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April 24, 2017

Often the butt of jokes when it comes to the environment, New Jersey has been ranked the 12th greenest state in the most recent WalletHub study. The study looked at 20 metrics to make this determination, ranging from soil, air, and water quality; energy efficiency; energy, water, and gas consumption; solar capacity; number of alternative-fuel vehicles; recycling; carbon dioxide emissions; and methane emissions.

New Jersey performed best, ranking 7th, for “climate change contributions,” which looked at things like greenhouse-gas emissions. It also did well when considering “eco-friendly behaviors,” ranking 13. This category looked at things like green buildings, solar capacity, energy and water consumption, and recycling. Less heartening was its 33rd place in environmental quality. Those are the metrics that look at such conditions as air and water quality and energy efficiency.

Vermont was ranked first in this study, topping the leaderboard for environmental quality and coming in second for eco-friendly behaviors.

April 21, 2017

New Jersey drivers — who seem to flip the bird as often as give a friendly wave — aren’t known for their good manners. What they should be known for, however, is safety. A new report from SafeWise indicates that behind the wheel Garden State residents are the fourth-safest drivers in the United States, determined by traffic fatalities per 1,000 drivers (0.062). Massachusetts, the safest state, attained 0.048 fatalities/1,000 drivers. North Dakota, the state with the most unsafe drivers has 0.256 fatalities/1,000.

Contributing to New Jersey’s strong showing is the fact that it has the fewest speeding fatalities: Average highway speed limit is 62 mph; average number of speeding fatalities per resident is 0.0111.

Safewise, the authority on safety and home security news, based its report on data from the Insurance Institution for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute.

April 20, 2017

Between 2007-2010, small-business owners across the country saw access to capital dry up. And recovery has been slow. Overall, the total number of loans in 2014 was down nearly 60 percent from the peak in 2007.

A new report by the Woodstock Institute finds this problem is particularly pronounced for small-business owners in communities of color or in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods in New Brunswick. These small-business owners are 3.5 times less likely to receive a loan than their counterparts in whiter, more affluent areas of the same cities.

For example, businesses in predominantly minority census tracts in the New Brunswick region constituted an average of 12.0 percent of all businesses, but they received only 6.7 percent of the number of Community Reinvestment Act-reported loans under $100,000 and only 6.3 percent of the total dollar amount of such loans.

April 19, 2017

Students at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick truly have the opportunity to serve their community — through an initiative known as the Promise Clinic, which provides free healthcare to poor and homeless adult clients of Elijah’s Promise Community Kitchen in New Brunswick.

Each year, approximately 45 teams of four to five medical students see patients under the supervision of faculty advisers. The teams — composed of first- through fourth-year medical students — care for the same one to two individuals throughout their medical school experience. In addition, patients also see students from the interdisciplinary practices as their care warrants. Since its inception, the Promise Clinic has seen about 600 patients, who visit once every few months.

April 18, 2017

Given that it’s tax day, we thought NJ Spotlight readers might be curious to know how much income-tax revenue the state expects to take in during the 2017 fiscal year, which ends this June: $13.94 billion. That includes all of the revenue coming from returns being filed as of today.

The income tax is the single largest source of revenue for the $34.6 billion state budget, followed by the sales tax, $9.3 billion, and the corporate-business tax, $2.47 billion, according to the New Jersey Department of Treasury and the Office of Legislative Services.

April 17, 2017

Despite talk of the move back to the cities and walkable neighborhoods, New Jersey is still a sprawling state. New Jerseyans primarily live in detached homes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with 5 .9 percent living in two-unit structures; 5.7 percent living in mobile homes; and the rest living in apartment housing.

The majority of these detached homes were built between 1960 and 2000 (54 percent), with 17 percent having been built since 2000. Most units have two to three bedrooms (65.5 percent), and almost everyone (91 percent) has at least one car available.

When it comes to heating these homes, 48.2 percent use gas from utilities, 38 percent use electricity, and only 5.1 percent use fuel oil.

April 13, 2017

Jersey City’s Police Chief Phil Zacche announced he will retire June 1, receiving a special $512,620 check for unused time over the past 38 years, according to the Jersey Journal. That’s the highest retirement payout in the state and comes on the heels of a recent NJ Spotlight examination into the estimated $2 billion government workers will be owed when they retire.

Zacche’s current salary is $205,000. In addition to his one-time payout, he will be earning an estimated $143,000 annually in retirement.

April 12, 2017

Something’s going down in Atlantic City, and for a change it’s something good: a 5 percent drop in AC’s municipal property taxes for the 2017 budget year, the first such reduction in a decade.

The tax decrease resulted from a $35 million reduction in the city’s 2017 budget, which, at $206.3 million, is $56 million less than the 2015 budget.

According to Gov. Chris Christie’s office, the 5 percent decrease in the municipal property tax rate means that Atlantic City homeowners on average will pay about $138 less in municipal taxes in 2017, with no reduction in municipal services.

Christie commended former U.S. Senator Jeffrey S. Chiesa, who is leading the turnaround effort for the state, for “leading Atlantic City to turn the corner, holding the line on expenses, and making responsible choices to revitalize the city.”

April 11, 2017

Now that tax time is here, New Jerseyans probably don’t want to be reminded that they bear some of the heaviest tax burdens in the country, especially when it comes to property taxes. Actually, the Garden State’s property-tax burden is the second-weightiest, when calculated as a share of personal income, according to a new study from WalletHub, the personal finances website.

Not to be confused with tax rates, which vary widely based on an individual’s particular circumstances, tax burden measures the proportion of total personal income that residents pay toward state and local taxes.  For the aforementioned property taxes, the burden is 5.31 percent. The tax burden for Individual Income Taxes is 2.32 percent, which puts New Jersey in 24th place in this category. And the total sales and excise tax burden is 2.51 percent, which is the 43rd lowest coast to coast.

When the experts at WalletHub were finished with their calculations, how did New Jersey fare? We have the seventh-highest overall tax burden in the country — at 10.14 percent.

April 10, 2017

Given its sizable Hispanic population, New Jersey should be expected to make a good showing when it comes to salaries for Latinas. Actually, the opposite is true: The Garden State comes in dead last (51) of all states and Washington, D.C., when it comes to the amount of money Latinas earn: just 43 cents for every dollar earned by a white, non-Hispanic man, according to rankings by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).

“The pay gap puts a dollar value on the discrimination that women still face in the workforce in multiple forms,” said Terri Boyer, executive director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. “That ranges from devaluing jobs that are traditionally held by women, to workplace practices that systematically disadvantage women and the choices that they make. The stubborn persistence of the pay gap is a reflection of how deep, and often invisible to the casual observer, these factors can be.”

Asian women in New Jersey earn 87 cents for every dollar paid to a man, which is the fourth highest in the country. White, non-Hispanic women earn 74 cents per dollar (39th); black women, 74 cents (also 39th). Native American women are paid 55 cents (37th) for every dollar a man earns.

Overall, New Jersey ranks 17th when it comes to women’s pay — 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. The national average is 80 cents.

April 7, 2017

With Tax Day bearing down on us, it’s time to get real: What did the government really spend your 2016 tax dollars on? The biggest chunk of your buck went to healthcare: 29.1 cents, according to the National Priorities Project. The second-largest slice went to the Pentagon and military: 23.4 cents.

But it’s the small numbers that are the most interesting. The government allocated 6 cents of every tax dollar to veterans’ benefits; 2.8 cents went to education; housing and community got 2.1 cents; energy and environment, 1.6 cents. And a paltry penny of your tax dollar went to science. That last number looks even smaller when you learn that paying the interest on the federal debt ate up 13.2 cents on the dollar.

The National Priorities Project also offers a breakdown of average federal income taxes paid by state. If you think New Jersey finished near the top of the list, you’re right.

April 6, 2017

New Jersey may have a reputation as a dangerous place — at least to those who took “The Sopranos” as gospel — but that’s a bum rap. Twenty-seven of the safest cities in the country are in the Garden State, according to the 2017 report, “The 100 Safest Cities in America,” from SafeWise, the home security website. (All entries on the list have a population of 10,000 or more.)

In fact, New Jersey has more cities on the list than any other state, starting with Washington Township in Morris County, which is at the No. 5 spot. River Vale Township is in eighth place, followed by Bernards Township (21), Kinnelon (27), Clinton Township (33), and Hillsdale (36). Franklin Lakes rounds out the New Jersey contingent at 100.

The entire list of 100 cities is available online.

To compile the report, SafeWise analysts worked with the most recent complete FBI crime data from 2015.

April 5, 2017

It’s been a busy year for the New Jersey Department of Health and its public health partners — local, county, and faith-based groups that are funded by state grants. Together they’ve delivered 250,000 immunizations.

“New Jersey’s successes are owed in large part to our public health partners who help to ensure residents are given opportunities to lead healthy lifestyles,” said Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett.

Other milestones reached by the department and its partners include:

  • 178,000 health screenings

  • 57,000 inspections of retail food establishments

  • 72,000 pets vaccinated for rabies

  • 4,4000 inspections of public beaches and pools

April 4, 2017

New Jersey’s tax revenues have declined continually since the beginning of the Great Recession, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which tracked how each state has fared since 2006.

Unlike most states that have fully recovered their state revenues since the recession, New Jersey’s $7.8 billion in quarterly revenue last summer was down 11 percent from its high of $8.7 billion in 2007. New York’s revenue was up almost 13 percent during the same period, at $20.4 billion.

Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, tweeted that the only two states that have not recovered in terms of taxes since 2009 are New Jersey and Maine.

April 3, 2017

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has released a report that says $3.8 million of the state’s fishing industry could possibly be impacted by an offshore wind industry, but it’s unlikely. That’s because $3 million of that sum is due to surf clams and ocean quahogs, which could easily be moved to other areas off the coast that would not be affected by wind turbines and construction.

Almost all of the other commercial fishing off the coast would either be impacted minimally by the part of the ocean defined as New Jersey’s Wind Energy Area or could be moved to another part of the ocean.

“The BOEM report shows that offshore wind is good for the Atlantic Coast because it will not hurt revenue for fisherman,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It is a win-win for our environment and our economy.” He notes that offshore wind has the potential to create "thousands of jobs along the coast, boosting local economies and green jobs.” Tittel, however, said that due to Christie administration delays, venture capitalists and other investors are setting their sights on other states, even though the New Jersey coast is best positioned for offshore wind.

March 31, 2017

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey has announced that it is investing $985,000 in urban community development projects in Elizabeth, Paterson, and Camden through a program run by the state Department of Community Affairs.

The Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit program — whose focus is on renewing distressed neighborhoods — gives businesses a 100 percent tax credit if they fund revitalization work done by nonprofits. This is the eighth year Horizon BCBSNJ has taken part in the program.

The Horizon funds will go to a range of projects being carried out by the Elizabeth Development Company ($450,000), the NJ Community Development Corporation in Paterson ($200,000), and in Camden the St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society ($135,000) and the Cooper Health System ($200,000).

March 30, 2017

A decade lost to a housing crisis, a major recession and the closure of five casinos, has left Atlantic City reeling. The Atlantic City metropolitan area lost 25,300 jobs, or 16.5 percent, in the 2006-2015 period. During the same period, the area’s gross domestic product declined 21.4 percent — the largest such loss among the nation’s 382 metropolitan areas tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The data, published in the South Jersey Economic Review, was released this week in conjunction with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University. According to Oliver Cooke, associate professor of Economics at Stockton, the effects of such economic distress on the area’s residents have been profound.

Noting Atlantic City’s “lost decade,” Cooke said, “The metropolitan area’s poverty rate climbed from 9.2 percent in 2006 to 14.3 percent in 2015, while the poverty rate for those younger than 18 years old rose to 22.3 percent from 13.2 percent.”

But the South Jersey resort also shows signs of new economic life, Cooke said, citing the decision of Hard Rock International to buy and reopen the closed Taj Mahal casino, as well as the recent state-brokered settlement of a tax dispute between the Borgata casino and Atlantic City, as positive developments, among other projects.

March 29, 2017

Just over two-thirds of New Jerseyans — 67 percent — believe the state is on the wrong track and only 24 percent believe it’s going in the right direction. This is according to a recent survey of registered voters by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll.

Voters don’t think much of government in the Garden State either. In fact, they have an overwhelmingly negative view of state government. Fifty-eight percent said they are frustrated with it, 21 percent said they are angry with it, and only 18 percent said they are content with it. Republicans were the most content (23 percent) while Democrats were the angriest (23 percent).

The chasm between voters and elected officials was graphically underlined by the answers given to a question on trust. A mere 1 percent said they always trust state officials to do what’s right. That bumped up to 11 percent when the standard of trust was broadened to include those who trust government “most” of the time.

Asked whether they regard state government as a friend or an enemy — on a 10-point scale, with one meaning an enemy and 10 indicating a friend — voters saw themselves as in the middle; the average response was a six.

With so little warmth toward government to be found in the Garden State, it is perhaps not surprising that 72 percent of voters expressed their disapproval of Gov. Chris Christie’s leadership with 20 percent approving; those numbers are statistically unchanged from January. The Republican governor could not even muster much approval in his own party; 52 percent of Republicans said they disapprove of the job he is doing and 40 percent approve.

March 28, 2017

It’s no secret that New Jersey’s medical profession faces serious challenges, particularly when it comes to primary-care physicians, who are expected to be in short supply in coming years. It’s not hard to fathom this predicament, given that New Jersey has been named the 47th worst state to practice medicine in, according to the latest data from WalletHub, the personal finances website. (The survey includes all 50 states and the District of Columbia.)

Where does New Jersey let physicians down? It’s rated 50th for malpractice award payouts per capita, and 47th for hospitals per capita. Average monthly starting salary also makes a poor showing at 44th, while average annual wages finish in the 41st slot.

What states should doctors set their GPS devices for? Iowa, Minnesota, and Idaho finish 1, 2, 3.

And what about the Empire State just across the Hudson? New York finishes at the very bottom of the heap, in 51st place.

March 27, 2017

Medicaid pays for almost half of all births in New Jersey — 42 percent in 2014, according to statehealthfacts.org, a website run by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The first year of Medicaid expansion was 2014 and the number of Medicaid enrollees has grown since then.

Total combined state and federal Medicaid spending in New Jersey is about $14.3 billion, 61 percent of which is paid for by the federal government. The state picks up the rest of the tab.

March 24, 2017

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its latest employment data yesterday, and Gov. Chris Christie was quick to crow about some of the numbers: New Jersey added 12,300 private-sector jobs in February, while the unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 percent, below the national rate of 4.7 percent. All told, private-sector job growth for calendar-year 2016 was 60,800, according to the BLS, the largest single-year gain since 2000.

March 23, 2017

New Jersey is a very wealthy state. Those inclined to doubt it — or who have forgotten that fact — need only look at Bloomberg’s survey of America’s 100 wealthiest places: There are 14 Garden State communities on the list. Top ranked among New Jersey entries, at No. 5, is Short Hills, with an average household income in 2015 of $346,819. Upper Saddle River is in the 19th slot ($276,982 ); North Caldwell comes in 34th ($251,248).

According to the survey, which is based on census data, more than one-third of the nation’s 100 richest households are located within 50 miles of New York City.

Glen Rock finishes lowest on the list of New Jersey communities at 92; annual household income for 2015 is a paltry $197,914.

March 22, 2017

Gov. Chris Christie yesterday announced $1 million in grants for nonprofit organizations and religious institutions considered to be at high risk of terrorist attack in nine New Jersey counties: Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, Salem, and Warren. The grants will cover the cost of security equipment and screening systems.

The announcement comes in the wake of several bomb threats to Jewish community centers around the state. Christie said additional resources are needed “to enhance security in certain parts of the state that had not previously received federal security grant funding.” (Nonprofit organizations in New Jersey’s other 12 counties already can access similar security funding through a federal Department of Homeland Security program.)

The SECUR-NJ grants will be administered by the state’s Office of Homeland Security; the maximum award will be $50,000. The OHSP will hold an information session on April 19, 1-4 p.m. at the Burlington County Office of Emergency Management in Westampton. Follow this link for more information on SECUR-NJ.

March 21, 2017

With the signing into law of S-2897, sponsored by Sen. Tom Kean, $34.3 million has been made available to fund capital improvement projects at public institutions of higher education statewide. The money represents the remaining funds available through the Building Our Future Bond Act, also sponsored by Kean and signed into law in 2012.

The projects funded by S-2897 include a new life sciences and engineering research facility at NJIT; state-of-the art technology-equipped instructional and research building at Stevens Institute of Technology; reconstruction of the William Paterson University Hunziker Building for laboratories and general-use classrooms; renovations to the Edison Science Building at Monmouth University; new Art Therapy facility at Caldwell University; and new Health Sciences Building at Union County College.

March 20, 2017

After an audit by the state office of the comptroller into irregularities in Medicaid billing and documentation, Care Alternatives in Cranford — now known as Ascend Hospice — has agreed to repay $153,095 to the program. The OSC’s Medicaid fraud division uncovered 53 claim payments with violations of Medicaid regulations, including double billing, failing to maintain physician certifications, billing for hospice services after the termination of such services, and submitting claims for a beneficiary who had withdrawn from hospice services. 

“Our audit identified safeguards that Care Alternatives should have had in place and recommended specific actions that Care Alternatives should take to resolve the issues we uncovered,” State Comptroller Philip James Degnan said.

March 17, 2017

While lawmakers, educators, and advocates argue about school funding, one thing is clear: New Jersey voters are solidly behind the Legislature spending more money on all the state’s public schools, 63 percent to 34 percent, according to a new Quinnipiac University Poll.

Voters also favor spending more to improve public schools in the state’s poorest districts, 65 percent to 32 percent, but the findings are divided along political and racial lines. Republicans oppose increased spending 59 percent to 40 percent; white men, 49 percent to 47 percent. Every other party, gender, racial, age and education group listed supports the spending by wide measures. 

What’s more, voters support 62 percent to 30 percent the State Supreme Court decision ordering the Legislature to spend more money to improve public schools in the state’s poorest districts. Again, Republicans oppose the court decision 59 percent to 30 percent, while white men are divided 47 percent to 46 percent. All other groups support the court ruling.

March 16, 2017

A new program, called SAIL (Statewide Assistance Infrastructure Loan), has been set up to provide low-interest bridge loans that enable infrastructure projects to move forward in advance of disaster relief from the federal government.

One of the first recipients of the program is the Middlesex County Utilities Authority, which was awarded an $88 million loan so it could finally begin work on a 1,700-foot flood wall to protect the utility’s Sayreville pump station.

That station suffered some of the most severe damage of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy; when it failed, it dumped weeks of sewage into Raritan Bay, severely compromising drinking water. The storm caused an estimated $2.6 billion in damages to wastewater and drinking-water infrastructure statewide.

The entire resiliency project, which extends to fortifying the MCUA’s Edison pump station, is expected to cost $123 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has committed $95 million to the project. SAIL is a partnership project between the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The 1,700-foot wall will stand 21 feet above sea level, which is expected to protect against a 1-in-500-year flood.

March 15, 2017

True, winter storm Stella didn’t live up to the hype about the Nor’easter said to be barreling down on New Jersey, but it did manage to dump anywhere from six to 18 inches of snow across the Garden State (with heavier snowfall reported in some areas). And that was more than enough to idle 80 percent of the flights at Newark-Liberty Airport, according to the FlightAware website. Most of the cancellations were issued on Monday, ahead of the storm.

In other transportation factoids, New Jersey transit canceled all bus service and the Port Authority Bus Terminal was closed. NJ Transit light rail was running on a holiday schedule.

March 14, 2017

As New Jersey readied for a dangerous blizzard that’s predicted to hit much of the state today, Gov. Chris Christie outlined ongoing preparations for the storm following a news conference held yesterday in Englewood Cliffs on the state economy and jobs. Christie said New Jersey is well-prepared to handle the task of keeping the roadways clear of snow and ice during the storm, thanks to salt reserves that were at 75 percent capacity due to what’s generally been a mild winter.

“All of our trucks are ready,” Christie told reporters. “We’ve got plenty of salt.”

Christie announced a state of emergency later yesterday as some areas of the state were expected to see more than 20 inches of snow and winds gusting up to 60 mph through this evening. The state of emergency means all states offices are closed today for non-essential employees.

In 2014, New Jersey’s salt stockpiles nearly ran dry as the state experienced several major winter storms and a total of more than 60 inches of snow. The state Department of Transportation was also forced to spend three times its normal winter budget that year, Christie said at the time.

March 13, 2017

New figures detailing the latest official state borrowing totals released by the Department of Treasury last week indicated bonded debt decreased slightly during the 2016 fiscal year to $42.72 billion. For context, New Jersey’s current total for bonded debt is still among the highest of all states, and it remains larger than New Jersey’s current annual budget of $34.6 billion.

The 1 percent reduction in bonded debt from last year’s total of $43.23 billion followed a year in which the state’s Transportation Trust Fund ground to a halt for several months as Gov. Chris Christie and lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on a way to renew the fund. A 23-cent gas-tax hike was eventually enacted on November 1 to create a new source of dedicated revenue for the TTF.

The rare drop in overall state borrowing seems unlikely to be carried over during the current fiscal year as Treasury records indicate a series of new-money bond issues worth more than $3.5 billion have already closed since the fiscal year began in July. They include new borrowing for transportation projects backed by both state and federal revenue, and borrowing for higher-education and biomedical research facilities, among other things, according to the official debt report released on Friday.

New Jersey, meanwhile, remains fourth in net tax-supported bonded debt, behind only California, New York, and Massachusetts, and fourth in total per-capita debt, behind only Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Hawaii, according to the debt report. The total for all of the state’s long-term obligations that aren’t derived from bonding, including the pension and health benefits earned by employees, is now $128 billion, up $18 billion from the last fiscal year, the report said.

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