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February 5, 2016

According to figures just released by the Christie administration, anti-fraud initiatives that have been in place for the past few years have saved the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund more than $640 million. And that, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, has triggered a $1 billion tax cut for New Jersey employers over the next five years.

Among the methods use to detect fraud: cross-checking unemployment insurance lists against the National Directory of New Hires to determine if people collecting benefits had already returned to work. That practice has saved more than $525 million to date. Software installed to detect claims being illegally filed from foreign IP addresses saved another $80 million.

February 4, 2016

Economists track changes in personal income to help keep tabs on an expanding or shrinking economy. In New Jersey over the past year, personal income grew by an estimated 3.5 percent, according to new data released by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Though much better than the state's 1.0 percent annual growth rate since the recent recession started during the last quarter of 2007, the past year's personal-income growth rate in New Jersey trailed the national rate of 3.7 percent.

February 3, 2016

With yesterday’s release of last year’s PARCC scores, one number stood out: the [link:/assets/16/0202/2134|193,367] tests that were not given. That’s more than 10 percent of all eligible tests in language arts and math, evidence of the big protest movement in many schools that saw scores of families sitting out the new exams. The state is not being more precise, saying it also includes students who were absent or had taken alternative tests in the figures for kids who didn’t participate.

February 2, 2016

Judges in New Jersey typically earn $165,000 a year, ranking them [link:http://www.ncsc.org/FlashMicrosites/JudicialSalaryReview/2015/resources/CurrentJudicialSalaries.pdf|11th] when it comes to how much they’re paid compared with other states.

But when you factor in cost of living, the National Center for State Courts estimates that in real terms, judges earn about $135,881, which would rank them 30th in the country.

The rankings were similar when it comes to the state Supreme Court -- where justices earn $185,482 -- which also ranked 11th in the country. Appellate Court justices do slightly better, with earnings of $175,534. That ranked them 9th in the country.

February 1, 2016

New Jersey is smack in the middle nationally when it comes to residents’ financial security, according to a study by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), ranking [link:http://scorecard.assetsandopportunity.org/latest/state/nj|25th] among states and the District of Columbia. CFED, which looked at 60 measures of financial health, is a Washington-based advocacy group for low- and moderate-income families.

The biggest reason for New Jersey’s relatively low ranking is its continued problems with foreclosures, mortgage delinquencies, housing-cost burden, and low rates of home ownership. New Jersey was also criticized for its high rate of residents without health insurance and for income inequality. It did get kudos for its relatively educated population and did well when it comes to businesses and jobs.

Despite its ranking on outcomes, New Jersey did well on policy. It was rated fourth in the country for anti-poverty policy measures, although the report identified many measures that could be improved upon.

January 29, 2016

The lack of child-support payments is a continuous burden on the New Jersey court system, with court-ordered child-support cases now totaling [link:http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/quant/cman1512.pdf|303,050], an increase of about 1 percent over 2014. Once ordered, the courts can garnish wages and provide the funds to the custodial parent. As of November, the New Jersey courts were capturing 75 percent of payments, totaling $4.8 million.

January 28, 2016

A recently released report for the year 2014 of internal investigations of the New Jersey State Police showed that there were 720 incidents, or complaints, involving officers that year. This represented a 10 percent increase over 2013. There were also nearly 1.5 million contacts between the state police and citizens, and there were 2,584 sworn members of the force.

Most of the complaints (417) involved administrative issues that were filed internally against the officers. There were 219 complaints of misconduct and one review of a shooting incident. Among the misconduct complaints were 49 for excessive force. No disciplinary actions were issued as a result of those complaints. The report also stated that the department received 600 compliments.

January 27, 2016

The Office of State Comptroller increased its recovery of Medicaid fraud funds by 12 percent in 2015, to a total of $87.26 million. The comptroller’s Medicaid fraud division uses a number of techniques to ferret out abuses, including audits, data mining, investigations that result from tips, and recoveries from overpayments.

Last year, an audit of the New Jersey Drug Rebate program scored big, with the state discovering that it was due $63 million from drug manufacturers.

The office said it was also responsible for proactively preventing fraud, saving the state $771 million in possible abuses. Additionally, the office referred 193 cases of possible fraud to state and federal authorities.

January 26, 2016

Garden State residents who think they’d like to spend their golden years in New Jersey may want to think again. A recent report on “2016’s Best and Worst States to Retire” puts New Jersey [link:https://wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-to-retire/18592/|six] slots from the bottom of the list, with an overall ranking of 46, compared with all other states and the District of Columbia.

What are the key factors holding New Jersey down, according to findings from WalletHub, the personal finances website? For starters, it’s expensive, ranking 42nd, compared with New York (48), Hawaii (49), Connecticut (50). Rhode Island, at 51, is ranked the least-affordable state.

New Jersey comes in just under the average for quality of life (24), finishing 40th for museums per capita. Surprisingly, it finishes 46th for number of healthcare facilities per capita.

Unsurprisingly, Florida was ranked the best place to retire.

WalletHub also offers a distressing statistic having to do with retirement in general rather than by location. One-third of all nonretirees can’t afford to make any contributions to pensions or retirement savings.

January 25, 2016

Despite ranking first in the country when it comes to having institutional resources to help women get involved and stay involved in the political process -- such as training programs, political action committees related to women, a state chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and the like -- New Jersey lags when it comes to political participation among women.

Some of that is due to the fact that New Jerseyans in general aren’t very involved in the political process. Only about 62 percent of New Jersey women are registered to vote, on average, with only 47 percent of them voting in 2010 and 2012. But that was higher than the percentage of men who registered and then voted.

Still, that’s not the whole story: The state ranked 31st for the number of women in elected office as well. There is only one statewide official who is female -- Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. We have only one U.S. Representative, Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12). When it comes to the state Legislature, women do a bit better, but only 27.3 percent of state Senators are women and only 31.3 percent of the state Assembly is female. When it comes to women of color in the state Legislature, there are only three.

January 22, 2016

State lawmakers concerned about the health of the public-employee pension system are hoping to ask voters this fall to write into New Jersey's constitution several new requirements related to funding it. One of the changes would be to require payments to be made on a quarterly basis instead of in one lump sum at the end of each fiscal year, which is the current practice.

A recent Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind Poll indicates that [link:http://view2.fdu.edu/publicmind/2016/160121/|59 percent] of respondents agree that the state should be making quarterly pension payments. But a little over a quarter of those who support the amendment would change their response if passing it would mean having to cut spending, and only 50 percent said they would continue to support it if tax hikes would be required to fund the larger payments.

January 21, 2016

According to Jersey Central Power and Light, its 2015 service-reliability numbers -- which include an 18 percent reduction in outages from the year before -- are the best in more than a decade. The utility indicates that at least some of that success can be attributed to the [link:/assets/16/0120/1656|$247 million] it has poured into infrastructure and upgrades in 2015. The total includes 24 million spent on tree trimming along 3,300 miles of power lines.

The investment looks to be paying off. JCP&L reports that customers on average experienced less than one outage per year, with individual incidents lasting slightly more than an hour.

January 20, 2016

Smokers in New Jersey looking for a good reason to quit can find almost 2 million of them in a new report from WalletHub, the personal finances website. According to “The True Cost of Smoking by State,” the nicotine habit will wind up costing a smoker in the Garden State [link:https://wallethub.com/edu/the-financial-cost-of-smoking-by-state/9520/|$1,953,106] over a lifetime of puffs and coughs. The cost of cigarettes themselves is only a fraction of the total — $138,272. That estimate is based on a smoker who takes his or her first drag at 18 and continues smoking until 69, the average age at which a smoker dies.

The financial-opportunity cost per smoker -- a shocking $1,307,514 -- reflects the amount that would have been realized had the same amount of money been invested in the stock market rather than smokes. Healthcare costs per smoker ($200,823) and income loss ($294,013) also contribute to the grand total, as do “other” costs ($12,484).

How does New Jersey compare with other states: Not particularly well. It’s ranked 41st in three categories (1 = lowest): out of pocket costs, financial-opportunity costs, and healthcare costs, and finishes dead last for income loss. Louisiana had the lowest total cost per smoker ($1,232,159) and New York had the highest ($2,452,735).

January 19, 2016

New Jerseyans are pretty accustomed to diversity, if you are to believe a new survey by marketing and public relations agency Taft and Partners, together with FDU Public Mind. The survey showed that only [link:http://taftandpartners.com/wp-site-content/wp-content/uploads/taft-fdu.diversity_TablesOnly.pdf|19 percent] of residents have heard racial or ethnic slurs occasionally or very often (6 percent), 61 percent said they never heard this type of talk.

The most maligned group, according to the survey, were Muslims; 12 percent said they heard slurs against them occasionally and 7 percent said very often (63 percent said never). They were followed by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (16 percent) and women (13 percent.) Other religious groups were cited 10 percent of the time; Jews, 9 percent; the disabled, 9 percent; and Hindus, 7 percent.

The survey also showed that the workplace was where most people interact with others of different backgrounds. Ninety percent of respondents said their workplace valued diversity, and almost everyone (88 percent) interacted with someone of a different race at least every few days at work.

It was a somewhat different story outside of the workplace; 76 percent said they interacted with someone of a different race at least every few days. But 83 percent (71 percent strongly) said they agreed with the statement “interacting with people of diverse backgrounds while away from work in my social interactions is important to me.”

January 15, 2016

In the 1980s, there was only one bald eagle nest in New Jersey. In 2015, there were [link:http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/downloads/cwnj_669.pdf|161 pairs], according to Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ. Protection and monitoring of critical habitat is what is saving our nation’s symbol, which is state-endangered for breeding and state-threatened for nonbreeding season.

Thirteen new eagle pairs were found this season, according to the foundation. Nine new pairs in South Jersey, two in central Jersey, and two in north Jersey. One hundred and fifty pairs laid eggs, up from 146 last year. They produced 199 young.

The Delaware Bay region is the state’s stronghold for these majestic birds; 40 percent of all nests can be found in Cumberland and Salem counties. Bald eagles can be found only in North America. Anyone interested in watching these eagles in their habitat should check out the [link:http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/education/eaglecam/|Duke Farm Eaglecam]. It is very popular, with more than 10 million views.

January 14, 2016

In the midst of a discussion of a state takeover of Atlantic City, it’s interesting to read the most recent financial statements from the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Atlantic City’s gaming revenues dropped [link:http://www.nj.gov/lps/ge/docs/Financials/PressRel2015/December2015PressRelease.pdf|6.5 percent] in 2015, less than the 8.7 percent drop in 2014. The biggest comparative losses were assigned to Bally’s and Harrah’s -- neither of which had Internet gaming to bolster a continuing loss at the tables.

By adding Internet gaming, Borgata, Golden Nugget, Resorts, and the Tropicana actually increased gaming revenues in 2015. The Borgata, in particular, seems to be benefiting from the downsizing of Atlantic City; it increased its regular casino wins by 10.3 percent, plus it also increased its revenues through Internet games by 10 percent for a combined total of $59 million.

The average casino revenues of surviving Atlantic City casinos were up 3.1 percent over 2014, for a total of $2.56 billion. Total state tax revenue for 2015 was $197 million.

January 13, 2016

On the day of his seventh State of the State as governor, potential presidential candidate Chris Christie issued a list of “numbers” he’s achieved during his time in office. It’s an interesting list. For instance, he touts the [link:/assets/16/0112/2158|400] bills passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature that he says he’s vetoed. He also noted that not one of his vetoes have been overturned by the Legislature.

The campaign also brags about 69 town halls Christie held in New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina.

Christie said he saved $120 billion due to “landmark pension and health-benefit reform” but doesn’t mention that this is because he has refused to fund a pension bill he signed earlier in his tenure that is now being litigated.

He also bragged that he vetoed $7.5 million for Planned Parenthood and other family clinics. While Christie has vetoed this every year since he took office, he usually claimed it was due to budget necessity.

On a less serious note, the governor gave 13 (give or take) as the number of sing-alongs he’s conducted in the car to Adele.

January 12, 2016

There are 1,300 points in 120 towns that the public can use to access New Jersey beaches, all of which could have been closed if state legislators had not acted quickly on a [link:http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/16/01/07/nj-lawmakers-scramble-to-ensure-public-access-to-beaches-waterfronts/|bipartisan basis] to restore the state Department of Environmental Protection’s authority over them.

The bill (S-3321) is now on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk, and it is assumed he will sign it, since his own DEP commissioner requested it.

Without the bill, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said federal funding for shore-protection projects along the coast would have been jeopardized, as well as the state’s ability to oversee important environmental programs.

January 11, 2016

It probably comes as little surprise to anyone who lives in the Garden State, but New Jersey ranks first for the number of internationally trained doctors, with [link:https://www.aamc.org/download/447206/data/newjerseyprofile.pdf|38.4 percent] of its physicians being graduates of international medical schools.

The majority of these doctors are immigrants who have moved after obtaining a medical degree, serving their residencies in the United States. But others are U.S. citizens who couldn’t get into medical schools here and thus train elsewhere. Some U.S. hospitals have agreements with these schools to offer graduates residencies.

New Jersey has an unusually high number of internationally trained doctors, although New York is nearly as high with 37.1 percent. Nationally, the rate is 18.4 percent.

January 8, 2016

New Jersey continues to be the state with the [link:http://www.unitedvanlines.com/about-united/news/movers-study-2015|largest outward migration] -- 67 percent of people who moved last year left the state as opposed to those moving in, according to this year’s annual United Van Lines study of nationwide migration patterns. Although New York has also been a consistent outbound state, this year the entire Northeast -- including Connecticut and Massachusetts -- saw a big outward migration.

United Van Lines pegged much of the reason to the retirement of baby boomers to warmer, cheaper climates. Michael Stoll, an economist and professor of the University of California, Los Angeles, also noted that the Pacific Northwest has become a destination due to Seattle and Portland having become technology and marketing centers, as well as a growing “want of outdoor activity and green space.”

The top inbound states this year were Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont (the single Northeast exception to outbound movers), Idaho, and North Carolina.

January 7, 2016

With more than [link:https://www.avma.org/news/pressroom/pages/TopBotomTenStatesForPets.aspx|half the people] in the state possessing a pet, you would think New Jersey would rank high on a list of pet-owning states. But that’s not the case; the Garden State was ranked third lowest by the American Veterinary Medical Association the last time it surveyed the issue in 2011. Only New York (50.6 percent) and Massachusetts (50.4 percent) were lower.

Dogs are more popular than cats, with 32.4 percent of New Jerseyans owning at least one. Only 25.3 percent of New Jersey residents own a cat -- second lowest in the nation. Utah, with 24.6 percent, came in last.

What state is on top? Some 70.8 percent of Vermont residents own a pet; 49.5 percent have cats. Arkansas is the top dog-owning state, at 47.9 percent.

January 6, 2016

Nationally, there are 10.4 deaths due to gun violence per 100,000 population. In New Jersey, the rate is half that, at [link:http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/firearms-death-rate-per-100000/|5.7 deaths] per 100,000, according to State Health Facts, a website run by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which based its calculations on [link:http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data_access/Vitalstatsonline.htm|numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].

In general, the highest rate of gun deaths were from states that have looser gun restrictions: Alaska (19.8), Louisiana (19.3), Mississippi (17.8), Alabama (17.6), Wyoming (16.7), Montana (16.7), and Oklahoma (16.5).

Besides New Jersey, the states with the lowest rates were Hawaii (2.6), Massachusetts (3.1), New York (4.2), and Connecticut (4.4).

January 5, 2016

The rate of cancer diagnoses per 100,000 New Jersey residents is [link:http://statecancerprofiles.cancer.gov/quick-profiles/index.php?statename=newjersey|487.4], which is higher than the national average of 453.8. The two most prevalent types of cancer are breast cancer (171.4 per 100,000) and prostrate cancer (157.3). They are followed by lung (60) and colon (44.4) cancer.

South Jersey has the most cases of cancer, with concentrations in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Cape May counties.

January 4, 2016

After a national study showing that New Jersey's African-Americans were [link:https://www.aclu.org/news/new-aclu-report-finds-overwhelming-racial-bias-marijuana-arrests|2.8] times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites -- despite similar rates of use -- the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union decided to study whether it could find a similar trend for other low-level offenses. The organization selected four municipalities -- Jersey City, Elizabeth, New Brunswick, and Millville -- and reviewed [link:https://www.aclu-nj.org/files/7214/5070/6701/2015_12_21_aclunj_select_enf.pdf|10 years of records] obtained through the Open Public Records Act.

The state ACLU found racial disparities in all four municipalities. In Jersey City, blacks are 9.6 percent more likely to be arrested than whites for offenses like loitering, marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, and trespassing. In Millville, the rate was 6.3 times greater. In Elizabeth it was 3.4 times greater; New Brunswick, 2.6 times.

The disparity between Latinos and whites is also high but not all of the municipalities kept records to track it.

December 18, 2015

Does New Jersey need tax incentives to entice the entertainment industry to film in the Garden State? The state Legislature apparently thinks so; the state Assembly joined the state Senate yesterday in approving up to [link:http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/A2500/2474_R1.HTM|$420 million] in tax breaks through July 2022. Previous tax subsidies of this type expired this past summer.

The bill also calls for the Economic Development Authority to study the prospect of developing a film production studio in north Jersey.

New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning think tank, has been arguing against the tax credit, a rare point of agreement with Gov. Chris Christie, who has vetoed similar legislation in the past. NJPP believes these tax breaks are largely ineffective, since location is the major factor in choosing where to film. NJPP points to Michigan, Florida, and other states that have killed their tax programs for TV and film productions, saying they cost more than taxpayers gain.

Supporters of the program, however, say that may well be the right decision for far-flung states that would have to hire entire crews in those locations. However, New Jersey is competing with New York (which does offer tax incentives) and surrounding states for this type of economic activity. The crews already live in the area; it’s just a question of which suburb or urban street they choose to work in.

December 17, 2015

New Jersey Policy Perspective estimates that [link:http://www.njpp.org/blog/federal-tax-package-important-win-for-new-jerseys-working-families|219,000] families in the Garden State will benefit from the deal this week that extends provisions of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

According to NJPP, if the deal had not been struck, New Jersey families would have lost $256 million a year from the federal government, “dwarfing” the $120 million boost given them in this year’s state budget.

Childless workers, however, will not benefit from the deal. Serena Rice, executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, estimates that leaves out in the cold some 350,000 New Jerseyans that should be able to benefit from the EITC.

December 16, 2015

Even though New Jersey has just about the strictest gun laws in the nation, 79,016 people have legally tried to buy a gun here according to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. When someone tries to buy a gun through a Federal Firearm Licensee, the purchaser is immediately run through a background check. New Jersey requires background checks in order to legally purchase a gun.

Although the more than 80,000 people who will choose to purchase a gun this year (the 79,016 does not include December) may sound like a lot, it is a far smaller number than other states. For instance, in Connecticut, which has a smaller population, there have already been 271,077 background checks. There have been 2.9 million gun checks thus far in Kentucky. In the United States overall, there have been 19.8 million checks thus far this year.

As the FBI points out on its website, these numbers do not represent how many guns have been sold, since every state has different background-check laws and every gun purchase scenario may be different. (Someone may want to buy several guns at once, for instance.) It also does not include illegal gun sales.

December 15, 2015

It may not feel like typical Christmas weather, but that’s not stopping New Jerseyans from decorating for the holiday, as thousands of residents travel to local farms to [link:http://www.nj.gov/agriculture/news/press/2015/approved/press151130.html|cut their own Christmas trees] this month.

New Jersey ranks seventh in the nation when it comes to Christmas tree growers, with 809 farms that cultivate more than 4,600 acres of Christmas trees.

Local farmers are involved in numerous charity events this month, with a program to give trees out to the families of the National Guard, as well as distributing over 1.3 million pounds of free produce. Many families see this time of year as a reason for a family outing, one in which they can choose and cut their own tree. For a list of farms where you can buy your own tree, visit the New Jersey [link:http://www.njchristmastrees.org|Christmas Tree Growers Association].

December 14, 2015

New Jersey has the highest number of dentists per capita of any state, according to the American Dental Association and America’s Health Rankings, an annual study conducted by the United Health Foundation, with [link:http://www.americashealthrankings.org/NJ/dentists/2013|81.2] practicing dentists for every 100,000 residents. Nationally, the number is 60.5 per 100,000.

Alaska is the state with the second-highest number of dentists per capita, with 78.3, followed by Massachusetts (78) and California (76.6).

Despite the state's top rating in terms of the number of dentists, New Jerseyans only ranked ninth when it came to the number of people who said they had visited a dental professional within the past year. Only 70.1 percent of New Jerseyans said they had done so, while the average in the country was 61.7 percent.

December 11, 2015

It’s probably to be expected, given that Gov. Chris Christie has spent more time out of the state than in this past year, but according to the most recent Rutgers Eagleton poll, his ratings among Garden State voters are the lowest ever. With a [link:http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu/rutgers-eagleton-Christie-ratings-2016-Dec2015|62 percent] disapproval rating and a 33 percent approval, his numbers are lower than the months after the Bridgegate scandal broke.

Christie is even lagging when it comes to the parts of his job that the public used to give him credit for. Taxes? The number of registered voters that disapprove is 71 percent. Crime and drugs? With registered voters, he gets a 46 percent disapproval rating. The same goes for the state budget. Registered voters disapprove at 63 percent. And 58 percent disapprove of his handling of transportation issues.

The only issue in which Christie gets a slightly higher rating than his disapproval numbers is with the Sandy recovery -- which is 48 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval.

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