With taxes on everyone’s mind this time of year, the New Jersey Public Interest Group asks New Jerseyans to consider that they are paying an average of $1,560 in additional taxes due to multinationals using offshore entities to help defer or eliminate their tax liabilities.
According to NJPIRG, corporations and wealthy individuals avoid paying an estimated $184 billion in state and federal income taxes each year.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6), who cosponsored the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, suggested that special interests are preventing the practice from being eliminated.
Just this month, the Senate Finance Committee voted to renew what were called especially “egregious” offshore loopholes that will cost U.S. taxpayers $8 billion a year, according to Peter Skopec, Program Associate of NJPIRG.
The NJPIRG report also found that the average New Jersey small business will have to pay $4,982 to cover the cost of offshore tax loopholes available to large corporations.
PIRG also recommended that passing reforms that exist in other states would result in New Jersey generating an additional $60 million in revenue each year.
Today’s the day that many New Jerseyans sign the documents and slip their tax returns into the mailbox -- or electronically file them – with a sigh. And there is good reason for that. New Jersey ranked second on the Tax Foundation’s list of state’s with the highest state and local tax burden, at 12.3 percent of income.
With an average family income of $54,422, New Jerseyans paid $4,659 in local and state taxes. However, they also paid $2,017 in taxes to other states and localities -- presumably New York and Pennsylvania -- to bring the average local tax burden to $6,675. These monies are what seems to really push the state tax burden as a percentage of income over the edge.
Connecticut, for instance, was ranked first in this survey. It paid a slightly higher local tax burden of $4,885, but also paid $2,264 in outside-Connecticut taxes, again presumably to New York and New York City. Connecticut came in first in this ranking, which is based on 2011 data, because its average income was also higher than New Jersey’s that year at $60,287.
New York, on the other hand, had a much higher average local tax bill at $5,258, but only ranked fifth in the country, presumably because the amount paid to other states -- $1,364 – was lower.
The average rate of local taxes for the country was 9.8 percent of income that year.
Underemployment -- the combination of the rate of unemployed, workers who are part time due to economic reasons, and those who are marginally attached to the labor force -- is 14.7 percent in New Jersey.
The good news is that this rate is down a full point over 2012, when it was 15.7 percent. The bad news is that the rate was 13.8 percent for the country as a whole.
New Jersey has made great strides in its unemployment rate in the past year, since it is now only 8.2 percent (although still higher than the national average of 7.4 percent). The unemployment rate is defined as all those who are able to work and have been looking for it in the past four weeks.
But it's clear that the unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story. There are more than 225,000 people in New Jersey working part time for economic reasons – also known as involuntary part-time workers.
Historically, New Jersey has had higher labor utilization than the rest of the country. It wasn’t until 2010 that New Jersey became a state with higher labor underemployment than the rest of the nation.
When we think of tornados, it usually conjures up the geography of the Great Plains -- flat, unpopulated, and with nothing to stop a giant wind tunnel for miles. And that’s true. But according to the National Data Climate Center, the Great Plains is not the only place that sees a lot of tornados each year -- Texas, Florida, Maryland, and the Carolinas also have more than their fair share. Even New Jersey has an average of two tornados a year, according to a report by Accuweather.com
New Jersey voters are evenly divided on whether the state should legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, according to a recent Quinnipiac University Poll.
Men are far more in favor of legalization -- 54 percent to 43 percent -- than women, who oppose it by about the same margin (52 percent to 43 percent). Only those over the age of 65 were less likely to support legalization (63 percent vs. 33 percent), with every other cohort supporting the idea by at least 51 percent.
When asked if they had every tried marijuana, 56 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 said "Yes," and 50 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64 said "Yes." A minority of those between 30 and 49, and over 65 said they had tried the drug.
What’s more, 50 percent of New Jerseyans did not see marijuana as a gateway drug and only 16 percent believe it is more dangerous than alcohol. If it should become legal, 60 percent said they wouldn’t be bothered by neighbors growing marijuana in their homes.
Almost half of New Jerseyans have an unfavorable opinion of the Affordable Care Act (49 percent), a bit more than those who have a favorable opinion (45 percent), according to a recent Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll.
Nevertheless, the new healthcare law is growing in popularity among Garden State residents; the same poll found only 40 percent of New Jersey residents were positive about the law in December and 50 percent were negative.
What’s more, most residents want to either keep the law as is (7 percent) or to keep it and work to improve it (60 percent). Only 28 percent want it repealed.
Residents are also divided on whether the public should stop debating the law and move on to something else. When asked, 52 percent of respondents said the public should start focusing on other issues and 45 percent said the healthcare debate should continue. That opinion seemed to be generally held regardless of party: even 45 percent of Democrats want to continue the debate. Independents (54 percent), those older than 55 (58 percent), and blacks (57 percent) seem to be most interested in changing the topic.
With both houses of the state Legislature and the governor’s office up for grabs in the past election, it should come as little surprise that contributions from public contractors rose $2 million to $10.1 million in 2013.
The two biggest beneficiaries of this largesse were groups tied to Gov. Chris Christie. The Republican Governors Association received $235,000 from New Jersey contractors, and Christie’s reelection campaign received $210,250. Christie’s challenger, Barbara Buono, only received $33,100 from these groups.
Jeffrey Brindle, executive director of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, noted that while there was a surge in contributions last year by public contractors, in general, contributions have been down since the state instituted Pay-to-Play laws. These laws require all businesses that have received $50,000 in total public contracts to report their contributions to ELEC each spring. And with a few exceptions, most are barred from contributing more than $300 to each candidate.
Brindle noted that contributions to political action committees increased 58 percent last year to $1.6 million. PACs are not subject to Pay-to-Play laws.
It should come as no surprise to those of us living in the Soprano state, but a study of consumer calls to businesses by the Marchex Institute, a division of a mobile technology company, shows New Jerseyans have potty mouths. New Jersey ranked third, after Ohio and Maryland, in the frequency of using curses.
States that were least likely to curse? Washington, Massachusetts and Arizona.
Conversely, New Jersey ranked pretty well when it came to courteousness. The study looked at the frequency of the use of “please” and “thank you” in the call. South Carolina, North Carolina, and Maryland were the top three in politeness, but New Jersey was ranked in the top “very courteous” category (as opposed to usually courteous or not courteous).
Those state ranking at the bottom were Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Indiana -- thus proving that there does not have to be a direct correlation between politeness and words that some deem unfit for polite company.
Deaths due to stroke have dropped significantly in the past 10 years, from 12. 2 percent of those hospitalized in 2002 to 7.7 percent in 2012. And while that’s generally good news, there were 1,100 deaths due to stroke while hospitalized. Strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in the state and remain the number one cause of disability.
How fast someone gets to the hospital after stroke symptoms generally determines how much damage will occur to a stroke victim, according to state Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd . Fewer than 50 percent of stroke victims arrive at emergency rooms by calling 911 -- most use private transportation, which is considered much too high.
The age of stroke victims is also changing. While 70 percent are 65 years or older, hospitals are seeing more victims between the ages of 40 and 65.
Symptoms of stroke include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg -- especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; or a sudden severe headache with no known cause.
People may also use the "FAST" test to recognize if a person is suffering from a stroke:
F = FACE, ask the person to smile.
A = ARMS, ask the person to raise both arms.
S = SPEECH, ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.
T = TIME, If you observe any of these signs (independently or together), call 9-1-1 immediately.
More than 100 towns and cities may benefit this month from a new program that will distribute 115,00 free seedlings to replace trees destroyed by Sandy. The program is being run jointly by the state Department of Environmental Protection forestry services and the nonprofit Arbor Day Foundation. Each town will have at least 1,000 trees spread across 30 different species, from oaks to dogwoods.
Officials warn that seedlings will be no more than knee-high when distributed, but residents should plan on the full-grown size of the species when planting, considering the overhead utility lines and proximity to structures.
The program is open to all state residents. Seedlings will be distributed on designated dates this month from specific distribution locations.
Brendan Byrne, New Jersey's oldest living governor celebrated his 90th last night with a birthday roast -- a fitting tribute to a man whose comedic talents are well known. Among those on hand to wish him the best were professional comedians, former governors, and a current one. Here's a brief sampling of what drew some of the laughs:
State Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Union), Assembly minority leader
“I am so sorry for the state of New Jersey that we took your name off the Brendan Byrne Arena. But I spoke to Gov. Christie tonight, and he said there are naming rights for a small bridge near Fort Lee.”
James McGreevey, former governor
“Gov. Byrne is in terrific physical shape. In fact, every week. Brendan swims in a hotel pool at the Short Hills Hilton. I was impressed when he told me. Also, I had never seen before a seersucker Speedo.”
Reese Waters, comedian
“I am happy to be here with Gov. Christie sitting to my right. A lot of people think Chris Christie will be the next president, continuing a fine Republican tradition of taking jobs from black men.”
Former governor and current state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex)
“Somebody mentioned something about New Jersey’s unelected governors. Gov. Whitman was responsible for New Jersey’s first unelected governor -- Gov. DiFrancesco. Gov. McGreevey was responsible for New Jersey’s second unelected governor -- me. And of course, Gov. Christie is responsible for making George Norcross New Jersey’s third unelected governor.”
Former Gov. Brendan Byrne, the birthday boy
“There was a time when 96 percent of the people in New Jersey knew who I was, and 4 percent thought I was doing a good job.”
Race matters. That’s the message of the new Kids Count policy report: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children, which looked at 12 measures of child wellbeing across different races for every state in the country.
The report found that while New Jersey's Asian-American kids rated second in the country (903 out of 1,000) and whites were tied for first with Massachusetts in that cohort (827), African-American and Latino children did not fare nearly as well. Latinos scored 502 and African-American children scored 455 in New Jersey, ranking eighth and ninth, respectively.
The biggest gaps between African-Americans and Latinos and other races are in educational achievement. These children lag when it comes to proficient scoring in reading at a fourth-grade level (only 20 percent of Latinos scored at or above proficient), and the percentage of African-Americans that scored at or above proficient in math in the eighth grade was only 24 percent. That may be why only 29 percent of black children and 20 percent of Latinos have completed an associate degree or higher.
On a positive note, New Jersey ranked higher than most other states in almost every measure and for every race.
On average, New Jerseyans must earn $24.84 an hour in order to rent a two-bedroom apartment at fair market value, making it the fourth most expensive state in which to rent, according to a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Only Hawaii, California, and New York are more expensive.
The average mean wage for a New Jersey renter is $16.77 an hour, meaning that individuals would have to work 59 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental or that two incomes are necessary.
Bergen and Passaic counties are the most expensive for rentals, with the average two bedroom apartment going for $1,450.
Overall, a third of New Jerseyans rent their homes, but most renters are concentrated in the northern counties of Hudson, Essex, Passaic and Union. In Hudson County, almost two-thirds of the residents rent.
These are difficult times for nonprofits in New Jersey and for the clients they serve, with rising demands for services and flat or uncertain funding.
In fact, four-fifths (82 percent) of the 501(c)3s responding to a recent survey from
the Center for Non-profits reported that the need for their services was on the rise during the past year. Another 80 percent indicated that they expected demand to continue to climb in 2014.
Few nonprofits expect funding to match demand, however. Only 58 percent of the 197 respondents expected funding to increase, while 28 percent believed it would remain flat. But only 8 percent said they expected a drop in funding in the coming year.
But despite uncertainties about the future, responses overall were more optimistic this year than last, according to the report, with nonprofits looking toward increased funding from foundations, corporations, individual gifts, and special events.
The number of women-owned businesses in New Jersey has grown steadily over the past 17 years, and is expected to reach 230,800 this year -- up 48.6 percent since 1997 -- according to the fourth annual American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.
If the numbers stay on track, those businesses should do some $44,541,600 in sales in 2014, a 48.5 percent increase over 1997 ($30,000,725). And woman-owned companies are expected to employ 252,900 New Jerseyans this year.
How does the Garden State stack up nationally? There are 9.1 million women-owned enterprises in the United States, which represents a healthy increase of 68 percent over the past 17 years. New Jersey is ranked 26th in terms of growth of women-owned firms since 1997, and 42nd in increased revenue over the same period.
The OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report is based on the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners, which is done every five years.
According to the latest numbers released by the Tax Foundation, New Jersey earned the dubious distinction of having the second-worst business tax climate in the United States, finishing 49th out of 50.
The unhappy news comes courtesy of the foundation's annual edition of "Facts and Figures," which was first published in 1941.
Rankings are a function of five component taxes, all of which are individually scored. New Jersey's numbers: corporate tax (49); individual income tax (41); sales tax (48); unemployment insurance tax (32); and property tax (50).
New Jersey finished one place ahead of neighbor New York, which was ranked 50th. Pennsylvania's overall ranking was 24, and Connecticut came in at 42.
The best business tax climates, at least according to the foundation: Wyoming (1), South Dakota (2), and Nevada (3).
It's a distinction that New Jersey can well do without: In 2013, veterans across the state had an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent -- the highest in the country, according to data released last week by the U.S. Department of Labor.
New Jersey’s 10.8 percent veterans’ unemployment rate is a significant increase from 2012’s rate of 10 percent and far higher than the national rate of 6.6 percent. It is also much higher than New Jersey’s 2013 unemployment rate for non-veterans (7.8 percent).
"New Jersey is in the unenviable position of adding another 'first in the nation' milestone," said Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective. "First in foreclosures, first in its percentage of jobless out of work for more than six months, and, now, first in the rate of unemployed veterans."
Unemployment among veterans in New Jersey is much higher than in neighboring states like Pennsylvania (7.7 percent) and New York (8.2 percent). The lowest rates were in Delaware, Iowa, North Dakota, Vermont, and Virginia, which were all below 4 percent.
Independent special interest groups, many of which operate with little or no public disclosure, have spent an estimated $63 million on gubernatorial and legislative elections in New Jersey since 1977, according to a new report by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
“In federal, state, and even local races, independent spending has emerged as a dominant force in political campaigns,’’ said Joseph Donohue, Deputy Executive Director and the study’s author. “It’s a new ballgame, both nationally and in New Jersey.”
More than $55 million -- 87 percent -- has been spent just in the past five years, according to “White Paper No. 24 -- Independents’ Day -- Seeking Disclosure in a New Era of Unlimited Special Interest Spending.
The report also indicates that the 2013 gubernatorial and legislative elections attracted a record $39 million in so-called outside spending -- campaign funds spent independently of parties or candidates by groups or individuals with special interest agendas.
Tourism spending rose 1.3 percent in 2013 to about $38.4 billion, according to an annual report by Tourism Economics, a consultancy.
About one in 10 -- or 320,238 -- jobs in the state are related to the tourism industry, and it makes up about 6.9 percent of the entire state economy. Trip volume was up significantly last year, going from 82.4 million visits in 2012 to 87.2 million in 2013.
According to the report, the state seems to have largely recovered from Sandy, although poor weather this past fall put a damper on visits.
What isn’t working? Hotel demand dropped 1.1 percent, although revenue was up 1.2 percent due to increases in prices. Casino win -- the amount casinos reaped from visitors -- dropped another 5.9 percent. However, the report pointed out that this is the smallest year-to-year decline since 2007.
Anglers will have to be just a bit more lucky this trout season in order to score big in the state’s rivers and streams, since the state Division of Fish and Wildlife has decided to euthanize 114,000 brook trout in the Pequest Trout Hatchery in Warren County. That’s about one-sixth of the amount of trout raised by the state each year in order to stock New Jersey’s waterways.
The program is being undertaken due to the discovery of pathogens that cause furunculosis, a fatal disease caused by a bacteria known as Aeromonas salmonicida, which affects cold water fish such as trout. No human health risks are associated with this bacteria and it is not transferrable to humans. But the state wanted to ensure that the integrity of the hatchery was protected. About 25,000 trout were also euthanized last fall, after an outbreak was discovered. The hatchery believes the disease was transferred to the hatchery by birds.
Rainbow trout appear to be resistant to the disease, so the hatchery is increasing production of this species. The hatchery plans to vaccinate brown and brook trout to provide additional protection.
The state says the fish are being humanely euthanized by introducing carbon dioxide into the water.
Trout fishing season will open as scheduled April 5.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reports that in 2012 New Jersey law enforcement recovered 3,595 firearms, most in the commission of a crime, and requested that the weapons be traced to the original owner and seller.
Among these weapons were 1,943 pistols, 960 revolvers, 342 rifles, 321 shotguns, 24 Derringers, and four machine guns. The vast majority of these guns had not been used in a crime for over three years -- the average in New Jersey was 13.8 years. The biggest cohort (397) possessing these weapons was 18 to 21 years old.
Where did the guns originate? Many (425) were originally purchased in New Jersey. But other states exporting guns to the Garden State include Pennsylvania (278) North Carolina (199), Virginia (194), Georgia (152), South Caroline (134), and Florida (127). Neighboring New York, with its tough gun laws, only sent 56 of the guns to New Jersey -- only a few more than Idaho, which was the starting point for 37 weapons.
New Jersey’s unemployment rate of 7.1 percent is the lowest it's been since 2008.
What’s more, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released a revised 2013 benchmark rate, which is the result of an annual review and adjustment of previously released state-by-state employment data. It shows that for the past 18 months, New Jersey’s unemployment rate was previously below what had previously been stated and that employment growth was about double the preliminary results.
The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development said that New Jersey has added more than 65,000 private-sector jobs in the past two years. According to BLS, total private-sector jobs increased by 10.6 percent last year. Most of the increase was in the service sector, although manufacturing jobs did increase 1 percent. Public-sector jobs were cut by 5 percent.
New Jersey is home to 7,697 active-duty military personnel, most of whom (4,079) work for the Air Force, according to www.governing.com, using data culled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Perhaps surprisingly, the second-largest cohort is active-duty Coast Guard, with 1,507 personnel. This is followed by 665 members of the Army, 465 in the Navy, and 347 in the Marines.
Additionally, there are 10,446 military civilians working in the state. Oddly enough, these groups do not correspond to the number of active-duty personnel. Instead, the largest group of military civilian employees in New Jersey is the 5,602 who work for the Army, followed by 2,139 employed by the Navy, and then 2,061 working for the Air Force. There are also 644 Defense Department employees in the Garden State.
The state recovered $33.9 million in Medicaid fraud in 2013, according to the federal Health and Human Services department, making it 14th in the country last year in the amount recovered by law enforcement agencies.
Medicaid Fraud Units, which are administered by the state and funded jointly by the state and federal government, conducted 364 investigations in New Jersey last year, resulting in 22 indictments and 14 convictions. There were also 14 civil settlements.
Most of the recoveries were due to civil settlements: $32.7 million was regained in that manner. Only $1.8 million was recovered through fraud convictions.
Virginia, Texas, and Louisiana were the top three states recovering monies due to Medicaid fraud last year. Virginia obtained more than $1 billion -- $704 million through fraud convictions. Texas recovered $197 million and Louisiana $188 million. All three states employ large numbers of investigators in their fraud decisions. Virginia has 96 staff members in its fraud unit; Texas has 181; and Louisiana has 52. New Jersey has 35.
The number of bald eagles is soaring, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, with the annual Midwinter Eagle Survey in 2013 having counted 297 of them -- 264 in South Jersey and 33 in the northern part of the state.
There were 148 territorial pairs, up from 135 in 2012. Of these, 119 pairs actively nested, meaning they laid eggs. Ninety-six nests produced 176 young.
Peregrine falcons are also experiencing record productivity rates. There are 26 pair, with 24 nests having produced 57 young for a success rate of 92 percent. These nests are often found on bridge towers, watertowers, and high buildings.
The DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife has also documented 542 osprey nests, which are found primarily in coastal areas. The heaviest populations are found around Barnegat Bay, Great Bay, Cumberland County’s Maurice River marshes, the Avalon-Stone Harbor area, Raritan Bay, and the bays around the Wildwoods.
New Jersey is not meeting expectations when it comes to the number of people who are signing up for health insurance via the federal health insurance marketplace, since only 19,565 purchased insurance through the exchange in February. This was a slight drop from the previous month's 20,054. It brings the total to 74,370 individuals and families. The goal for 2014 is 113,000 but there is still a month left to apply.
According to Ray Castro, senior policy analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective, “there must be a major surge in March if the goal is to be achieved. It is likely that there will be a jump in enrollment for that month because it is the deadline that must be met to avoid a penalty, but it is unclear if the jump will be sufficient to reach the goal.”
Advocates of the Affordable Care Act are struggling to get people signed up to meet the goal because of the lack of marketing of the program. The Christie administration has chosen not to publicize the program widely and turned down federal money that would have allowed them to do so.
The expansion of Medicaid, however, has been a success. About 123,000 people have signed up for either Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through the exchange.
Nationally, 4.24 million plans have been purchased through the marketplace or state-run exchanges and 4.38 million others have been found eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.
Castro said that NJ, like the rest of the nation, needs to do a better job attracting males and young adults to the health plans. However, he noted that New Jersey is outpacing the rest of the country when it comes to buying premium plans -- those that have a higher initial cost but lower deductibles or cost sharing. That’s a good thing, he said, “because it will encourage these consumers to seek the treatment they need.”
As a rule, New Jerseyans are against any discussion of any type of tax hike -- including the idea floated recently by NJ Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto that the state should once again consider increasing the gas tax. A recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll showed 65 percent of registered voters against the idea of raising the gas tax, even when it would be used to finance road maintenance and improvements. Only 29 percent were supportive.
However, once the polltaker told respondents that that state had the third-lowest gas tax in the nation and that it hadn’t been increased in more than 20 years, support for the idea was on the upswing. Overall, 59 percent of people still opposed the idea, with only 39 percent saying they supported it. Nevertheless, a slight majority (51 percent) of those with incomes more than $100,000 said they would support the hike when they were told the new information.
Hospitals spent $4.5 million on lobbying in New Jersey last year, topping the list of special interest groups in the state, according to the recent analysis of lobbying reports released late last week by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
That was a 25 percent increase over 2012, and Jeff Brindle, executive director of ELEC, said that healthcare issues helped explain the jump. Among the issues facing the legislature last year were privatization of hospitals and implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Hospitals beat out unions ($4.3 million), insurance ($3.7 million), energy ($3.4 million), and ideological ($2.6 million) lobbyists. Hospitals were not the only healthcare lobbyists; other health lobbying totaled $913,528.
Both the New Jersey Hospital Association, with spending of $628,337, and Hackensack University Medical Center ($508,500) were among the top 10 lobbying spenders.
New Jersey’s solar industry supported 6,500 jobs, provided 100 percent of new electrical capacity in 2013, and was enough to power 33,701 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
And despite dire predictions that Jersey’s solar industry could crash, the state ranked fifth in the country for newly installed solar power last year, at 235.6 megawatts, after California, Arizona, North Carolina, and Massachusetts.
The state now ranks third in the country in terms of installed solar power, with 1,211 megawatts, following California and Arizona. It has more than double the amount of installed power as fourth-ranked North Carolina, which only has 557 megawatts.