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May 26, 2017

Phil Murphy, the former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany, has a commanding lead over the rest of the field of Democrats striving to become New Jersey’s next governor. A poll released yesterday by the Stockton Polling Institute of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy shows Murphy at 34 percent. His nearest rivals are Jim Johnson, the former U.S. Treasury official, at 10 percent, and Assemblyman John Wisniewski at 9 percent. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, Bill Brennan, and Mark Zinna all poll at less than 5 percent.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno leads among the Republicans. She is at 37 percent, with her nearest rival Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli at 18 percent. Polling at less than 5 percent are Steven Rogers, Joseph Rullo, and Hirsh Singh, with 34 percent undecided or naming a write-in candidate.

May 25, 2017

This is National Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Week. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie issued a proclamation in appreciation of the EMS professionals who protect the health and save the lives of state residents. More than 30,000 certified emergency medical technicians staff licensed and volunteer ambulance services in the Garden State. An additional 1,600 certified paramedics staff Mobile Intensive Care Units and respond to the most critically ill or injured patients. Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett said, “New Jersey’s EMS professionals put their lives on the line every day to respond to more than one million calls and are available 24 hours a day.”

May 24, 2017

It’s not just the Jersey Shore whose economy depends on tourism. The industry is vital to the state of New Jersey as a whole — and last year it generated $42 billion in sales, according to a report by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. Those billions of dollars were engendered by 98 million visitors. Not surprising, Jersey Shore counties, Cape May ($6.3 billion) and Ocean ($4.7 billion) scored the largest takings. But tourism grew in 2016 by 5.7 percent in Passaic County and by 5.5 percent in Mercer County. Overall, the lodging sector accounted for 27.4 percent of the tourism sales, food and beverage for 24.9 percent, and retail for 18.6 percent.

The forecast is for 108 million tourists to visit the Garden State in 2020, when the industry is projected to generate $49 billion.

May 23, 2017

Some 37 percent of New Jersey’s children (747,000) lived in immigrant families or families with at least one foreign-born parent in 2015, according to the newly released 2017 New Jersey KidsCount report. A large majority of these children — 89 percent or 667,000 — are U.S. citizens. About 18 percent (131,000) live in families that do not earn 100 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s up 20 percent from 2011. KidsCount is published by Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

May 22, 2017

You might have noticed those signs by the roadside, especially if you’re idling in traffic: “Your Transportation Trust Funds at Work,” they read, a dead-on accurate assessment that describes the work that’s being done and the signs themselves, which are paid for out of the TTF supplemental appropriation.

No need to worry about the signs breaking the bank — or the fund. There are 52 signs all told, which cost $215 each, for a grand total of $11,200.

May 19, 2017

Most New Jerseyans are happy with their neighborhood and their access to the kinds of amenities that contribute to a healthy life: parks, playgrounds, places to walk and enjoy recreation; access to good food; and community services such as libraries. Overall, 81 percent of respondents to the New Jersey Health and Well-Being Poll rated their neighborhood as a good or excellent place to live.

However, when categorized by income level, it’s a different story. For people of high income, the satisfaction rating was 91 percent whereas for middle-income residents it was 78 percent, and just 57 percent for those of low income.

Sixty-one percent of black respondents rated their neighborhood as good or excellent; the figure for Hispanics was 62 percent. The results were markedly different for white respondents (88 percent) and Asians (91 percent).

May 18, 2017

By the numbers, New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation: But is that diversity reflected in the workplace and in people’s social lives? The answer, appropriately enough, is mixed, according to Taft Communications’ Second Annual State of Diversity Survey. Of those surveyed, 86 percent said they interact with someone of a different race or ethnicity every day at work. But the numbers dropped significantly outside of the workplace; 64 percent of those participating said their interactions went beyond their own group. That percentage dropped to 48 percent for respondents 60 or older.

Does diversity translate into sensitivity about others? Possibly. Asked how often they heard comments that could be considered offensive to minorities, 6 percent in 2016 said very often; in 2017 the response was 7 percent. But when nonwhites were asked the question, 2016’s 6 percent more than doubled (14 percent) in 2017.

In another significant increase, when asked whether they hear things at work that could be offensive to Jews, 15 percent of all respondents said they had heard such statements at least occasionally, compared with 9 percent last year.

May 17, 2017

Battered and beleaguered Newark just took another shot: New Jersey’s largest city was ranked rock bottom on a survey of the best and worst cities in which to start a career, from WalletHub, the personal finances website. Newark was listed 146th for professional opportunities (Cleveland was ranked 150th) and 148th for quality of life (Hialeah, FL took the bottom slot). The study analyzed data from the 150 most populated cities in the United States.

All cities in the survey were evaluated across 23 weighted metrics, including availability of entry-level jobs, monthly average starting salary, annual job-growth rate, median annual income, and average length of work week.

The only other Garden State city to make the list was Jersey City, which ranked 102nd.

According to the study, Salt Lake City and Orlando are the two top U.S. cities in which to start a career.

May 16, 2017

Discussions about the benefits of legalizing marijuana tend to turn on revenue benefits to the state — not hard to understand in economically challenged New Jersey. Some advocates also point to ending the pot prohibition as a tool of social justice. Both ideas are on the front burner again at New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR), thanks to the bill introduced yesterday by state Senator Nicholas Scutari that would let residents 21 and older use marijuana, which would be taxed and regulated by the state.

Revenue estimates from a homegrown grass industry tend to hover around $300 million, mostly the result of taxes and regulation.

But there’s another aspect to legalization that may not be as apparent as facts and figures.

“The war on marijuana is an instrument of racial discrimination, and the inequalities it perpetuates have only gotten worse over time,” said R. Todd Edwards, political action director of the NAACP NJ State Conference. “It’s time to end these racial disparities in arrests and imprisonment … Possession is one of the most common reasons that people in New Jersey are serving time in our jails, and it’s one of the most significant sources of racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”

Unfortunately, given that Gov. Chris Christie views marijuana as a “gateway drug,” the Scutari legislation or similar bills have no chance of being enacted before 2018.

The NJUMR is a coalition of civil rights groups, medical professionals, law enforcement, and other thought leaders.

May 15, 2017

There are currently 278 prisoners in New Jersey’s Juvenile Justice System. The vast majority are black (75 percent) and male: only 11 of those being held are female. Ages range from 14 to 19 and older, and they have been incarcerated for a range of offenses: crimes against persons, violation of parole, crimes against property, drugs, disturbing public order, and drugs. Many prisoners have been convicted of multiple crimes.

May 12, 2017

Anyone skeptical about the power of advertising might want to consider these stats, involving the ad campaign for ReachNJ, a hotline for help with addiction and recovery issues. Calls jumped 159 percent to 2,385 in April, when the second phase of the campaign went live, compared with 921 contacts in March, when the ads were not appearing. For the first three months of 2017, there were almost 4,000 inquiries to ReachNJ.  From April 1 to May 4, there were 2,685 contacts.

May 11, 2017

At this point its name may only mean something to serious film buffs and storm watchers, but the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tamaroa (formerly the Navy fleet tug Zuni) gained fame of a sort for its service during 1991’s massive Halloween storm, chronicled in the book and movie “The Perfect Storm.”

The Tamaroa has now been sunk to a depth of 120 feet to be part of the Del-Jersey-Land Inshore Reef, located 26 nautical miles southeast of Cape May, one of several old military ships that make up the artificial reef.

During the perfect storm, the 205-foot vessel first rescued three people from a sailboat. Then, battling massive swells and making eight separate approaches, the vessel rescued four of five crew members from an Air National Guard rescue helicopter that ran out of fuel and had to ditch. The fifth member was lost at sea. The Tamaroa and its crew received Coast Guard commendations for the missions.

May 10, 2017

This is one of those rare instances when zero is a perfect score: According to the 2015 Uniform Crime Report, no New Jersey police officers were killed in the line of duty in 2015, the most recent year for which data was available.

Unfortunately, not all the statistics were as good: There were 1,735 police officers assaulted in 2015, a decrease of 3 percent compared with 2014. Of the officers assaulted, 31 percent (541) sustained an injury. Physical force, such as by hands, fists and feet, was used in 89 percent (1,540) of all assaults.

May 9, 2017

With the upcoming Mother’s Day celebrations in mind — and mindful that more than 70 percent of moms with young children are in the workforce today — the personal-finance website WalletHub analyzed the best and worst states for working mothers, using 13 metrics ranging from median women’s salary to day-care quality.

So, how did New Jersey do? Well, the state came in 7th for parental-leave policy, 7th for the number of pediatricians per capita, and also 7th for the percentage of single-mom families in poverty. It ranked 15th on the gender pay gap, and 16th on both day-care quality and child-care costs. It came in 21st for the average length of a woman’s working day.

May 8, 2017

Gov. Chris Christie may be hoping to build a legacy, but a sizable majority of New Jersey voters say he’s already done so: 65 percent of the participants in a new Quinnipiac University poll rate his two terms as “mainly a failure.”

By an underwhelming 50 percent to 37 percent, Republicans say Christie’s two terms were “mostly a success.” Every other group turned thumbs down by wide margins. 

Christie’s overall job approval, a negative 18 percent to 77 percent, remains at historically low levels. Republicans are divided 46 percent to 47 percent, while every other listed party, gender, education, age or racial group disapproves by wide margins. 

Respondents are also critical of the way Christie is handling mass transit between New Jersey and New York, disapproving 65 percent to 18 percent. Some 84 percent of voters say it is “very important” or “somewhat important” to add a Hudson River rail tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan.

May 5, 2017

Being a nurse is a tough profession: It demands brains, stamina, compassion, and dedication. And in New Jersey, it might take even more of the last, given that the state has been ranked the seventh worst state for these healthcare providers.

What’s behind the Garden State’s low ranking? For starters, it took the 44th slot for opportunity and competition and did almost as poorly for work environment (40) and job openings per capita (39). Average annual salary was also a no-go at 35th, while average monthly starting salary was ranked 28th. Of course, drawing a salary means having a job, which could be tough in the Garden State, which was ranked 46th for healthcare facilities per capita.

Nearby New York finished 49th, and the District of Columbia was at the bottom of the heap (51). Pennsylvania was ranked 39th. The best states for nurses: Wisconsin (1), New Mexico (2), and Iowa (3).

May 4, 2017

If you’re living in New Jersey, you’re probably not having as much fun as you think you are. Then again, you’re lucky to be having any fun at all, if the results of a new survey from WalletHub are to be trusted: It ranks New Jersey as No. 42 on its list of “Most Fun States.”

New York State finished fifth; Pennsylvania, 30th.

Basically, we don’t have enough restaurants per capita, movie theaters, golf courses, performing-arts venues, access to national parks, and so on. The Garden State ranked 36th for skiing facilities and 46th for arts, entertainments, and recreation establishments.

What we do have is plenty of fitness centers (ranked 4th). That may suggest that New Jerseyans are good at running on treadmills, but we leave you to draw your own conclusions.

May 3, 2017

This is guaranteed to take the edge off your thirst: New Jersey had the fourth-highest number of drinking-water violations among all 50 states in 2015, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In fact, “Threats on Tap: Widespread Violations Highlight Need for Investment in Water Infrastructure and Protections” reports that nearly 77 million people — roughly a quarter of the U.S. population — spread across all 50 states were served by water systems reporting violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2015.

Violations ranged from arsenic to nitrate contamination, and included often-serious failures to test or report contamination levels. The NRDC found nearly 80,000 violations impacting drinking-water systems in every state, but under-reporting and lax enforcement could mean the number of violations is much higher.

These federal drinking-water rules are intended to protect against about 100 contaminants, such as toxic chemicals, bacteria and metals like lead that can cause health impacts like cancer, birth defects, and cognitive impairments.

The top 12 states with drinking-water violations were Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Washington, Ohio, California, Arizona, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Maryland.

May 2, 2017

Finding money for college is tough, both for well-heeled families and their low-income counterparts. No surprise, it’s much tougher on the latter, but what is an eye opener is just how much harder — when calculated as a percent of overall income.

New Jersey families that earn $30,000 or less have to spend a staggering 107 percent of their total income to cover the average net price of going to a four-year public college or university, according to a new report from The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS). (“Net price” is the total cost of college — books, transportation, and living expenses, as well as tuition and fees — minus state, federal, and college grants and scholarships.)

The report, “College Costs in Context: A State-by-State Look at College (Un) Affordability,” also indicates that the net price for a two-year public education in New Jersey would eat up 58 percent of a poor family’s income — making the Garden State one of the least affordable states for low-income students seeking a public education.

In comparison, the neediest families across the country must commit an average of 77 percent of their total income to cover costs at a four-year school and 50 percent at a two-year school.

May 1, 2017

The average 24 hours in New Jersey are pretty busy, and this goes for criminals as well as for law-abiding citizens. According to the just-released 2015 Uniform Crime Results, one murder was committed for every round-the-clock crime cycle in the Garden State in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. There were four rapes, 27 robberies, and 31 aggravated assaults in the same period, as well as 76 burglaries, 291 larcenies, and 32 vehicle thefts.

The report indicates that the crime rate for the state, 19 individuals for every 1,000 permanent residents, was down 5 percent compared with 2014.

April 28, 2017

Millions of Americans will place their one and only bet of the year on the Kentucky Derby next week. But for millions more, gambling is a constant — and darker — presence. Americans lose $100 billion annually through gambling.

New Jersey — whose gambling enterprises are so significant to the economy — ranks sixth among states considered “most addicted” by WalletHub, the personal-finance website. Only Nevada, South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, and Mississippi ranked more addicted.

WalletHub compared the 50 states across 15 key metrics such as gambling arrests per capita (New Jersey ranked 3rd), percentage of adults with gambling disorders (NJ-4th), legality of sports gambling (NJ-5th), lottery sales per capita (NJ-8th), and gaming machines per capita (NJ-27th).

April 27, 2017

Launched in 2011, Project Medicine Drop had an ambitious goal: stop unused prescription medication from being abused and diverted. It appears to be fulfilling its mission: Since its inception, PMD has collected 157,162 pounds — or just over 78 tons — of unused medications. For 2016 alone, 68,200 thousand pounds of prescription drugs were dropped off at collection locations throughout the state.

As of December 2016, 212 stationary drop boxes and 148 mobile drop boxes have been deployed statewide. Another 25 PMD boxes will be installed in New Jersey this year.

April 26, 2017

The Trump administration has sent mixed signals on whether it intends to honor the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order in the long term. A decision not to honor it could cost New Jersey some serious cash — $66 million in state and local taxes, according to a new report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

That annual contribution, from New Jersey’s DACA-eligible young immigrants, would increase by $27 million under comprehensive immigration reform. But it would drop by $21 million if DACA protections were lost.

Among the 10 states with the largest DACA-eligible populations, New Jersey has the lowest application rate: Once the rate picks up, tax contributions from these young immigrants would rise.

April 25, 2017

A new study of 230 public-worker retirement plans released by The Pew Charitable Trusts had some unhappy news for New Jersey. (The study reviewed financial data from 2015.) When comparing total assets to liabilities, the state’s public-employee pension system ranked last in the nation, with a funded-ratio of 37.5 percent. Kentucky, at 37.8 percent, and Illinois, at 40.2 percent, were in the bottom three.

The new rankings from Pew follow a similar analysis conducted last year by Bloomberg, which also labeled New Jersey's pension system the nation's worst-funded. 

The pension system covers the retirements of an estimated 770,000 current and retired workers in New Jersey.

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.

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