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May 18, 2018

Whether you’re buying them Jersey Fresh from a favorite market or from a local farm stand, asparagus are the perfect vegetable to usher in the summer months — steamed, grilled, or prepared according to one of the mouthwatering recipes available online, such as these 33 from Bon Appétit.

According to the Jersey Fresh website, choose odorless asparagus stalks with dry, tight tips; avoid limp or wilted stalks. Asparagus can be refrigerated for up to four days by wrapping ends of stalks in wet paper towel and placing them in a plastic bag. The growing season is expected to last from April 20 through June 15.

Bon Appétit is not a content partner of NJ Spotlight.

May 17, 2018

Forty-five percent of New Jersey residents think the state is headed in the right direction; at the same time, 48 percent think it’s going down the wrong path. That might seem a small win for the pessimists. In fact, however, it’s the cheeriest we’ve been in a long time. In the waning days of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, the nays had it by a wide margin. This new measure of Garden State positivity comes from the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

While noting the upswing in residents’ views on the state, Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, said, “…the degree to which they have improved varies across partisan lines.” She noted that two-thirds of Democrats have a positive outlook, up 26 points since last November. “Independents are much more skeptical, but positivity has grown by double digits among them as well. Three-quarters of Republicans feel just the opposite, though even among this group, positivity has ticked up 5 points since [Gov. Phil] Murphy’s November victory.”

Other poll results: It’s all positive for Sen. Cory Booker, who is the most popular politician in the state. More residents approve than disapprove of his job performance by a margin of 52 percent to 27 percent. The news is also good for Gov. Phil Murphy, with 46 percent approving of how he’s doing in his new job, 29 percent disapproving, and the rest giving no opinion. But the results for Sen. Bob Menendez are ho-hum, to say the least. Slightly more disapprove than approve of the job he’s doing by a margin of 37 percent to 33 percent, with a large number either undecided or with no opinion. Twenty-two percent say they have a positive impression of him; 35 percent have a negative view of him, while 42 percent are not sure.

May 16, 2018

April is the cruelest, sorry, largest month of the year for tax collections. New Jersey’s Department of the Treasury reported this week that revenue collections for the major taxes in April amounted to $2.3 billion, barely squeaking up by 0.3 percent over last April’s intake. Treasury also reported that total revenues are tracking close to their target for financial year 2018.

The flat result in April is being attributed to the prepayment by many taxpayers of about $200 million in December 2017 to take advantage of the federal State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction that was about to expire, thanks to the recent GOP federal tax changes. So, the pancake-flat return for April wasn’t unexpected.

May 15, 2018

New Jersey hospitals have some way to go before they achieve an adequately low level of births by caesarean section. In its “maternity measures” survey of New Jersey hospitals for 2017, released today, the Leapfrog Group reports that 20 participating hospitals — more than 40 percent of those surveyed — had a rate of 30 percent or higher of such births.

According to the report, almost 37 percent of births in the Garden State in 2017 took place at such a hospital. At the higher end of the spectrum were CentraState Medical Center in Freehold (42.1 percent), Hackensack University Medical Center (41 percent), and Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House (36.6 percent).

Only nine reporting hospitals met the goal of 23.9 percent or fewer such deliveries. Looked at from the other end of the lens, that means over 80 percent of the reporting hospitals In New Jersey that provide obstetrics services “are not meeting the Leapfrog goal.” Among the hospitals that met or did better than the 23.9 percent benchmark were: CarePoint Health-Christ Hospital in Jersey City (14 percent), CarePoint Health-Hoboken University Medical Center (16.1 percent), and Cooper University Hospital in Camden (19 percent).

“New Jersey can and must do better to reduce C-section rates, which vary widely among hospitals. There are times when a C-section is needed. But, the hospital where an expectant mother delivers her baby should not be the determining factor of whether or not she has a surgical birth… We need all the New Jersey hospitals that provide maternity care to meet the Leapfrog standards,” Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said.

May 14, 2018

We’re No.1 — unfortunately. According to a new report by the Tax Foundation, New Jersey has the dubious distinction of being the state that collects the highest property taxes in the country per capita: $3,074.

Property taxes are highest in the Northeast, and each of the New England states is among the 10 states with the highest per capita property taxes. Overall, the District of Columbia comes in first ($3,350), followed by New Jersey ($3,074), New Hampshire ($3,054), and Connecticut ($2,847).

Among the 10 states with the lowest per capita property taxes, a majority are in the South, where sales taxes are a more prominent source of state revenue. Texas is a notable outlier, relying heavily on property taxes while not levying state individual or corporate income taxes. The nation’s lowest per capita property tax collections are in Arkansas ($699), Oklahoma ($678), and Alabama ($540).

The Tax Foundation is the nation’s leading independent tax-policy nonprofit.

May 11, 2018

This may not be a good time to be a millionaire in New Jersey, at least according to a new poll from New Jersey Policy Perspective, an independent, nonpartisan think-tank. According to the survey, 70 percent of New Jersey voters support raising the income-tax rate on households making $1 million or more a year. That opinion was surprisingly bipartisan: 69 percent of independents and 51 percent of Republicans back the tax bump. The poll also found bipartisan support (67 percent) for raising income taxes on the top 5 percent of households.

Other findings that may have you counting your lucky stars that you’re not in the millionaires club:

  • 49 percent of New Jersey voters say they would be more likely to support their state representative if they supported raising taxes on millionaires, while only 20 percent say they are less likely to do so.

  • Over two-thirds of New Jersey voters (69 percent) support closing tax loopholes used by multistate corporations, including 71 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republicans.

  • A majority of voters (61 percent) support restoring the New Jersey’s estate tax on heirs inheriting $1 million or more.

  • New Jersey voters also strongly support a 3 percent surcharge on businesses with more than $1 million in net income (by a 26-point margin) and rolling back the recent reduction in the state sales tax (by a 13-point margin).

  • Voters oppose the new federal tax law by a margin of 14 points, with a clear majority (59 percent) believing it will mostly help the wealthy and corporations.

May 10, 2018

New Jersey’s principal vegetable harvest was valued at $156 million in 2017, up by more than $6.5 million from 2016. More than 100 different kinds of fruits and vegetables are grown (appropriately enough) in the Garden State.

May 9, 2018

“Far too many residents in our state still have not fully recovered from Sandy five and a half years later, or remain far too vulnerable to withstand the next storm,” is how U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez greeted the news that the GOP wants to cut $107 million from superstorm Sandy recovery aid. The cut is part of Trump’s budget rescission budget, which also wants to eliminate more than $500 million committed to the Gateway trans-Hudson tunnel.

Menendez, who is chair of the Sandy Task Force, also said, “It is reprehensible for Republicans to try to lessen the blow of their $2 trillion, deficit-busting, corporate tax cut on the backs of Sandy victims.”

May 8, 2018

The New Jersey Business & Industry Association has the numbers and they’re not good, at least not for the Garden State.

The NJBIA assessed seven states in the region — Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, along with New Jersey. They looked at minimum wage, top income-tax rate, top corporate-tax rate, sales-tax rate, property taxes as percentage of home value, and top unemployment tax rate.

How did New Jersey do?

It ranked last in top income tax rate (8.97 percent), sales tax rate (6.625 percent), and property tax as a percentage of home value (2.16 percent). It was sixth out of seven in top corporate-tax rate (9 percent) and had the third lowest minimum-wage rate in the region at $8.60 per hour. More positively, it had the lowest top unemployment-tax rate in the region of 5.8 percent.

Delaware had the best regional score, followed closely by Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

May 7, 2018

That’s a lot of money, but the state’s healthcare systems did it one patient at a time, all 29.2 million of them — according to the New Jersey Hospital Association. The healthcare total breaks out like this:

  • $2.3 billion in free and discounted care

  • $58.9 million in community health improvement services

  • $225.3 million in health professions education

  • $320 million in other community health programs

The NJHA is a not-for-profit trade organization committed to delivering support and services to the state’s hospitals, health systems, and other healthcare providers.

May 4, 2018

It was a question that caught Gov. Phil Murphy flatfooted, when he was asked what the contract he’d just jubilantly signed with the Communication Workers of America was going to cost taxpayers. The answer, for all those inquiring minds that want to know, is $148.9 million. Of the total, $78 million will go to making good on step increments and clothing allowances the Christie administration canceled in fiscal 2016.

May 3, 2018

Something momentous happened yesterday between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Solar-energy systems in New Jersey delivered about 20.4 percent of the state’s total electric load on average, and 21.6 percent at peak (12:30 p.m.), according to calculations made by the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association.

“When solar power contributes large proportions of the electric load during the middle of the day, when demand usually pushes wholesale prices up, it depresses those wholesale prices. Overall, that helps keep electric prices down,” said Dr. Richard Perez, an internationally known renewable-energy researcher at SUNY Albany. According to Dr. Perez, this effect is known as the merit-order effect.

A new clean-energy bill ( S-2314) recently passed by the state Legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature is intended to reinvigorate the state’s solar energy program and requires that the state achieve 50 percent renewable electricity by 2050.

MSEIA is a trade organization that has represented solar-energy companies in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware since 1997. The organization has spearheaded efforts in the Mid-Atlantic region to make solar energy a major contributor to the region’s energy future.

May 2, 2018

In an effort to decrease disparities in birth outcomes between black and white infants in New Jersey and to reduce black infant mortality, the state Department of Health has just announced $4.3 million in grant aid. “The disparities in New Jersey around infant mortality are shamefully high,” Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said. The money will go to the Healthy Women, Healthy Families initiative, specifically to fund programs in areas of high need. There will be funding for up to 12 grantees expected to target places such as Atlantic City, Camden, Trenton, East Orange, Irvington, Jersey City, Newark, and Paterson.

The overall infant mortality rate in New Jersey is, in fact, lower than the national rate (4.7 per 1,000 live births versus 5.9 per 1,000 live births in 2015). However, the disparity between black and white infants for infant mortality is startling: 3.00 per 1,000 births for white infants, 9.7 for black infants.

May 1, 2018

Half of New Jersey residents would support a Constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, even if it required “major spending cuts,” according to a recent Stockton University poll. Thirty-eight percent would oppose a balanced-budget amendment, and 12 percent are unsure.

But those polled do not agree where cuts should be made, and overall a majority balk at making spending cuts in key programs to balance federal revenues and spending.

The poll of 709 adult residents found that 78 percent say the national debt is a major problem, and 16 percent consider it a minor problem. Four percent say it is not a problem at all, and 2 percent are unsure.

Those who support a balanced-budget amendment were asked how they feel about spending cuts in three areas: the military, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and safety-net programs such as welfare and Medicaid. While none of the three proposed cuts were supported by a majority, close to half the respondents would choose to cut programs to help poor people. Other results include:

  • 59 percent oppose cuts to the military, while 40 percent would support them;

  • 74 percent are against cutting Social Security or Medicare, while 24 percent would support it and 2 percent are unsure; and

  • 50 percent oppose cuts to welfare or Medicaid, and 48 percent support such cuts with 2 percent unsure.

April 30, 2018

The next time a Jersey cop pulls you over and writes a ticket for distracted driving (talking or texting on a cellphone while you’re behind the wheel), you probably should thank them. The Garden State has just been ranked the fifth-safest state for fatal car accidents — at 6.7 fatalities for every 100,000 people per year, compared with the national number of 11.6/100,000 (using 2016 data). And that strong showing is partly because New Jersey police wrote 7,215 tickets for distracted driving (minimum fine $400). The worst state, according to the Safewise Report, the authority on safety and security news, was Mississippi, at 23.1/100,000.

April 27, 2018

Rutgers University has been named No 3 overall in a national study of the safest college campuses. The report analyzed the most recent crime data sets provided by the U.S. Department of Education's Campus Safety Security Survey and the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting data. The results were then calculated and ranked using the information provided by those two reports.

The 2018 study was prepared by Your Local Security, a trusted site dedicated to providing the most up-to-date security tools and information needed to build a safer home environment.

April 26, 2018

A total of 22 general acute-care hospitals (out of a total of 65 facilities) were awarded an “A” for patient safety by the Leapfrog Group, an organization that aims to improve healthcare quality and safety for consumers. The ratings are based on how well hospitals prevent medical errors, infections, and other dangers. These errors, which kill or harm millions of people per year, are the third leading cause of death in the United States.

At 94.4 percent participation, New Jersey had the highest response rate in 2017 for regions with over 50 targeted hospitals.

April 25, 2018

New research puts the overall economic cost of gun violence in New Jersey at more than $3.3 billion, with a direct annual cost to New Jersey taxpayers of approximately $273 million. The analysis was compiled by Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and is published in a report, “The Economic Cost of Gun Violence in New Jersey.”

Giffords indicates that local businesses are severely impacted when gun violence occurs, as shootings keep customers and tourists away and often limit hours of operation. On average, there are 2,014 shootings in New Jersey each year, resulting in directly measurable costs of over $1.2 billion annually. That includes:

  • Healthcare costs: $93 million

  • Law enforcement and criminal justice expenses: $131 million

  • Costs to employers: $8 million

  • Lost income: $918 million

Much of this tab is picked up by the public. Up to 85 percent of gunshot victims, for example, are either uninsured or on some form of publicly funded insurance. Additionally, law enforcement efforts are funded entirely by taxpayer dollars.

April 24, 2018

Only 1 percent of the participants in a Stockton University poll released yesterday rate the state economy as “excellent.” Some 21 percent would go as far as “good.” Nearly half (48 percent) rate the New Jersey economy as “fair,” with 27 percent of 709 adult state residents rating it “poor”; 2 percent said “unsure.”

Residents of South Jersey are a bit more pessimistic than counterparts to the north. In the eight southernmost counties, only 18 percent give positive ratings to the state economy, but 80 percent rate New Jersey’s economy as” fair” or “poor.” In the 13 counties to the north, 24 percent rate New Jersey’s economy positively, while 73 percent rate New Jersey’s economy as “fair” or “poor.”

April 22, 2018

The Department of Health and Human Services has awarded New Jersey nearly $13 million in new funding to combat the opioid crisis.

The Opioid State Targeted Response (STR) grants, which were created by the 21st Century Cures Act, are administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

April 20, 2018

Six-in-10 New Jersey residents support legalizing marijuana, according to yesterday’s Monmouth University Poll, with support running 11 points higher than it did four years ago. The change in attitude appears to be driven mostly by the numbers: 60 percent of those surveyed believe legalization will help the state’s economy. Broken out by party line the responses look like this: 68 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents, and even 50 percent of Republicans. Just 16 percent of state residents say it would hurt the economy and 20 percent say it would have no impact.

The poll also finds widespread concern over the opioid crisis — with most New Jerseyans saying the state is not doing enough to deal with this problem. Nearly 9-in-10 New Jersey adults (86 percent) say that addiction to opioids — which include pain medications like Vicodin and OxyContin, as well as street drugs like heroin and fentanyl — is a very serious problem in the United States. One-in-five (20 percent) say that this issue is a bigger problem in New Jersey than in most other parts of the country; 13 percent say it is less of a problem, while the majority (59 percent) say the problem of opioid addiction is about the same in New Jersey as it is elsewhere in the country.

April 19, 2018

Close to $1 million — that’s what the Democratic State Committee raised for Gov. Phil Murphy’s January 16 inaugural, and it spent it all too. That figure pushed fund-raising and spending by the state’s “Big Six” political committees to a decade-long high, according to disclosure reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC); the Republican State Committee, along with the two parties’ Senate and Assembly committees make up the rest of the “Big Six.” Their total take for the first three months of this year was $1.9 million.

But the first quarter’s take “can’t mask the fact that overall party fundraising and spending has declined sharply since the early 2000s,” Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s executive director, said. And there’s an urgency to reversing that slide, he said. In his view, “Reinvigorating parties is important because party committees are more accountable and transparent than many of the independent groups that now dominate state and national elections.” To that end, ELEC has made several recommendations — including a revamp of restrictions on “pay to play contributions” — that it hopes the governor and the Legislature will take up.

April 18, 2018

Somebody’s kissing the dice for New Jersey’s online gambling industry — because it’s on a hot streak. In March, the state’s online casinos generated $25.6 million in gross revenue. That was 16.3 percent more than February’s revenue figure ($21.99 million), and 17.6 percent better than in March 2017 ($21.7 million). In fact, the first three months of 2018 have brought online gambling’s three highest revenue totals since it was legalized and regulated in the Garden State in 2013. The figures come from the state’s monthly Internet Gross Revenue Report.

The Golden Nugget, which owns the Golden Nugget, Betfair, and SugarHouse online casino brands, was the highest roller in March, when it became the first online license holder to generate more than $8 million in a single month. It beat that figure comfortably, racking up $8.7 million in revenue. “The Golden Nugget has become a bellwether for New Jersey. As it goes, so goes the state's legal online gambling industry,” Steve Ruddock, lead analyst for PlayNJ.com, said.

April 17, 2018

New Jersey, a “blue” state, could become even bluer by the time the votes are tallied in the fall congressional elections. A new Monmouth University Poll gives Democrats a 19-point advantage over Republicans in a generic House ballot. If that held true in the elections, it could sweep all the state’s five Republican-held congressional seats into the Democratic column. In the poll, 54 percent of New Jersey’s registered voters said they would vote or lean toward voting for the Democratic candidate in their district compared with 35 percent favoring the Republican. One month ago, New Jersey voters favored Democrats over Republicans by a smaller margin — (50 percent-41 percent), the same polling organization found.

This latest poll suggests that President Donald Trump is the biggest drag on the Garden State’s GOP delegates’ prospects of returning to Washington, D.C. A scant 34 percent of voters approved of the president’s job performance compared with 61 percent who disapproved. He did somewhat better in the state’s GOP-held congressional districts (43 percent approved, 53 percent disapproved).

Another negative for voters was the GOP’s recently enacted federal tax reform (35 percent approved, 46 percent disapproved). This marks a bigger thumbs-down for the tax changes than the Monmouth poll registered last month among voters nationally (41 percent approved, 42 percent disapproved).

The latest poll numbers are “pretty astounding,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said. “Not only are New Jersey Democrats doing better on the generic House ballot statewide, but the shift is coming almost entirely from districts currently held by the GOP. If these results hold, we could be down to just one or two — or maybe even zero — Republican members in the state congressional delegation after November.”

April 16, 2018

New Jersey’s pension system is the worst funded in the nation, according to new research from The Pew Charitable Trusts. In 2016, the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available, New Jersey had only $75 billion in assets to cover nearly $244 billion liabilities, resulting in a $168 billion shortfall. This is an almost $33 billion increase over 2015, when the state reported a $136 billion funding gap.

New Jersey contributed just 33 percent of the $9.6 billion necessary to pay down its debt in 2016, causing its individual funding gap to continue expanding.

Nationwide, state pension funds cumulatively reported a $1.4 trillion deficit in 2016. This represents a $295 billion jump from 2015 and the 15th annual increase in pension debt since 2000. Overall, state plans disclosed assets of just $2.6 trillion to cover total pension liabilities of $4 trillion.

April 13, 2018

Registered voters in New Jersey favor incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in his bid for re-election by 21 percentage points over his Republican challenger. Fifty-three percent say they favor Menendez while 32 percent say they would vote for Bob Hugin, a former pharmaceutical executive. And that’s even though Menendez also registers weak approval ratings, with only 37 percent of voters approving of the job he’s doing, 38 percent disapproving, and 25 percent having no opinion. The senator’s limp job-approval rating can be attributed in part to fallout from his recent corruption trial. The numbers are from the latest Monmouth University Poll.

The picture is far more lopsided when the poll gets into preference by party affiliation. Ninety-two percent of Democrats back Menendez and 84 percent of Republicans opt for Hugin. Among Independents, the split is 41 percent for Menendez and 33 percent for Hugin.

“Let’s be honest. It’s very unlikely that these results are predictive of the final margin on Election Day. New Jersey voters do not tune in to midterm elections until sometime in October and fewer than half of the voters we polled now will actually show up to vote then. However, the current state of the race does speak to what is perhaps the incumbent’s biggest strength: being a Democrat in a blue state in a year that is looking very good for Democrats,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said.

April 12, 2018

Newly elected Gov. Phil Murphy is starting out his tenure in good shape, according the latest Monmouth University Poll, with a 44 percent positive job rating. That’s markedly better than his two predecessors at the same point in their terms. Chris Christie held a slightly negative 41 percent approve to 44 percent disapprove rating in April 2010. Jon Corzine received a slightly negative 34 percent approve to 37 percent disapprove rating in April 2006, according to Monmouth polling.

Some 28 percent of 703 Garden State adults disapprove of the job Murphy is doing. Another 28 percent have no opinion. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (65 percent) approve; 7 percent disapprove. Among Republicans, 17 percent approve while 59 percent disapprove. Among independents, 41 percent approve, and 33 percent disapprove of the governor’s performance to date.

April 11, 2018

Almost two-thirds of New Jersey residents (64 percent) gave a thumbs-down to state subsidies for PSEG’s nuclear plants. That’s according to a poll by the political consulting firm, Fifty One Percent. Eighteen percent of New Jersey residents said they support the subsidies while 18 percent were unsure about them. The poll is being highlighted by the anti-subsidy NJ Coalition for Fair Energy. The numbers for and against the state giving a financial hand to the nuclear power industry come in the same week that both houses of the state Legislature are expected to sign off on a bill that would subsidize three PSEG nuclear power plants for up to 10 years at a cost of $300 million annually.

The poll’s other main findings: A significant number of New Jerseyans said they were less likely to vote for a politician who in turn has voted for a subsidy bill (46 percent), while 10 percent said they were more likely to vote for such a politician; 26 percent said the politician’s vote on the issue would make no difference. Fifty-two percent of voters overall thought New Jersey's nuclear plants should close if they are not profitable — or should close whether they are profitable or not.

April 10, 2018

According to the latest research from the Center for Public Integrity, some 1.7 million employees in New Jersey (53 percent of the workforce) are toiling away for companies that don’t offer employment plans.

New Jersey is hardly alone in this situation; some states, like Oregon, are experimenting with state-run retirement plans. In fact, Garden State lawmakers in 2016 were poised to pass legislation with bipartisan support creating an Oregon-style auto-IRA program. But Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed that plan and obtained agreement on legislation that instead creates a marketplace without the state’s direct involvement.

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