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November 26, 2014

In the mid-1800s, turkeys disappeared from New Jersey due to habitat changes and being harvested for food. So in 1977, the state Division of Fish and Wildlife decided to reintroduce turkeys into New Jersey, releasing 22 birds into the wilds of the Garden State.

There are now approximately 23,000 wild turkeys throughout the state -- and semiannual hunting seasons -- one in the spring and the other in the fall. Each year about 3,000 birds are harvested.

Hunting areas reach from Warren and Sussex counties in the north to Cape May, Burlington, and Atlantic in the south. Wild turkeys have been spotted everywhere, including urban areas.

November 25, 2014

Child and adolescent obesity is on the rise in New Jersey, to the point at which [link:/assets/14/1124/2228|14.2 percent] of low-income kids are obese. That’s the highest level of 44 states that report obesity statistics through low-income programs.

And low-income children are not alone. Nearly one in four (24.7 percent) of children between 10 and 17 are either overweight or obese, while 9 percent of New Jersey high-school students are overweight and another 14 percent are obese, according to the state Department of Health.

When it comes to diet, only 19 percent of high-school students eat five servings of fruit or vegetables a day and 12 percent drink a can of soda each day.

Still, 49 percent of high-school students say they exercise an hour or more five days a week.

November 24, 2014

New Jersey’s infrastructure is crumbling. We hear this over and over again, but for the most part, the discussion centers on the state’s antiquated roads, bridges, and mass-transit systems.

But water systems are at least as big a problem for New Jersey. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, New Jersey needs to spend $32.5 billion on upgrading its wastewater facilities over the next 20 years.

Another $8 billion is needed to ensure that the infrastructure for drinking water remains intact. The ASCE estimates that the country needs to invest $3.6 trillion in its infrastructure in order to remain globally competitive.

November 21, 2014

New Jersey Policy Perspective’s Erika Nava estimates that about 204,000 of New Jersey’s estimated 525,000 undocumented residents will be affected by President Barack Obama’s announced executive action program on immigration. The centerpiece of the program would enable parents of U.S. citizens to defer any deportation by registering for a new program that requires them to submit to criminal background checks, pay taxes, and in return get a work permit.

According to Nava, the executive order is a positive step. “The executive actions will remove substantial economic barriers faced by the undocumented, increase state and local tax collections, and help shrink New Jersey’s underground economy.”

November 20, 2014

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection says that as of last Wednesday, 347 holdouts are still refusing to sign easements to their beachfront land to allow for construction of protective dunes. Those homeowners are mostly grouped along a stretch of coastline south of Manasquan on the Barnegat Penninsula.

The state has pledged to fortify its coastline to make communities less vulnerable to storms like Sandy, but it's faced opposition from some residents who are frustrated that their land is being taken away or feel that other physical defenses would be more effective than dunes.

In July of last year, the State Supreme Court ruled that a Harvey Cedars couple, was only entitled to $1 compensation for the loss of their view, since the protection the dune would afford them and their neighbors was tantamount when it came to preserving the value of their home. That ruling effectively opened the door for the state to pursue condemnation proceedings against uncooperative landowners, which officials plan to do more aggressively in the coming months.

November 19, 2014

By many measures, New Jerseyans are pretty healthy when compared with other Americans. But not so much when it comes to chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, and asthma, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Datahub analysis.

In 2011-2012, 21.4 percent of New Jerseyans said they had one or more of those illnesses. Nationally, the figure is 21 percent.

That percentage is on the rise; the same question posed for 2001 through 2010 was 12.9 percent for New Jerseyans and 17.8 percent nationally. In the past two years, the rate was 21.3 percent for both whites and Latinos in New Jersey, while it was much higher for African-Americans at 26.6 percent. That division was similar nationally.

November 18, 2014

The fall picking season has just about wound down, and New Jersey has sold about 29.7 million pounds of apples this year.

That’s up slightly from last year, when 29 million pounds were harvested but only brought in $11.2 million in sales. In 2012, New Jersey apples were sold fresh to market for $27.6 million; 35 million pounds were harvested.

New Jersey grows more than 30 different varieties of apples but among its favorites is Winesap, which is the oldest and has been grown in the state since the 1700s. Other favored varieties include Red and Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Granny Smith.

November 17, 2014

Motor vehicle theft -- particularly automobiles -- is down significantly in New Jersey this year. So far, it has dropped 19.5 percent. Theft of autos has decreased from 8,085 this time last year to 6,480. Thefts of trucks and buses have also fallen 14.6 percent, and thefts of other types of vehicles have declined about 18 percent.

The reduction seems to be a trend across the entire state.

November 14, 2014

If you think a 13-year-old boy convicted of a crime in New Jersey won’t have that record follow him, think again. New Jersey is below the national average when it comes to protecting juvenile records; the Juvenile Law Center gave New Jersey a 43 percent rating. The national average is 46 percent.

According to the study, New Jersey excludes too many crimes from being allowed to be expunged and it requires that youths seek it themselves instead of having it occur automatically. However, the Garden State was particularly criticized when it comes to record confidentiality. It was rated 15 percent when it comes to law enforcement and court records being kept confidential.

November 13, 2014

New Jersey has total unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities of $200 billion, according to State Budget Solutions, a Washington D.C. public policy think tank. That ranks it sixth in the country with a per capita debt of $22,491.

Oddly enough, that’s good news, since in 2012 the same group said New Jersey had $289 billion in unfunded liabilities and ranked it fourth.

Regardless, almost every state in the nation is facing this problem. The total unfunded liability for the country is $4.7 trillion, with the average American facing a debt of about $15,000. The best-case scenario states, such as Wisconsin, have a 67 percent unfunded liability.

November 12, 2014

About 16 percent of the New Jersey population is enrolled in Medicare, according to statehealthfacts.org, a project of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s about 1.4 million people, 85 percent of whom are eligible due to their age. The rest of those enrolled in Medicare are disabled.

Of the 1.4 million New Jerseyans on Medicare 15 percent of them have enrolled in a Medicare Advantage managed plan.

November 10, 2014

An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 New Jerseyans suffer from a traumatic brain injury every year, according to the state Department of Health, and about 1,000 people die from them.

About 175,000 New Jerseyans are currently living with disabilities from traumatic brain injuries.

The most common causes of brain trauma are motor vehicle crashes, falls, assaults, and self-inflicted injuries.

The age pattern for all brain injuries is the same for every racial and ethnic group. A majority of these type of trauma affect those younger than 35, but injury rates rise sharply after age 65, due to falls.

November 7, 2014

Since implementing a new program known as the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, New Jersey has had 71 percent fewer juvenile incarcerations.

The program, which is being funded in large part by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, offers the courts alternative detention methods, such as electronic monitoring, home detention, and reporting centers. It also offers other youth programming efforts aimed at keeping young people out of jail.

Since being adopted in New Jersey, the program has also allowed the state to close five of its juvenile detention facilities. Cost savings can be significant. For instance, Passaic closed its 45-bed facility in 2009 and agreed to send youth to nearby Essex County. Passaic saved $9.1 million a year while paying Essex County about $3.8 million a year in fees.

November 6, 2014

There are approximately 3,527 people in New Jersey who are waiting for an organ or tissue transplant, according to the Motor Vehicle Commission, and about 2.3 million have signed up to be donors.

The MVC administers the organ-donation registration program in New Jersey. In the northern 14 counties of the state, about 37 percent of drivers have signed up for the program. Drivers can register when they obtain or renew a license.

Those who don’t drive can contact the New Jersey Sharing Network or the Gift of Life donor program.

November 5, 2014

Only about 35 percent of registered New Jersey voters went to the polls yesterday to vote in the 2014 midterm elections, fewer than any federal election in the state’s history. The turnout number, however, is still preliminary. It excludes Monmouth County, which early this morning only had about 33 percent of its precincts reporting.

Still, in 2010, which was the prior midterm election year, 42 percent of the registered voters cast their ballots, which was one of the lowest vote turnouts in New Jersey history.

Years in which only the state Senate or state Assembly seats are up for grabs have resulted in turnouts just north of 30 percent -- but never an election for Congress. Presidential elections usually pull in more than 70 percent of voters -- with one exception, 2012. That year, in which about 62 percent of the electorate cast its vote, was seriously affected by superstorm Sandy.

November 4, 2014

Once again, Wallethub, a social media financial site, has created an index that it says indicates how politically engaged citizens in various states are. New Jersey? It came in a dismal 37th.

This is despite the fact that New Jersey bucks the national trend for political engagement: it’s a blue state with a highly educated workforce.

To determine engagement, Wallethub looked at voting turnout in both presidential and off-year elections, as well as political contributions. Massachusetts and Colorado were deemed the most politically engaged states and West Virginia and Oklahoma judged the least politically engaged.

New Jersey fared a bit better when it came to ranking determined by the number of citizens between 18 and 24 who actually voted in the 2012 Presidential election -- winding up 32nd, with 39 percent of eligible voters going to the polls. When it came to senior citizens voting, New Jersey ranked 35th, with 68 percent of eligible voters going to the polls.

November 3, 2014

For once, there is good news on the NJ transportation front. The widening of the New Jersey Turnpike between exits 6 and 9, construction of which has snarled turnpike and surrounding traffic for the past five years, is now complete. The northbound lanes were scheduled to be opened today, and next weekend the southbound lanes are slated to be opened. It will be just in time for holiday travel.

The $2.3 billion project, which came in $200 million below the original $2.5 billion budgeted, began in 2009 and was paid for with state toll money.

The project added 170 lane-miles -- doubling the capacity along a 25-mile stretch of corridor from Middlesex to Burlington counties, as well as adding an additional lane to the outer roadway between Interchange 8A and 9 in East Brunswick.

At its peak, the construction, which also included upgrading or building new toll plazas and building or modifying 102 bridges and culverts, among other things, was the largest active roadway project in the Western hemisphere.

October 31, 2014

New Jersey high-school students, on average, have somewhat healthier lifestyles than the rest of the country, but that doesn’t mean that they're in great shape. About 8.7 percent of high-school students in New Jersey are obese, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Datahub.

That’s far less than the national average of 13.7 percent and even less than neighboring New York (10.6 percent) and Connecticut (12.3 percent). But it's still significantly higher than some western states such as Utah, which has a 6.4 percent obesity rate when it comes to high-school students.

The majority (51.3 percent) of New Jersey high schoolers are also not meeting health recommendations of 60 minutes of physical activity each day for the previous five days. Nationally, the rate is 52.7 percent.

October 30, 2014

Federal workers earn 2.25 percent of the total compensation pulled down by New Jerseyans, according to State Smart, an information tool put together by the National Priorities Project.

That’s one of the lowest percentages in the country, mostly due to the size of New Jersey’s economy, and the fairly average number of federal employees. The national average is 4.92 percent.

The average salary of a New Jersey federal worker is $86,961 for a total of about $6.5 billion. However, the average civilian federal employee -- of which there are 49,510 in the state -- earns $106,611. The average military job, of which New Jersey has 25,222, pays $48,388.

October 29, 2014

Two years after Hurricane Sandy, those hardest hit by the storm feel they’ve been forgotten (71 percent) and are dissatisfied with the state’s recovery efforts, according to a new poll from the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Thirty-eight percent said they are very dissatisfied and 28 percent said they were somewhat dissatisfied.

No one knows the official count of those who have been unable to return to their homes after the storm, but anecdotal evidence from the Monmouth study indicates that many are still waiting. Over half of the survey participants were back in their homes within the year, and another 10 percent moved back last year. But that leaves about 40 percent still displaced, and 12 percent said they will never be able to return.

The state receives poor marks overall for communications with residents, specifically Sandy victims. Only 36 percent said the state has done a good job in that area.

The RREM (Reconstructive, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation) program comes under particular fire. This program is responsible for helping residents rebuild, repair or elevate their homes. Responsiveness to residents' needs were criticized. Just 36 percent said the state did a good job of informing them of where they were in the process, while the rest said the state did a bad (28 percent) or very bad (36 percent) job. Those who were denied financial assistance complained of not having been given reasons for the denial.

Lastly, when asked to list agencies or people who have been helpful during this time of trial, Sandy victims chose friends and family (88 percent) as the most helpful. Least helpful? County government, followed by insurance companies, and then state government.

October 28, 2014

There’s a gap, some analysts argue, between the type of jobs that go begging and the type of jobs we are training the workforce for: middle-skill jobs. These require education beyond high school -- and most likely credentials -- but not a four-year degree. Examples are machinists, medical therapists, a variety of health workers and technicians.

The National Skills Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, estimates that between 2010 and 2020, 52 percent of New Jersey’s job openings will fall into that group and that 53 percent of openings in 2012 were aimed at the middle-skilled.

Meanwhile, less than 40 percent of the workforce is preparing for those jobs, but more than 40 percent is preparing for high-skilled jobs, while there are barely more than 30 percent of openings in the high-skill area. And, of course, we have many more low-skill workers (20 percent of population) than there are jobs available (about 14 percent).

October 27, 2014

It’s been roughly a year since same-sex marriages have been legal in New Jersey, and in that time, nearly 4,000 of them have taken place, according to the New Jersey Civil Liberties Union, which analyzed preliminary data issued by the state Department of Health. At least 3,763 same-sex marriage licenses have been issued in the state.

Monmouth County, which has issued 406 licenses, has seen the most weddings, followed by Essex and Camden counties. An interactive map of licenses by county is available online.

October 24, 2014

For the second time this year, PSEG has announced it will credit customers on their winter gas bills due to newly found natural gas deposits in the nearby Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale. The state’s largest energy supplier said it will cut the average residential gas heating bill by 31 percent this winter -- and this is in addition to a previously announced 9 percent reduction that was put into effect in October.

PSEG said the reduction would depend on meter-reading schedules, but many customers will see some of the credit in November, December, and January with the remainder coming in February. The average customer will see a total credit of approximately $118 for the three months.

According to the company, PSEG makes no profit on the sale of natural gas and passes along what it pays to its customers. Costs of natural gas account for about half of a customer’s monthly bill.

October 23, 2014

For years, New Jersey has had some of the most forward-thinking public policies and incentives for business and residents to invest in solar power. And while the incentives have dwindled, the public policies are still among the country’s most aggressive, according to Solar Power Rocks.

A group of young solar advocates committed to spreading the gospel of solar power, Solar Power Rocks has rated states for their underlying policies regarding the renewable energy and ranked New Jersey fifth.

According to the group, New Jersey gets an “A” for having a solar power carve-out in its renewable portfolio standard, net metering, tax exemptions, and performance payments. It’s 5-kilowatt payback period averages 8 years and allows for solar leasing. It calls the state's SREC program “rocking.”

The Renewable Portfolio Standard only gets a “B,” however, as does the average electricity cost. Solar interconnection also only gets a “B.” Meanwhile, state rebates and tax credits -- which have been phased out -- each earn an “F.” New York State was rated No. 1 in these categories, followed by Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Oregon. At the other end of the scale were Idaho, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

October 22, 2014

Governor Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno released their 2013 tax returns on Tuesday, with Christie reporting an income of $698,838 and the Guadagno family reporting $440,897.

Currently, the big breadwinner in Christie’s household is his wife Mary Pat, who earned $475,854 from her job as an investment banker at Angelo, Gordon & Co, and $34,698 from a previous post at Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald. Christie earns $160,054 as governor and the two also had almost $40,000 in investment income.

The Christies paid a total of $193,510 in taxes and donated $29,260 to charity.

The Guadagno’s income was a bit more modest, with a total of $440,897. Guadagno earns $128,454 as Lt. Governor and her husband Michael, an attorney, earned $161,991. However, Michael Guadagno also earned $130,000 in executor fees.

The Guagagnos paid $113,555 in taxes and donated $3,285 to charity.

October 21, 2014

New Jerseyans are cooling on gambling in general and gambling expansion in Atlantic City in particular, according to a new Rutgers Eagleton poll.

The poll was meant to gauge voters interest in expanding gambling in Atlantic City to include sports betting and online gambling, as well as expanding it to other parts of the state.

Only 33 percent of respondents said gambling has been good for New Jersey -- down from 72 percent in 1999. Yet more people (47 percent) believe it should be expanded to other parts of the state than want it limited to Atlantic City. (43 percent).

But when it comes to new types of gambling, the topic met a decidedly cool reception. Most people (55 percent) believe online gambling will be bad for the state as well as Atlantic City. Only 5 percent think it's been good for the town. And only 7 percent of respondents have tried it.

Sports betting gets a bigger welcome, with 44 percent thinking legalizing it in Atlantic City and at racetracks will be good for Atlantic City, although 31 percent said it will make no difference and 17 percent said it will be bad.

Finally, fewer people want Atlantic City to mimic Las Vegas’s freewheeling ability to carry open alcoholic drinks between casinos and outside. Opposing that idea were 62 percent of respondents, while 35 percent supported it.

October 20, 2014

How much do those specialty license plates earn? Maybe not a whole lot, but every little bit counts. The license-plate fund has collected $48,185 since its inception.

The New Jersey Historic Trust, which created the “Discover NJ History” License Plate fund in 2010, announced two new $5,000 grants last week. One will be given to the Medford Historical Society to develop a tour highlighting the life of Dr. James Still, a 19th century African-American physician, that will incorporate several historic sites related to Dr. Still and his family. Another $5,000 grant will go to the Cape May County Historical & Genealogical Society to help create a “passport” visitor program consisting of five historic sites.

Previous grant recipients have created a smartphone app, marketing guide for historic sites, and collaborative tour development. Any New Jersey nonprofit county or municipal entity is eligible for grants of up to $5,000 and they may be awarded quarterly.

October 17, 2014

About 16 percent of New Jersey students -- or 231,279 school-age children -- are enrolled in after-school programs of some sort, according to a new survey by the Washington, D.C.-based Afterschool Alliance.

But 19 percent of children are left unsupervised at home. Indeed, the survey asked parents whether they would enroll their children in after-school programs if they were available and 36 percent said they would.

The survey cited the benefits to both children and parents. It is an essential source of support for working parents, according to the study. Parents also praise the fact that after-school programs keep their children safe; teach them workforce skills such as teamwork and STEM (science, technology engineering, and mathematics) and help with homework. Girls and boys enroll at about the same rates.

Most interestingly, according to the report, parents support government-funded after-school programs regardless of their political affiliation, race, or ethnicity.

October 16, 2014

New Jersey has not one, but two, competitive Congressional races this November, but the one that has the best chance of unseating the incumbent is a surprise to many pundits, according to a new poll.

The Monmouth University Poll recently surveyed voters in the 5th District and found that Democrat Roy Cho is “within striking distance” of unseating incumbent Republican Scott Garrett, consistently rated as one of the most conservative members of Congress.

Garrett, who won his district by a 12-point margin two years ago, saw his district reconfigured after the 2010 census with a number of Bergen County Democratic towns appended to what had been an almost purely Republican district. The 5th District encompasses the most northern part of the state.

The Monmouth poll showed 48 percent of potential voters saying they would support Garret and 43 percent saying they would support Cho. About 6 percent are still undecided.

“This race was not even a blip on most political prognosticators’ radar screens,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth Polling Institute, in a statement. “It should be now.”

The race that was supposed to be the tightest in the state and that has garnered national attention is the 3rd Congressional District. That district is located in South Jersey and encompasses much of the Philadelphia suburbs, stretching from the Delaware to the Jersey shore and is fairly split between party registrations. It pits Republican newcomer to the region, former Randolph mayor Tom MacArthur, against Democrat Aimee Belgard, a Burlington County freeholder.

The Monmouth Poll has MacArthur leading Belgard 51 percent to 41 percent with 6 percent undecided. Earlier in the season pollsters had the two candidates in a dead heat.

October 15, 2014

New Jerseyans may feel as if they are quite poor, but that’s not the reality, according to WalletHub’s most recent ranking, which had the Garden State as No. 1 in net worth.

To judge net worth, Wallet Hub looked at three criteria: the income per capita of residents; GDP per capita; and federal taxes paid per capita.

New Jersey ranked third in income -- just below Maryland and Alaska and ahead of Hawaii and Connecticut. It ranked among the lowest five states with the percentage of households earning between $25,000 and $49,000 and among the top five for households earning $100,000 or more. (It was second only to the District of Columbia for households earning $200,000 or more.)

Surprisingly, New Jersey ranked fifth when it came to federal taxes paid per capita. New Jersey ranked ninth in terms of Gross Domestic Product per capita.

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