vote. Many do not have citizenship and others are too young to vote in the next general election.

The 8th Congressional District, currently represented by Albio Sires, has the highest concentration of Latino voters in New Jersey, with 38 percent. The 8th District spans parts of Hudson, Newark, and Union Counties. The 9th District, which spans parts of Hudson, Bergen and Passaic Counties, has the second-highest concentration of Latino voters, with 27 percent. New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Scott Garrett, the most conservative member of the state delegation, is one of the districts with the most Latino voters in New Jersey at 11 percent. It is being tagged as one of the most competitive districts in the country this year.

July 8, 2016

Nationwide, spending on corrections has been soaring, according to a new policy brief from the U.S. Department of Education. Since 1980, expenditures on state and local corrections has increased 324 percent. At the same time, what we are paying for education has been a relatively modest increase of 107 percent.

And while New Jersey is one of the state’s that has increased pre-K to 12 education spending, the ramp up in spending still lags that of corrections. Taking account population growth, New Jersey’s increase in corrections costs per capita grew 79 points higher than that of education per pupil. When considered as line-item budget increase, it was 149 points higher for corrections than education.

Higher education fared just as poorly, with a 77 percent difference between what we spend for a full-time equivalent college student and per-capita corrections cost.

The department recommends reducing incarcerations and redirecting funds to education -- by increasing teacher salaries in hard-to-staff positions, adding pre-K, and providing more opportunity via higher education.

July 7, 2016

New Jersey is seeing a reduction in child obesity rates among preschool children

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report that shows significant declines in childhood obesity, particularly among those ages 2 to 5 and from low-income families. In New Jersey, those children saw a 7.3 percent reduction in 2011 from previous years, to 16.6 percent and a 1.3 percent overall reduction.

Nationally, the rate was 35.9 percent when comparing the same cohorts of low-income young children. The rate was 5 percent reduction overall.

Still, Robert Wood Johnson said there remains a significant disparity across racial and socioeconomic groups. The national obesity rate was 14.7 percent among white youth, 19.5 perent among black youth, and 21.9 percent among Hispanic youth. In the past three years, Robert Wood Johnson said that Asian Americans now have obesity rates of 20.2 percent. Chinese youth only have 11.8 percent, but Filipinos (29.5 percent) and Southeast Asians (27.3 percent) had the highest rates.

July 6, 2016

At the end of last week, and without much fanfare, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration deposited $1.307 billion into New Jersey’s public-employee pension system. Even with that state payment, the pension system is still grossly underfunded, but the contribution officially made on June 30 did set a new record for the state. It bested the $1.05 billion payment that then-Gov. Jon Corzine made in 2008, and also beat Christie’s own top pension-payment effort, a $1.03 billion contribution deposited in 2013.

The new state budget enacted by Christie for the fiscal year that began on July 1 also puts the state on course for another record pension contribution. The overall $34.5 billion spending plan calls for the pension payment to increase to $1.86 billion.

But the Christie administration’s payments are still far smaller than the amounts that actuaries have calculated are needed to restore the $71 billion pension system to good health. Democrats who control the state Legislature want to remedy that problem by putting before voters this fall a proposed ballot question seeking to write a schedule of stepped-up pension contributions into the state constitution.

Christie, a Republican, is opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment, saying it could force taxes to go up to fund it. He’s supporting a less-aggressive payment ramp up schedule that’s spelled out in state budget documents.

July 1, 2016

Where did the first Independence Day celebration take place? Why in New Jersey, of course.

On July 4, 1778, Gen. George Washington, who was stationed at Piscataway at the time, ordered 11,000 soldiers to line the banks of the Raritan River and fire their guns in a salute called feu de joie (fire of joy.) It seems fire and bangs went along with July 4 celebrations since the beginning.

This weekend there will be plenty of revolutionary war re-enactments and other celebrations to enjoy. A list of events is available online.

June 30, 2016

It’s possible that the worldwide bee crisis is beginning to abate. The New Jersey Beekeepers Association has been (bee) keeping a constant record of swarm activity across the state since 2013 and it shows a consistent rise in the total number. Swarming occurs when a queen bee leaves a honey bee colony with a group of worker bees to start a new colony. The most recent data shows 310 reported swarms averaging at medium size (from grapefruit to basketball) and low to the ground (less than 6 feet). Hunterdon County reported the most swarms (46 in June) followed by Morris County with 31, and Burlington with 28.

In June of 2015 there were 86 swarms reported; in June 2014 there were 131, and in 2013 there were 135 for the entire year.

June 29, 2016

If you asked most people in New Jersey if we have too many lawyers in the Garden State, their answer would invariably be that we have more than enough. But according to the American Bar Association, New Jersey currently has 41,569 resident active attorneys, which is actually somewhat modest.. That’s approximately 46 in every 10,000 people or 0.46 percent of the total population (8,958,013).

New York has 175,195 lawyers in the state or 90 lawyers per 10,000 residents and Pennsylvania has 49,644 lawyers total or 39 per every 10,000 people.

The total number of active lawyers in the country is 1,315,561.

June 28, 2016

After a period of job losses between 2001-2012, New Jersey is on the rebound in biosciences employment. A national report by TEConomy/Bio indicates that the state has gained more than 5,000 jobs in the sector since 2012.

The report ranks New Jersey second in the country for large and specialized employment in the drug industry, following California. The sector employs 27, 459 people, which was 9.4 percent of the nation’s workforce in that field, and it is seeing a high rate of growth since 2012.

New Jersey was also cited as a major player in research, testing, and jobs in medical laboratories, ranking fourth in the country behind California, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. These facilities employed 25,733 people in New Jersey in 2014. That’s 5.3 percent of the national workforce in that sector, and it too has been seeing growth.

The state was not as highly ranked in terms of distribution of bio-science related products but it still has a sizable chunk of that business and it too is growing.

The glaring weak area is venture-capital funding. The industry organization Bio NJ argues that this is an area in which the state must do more work if it is to continue to flourish as a biosciences leader.

June 27, 2016

In 2016, 466,699 riders board New Jersey Transit trains and buses every weekday. The company reports that 92,314 riders board at Penn Station New York, which consistently has the highest boarding levels of all the stations. The second highest is Port Authority Bus Terminal with 78,0006 average weekday boardings, followed by Newark Penn Station with 27,487 and Frank R. Lautenberg Secaucus Junction with 26,641.

But not all of those customers are happy with their service. According to the NJ Transit customer satisfaction survey, overall satisfaction decreased from 5.9 in the last quarter to 5.6 this quarter. The top concerns reported for rail customers were fares and mechanical reliability.

The survey also found the largest decreases in satisfaction occurring on the Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line, due to decreases in “On-time Performance and Mechanical Reliability.”

June 24, 2016

A 2016 Rutgers University study examined 2,372 apartments in northern New Jersey and found about 12 percent of the rooms had bedbug infestations. The study found that half of the residents with bedbugs were completely unaware of them and that women were more likely to report bites. The study focused on 43 buildings in low-income communities in Bayonne, Hackensack, Irvington, and Paterson.

While those in the study often didn’t know they had bedbugs, the methods for finding them were fairly simple. 75 percent of infestations were discovered with short visual inspections taking 10 minutes or less. The researchers estimated that professional bedbug checks would cost about $12 per apartment.

June 23, 2016

We’re in for a good year in New Jersey if you believe in the plans being laid by members of the state Chamber of Commerce: 81 percent said they were planning to maintain or add to staffing over the next 12 months. About the same number said they expected revenues to either stay even or increase.

Meanwhile, these same leaders are looking to invest in technology. Since 34 percent now say they get most of their customers via the web (about the same find face-to-face customer generation best), they are looking to buy more tech in the coming year. About 63 percent say they will invest in “the cloud,” 38 percent say they are looking for more mobile technology, and 38 percent say they need more analytics to crunch customer data -- something 57 percent said they were not effectively collecting.

June 22, 2016

The latest Kid’s Count report, produced each year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranked New Jersey second in the nation when it comes to education. The survey, which has ranked New Jersey second since its inception, looks at issues such as early childhood education, school age, young adults, and test scores.

Overall, the state ranked seventh for child wellbeing, behind Minnesota, Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.

When it comes to economic wellbeing, a category New Jersey fared worst in, the state fell to 20th place. One in four children lives in a family that has no member of the household with full-time, year-round employment. What’s more, 16 percent of children live in poverty. The study tracked New Jersey conditions in 2013 through 2014, when the economy was still poor in the Garden State.

There were other bright spots, however. The teen birth rate dropped 46 percent between 2008 and 2014. Drug and alcohol abuse also dropped 29 percent.

June 20, 2016

New Jersey’s nine national parks hosted 4.2 million visitors and generated $135.8 million in visitor spending according to the federal Department of Interior’s annual economic report for Fiscal Year 2015. The parks also supported 2,000 jobs and the state economic output came in at $189.1 million.

On a national scale, the DOI reported that the country’s national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments, and other public lands hosted an estimated 443 million recreational visits in 2015, an increase from 423 million the year before. These visits supported $45 billion in economic output and 396,000 jobs.

June 20, 2016

In January 2016, Princeton University researchers Steven Englehardt and Arvind Narayanan sent out 90 million requests to the top 1 million sites on the internet to see how web users are being tracked. They assembled the largest dataset ever used to study web tracking.

Web tracking happens to every internet user whether they know it or not. As someone searches or browses through websites, they are interacting with “first parties” (the websites that the user is visiting directly) and “third parties,” which are hidden trackers like ad networks that can access users’ browsing history employing tracking technology like cookies.

The Princeton study found that news sites have the most trackers, with an average of 40 third parties recorded across 100 of the top sites.

June 17, 2016

Income inequality, the gap between the rich and, well, everybody else, is typically thought to be a national concern — and an oft-mentioned issue in the speeches of some presidential hopefuls. It’s just as much a concern on the state level, as a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, “The Unequal State of America” makes clear.

According to the research, the average annual income of the top 1 percent in the Garden State is $1,453,741, while the remaining 99 percent average $57,447 a year. Looked at another way, those at the top of the economic ladder earn 25.3 times more in a year than the rest of the state’s residents.

The report also indicates that the New-York-Newark-Jersey-City metropolitan area has the dubious distinction of being the most unequal in the state. The top 1 percent there earns 39.3 times more than the bottom 99 percent: $2,156,193 versus $54,895.

The county with the greatest inequality gap is Hudson. There, the top 1 percent makes 44.8 times more in a year than the rest of the wage earners. That works out to an average annual income of $2,298,753 compared with $51,303 for the bottom 99 percent.

June 16, 2016

By the end of 2017, 2,801 troopers will be employed by the state police. This 158th recruit class is the eighth class trained since 2010 and, after graduation in 2018, will have the most state troopers since 2011. The state expects to graduate 130 troopers and lose 45 to attrition in fiscal year 2017, according to the state budget report. At the end of FY2016, the number of troopers was listed as 2,716.

The state police are responsible for general police services and operate four branches: administration, homeland security (including emergency management and special operations), investigations (including the office of forensic sciences and special investigations), and operations (which deals with traffic and public safety). The NJSP is also charged with protecting the governor and lieutenant governor.

Gov. Chris Christie’s fiscal 2017 budget will commit $1.5 million to the 158th recruit class of state troopers.

June 15, 2016

The Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) of the NJ Supreme Court released its annual Attorney Disciplinary System Report showing a total of 1,191 new investigations added in 2015.

Of the total investigations, 234 were added complaints. These are filed at the end of each investigation if there is a chance of proving unethical conduct by “clear and convincing evidence.” The case then goes to hearing and could result in disciplinary actions referred to as “sanctions.”

In 2015, 149 attorneys were sanctioned by the Supreme Court, a 14 percent decrease from the 174 attorneys sanctioned in 2014 and a 11.8 percent decrease from the five-year average of 169.

Of the 149 attorneys, 115 received “final sanctions” including six disbarments, 17 disbarments by consent, 25 term suspensions, one indefinite suspension, 19 censures, 28 reprimands, and 19 admonitions. The Supreme Court also issued 33 temporary license suspensions.

The report also showed an increased backlog of 20 percent for 2015. The percentage of investigations over one-year-old was 10 percent.

June 14, 2016

Last year there were more than 3,000 new cases of New Jersey children under the age of 6 with elevated levels of lead in their blood -- and more than 225,000 have been found to have the problem since 2000.

Although the scare about lead in the water throughout the state has caused concern, if not outright panic, most officials say the biggest danger of high blood levels comes from old homes and lead paint.

The federal government announced on Monday, through U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-NJ), that Newark and Trenton would get a total of about $5.5 million in remediation dollars to address the lead in housing problem.

Newark was awarded $3 million from the Lead Hazard Reduction Demonstration grant program and $400,000 in Health Homes Supplemental Funding, which will address lead hazards in 150 low-income housing units. Trenton was awarded $1,955,886 and $194,445 from the same two programs and will address 145 low-income housing units

June 13, 2016

Thirty-six percent of New Jersey’s children are members of an immigrant family, while only five percent are foreign born, according to the new Kids Count survey which is conducted by the Advocates for the Children of New Jersey. That equates to 733,000 kids, or a 5 percent increase since 2010. Of those, 103,338 children are foreign born, a drop of 12 percent since that year.

Only 21,000 of those children were born to immigrant families who have lived in the United States for five years or less.

Of these 733,000 immigrant families, 19 percent live below the federal poverty line and 40 percent live below 200 percent of the poverty line.

Only 28 percent of these children speak a language other than English at home; 74 percent are in married-couple families, compared with 65 percent in U.S.-born families. And 49 percent own their homes.

June 10, 2016

Gov. Chris Christie recently appeared on NJ 101.5 FM taking a side on the Taylor Ham versus pork roll debate. "It's Taylor Ham, egg, and cheese. I just declared it right now," Christie said on his radio show last month. "I may do an executive order on this. It's Taylor Ham, egg, and cheese. Of course it is."

Christie has issued 206 executive orders since taking office in 2010. This puts him at an average of 34.3 executive orders per year. His total is the second highest of any NJ governor since 1947. The only governor to surpass him was Thomas Kean who issued 226 orders during his eight years in office from 1982 to 1990.

Christie’s orders have dealt with issues like pension reform, Sandy recovery efforts, housing opportunity, privatization, and higher education. The orders created 12 task forces for purposes like “educator effectiveness,” addiction treatment, “Ebola Virus Disease Joint Response Team,” and recidivism reduction. A total of 98 orders have concerned flying flags at half staff; 23 declared a state of emergency (including fiscal emergency); and 12 rescinded or modified other executive orders.

June 9, 2016

A new study commissioned by Forward New Jersey, a coalition of businesses that favor investing in transportation, said that a $2 billion Transportation Trust Fund would support 34,165 jobs with a payroll of $1.4 billion. The study, conducted by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, said the investment would stimulate $4.7 billion in economic output or $2.35 for every $1 spent.

Other findings of the report included that spending $2 billion on highways, roads, and bridges would drive $258.9 million in new tax revenues and that the biggest winners would be the manufacturing and real estate sectors. According to the report, investing in this part of New Jersey’s infrastructure would increase $553 million in manufacturing output and $305.8 million in real estate.

New jobs would not only be created in construction, but also in retail trade (3,473); healthcare (2,124); and professional, scientific, and technical services (1,936).

Tom Bracken, chair of Forward New Jersey, noted that only three weeks remain before the TTF runs out and that “properly funded TTF will both protect the safety of New Jerseyans and provide the job creation and economic growth that our state needs.”

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