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October 1, 2014

About 7 percent of residents seek help from a poison control hotline each year, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Public Health Series poll, and the state said it receives 65,000 calls to its poison control hotline annually.

But that could be just one response to the huge problem of unintentional poisoning, since 92 percent said they would also call 911, and 85 percent said they would also call their doctor in case of emergency.

Unintentional poisonings are the leading cause of injury death both in New Jersey and nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Less-effective responses, according to the poll, but ones that many adopt would be to search the Internet (31 percent), ask family and friends (42 percent), or call 211. Younger respondents were more likely to rely on the Internet or 211 calls.

September 30, 2014

If New Jersey’s teachers are looking to work in a positive academic and work environment they've chosen the right state, according to the most recent study by Wallethub, a financial social network. But if they are looking for opportunity and competition for jobs -- well, not so much.

Overall, New Jersey ranked 11th in the country as a place for teachers

When it came to academic and work environment, the state scored second to Vermont. But in terms of competition for jobs and opportunity, New Jersey scored 31.

In many areas that are considered important for education, New Jersey scored very high: first when it comes to the best schools; fifth when it comes to the lowest pupil-to-teacher ratio; and highest public-school spending per capita. But New Jersey fell somewhere in the middle of the pack when it came to salaries adjusted for cost of living, number of job openings, and the overall unemployment rate.

September 29, 2014

The recent death of a 22-year-old Rutgers student hiking in West Milford has drawn attention to the bear population in northwest New Jersey and its growth. The most recent official statistics are from 2009 and 2010, when the state estimated that there were 3,400 black bears living in the state.

The number of black bears increased 133 percent from 2001 to 2009. Complaints about bears increased 200 percent during that period.

The state runs a five-day bear hunt every year, in which between 250 and 300 bears are typically taken. Critics of the bear program say that this is not nearly enough to keep up with the population growth.

September 26, 2014

How big a problem is domestic violence in New Jersey? Pretty big, it seems, with 65,060 domestic violence reports to the police in 2012, the most recent year for which there are statistics.

Although that shows a slight decline of 7 percent over 2011, it included 42,602 cases of assault and 28,285 of harassments. It also included 38 deaths and 194 sexual assaults. Arrests were made in 31 percent of the cases.

Women were the victims in 75 percent of cases. Wives (10,829) ex-wives (2,187) and female coparents (9,025) were the most frequent victims.

The vast majority of cases did not involve a weapon, although there were 128 cases that included a gun, 873 that involved a knife, and 1,370 that made use of another serious weapon.

Children were involved or present 29 percent of the time. Alcohol or drugs were involved 27 percent of the time.

September 25, 2014

If you’ve ever shaken your head in wonder -- or gripped the wheel in white-knuckled fright -- at some of the antics of your fellow Jersey drivers, you may want to consider that 27 percent of them admitted to reading email or texts while driving.

That’s according to a new poll from Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute and New Jersey Medical School.

Participants were asked about their perceptions of safety both as drivers and as passengers, which revealed an interesting disconnect. A full 87 percent of passengers reported that it’s very unsafe for the driver of a car to read emails or texts while driving. In addition, 57 percent felt that it’s very unsafe for a driver to talk while holding a phone, with another 27 percent finding it to be “somewhat” unsafe.

But 63 percent said they’ve taken or made phone calls while driving.

At least one activity appears to be thankfully beyond almost all drivers: reading a book, newspaper, or tablet. Of those polled, 96 percent said this was very unsafe and only 2 percent said they have ever done it.

September 24, 2014

New Jerseyans are not known for their cheerfulness, and perhaps that’s reflected in the state’s ranking in the latest study by Wallethub, a financial and social media network. According to the study, the Garden State ranks 24th in the country when it comes to happiness.

New Jersey does fare quite well in a number of quality-of-life categories -- it has among the lowest rates of depression (3), suicide (3), and divorce (4). And it ranks an overall 14th in terms of community, environment, and recreational activities.

So why did New Jersey fall to 24th? It seems work is stressing us out. The state ranked 38 in the "work" rankings, which looked at commute time, number of hours, job security, and long-term unemployment. Indeed, New Jersey ranked 47th when it came to inadequate sleep.

September 23, 2014

A majority of New Jerseyans take at least a little pride in rock star Bruce Springsteen, who celebrates his 65th birthday today, according to a new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll.

Springsteen is closely identified with his home state -- as evidenced by this poll, which had 80 percent of respondents aware of his Jersey residence. About 22 percent said they take a lot of pride in that fact, with 32 percent saying they took a little pride in it.

Springsteen can count Democrats, independents, and Republicans among his fans, although Democrats outweigh Republicans 46 percent to 36 percent. Springsteen is most popular with his own demographic, white residents who are over the age of 55, as well as those somewhat younger (35 years and older.) He has less popularity with African-Americans and Asians, as well as those between the ages of 18 and 34.

Nevertheless, no matter the age or race, few New Jerseyans (4 percent) disapprove of him. The rest are split between having a favorable opinion (47 percent) and no opinion (49 percent).

What most seem to agree on is that Gov. Chris Christie’s adulation of the rocker is “kind of cool” (48 percent), while only 19 percent believe it is “kind of embarrassing.”

September 22, 2014

In 2012, 99.7 percent of children in foster homes in New Jersey were free from child abuse or neglect, according to the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services.

That’s above the national median of 99.6 percent, an achievement the state has attained since 2009.

The federal government requires that caseworkers visit foster children monthly, and New Jersey met that requirement 96 percent of the time. Nationally, the norm is 90 percent.

There are 7,484 children in foster care in New Jersey.

September 19, 2014

Autumn officially begins this weekend, and one way to enjoy the cooling weather is to visit one of New Jersey’s 60 public gardens and arboreta, located in 15 counties.

New Jersey has a rich and varied history of public gardens that include former estates of the wealthy such as Duke Farms and Willowwood Arboretum, public parks like Branch Brook in Newark, university settings like Rutgers and Princeton, botanical gardens such as Skylands, as well as specialties such as a Shakespeare Garden, butterfly gardens, and wildflower trails. A list is available online.

September 18, 2014

NJ Transit was a major winner in a regional competition among 13 states for transportation infrastructure funding. NJ Transit won $1.27 billion from the Federal Transit Administration out of an available $3 billion to fund five major resiliency projects.

The first is what’s being called NJ TRANSITGRID, a first-of-its-kind electrical microgrid that can supply highly reliable power during storms or other times the grid is compromised. This will distribute energy to key NJ Transit locations as well as allow NJ Transit trains on critical corridors to stay in service, even when the conventional grid fails.

A second project is the replacement of the North Jersey Coast Lines’ Raritan River Drawbridge. The money will also fund a project to elevate Hoboken Long Slip, as well as build six new tracks and three platforms in Hoboken. Elevating the slip with fill will also contribute to the Rebuild by Design flood mitigation project.

Also funded was a project to create a permanent safe-haven storage facility for rail cars, as well as a service and inspection facility, along with a project to harden signal and communication systems along commuter and light-rail lines.

September 17, 2014

Despite its weak economy, New Jersey is still considered one of the wealthiest states in the country. But that just means some people have very high incomes, because a new report by Legal Services of New Jersey estimates that there are more than 2.7 million people living in poverty, or 31.5 percent of New Jersey residents.

The report estimates that given the high cost of living in New Jersey, 250 percent of the federal poverty level is a conservative poverty line. There were 900,000 people living at the federal poverty level, and the number of those living in severe poverty -- 50 percent of the federal poverty line -- has grown to 438,665 in 2012. Young children, young adults, female-headed households and the very elderly are those that dominate the poverty-level population.

September 16, 2014

The state Department of Environmental Protection announced a $190 million settlement in its lawsuit with Occidental Chemical Corp. over the intentional dumping of deadly toxins into the Passaic River. Occidental is the legal successor to Diamond Shamrock, which was found guilty of dumping dioxin, a carcinogen, among other toxins, into the river over decades.

This settlement brings the state a total recovery of $355.4 million -- Occidental Chemical being the largest -- but environmentalists did not applaud the agreement. Only last year, noted Debbie Mans, executive director of the NY/NJ Baykeeper, the Christie administration estimated the total settlement would be $530 million. What’s more, Christie has issued language in his most recent budget that has all settlements above $50 million being shared 50/50 between the state DEP and the general operating fund. “Settlements to compensate the public for years of damage to the environment should not be used to plug gaps in the general fund,” said Mans in a statement.

“The settlement should be for a lot more money,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This has gone on for 40 years and should be about the people impacted by the pollution, not for the budget." In announcing the settlement, the state attorney general’s office said that $50 million of this settlement or $67.4 million in total payments to the state would be used for natural resource restoration projects in and around the Newark Bay Complex.

In addition, Occidental agreed to pay “certain” costs associated with a $1.7 billion plan for the cleanup of the lower eight miles of the Passaic River, which has been proposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Tittel voiced concern that the EPA wants to dredge and cap sediment that contains dioxins, PCBs, mercury, and other toxins, rather than completely remove it.

“The people who live along the Passaic River, especially in Newark, have been robbed of the use of their river,” said Tittle, who fears capping would not last generations. “Rivers should not be Superfund sites, they should be places where people can walk along the river bank or kayak.”

September 15, 2014

The United Way of Northern New Jersey estimates that a family of four -- two adults, one infant, and one preschooler -- needs an income of $61,200 just to survive in this state.

A new report, called ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and conducted by the United Way, estimated that was the income required to afford the five basic necessities -- housing, childcare, food, healthcare, and transportation -- a family of four would need. In 2012, the median family income in New Jersey was $69,667.

The budget calls for $1,245 for housing, $1,341 for childcare, $592 for food, $549 for transportation, $453 for healthcare, $456 for taxes, and $464 for miscellaneous.

Basic necessities increased 19 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the survey.

A single adult is estimated to need $27,552 to live on a survival budget. The Household Survival Budget was estimated to vary across counties. The basic essentials were judged to be least expensive in Essex County -- $49,038 for a family of four, $23,209 for a single adult. They were estimated to be most expensive for a family of four in Hunterdon County at $73,120. For a single adult, Passaic County was judged the most expensive at $33,494.

September 12, 2014

The Girl Scouts Research Institute took a look at key issues facing the state of girls between 5 and 17 and ranked each state by key social, economic, and health issues. New Jersey ranked ninth in the country. New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Massachusetts, and Vermont ranked as the top five.

Predictably, New Jersey scored highest when it came to education and educational performance, ranking third. It scored less well when it came to emotional health and participation in extracurricular activities.

When it comes to emotional health, New Jersey ranked 14th. Eight percent of New Jersey’s girls need treatment for emotional, behavioral, or developmental issues. Six percent of them have experienced neighborhood violence. (Nationally, the figures were 9 percent and 11 percent, respectively.) As for extracurricular activities, 82 percent of girls participate -- both in New Jersey as well as nationally.

September 11, 2014

Two polls released this week -- from FDU PublicMind and the Stockton Polling Institute -- show Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker leading his Republican challenger, former U.S. Senate candidate Jeffrey Bell, by 13 percent.

The PublicMind poll showed Booker over Bell by 42 percent to 27 percent -- with 27 percent saying they are undecided. The Stockton poll had only 12 percent undecided.

September 10, 2014

Funding for the repair of New Jersey’s roads and bridges is highly dependent on tolls and user fees in comparison with other states, making up 32.8 percent of the transportation budget. That ranks it second in the country, according to the Tax Foundation, the Washington think tank. (Delaware was first.)

The national average is 8.3 percent.

New Jersey’s gas tax, however, somewhat rebalances the situation. It only pays for 12 percent of road repairs in New Jersey, while the national average is 27 percent. When gas taxes, tolls, user fees, and license taxes are combined, they pay for 58.5 percent of road repairs. This ranks New Jersey eighth in the country. The national average is 50.4 percent.

September 9, 2014

New Jerseyans filled 102,886,356 drug prescriptions at retail pharmacies last year, which works out to 2.6 percent of all prescriptions sold in the country and 11.6 per capita.

Known as the nation’s medicine cabinet, New Jersey ranked 11th in the country for prescriptions. The cost of the drugs totaled $7.835 billion -- ranking New Jersey eighth in the country in terms of expenditures.

Women filled more prescriptions than men -- 13.2 per year vs. 9.8. And as expected, the older you are the more prescriptions you fill. Those over 65 years of age averaged 26.6 prescriptions a year, while children averaged only 4.4 prescriptions a year.

September 8, 2014

New Jersey has seen a steady rise in obesity rates. Some 26.3 percent of adult New Jerseyans are now considered obese, according to a recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health. That’s up from 20.3 percent in 2004 and 12.3 percent in 1995. Nevertheless, the state has the 13th-lowest adult obesity rate in the nation.

More men are overweight than women -- 26.4 percent vs. 23 percent. And more blacks (34.5 percent) are overweight than Latinos (27.5 percent) or whites (24.4 percent).

The good news is the rate of childhood obesity in New Jersey has dropped, with the state ranking 50 of 51 for obesity of 10-17-year-olds, with 10 percent. The rate of obesity among high school students is 8.7 percent, ranking it 41st in the country. The bad news is that New Jersey ranks among the highest states when it comes to 2- to 4-year olds in low-income families, with a rate of 16.6 percent. That, however, is a drop from a high of 18.4 percent in 2009.

September 5, 2014

Our tomatoes and corn crops have yet to be exhausted, but it’s already time for fall farm festivals. About 347 farms offer agritourism, generating $18.4 million in revenue in 2012, ranking New Jersey ninth in the country.

With an early Labor Day, fall farm events are already beginning this week. Nine New Jersey counties are in the top 10th percentile in the country in terms of agritourism dollars, and Sussex County is 85th in the nation. There are many different types of events at New Jersey’s festivals, ranging from wine tastings; pumpkin, apple, and peach picking; hayrides; corn mazes; visits to cranberry bogs; petting zoos; and music. A list of fall events is available online.

September 4, 2014

On average, one child under the age of 15 years is struck by a car every day in the Garden State, according to the state Division of Highway Safety. There were 142 youth fatalities (those under the age of 19) during the 10-year period between 2003 and 2012.

With schools reopening this week and next, the state urges motorists to be aware of school zones, bus stops, and crosswalks. Students also need to be aware of crosswalks, crossing guards, and traffic signals.

September 3, 2014

New Jerseyans may think they live in a blue state with a liberal sensibility, but when it comes to women’s equality, they would be wrong, according to a recent analysis by Wallet Hub, a personal-financial-social network. In a ranking of all 50 states, New Jersey came in a dismal 34th when judged in terms of gender equality. To come up with the ranking, Wallet Hub looked at such issues as the pay gap between men and women, the number of executive positions held by women, how many hours each gender worked, the difference in life expectancy and educational attainment by the sexes, and how many women were represented in the political ranks.

What Wallet Hub came up with was that New Jersey ranked 36th for workplace environment; 33rd for education and health; and 25th for political empowerment.

Hawaii ranked first on the list, with New York ranking second and Maryland ranking third. Hawaii and New York ranked highly due to their workplace environments for women.

September 2, 2014

The expense of living in New Jersey applies to every income level, including low-income households. According to a recent report “Housing Spotlight: The Affordable Rental Housing Gap Persists” 44 percent of the state’s low-income renters spend more than half their income on rent and utility costs. Nationwide, the rate is a much-lower 35 percent.

A key factor is the severe housing shortage faced by low-income households. According to the report, there is a shortage of at least 201,286 homes for those who are living 30 percent below the median income of the state. The lower the income, the greater the deficit.

The report, based on U.S. Census American Survey numbers, was jointly released by the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey and the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

August 15, 2014

Be careful behind the wheel this Labor Day weekend. The state is cracking down on drunk drivers with a “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign, which will run from now through Labor Day.

The Division of Highway Traffic Safety has issued 195 grants of $5,000 each [link:http://nj.gov/oag/newsreleases14/pr20140813b.html|to enable towns to set up checkpoints] and saturation patrols between today and Labor Day. In addition, 300 other communities are expected to participate in the campaign unfunded.

Traditionally, Labor Day weekend sees the traffic fatalities of the entire year. In 2012, there were 147 traffic fatalities in New Jersey over Labor Day weekend.

As a point of comparison, on average there is a drunken-driving fatality every 51 minutes in New Jersey. On Labor Day weekend, that jumps to every 34 minutes, most of which occur at night.

This will be the second year of the crackdown. Last year, police made 1,365 arrests during the campaign. They also issued 5,610 citations for spending, 4,153 seatbelt violations, 3,563 violations for driving with a suspended license and 936 tickets for reckless driving. Nearly 1,800 fugitives were apprehended during the campaign.

Penalties for a first DWI arrest can include fines of up to $500, 30 days in jail, one-year driver’s license suspension and court costs. Successive DWI arrests carry stiffer penalties.

August 14, 2014

The AARP is sounding the alarm, warning that many New Jerseyans are facing a “perilous financial situation” as they approach retirement. Not only is the organization urging the state to honor public pension commitments, but it says other legislation is necessary to encourage more reliable retirement savings.

But it could be a little late for some who are soon-to-be retired. AARP cites [link:http://www.nirsonline.org/storage/nirs/documents/2014%20Scorecard/final_2014_scorecard.pdf| a survey by the National Institute on Retirement Security] which demonstrated that the danger is not limited to public pensions.

The average 401k balance in New Jersey is $29,000, according to the survey, and that number has not increased since 2000. Nationally, the typical working-age household has only $3,000 in retirement assets and even those households with people who have already retired only have $12,000 on average.

August 13, 2014

New Jerseyans spend $2,421 a year just to operate a car, according to a [link: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/auto/car-ownership-costs-by-state.aspx|study by Bankrate, an online financial site].

But it nothing to do with gas costs and is all about insurance.

At $1,244 a year, New Jerseyans have the second-highest average car-insurance costs, after Louisiana, which racks up an average cost of $1,277. In most states, drivers pay less than $1,000 a year in insurance. New Jersey also has the highest repair costs in the country, at $393 on average. When it comes to gasoline prices, New Jersey drivers pay an average of $783 a year – lower than all but New York, Washington, DC, Alaska and Pennsylvania.

August 12, 2014

Voters approve of Christie but when it comes to his agenda – not so much

Do New Jerseyans like Gov. Chris Christie’s personality more than his agenda? That could be the case, according to recent polls.

While a new [link:http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu/new-wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/release_08-12-14.pdf|Rutgers-Eagleton poll] shows Christie’s approval rating still higher than his disapprovals (52 percent vs. 41 percent), when those same voters were asked about whether they approved of his performance on specific issues, only his handling of Sandy gets a thumbs up (59 percent).

More respondents disapproved than approved of his handling of the economy (50 percent disapprove), taxes (57 percent disapprove), education and schools (47 percent disapprove), the state budget (46 percent disapprove) and the state pension fund crisis (53 percent disapprove.)

While just 34 percent disapprove of his handling of crime and drugs, only 48 percent approve and 18 percent said they didn’t know.

A [link:/assets/14/0811/2345|similar poll conducted by Quinnipiac University] asked New Jerseyans what they thought of Christie’s “No Pain, No Gain” solution to the pension crisis and his program for bail reform.

Bail reform is a big winner – maybe because both Republicans and Democrats support it. Respondents were 4 to 1 in agreement with Christie that suspects believed to be dangerous can be held without bail and those deemed not to be dangerous can be released without cash bail.

However, when asked about Christie’s pension solutions, 50 percent to 41 percent said they disagreed with his decision to reduce the amount paid into the pension fund. Indeed, a major of voters, including 46 percent of Republicans, said Christie should use a combination of increased taxes and reduced payments to solve the dilemma.

August 11, 2014

State legislators will have to consider whether they want to revisit the [link:http://nj.gov/governor/news/news/552014/approved/20140808b.html|11 bills Gov. Chris Christie vetoed] late Friday, some of which are dear to the Democrats’ hearts.

The bills that were vetoed included legislation that would prohibit the treatment or use of “fracking” waste in a New Jersey facility; repeal of the prohibition of sports betting in New Jersey casinos; call for an increase of $21 in energy assistance for qualified families; and create new standards for privatization contracts.

Christie outlined his objections to the bills in individual veto messages, attached to his release.

Three of the bills were conditionally vetoed, meaning that Christie advised the state Legislature to adopt different language and, if so, the bills would be approved.

August 8, 2014

On Aug. 10, 2004 — exactly 10 years ago this Sunday — Gov. James E. McGreevey signed the landmark New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.

Considered one of New Jersey’s most significant pieces of environmental legislation, [link:http://www.state.nj.us/njhighlands/actmaps/act/|the law] protects the sprawling environmentally-sensitive Highlands region, which covers some 860,000 acres stretching across seven counties and 88 municipalities. The area provides drinking water to more than half the state’s population.

The act split the region into a “preservation” area where development was to be strictly controlled and a “planning” area where more development could be permitted.

Considerable debate and — some believe — political deal-making went into determining how those lines were drawn. Critics also cried foul over the state’s lack of funds to compensate preservation area property owners who could no longer sell the development rights to their land, complaints which persist today.

After the law was signed, the [link: http://www.state.nj.us/njhighlands/news/brochures/fact_sheet_11x17.pdf| Highlands Council], a 15-member board of appointed officials, drafted a regional master plan -- a set of policies and rules managing growth and conservation in the area. Today, the council continues to oversee the process of “conformance,” or bringing local planning in line with the master plan.

As of last month, according to Highlands Council staff, 59 municipalities have submitted “petitions for conformance,” and 47 of those plans have been approved.

August 7, 2014

In the latest Quinnipiac University Poll, 46 percent of New Jersey residents polled said that Gov. Chris Christie should run for president.

Of course, the bad news for the governor’s possible White House aspirations, is that 49 percent said he should stay home in New Jersey.

And in a separate question, 55 percent said he would not make a good president, versus just 39 percent who think he would be.

Still, he fares well in his home state against other Republican names, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. His polling numbers are not as strong, though, in a hypothetical general election against former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton, where he is down by 8 points.

[link:http://www.quinnipiac.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/new-jersey/release-detail?ReleaseID=2068|Quinnipiac University Poll]

August 6, 2014

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority announced last week that it has [link:http://www.njeda.com/web/Aspx_pg/Templates/LatestNews.aspx?topid=721&Doc_Id=2354&ParentDocID=681|awarded $35 million] to 700 Sandy-impacted businesses through the Stronger NJ Business Grant Program. The program offers small business owners grants and forgivable loans of up to $50,000 per affected location, up to a total of $250,000 to reimburse them for lost operating expenses, inventory, equipment and furnishings. The money can also be used for construction.

The announcement follows criticism from small business owners who [link:http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/14/04/07/at-small-business-roundtable-sandy-survivors-share-frustrations-anger/|complained back in April] that the grant application process was cumbersome and behind schedule. The EDA responded by reducing paperwork requirements and adding additional advisors to help business owners through the process.

Between the Stronger NJ Grant, Loan, and Neighborhood and Community Revitalization programs, the EDA says that a total of over $126 million has been approved so far to help businesses and communities impacted by Sandy.

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