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April 29, 2016

How well prepared is New Jersey for dealing with and recovering from disasters that risk residents’ health and wellbeing? On a scale of zero to 10, the Garden State scores 6.8, according to the 2015 National Health Security Preparedness Index.

New Jersey’s ranking just tops the national average of 6.7 and puts the state in close company with several of its neighbors. Pennsylvania earned a 6.9 and Delaware scored 6.7. New York scored a 7.5 and Maryland achieved a 7.6, leading the nation.

The latest overall ranking is consistent with past findings. In 2014 New Jersey scored 6.7 against a national average of 6.5; in 2013, the state logged a 6.6 against a national average of 6.4.

The index, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, combines results from more than 100 different measures, ranging from emergency planning and participation in public drills to food inspections to testing for the Zika virus.

The findings are compiled in six categories designed to provide a full picture of a region’s preparedness: health security and surveillance; community planning and engagement; incident and information management; healthcare delivery; countermeasure management; and environmental and occupational health. New Jersey scored between 5.4 (for healthcare delivery) and 8.8 (for incident and information management), beating the national average slightly in each case.

April 28, 2016

Talk about college becoming unaffordable, a New Jersey state comptroller audit of three state schools found that the average student paid between $3,600 and $4,600 in fees, over and above tuition and board. The comptroller audited The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), Kean University, and William Paterson University and found that these schools charged full-time students more than $115 million in mandatory fees for fiscal year 2013.

William Paterson was the only one of the three that could provide documentation justifying its fees. At TCNJ, the Office of the State Comptroller was told that fees were not assessed on an individual basis -- for instance, lab fees for lab courses -- but assessed and increased at the same percentage in order to balance the school’s budget.

What’s more, despite assessing students as many as 25 different fees for such items as “technology,” and “athletics and recreation,” TCNJ and Kean did not maintain separate accounts for these fees. Instead, they comingled the funds.

State Comptroller James Degnan suggested that schools have written policies and procedures regarding their fees, and also indicate how the fees will be spent. All three schools said they would update the fee descriptions on their websites.

April 27, 2016

According to a recent study by WalletHub, the personal-finance website, New Jersey takes the seventh slot on a list of most gambling-addicted states. There’s a bitter irony to that number, given the recent push to open two new casinos in northern New Jersey. And there’s more disheartening news: the Garden State is in fourth place when it comes to percentage of adults with gambling disorders.

Nevada, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the No. 1 state for gambling addiction. Pennsylvania, which is typically cited for drawing off gambling revenue that could go to New Jersey, was rated 24th. Near neighbors New York and Connecticut finished 20th and 33rd, respectively.

Compulsive gambling is a tragic addiction. This medical condition affects approximately 2 percent of the country’s population and costs approximately $6 billion a year, according to a study by the National Council of Problem Gambling. Male addicts accumulate between $55,000 and $90,00 in debt; females average $15,000. Typically, compulsive gamblers cannot pay off their debts.

April 26, 2016

New Jersey’s medicinal marijuana program has been in operation just about three years and it now has 6,126 active patients with 6,960 patients registered, according to the program’s 2015 annual report. There are 362 physicians actively participating in the program.

There are currently five dispensaries in the state, located in Montclair, Woodbridge, Egg Harbor, Bellmawr, and Cranbury. Another site is being considered in Secaucus.

The largest number of patients in the program (34 percent) are suffering from intractable skeletal spasticity, followed by severe or chronic pain (26 percent.) Inflammatory bowel disease makes up 11 percent of the patients in the program, followed by multiple sclerosis (10 percent), terminal cancer (7 percent), seizures (6 percent), and glaucoma (6 percent).

April 25, 2016

Owner-occupied homes in New Jersey make up 65 percent of all households, according to the U.S. Census Department. That’s slightly more than the country at large, which is 64.4 percent.

The median value of that New Jersey home is $319,900. That is significantly higher than the national rate of $175,700. Median monthly costs, including mortgage, are $2,248. And 90 percent of New Jerseyans have lived in their homes for at least one year.

Meanwhile, the average rent in New Jersey is $1,188, while the average rate nationally is $920.

April 22, 2016

Among the five early women’s rights activists to be pictured on the back of the redesigned $10 bill will be New Jersey’s own Alice Paul. Paul was a key leader of the suffragette movement in the early 1900s, which led to the adoption in 1920 of the 19th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, giving women the right to vote.

Paul, a Quaker and Swarthmore college graduate, earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and later, three law degrees. Nevertheless, Paul was a radical leader of the movement, arranging protest marches and picketing the White House. She was often arrested, later incarcerated for seven months and conducted a hunger strike, after which she was removed to a psychiatric ward. She also founded the National Women’s Party, which led the fight for the right to vote.

After the adoption of the 19th amendment, Paul continued in her quest for women’s equal rights, writing the original Equal Rights Amendment and fighting for it until her death in 1977. She was a major player in seeing that women’s rights were included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Paul was born in Mt. Laurel, where she lived most of her life at Paulsdale, her family homestead and farm. The home is now a heritage site, and the location of the Alice Paul Institute, which advocates for women’s rights and runs leadership programs for girls. Tours of the site and discussions about Alice Paul’s life are regularly offered.

April 21, 2016

Forget constitutional amendments calling for funding pensions or bringing casino gambling to north Jersey. The Delaware Riverkeeper network released a poll Wednesday, conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson Public Mind, which showed that 84 percent of New Jerseyans want a state constitutional amendment that gives them the right to clean air and water, similar to guarantees of free speech, freedom of religion, and free assembly.

Indeed, 71 percent of respondents said they “strongly agree,” rather than just “agree” with the idea.

Although more Democrats than Republicans, women than men, and nonwhites than whites were supportive of a proposed amendment, a majority of every demographic said they “strongly agree.”

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network is working for state’s to adopt constitutional provisions guaranteeing such rights, and it is now focusing on New Jersey. Pennsylvania did adopt this amendment to its state constitution.

April 20, 2016

New Jerseyans do like drugs. According to statehealthfacts.org, a website that monitors healthcare information, New Jerseyans spent $9.16 billion on prescription drugs at retail pharmacies last year -- or 3.2 percent of the $287 million that was spent in the country.

That ranks New Jersey ninth in the country, despite the fact that the Garden State ranks 11th when it comes to population. Michigan and North Carolina spent less than New Jerseyans but have a higher population.

April 19, 2016

One of the tried-and-truisms of politics is, “It’s a long way to the election,” or, in New Jersey’s case, to the June primary. And it’s not clear if our votes will make any difference by the time we get there. Thus, it’s probably a good idea to keep that distance and time in mind when assessing the findings of the latest Rutgers-Eagleton poll.

Donald Trump continues to do well with New Jersey Republicans, breaking the 50 percent mark for the first time: 52 percent of Republicans said they’d vote for Trump if the primary were held today, according to the poll. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has fought his way to a distant second in the Garden State, with 24 percent.

On the Democratic side, the poll shows Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continuing to lead Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but Sanders has closed her lead to single digits: 51 percent (down four points) to 42 percent (up 10 points). Some 57 percent of “confirmed” Democrats support Clinton. But the secretary of state’s favorability rating is at an all-time low: 39 percent favorable to 50 percent unfavorable.

April 18, 2016

Firefighters have to be ready to battle blazes wherever they occur, and that includes on the road. In 2014 -- the most recent year for which data is available -- there were 3,395 vehicle fires in New Jersey. Passenger vehicles accounted for the largest number of these: 2,614 (77 percent), which translated into a property loss of $8,191,365. The loss of vehicle contents came in at $472,175. The second-largest group of vehicles to smoke and smolder was road freight or transport vehicles: 365 (11 percent). Property loss for all vehicles except passenger vehicles was $4,372,194. Content loss was $638,551.

April 15, 2016

New Jersey is no longer the top state in the nation when it comes to the number of homes in foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac, the real estate data company. For the first quarter of 2016, one in 216 New Jersey housing units were in foreclosure, putting it in the second spot. Maryland was number one, with one in 194 units in foreclosure. New Jersey was followed by Nevada (one in 236 units), Delaware (one in 240 units), and Florida (one in 274 units).

Nationwide, the foreclosure rate was down 8 percent from the same quarter in 2015, with 289,116 units having filed.

Atlantic City and Trenton were cited as the two worst metropolitan areas in the country. Atlantic City has one in 106 units with a foreclosure filing and the Trenton area has one in 168 units in foreclosure.

April 14, 2016

A new survey of New Jersey adults shows that a majority (61 percent) are comfortable with growing older, although 17 percent would rather not think about it, according to a poll by Rutgers Eagleton, together with the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute.

Yet, despite the fact that 66 percent have given thought to end-of-life issues, only 40 percent have put their wishes in writing. What’s more, many adults, according to the survey, are not familiar with living-will advanced directives or the physician orders for life-sustaining treatment (POLST) recommendations.

Those who are 65 or older are more likely than others to have given these issues some thought (78 percent), have discussed it with someone (80 percent), or put it in writing (65 percent). Less than 50 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 65 have put these wishes in writing, and the middle-aged are much less prepared.

There are also racial disparities, with white residents (70 percent) more likely to think about (61 percent) preparations for end of life. What’s more, women are far more likely than men to have had a conversation with someone about their end-of-life care wishes.

April 13, 2016

Any parent of a high-school student knows about their mood swings, but it may come as a shock that 1,700 students in 2013 -- the last year for which data is available -- attempted suicide. That’s about 10 percent of students. More girls (930) than boys (767) made the attempt. The data is based on a biannual survey conducted in the schools by the U.S. government.

The rate of attempted suicide appears to be rising; in 2011 -- the first time the question was asked in the survey -- only 6 percent of students replied affirmatively.

The riskiest year appears to be 10th grade, when nearly 12 percent of students in 2013 said they had attempted suicide. The largest cohort was Latinos, with 15.8 percent saying they had tried to kill themselves -- 19.1 percent of Latino girls. They were followed by 11.1 percent of Asians, 9.4 percent of African-Americans, and 7.4 percent of whites.

April 12, 2016

Not that this is going to come as jaw-dropping news to state residents, but New Jersey is not exactly restrained when it comes to putting the bite on its taxpayers. In fact, according to a new analysis by WalletHub, the financial services website, New Jersey finishes first when it comes to property-tax burden, compared with all other states. Things don’t look much better when it comes to overall tax burden, with New Jersey scoring as the seventh-worst state.

New York, Hawaii, and Maine are the three states with the most aggressive tax burden all told, with close-neighbor Connecticut finishing in fifth place.

If you’d like to think small, at least when it comes to taxes, Tennessee, Delaware, and Alaska have the lightest tax burden. (Juno is supposed to be lovely this time of year.)

April 11, 2016

New Jersey has an estimated 272,700 firms owned by women, according to the sixth annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN. Those companies account for sales of roughly $53.7 billion.

The Garden State has seen women-owned firms increase by 28 percent between 2007 and 2016, which ranks it 35th in growth nationally. Revenue increased by 30 percent over the same period.

The AmEx report analyzes data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners and factors in relative changes in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

April 8, 2016

Are pay-to-play laws having any effect? Jeff Brindle, executive director of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, believes so. “Many contractors are so afraid of violating the law that they have just stopped making political contributions entirely.” Brindle notes that contractor contributions have fallen by half since peaking in 2007, although donations are now going to political action committees and independent groups.

Other than local races, 2015 was a year in which only the state Assembly was up for election. Contractors gave campaign contributions of $8.3 million to New Jersey candidates in 2015, a decline of 15 percent from the year before. Yet the total value of contracts reported by business entities subject to the pay-to-play laws was $8.17 billion -- an increase of 18 percent. State contracts totaled $6.4 billion, or 78 percent of all contracts awarded in the state.

Meanwhile, eight of the top 10 recipients were at the county level -- in most cases freeholders. They were the Democratic Gloucester county slate of Damminger, Chila and Jefferson; the Burlington GOP slate of Gibbs and Peters: the Republican slate of Bartlett and Little of Ocean County; Democrats Ron Rios and Jim Polos of Middlesex County; Democrats Mirabella, Jalloh and Bergen in Union County and Democrat Jeff Nash of Camden County. Elaine Flynn, Middlesex county clerk, also was in the top 10 when it came to contributions, as well as the Constructors for Good Government PAC and America Leads, Gov. Chris Christie’s federal super PAC.

The engineering firm of Remington & Vernick Engineers was the biggest giver, at $474,100, followed by another engineering firm, CME Associates ($423,400).

For more information, see the ELEC site.

April 7, 2016

High-speed Internet access (aka “broadband connectivity”) is an essential element of every kid’s education, from kindergarten through 12th grade. But for many poor communities, access may only be available in schools and libraries, when it’s available at all -- and rarely found at home.

One way that New Jersey is pushing to close this digital divide is by using regional purchasing consortia to help schools collaborate and bring down the high price of broadband service. The first year of the program enabled participating schools to save $89 million and boost bandwidth 150 percent, according to a new report from SETDA (State Educators Technology Directors Association) and Common Sense Kids Action.

State Education Commissioner David Hespe had this to say about the program, “These are substantial savings of tax dollars that can be directed into the classroom. In addition, schools are able to leverage greater bandwidth speeds, which helps improve instruction and gives New Jersey children a competitive edge with technology.”

New Jersey has elected to participate in the initiative for another year.

April 6, 2016

It may not feel like it to some New Jerseyans, but we’re in a pretty good state (pun intended) when it comes to mental health. With a ranking of six among states and the District of Columbia, Mental Health America says that New Jersey has a low prevalence of mental illness combined with the highest ranks of access to care.

Indeed, New Jersey ranked third, after Connecticut and Massachusetts, when it came to adult mental health. The state’s ranking for mental health among youth was still in the top 10, at nine.

April 5, 2016

School fires are dangerous, destructive, and expensive. According to “Fire in New Jersey,” a new report from the Department of Consumer Affairs (based on 2014 data), there were 386 incidents that year, accounting for $343,643 in total dollar loss. Property loss ran to $225,923, while content loss -- which includes everything from staplers and furniture to computer equipment -- came in at $117,720.

Essex County had the highest number of fires, 72 -- followed by Hudson (59), Union (38 ), and Bergen (33). At the other end of the scale, Cape May County had just one fire, while Atlantic and Warren had two each.

April 4, 2016

It’s supposed to work something like this: Go to college, get a better job. And for 30 percent of the participants in a new Stockton College poll, that’s still the idea: They indicated that “getting a better job” was the most important personal outcome of attending college. But only one in three believed that their school was doing “extremely well” in preparing them for a job and career. Some 45 percent thought that college was doing “somewhat well,” but 10 percent answered “not as well as [it] should have, while another 10 percent said “not well at all.”

What about those students who aren’t in college to jump start their careers? Twenty percent of those surveyed were interested in “improving quality of life”; 15 percent were there to “learn specific skills”; 18 percent were interested in “gaining a better understanding of the world.” And just 3 percent were there to become better citizens.

April 1, 2016

Just 11 percent of New Jersey’s independent local governments are in full compliance with an online transparency law that went into effect in February 2013, according to a study released by the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG).

The law was crafted and put into place after the Office of the State Comptroller revealed in 2011 that only 3 percent of 587 local government agencies posted financial data online, and more than a third had no online presence whatsoever.

The online transparency law contained 11 requirements that local government agencies must meet. These include having an online presence and posting basic information such as minutes, resolutions, budgets, and meeting notices.

The NJFOG report tracked 436 local agencies. It determined that while 95 percent maintain on online presence, only 11 percent (48) are in full compliance with the law. For example, just 64 percent (281) post online meeting notices. Only 35 percent (153) post minutes of those meetings.

“New Jersey’s independent agencies collectively control hundreds of millions in public funding,” said NJFOG president Walter Luers. “They have an obligation to be as transparent as possible in how they are managing those tax dollars.”

Luers also noted that there is no mechanism in the transparency law that enable citizens to compel local agencies to comply with all of its requirements. He hopes that NJFOG’s report will spur legislators to amend the law.

The NJFOG study is the first assessment of online compliance since the comptroller’s original report. More information about the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government is available on its website.

March 31, 2016

New Jersey’s manufacturing employment edged down ever so slightly in the past year, dropping 0.5 percent for a loss of 2,308 manufacturing jobs between January 2015 and January 2016. The stats come courtesy of the New Jersey Manufacturers Register, an industrial database and directory published by Manufacturers' News, Inc.

New Jersey is home to 9,106 industrial companies employing 396,212 workers. According to MNI, industrial employment in the state has remained mostly flat over the past three years, after declining 13 percent from 2008 to 2013.

MNI reports that most of New Jersey’s industrial sectors lost jobs over the past year, including stone/clay/glass, down 7.2 percent; textiles/apparel, down 5.3 percent; paper products, down 3.4 percent; furniture/fixtures, down 3.2 percent; industrial machinery, down 3.1 percent; and primary metals, down 3 percent.

Employment growth in the state's top three sectors helped minimize losses. Jobs in top-ranked chemical processing, including pharmaceuticals, rose 1.5 percent in 2015, for a total of 76,725 workers. Second-ranked printing/publishing picked up 86 jobs, bringing total employment to 42,429; third-ranked food processing rose 1.5 percent to 38,332 jobs.

A version of the full report is available online.

March 30, 2016

New Jersey saw 163 fatalities on the road in 2014 that were caused by drivers under the influence. That works out to 29 percent of the 556 fatalities on New Jersey roads altogether.

New Jersey’s number of alcohol-related deaths was slightly lower than the rate nationally but not by much; there were 9,967 alcohol-related deaths on U.S. roads last year for a rate of 31 percent. The lowest rate for a state, which was not named by the Traffic Highway Safety Administration, was 20 percent.

The number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities has stayed relatively flat in the past five years, ranging from 27 percent to 31 percent.

March 29, 2016

By 2020, New Jersey is expected to suffer from a projected shortage of 2,500 primary-care physicians and specialists. A new study that ranks New Jersey as the sixth-worst state for doctors makes that shortfall a bit more easy to understand. The analysis, from WalletHub, the personal finances website, compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 11 key metrics, ranging from “physicians’ monthly average starting salary” to “number of hospitals per capita” to “medically underserved areas or populations.”

New Jersey’s results were anything but stellar. We finished 42nd (1 = best) for cost-of-living-adjusted annual wage; 47th for cost-of-living-adjusted average starting salary, 45th for malpractice award payouts per capita, and 47th for number of hospitals per capita.

New Jersey’s neighbors don’t do all that much better -- and in some cases they do worse. New York came in as the second-worst state for doctors; Pennsylvania ranked 34th.

New Jersey also bombed on a critical component of the study, finishing 45th for opportunity and competition -- just ahead of New York’s 48th.

So what’s a good location for a new MD looking to set up a practice? Head for Mississippi, Iowa, or Minnesota.

March 28, 2016

The rate of recidivism of New Jersey inmates seems to drop dramatically once they’re enrolled in New Jersey-sponsored reentry programs, such as the Jersey City Employment and Training Program (JCETP). The program, which has expanded across the state, helps inmates get jobs, housing, and addiction counseling once they are released from jail. The statewide program, which is run by former Gov. Jim McGreevey, is called the New Jersey Reentry Program.

In general, the program has a recidivism rate of 19 percent. In 2010, 53 percent of prisoners were back in jail within three years. In 2015, the program had 404 clients. Of those, 78 percent were male and 22 percent female and 58 percent were placed in jobs. Its sister organization, Integrity House, offered addiction counseling to 2,349 individuals.

NJRP has opened offices in Paterson, Kearny, Newark, and Toms River all within the past year, after starting out in Jersey City.

March 24, 2016

Looking to do something over the long weekend? Why not volunteer to help protect one of the jewels of New Jersey -- Island Beach State Park. Join more than 300 participants who are expected to turn out to plant a record 40,000 American Beachgrass plants on Saturday, March 26.

Volunteers with AmeriCorps New Jersey, Barnegat Bay Partnership, Friends of Island Beach State Park, and others will plant from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., as part of the park’s largest volunteer planting effort. Participants will meet at Ocean Bathing Area 1.

"The annual dune grass planting program is one of the most popular volunteer efforts at Island Beach State Park, bringing together hundreds of volunteers to help strengthen the dune system while making the beach even more beautiful," said Mark Texel, Director of the DEP's Division of Parks and Forestry.

"Dune grasses are vital to protecting the island because they hold the dunes together with their web-like root systems," added Jen Clayton, park manager at Island Beach State Park.

To volunteer for Saturday's effort, please email Lindsey Sigmund at ambassadorwma13@gmail.com. Sigmund is the AmeriCorps New Jersey Watershed Ambassador for the Barnegat Bay Watershed.

In the event of inclement weather, the event will be rescheduled for Saturday, April 2.

March 23, 2016

While a great deal has been made of the state's requirements using the new PARCC exams for high school graduation this year, the first backup for students not meeting the PARCC benchmark has been set: scoring at least a 400 on the SAT in both reading and math. That may not seem like much on a scale of 800, but it may prove to be the failsafe for potentially hundreds if not thousands of students in peril of not meeting the testing requirement for graduation.

March 22, 2016

PSEG is investing in solar in a big way, whether or not it’s using that power in the metropolitan area. The most recent investment is a $60 million 37.8-megawatt solar facility in Denver that will span 300 acres in Las Animas County, CO (165 miles south of Denver).

This brings PSEG’s investment in solar to 17 utility-scale facilities in 12 states, totaling 315 megawatts. The largest in New Jersey is in Hackettstown, which delivers 2.2 megawatts. The New Jersey company sells the solar power to utilities located near these facilities.

March 21, 2016

New Jersey is the Garden State, at least that’s what it says on our license plate, but what does that rubric mean exactly? One way to gauge is by tallying up the number of farms we’re home to -- some 9,071 spread over 717,057 acres, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Agriculture.

And those farms yield a veritable cornucopia of produce, accounting for more than $1.1 billion each year.

Jersey agriculture grows more than 100 different fruits, vegetables, and herbs -- as well as grains, plants, trees, shrubs and flowers.

In fact, New Jersey ranks nationally in the top 10 in the production of cranberries, blueberries, bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes, peaches, blueberries, cucumbers, squash, snap beans, and cut Christmas tree farms.

And while you’ve just missed National Agriculture Day (March 15), the second day of spring is a perfect time to take a second helping of veggies (your mother would be glad).

March 18, 2016

New Jersey’s wealthiest billionaire, David Tepper, a Wall Street financier and hedge-fund manager estimated to be worth about $10.6 billion, quietly moved his official residence and business, Appaloosa Management, to Miami at the end of last year, according to Bloomberg News. The move will reportedly save him hundreds of millions on taxes, particularly as a federal loophole regarding offshore money expires in 2017 and will cost him state taxes in New Jersey but not in Florida.

The report caused many to point to the continual worry that an increase in the top New Jersey income tax rate will cause the wealthy to flee, thus being counterproductive to raising more revenue for state coffers.

Yet liberal-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective continues to reject that idea. According to NJPP, there are 53,212 households in New Jersey with incomes of more than $500,000, which equates to 1.9 percent of state tax filers. They also claim there are 25,000 millionaire households in the state -- defined as those with investable assets of $1 million or more.

NJPP says that in 2003 there were 28,178 New Jersey households (or 1.1 percent) with incomes of $500,000 or more and that in 2013 there were 52,212 (1.9 percent). This growth came despite two tax hikes, one temporary and one permanent, on the wealthiest New Jerseyans.

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