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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.

March 10, 2017

There are 55,326 nursing home beds in New Jersey, which routinely cost $232.12 a day, according to the New Jersey Hospital Association. Their occupancy rate is 84.8 percent.

About 57 percent of patients pay through Medicaid, while approximately 17 percent use Medicare.

To take care of this population, there are 55,395 full-time equivalent employees, 26,779 of whom are nurses. There are about 5,200 registered nurses, and 5,100 licensed practical nurses working in these nursing homes. The majority of nurses are actually certified nursing assistants.

In general, the majority of nursing homes in New Jersey are highly rated — 58 percent received a 4-star or 5-star rating. Only 7.5 percent received a 1-star rating.

March 9, 2017

New Jersey residents across the board believe that the news media is biased, with some 85 percent very or somewhat concerned that a news story may be fake news, according to the latest Stockton Poll. What’s more, they are certain that all news outlets are biased — cable and broadcast TV, online sources, radio, and newspapers.

Despite their low opinion of news outlets, however, a majority of respondents indicate that news sources do a good or excellent job of keeping them informed.

The biggest majority of news consumers (79 percent) get their news from cable TV, while 72 percent watch broadcast network news. Sixty-five percent read online newspapers and news websites, and 57 percent get news from the radio often or sometimes. Only 46 percent rely on print newspapers. Forty-two percent use social media to get news.

A majority of New Jerseyans who rely on newspapers said they were biased (53 percent); for cable TV it was 67 percent; online news, 62 percent; and social media, 82 percent. Fifty percent said broadcast TV news and radio are biased.

The poll of 786 adult New Jersey residents was conducted by the Stockton Polling Institute of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy.

March 8, 2017

Summer doesn’t necessarily mean fun in the sun for kids, at least not for poor kids who depend on school meals for most of their nutrition. When school’s out they often end up going hungry. The answer: New Jersey’s summer meals program, which fed nearly 84,000 kids on an average day in July 2016, according to a new report from Advocates for Children in New Jersey.

That’s a good start, but it’s really only a beginning, accounting for nearly 21 percent of the 403,000 children who received free or low-cost school lunch during the academic year. The National Food Research Action Center says communities need to reach 40 percent of low-income kids who eat lunch at school.

Since communities are reimbursed according to number of meals served, New Jersey could collect an estimated $5.7 million dollars annually to feed hungry children during the summer months (according to a preliminary estimate).

March 7, 2017

There were 7.6 deaths due to fire per million New Jerseyans in 2014, giving the state one of the lowest risks of death by fire in the nation.

In its recently published “Fire in the United States 2005-2014,” the U.S. Fire Administration ranked states based on the relative risk of death due to fire. New Jersey ranked seventh, with a relative risk of 0.7, meaning New Jerseyans were less likely to die in a fire than Americans as a whole. In total, 68 state residents died in fires in 2014. California had the smallest relative risks, 0.5 or 4.9 fire deaths per million, while Mississippi’s was the highest at 2.2 or a fire death rate of 23.7. The relative risk for the United States is set at 1.

According to the report, the reasons for and risk of fire varies widely among the states and is often a factor of climate, poverty, education, and demographics. White Americans are more likely to die in a fire than those of other races, and people aged 55 to 64 had the greatest percentage of fire deaths.

March 6, 2017

Some 75 percent of New Jersey’s poor renters spend more than half their limited income on rent and utilities, according to “The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes,” published jointly by the Community Development Network of New Jersey and the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).

Nationally, extremely low-income renters spend an average of 71 percent of their income on rent and utilities.

NLIHC conducts research each year to assess the availability of affordable homes to people of different income levels throughout the country. This year's analysis continues to show that the poorest households face the largest shortage of affordable and available rental housing and have more severe housing-cost burdens than any other group. In New Jersey, there are only 29 affordable homes for every 100 households. Nationally, there are 35 affordable homes available for every 100 households.

March 3, 2017

This may sound like heaven on earth to most New Jerseyans, but the average American household spends $2,149 on property taxes each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That figure is a bit higher in the Garden State, where the average tax bite on a median-priced $315,900 house is a hefty $7,410 — according to a new survey from WalletHub, the personal finances website. WalletHub analyzed data from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Their results give New Jersey the dubious, though unsurprising, distinction of having the highest property taxes in the nation — 2.35 percent.

WalletHub also calculated property taxes countrywide on a house priced at $179,000 — the median home value in the United States in 2015, the most recent data available. That year, New Jerseyans would have written a tax check for $4,189. In Hawaii, which has a near nonexistent tax rate of 0.27 percent, that check would have been $487. Just to twist the knife a bit more, the median house price in the Aloha State is $515,3000. The tax: $1,406.

Connecticut finished 48th in the property tax poll (1.97 percent); New York, 41st (1.62 percent); and Pennsylvania, 39th (1.53 percent).

March 2, 2017

This is the sort of news that’s for the birds — in the best way. Surveys of osprey and eagle populations conducted last year by the Department of Environmental Protection's Endangered and Nongame Species Program and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey counted 42 new osprey nests, for a record total of 515. The Atlantic coast — in particular, the wetlands and waterways around Barnegat Bay and Great Egg Harbor — accounted for the vast majority of nests.

The  survey documented a record 172 nesting or territorial pairs of bald eagles, up from 161 the previous year, with southern New Jersey, especially the Delaware Bay region, remaining the species' stronghold.

The Endangered and Nongame Species Program's efforts protecting these and a wide variety of other species depend in large part on funds provided by the Endangered Wildlife Fund state income-tax check-off, which allows taxpayers to provide a portion of their state refunds to fund wildlife protection.

The Endangered Wildlife Fund check-off is on Line 59 of Form NJ-1040.

March 1, 2017

“U.S. News and World Report,” which brought the country those rankings of the “best” colleges, recently released a ranking of states based on education, healthcare, crime, infrastructure, government, opportunity, and economy. New Jersey came in at 14 (Massachusetts was first) in an analysis that had the Garden State ranked very high in some categories and extremely low in others.

First the good news: New Jersey was rated 2 in terms of education. That was largely on the strength of its pre-K-12 program, which scored a 2. It scored well on preschool enrollment (1), high school graduation rate (3), and national test scores (4 for math, 5 for reading.) New Jersey scored 12th in college readiness. It did less well in higher education, in which that state ranked 28th, primarily due to its high tuition and fees.

New Jersey also scored well in crime (4 overall); 5 in public safety and scored 16 for corrections. The state earned an 8 for healthcare, primarily due to good public health indicators (low rates of smoking, suicide, mortality, infant mortality, mental health problems, and obesity). Healthcare access (17) and quality (20) were less encouraging.

Now for the bad news: It might not come as much of a surprise to readers or voters, but New Jersey scored dead last (50) for its government. It earned very poor ratings for fiscal stability in general (49), due to problems balancing the budget, as well as credit rating and pension-fund liabilities. It didn’t perform all that much better in government digitalization (43). The state was also knocked for a lack of budget transparency (29). Still, despite its reputation and last year’s Bridgegate trial, the government scored best for state integrity – 18.

New Jersey also had a few middling ratings.

In the category of infrastructure, it earned an 18, mostly due to public-transit usage and nearly ubiquitous Internet access. It scored poorly in the energy category, due to high electricity prices and low renewable-energy usage.

The economy was ranked 25, right smack in the middle. The business environment earned a 12, due to its high rate of patent creation (12) and entrepreneurship (16). But when it came to growth (37) and employment (28) it ranked less well.

Opportunity was another area in which New Jersey scored near the middle (27). Despite a high household income (4) and low poverty rate (8), New Jersey earned a 40 in affordability and a 27 in equality.

February 28, 2017

Some people are anxious about driving over bridges; more New Jerseyans may share their concerns, once they get a look at the current "National Bridge Inventory" from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

According to the report, 9 percent of the state's 6,730 bridges (609 all told) are classified as structurally deficient. This means one or more of the key elements, such as the deck, superstructure, or substructure, is considered to be in "poor" or worse condition. Some 1,684 bridges, or 25 percent, are classified as functionally obsolete. This also means they do not meet design standards in line with current practice. And newer bridges aren't necessarily better: Over the past 10 years, 471 bridges have been built in the state; 287 have undergone major reconstruction. And bridgework is an expensive proposition: The state estimates that needed repairs on 2,250 bridges will cost $7 billion.

February 27, 2017

New Jersey has 75 community hospital around the state, meaning they do not include veterans hospitals or other federally managed facilities. Of these, 59 are nonprofit, 15 for-profit hospitals, and one — University Hospital, Newark — owned by the state.

Nonprofit hospitals have much higher admissions per 1,000 population than for-profits, according to statehealthfacts.org, a website from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks health statistics. In 2015, the last year for which statistics were available, there were 99 admissions/1,000 people to nonprofit hospitals and only 7/1,000 to for-profits. The difference is much starker for emergency room visits: there were 362 visits to the ER per 1,000 population for nonprofits versus 19/1,000 to for-profits.

Emergency room visits are down slightly, particularly to nonprofit hospitals, possibly due to the Affordable Care Act. Nonprofits saw a high of about 420/1,000 emergency room visits in 2012, the highest number in history and the first full year of the ACA. Statistics for 2016 are not yet available.

February 24, 2017

PSE&G’s residential gas customers will save an additional $12 on their monthly gas bill in March. The company is extending its January and February credits, bringing total typical savings to about $37.

The utility credits the rebate to the continued low price of natural gas. PSE&G makes no profit on the sale of natural gas, and passes along what it pays to customers.

“This is the third time we have lowered the price of gas for residential customers this winter heating season,” said Jorge Cardenas, PSE&G vice president of asset management and centralized services.

February 23, 2017

With the third-largest immigrant population in the country and the hefty contribution that the foreign born make to the state’s economy, it’s not surprising that Jersey City has been ranked the most culturally diverse city in America. The rating comes courtesy of new research from WalletHub, the personal finance website.

The study compared 501 of the largest U.S. cities across three key metrics: ethnoracial diversity, linguistic diversity, and birthplace diversity.

Jersey City earned a 95.88 for its cultural diversity score. The famously heterogeneous New York City, which was ranked fifth, scored 90.9. Clifton, the second Garden State city to make the list, was ranked 25th, with a score of 83.82. Newark was number 44 on the list, scoring 80.11.

The least culturally diverse city, according to the survey: Parkersburg, WV — which scored 7.4.

February 22, 2017

Medicaid fraud is a significant problem in New Jersey and may only increase with the expansion of the program. That’s why the Office of the State Comptroller has a division set up to track down fraud whether committed by providers or clients.

In 2016, the division recovered $112.6 million in improperly paid Medicaid funds, a 30 percent increase from 2015. In addition, the division claims its proactive anti-fraud efforts saved taxpayers $814.5 million, although it did not outline what those efforts were.

The division also received 1,975 complaints or tips regarding Medicaid fraud, of which 433 cases were reviewed and 13 claims were denied.

February 21, 2017

Each month, 1,200 women are admitted to domestic-violence programs — both residential and nonresidential — associated with the state’s Division of Women. Typically, the average length of stay is about 35 days.

Five counties are beyond capacity in their women’s shelters and have to turn women away or help them find another facility. The problem seemed particularly acute last year, the latest year for which statistics are available. The five counties with the biggest problems are Morris, Bergen, Mercer, Essex, and Salem.

There are also many women statewide who are waiting for nonresidential services. The counties with the most women awaiting help are Bergen, Middlesex, Atlantic, Mercer, and Sussex.

February 17, 2017

The now-famous injunction to “follow the money” wasn’t uttered about New Jersey real estate, but it could have been, given a new list of the Garden State’s 50 most expensive ZIP codes from PropertyShark.

At the peak of the pyramid — Alpine’s 07620, home and haven to superstar musicians Stevie Wonder, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and Alicia Keys, as well as more anonymous residents. In case you’re thinking of buying in, the median home price is $2,050,000.

If that’s a bit steep, you may want to settle for Short Hills’ 07078, with a median home price of $1,430,000. The community landed the top spot on “Time” magazine’s list of the 10 Richest Towns in America in 2014.

Too rich for your blood? Then try Stone Harbor’s 08247, with a median home price of $1,110,000. “The New York Times” described it as featuring “block after block of gleaming McMansions and elegant shops.”

February 16, 2017

New Jersey teachers — at least in some circles — have the reputation for being overpaid. But a new report from the Economic Policy Institute argues that the opposite is true: Teachers, according to the institute, earn 16.8 percent less in weekly wages than other full-time workers in the Garden State — 12.5 percent less total weekly compensation (wages and benefits).

The institute also projects its estimates against annual salaries: Teachers earn $68,301 vs. $82,223 for full-time employees. The numbers are $95,703 vs. $106,912 for total annual compensation.

The EPI defines itself, at least in part, as “a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions.”

February 15, 2017

President Donald Trump might keep this in mind before he signs another executive order: New Jersey is ranked second among all states and the District of Columbia in terms of the economic impact of immigrants on its overall economy. That’s according to a new study from WalletHub, the personal finance website.

A quick look at the top-level findings makes clear just how much immigrants contribute to New Jersey’s economic well-being:

  • The state is ranked second for the percentage of jobs generated by immigrant-owned businesses.

  • It takes the third spot for median household income of foreign-born population.

  • New Jersey is first for the percentage of immigrant STEM workers out of the total number of STEM workers.

  • The state ranks 12th for the percentage of immigrants age 25 or older who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

  • The Garden State comes in 21st for the percentage of Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or their children.

In order to determine the states in which immigration has the most positive economic impact, WalletHub’s analysts compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across four key dimensions: immigrant workforce, socioeconomic contribution, “brain gain” and innovators, international students — using 18 key metrics.

February 14, 2017

There are 26 Planned Parenthood clinics currently open in New Jersey, delivering reproductive healthcare services and sex education to approximately 100,000 clients annually. Six clinics, though not all Planned Parenthood facilities, have closed since Gov. Chris Christie cut $7.5 million in family-planning funding from the budget in 2010.

The majority of federal funding comes in the form of Medicaid reimbursement for services rendered, just like any other doctor’s office that accepts Medicaid.  Planned Parenthood is also funded through Title X, the federal family-planning program, which only goes to preventive reproductive health services like cancer screenings, STD testing, and birth control — not abortion.

February 13, 2017

Knowing the causes of mortality in a state or a country is a key step in developing effective preventive measures — and the latest release of the New Jersey State Health Assessment Data (NJSHAD) does both. The leading cause of death in the United States in 2014 was heart disease, which killed 614,348 Americans. It also was the leading cause of death in the Garden State, taking 18,023 lives. Cancer was next: 591,699 (U.S.) and 16,393 (NJ), followed by stroke: 133,103 (nationally) and 3,363 (Garden State). A quarter of the deaths in New Jersey (18,234) were attributed to “all other causes.”

February 10, 2017

It’s a long way to Election Day, a truism that candidates know better anybody else. In fact, according to the latest Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll, most New Jersey voters have no idea who they plan on supporting in the gubernatorial primaries — although a few frontrunners are emerging. Phil Murphy is out front among Democrats and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is at the top among Republicans.

Murphy’s 17 percent support among Democrats is the same as that “someone else.” State Sen.Raymond Lesniak was named by seven percent; Assemblyman John Wisniewski garners six percent; and former Treasury official Jim Johnson comes in with two percent. But these names and numbers are overshadowed by uncertainty: 50 percent of Democratic voters say they don’t know who they like at this point.

On the Republican side, two-term Lt. Gov. Guadagno comes in first with 18 percent. Former Saturday Night Live cast member Joe Piscopo is close behind her with 12 percent. “Someone else” is preferred by 13 percent, and lesser knowns Steve Rogers and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli each garner two percent. A total of 52 percent say they don’t know who among the named candidates they currently support.

February 9, 2017

The New Jersey Department of Corrections recently published its “Offender Characteristics Report,” a guide to the crimes, sentences, ethnicities, and holding facilities for the 19,619 inmates in the prison system. (The department does not break out statistics for the entire system — which includes halfway houses, county jails, and medical units — according to sex.)

Still, it makes for disquieting reading.

Sixty-one percent of all inmates (11,923) are serving time for violent crimes: homicide, sexual assault, aggravated/simple assault, robbery, kidnapping, other sex offenses, and other person offenses (including coercion and “terroristic threats”). Fifteen percent are behind bars for narcotics violations; 83 percent for sale/distribution.

Sixty-one percent of inmates are black; 22 percent, white; 16 percent, Hispanic; and 1 percent, Asian.

Thirty-four percent of all prisoners are 30 years of age or younger. The median age for inmates in all facilities is 35.

A total of 80 inmates are serving life without parole.

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