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February 27, 2018

While thousands of New Jersey homeowners are still examining — and ruing — the new federal tax changes for how they will affect their bottom line, many New Jersey corporations could do nicely because of the legislation. According to a new survey by the New Jersey Society of CPAs (NJCPA), close to 50 percent of CPAs who were polled said that either “many” or “most/all” of their corporate clients would benefit from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. A similar percentage who work for New Jersey companies said their own company will have “moderate” to “significant” tax savings. Of those CPAs who said their clients will benefit, more than 50 percent said the clients haven’t decided what to do with the tax windfall, more than 30 percent said their clients plan to reinvest in the business, more than 25 percent said their clients plan to expand the business, and more than 20 percent said the clients will either hire extra employees or give their employees a raise.

February 26, 2018

The average property tax bill in New Jersey rose by $141 dollars last year, and now totals a record high of $8,690, according to figures released Friday by the state Department of Community Affairs.

The overall percentage increase from 2016 to 2017 was an estimated 1.65 percent, making last year the first time since 2013 that the average increase fell below the state's 2 percent cap on annual property-tax levy hikes. The percentage increase for 2017 would have been a little higher, at 1.82 percent, if it weren't for a Payment In Lieu of Taxes deal that was reached with casino operators in Atlantic City last year, according to state officials.

The average school tax bill accounted for the largest portion of the typical property-tax bill in New Jersey last year, at $4,564. Municipal government tax bills were $2,552 on average, while the portion related to county taxes totaled $1,574 in 2017.

February 23, 2018

According to a new report from PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, 49 of the 200 medications being developed in the United States to fight cardiovascular diseases are in development in New Jersey. Heart disease is the number 1 killer in this country and is responsible for more than 800,000 deaths each year. There are 92 million Americans living with some form of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.

February 22, 2018

More than $161 million in Municipal Aid grants is being awarded in fiscal year 2018 to 505 New Jersey communities. Last year, only $78.75 million in grants was distributed to 364 municipalities. These grants will enable towns across the state to advance road, bridge, safety, and quality-of-life improvements without relying on local property taxes to complete the work.

In announcing the grants — the largest amount in New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) history — Gov. Phil Murphy credited the recent gas-tax increase with more than doubling the amount of funds for local road and bridge safety improvement projects.

February 21, 2018

The retail giant Walmart recently trumpeted a wage increase and improved benefits for its workers, starting with the Feb. 17 pay cycle. As a result, the new average hourly wage for full-time workers in New Jersey is expected to be $14.11; more than 10,000 workers in both Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in the Garden State should get an increase. The company also announced a one-time bonus for eligible full- and part-time hourly workers throughout the United States, with workers who have at least 20 years’ service qualifying for a bonus of $1,000. The company said it’s also going to expand maternity and parental leave benefits.

Walmart operates more than 11,600 stores around the world. It employs 2.3 million people. In fiscal year 2017 it had $485.9 billion in revenue.

February 20, 2018

It's no secret that there's a lot of money in New Jersey. One way to determine just how much is to determine the number of "penta-millionaire" families, households with more than $5 million in investable assets or liquid wealth, according to the 2017 Phoenix Wealth & Affluent Monitor (W&AM).

Of course, penta-millionaires are likely to be hardest hit by the GOP tax reforms, a tough break to those well-heeled living in a blue state. Right? Well, according to the W&AM, nine of the top 10 states with highest concentration of penta-millionaires are blue states: New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, Delaware, California. Alaska is the only red state in this group.

February 16, 2018

New Jersey drivers are the third safest in the nation, according to a new report by an auto insurance website.

CarInsuranceComparison.com ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia on five measures using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The categories were the total number of traffic deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, the number of fatalities involving the failure to use seatbelts or driving without a license, the number of deaths due to drunk driving, the number of fatalities in which speed was a factor, and the number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed per 100,000 residents.

Based on these factors, New Jersey ranked the third safest in the nation, which was six places better than in 2016. Only Iowa and Minnesota were considered safer. The least safe state was Montana.

February 15, 2018

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority has two new leaders this week as Gov. Phil Murphy continues to make changes across state government. Now leading the Trenton-based EDA as its chief executive officer is Tim Sullivan, a Bergen County native who most recently served as the deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. The EDA's 16-member board confirmed Murphy's appointment of Sullivan on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the EDA board itself also has a new leader, as eight-year member Laurence Downes was designated by Murphy yesterday to serve as the board’s chairman. Downes is the chair and CEO of New Jersey Resources, and its main subsidiary, New Jersey Natural Gas. He's served as vice chair of the EDA board since 2016.

February 14, 2018

New Jersey is known for a lot of things, its ethnic diversity included. Moreover, it’s home to the most ethnically diverse city in the nation: Jersey City. That’s according to WalletHub, the personal-finance website, which has just released a report analyzing more than 500 cities in the United States for their ethnoracial diversity, linguistic diversity, and birthplace diversity. After Jersey City, the top five is rounded out by three cities in Maryland — Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Silver Spring — along with Spring Valley, NV. New York City comes in at number six. According to WalletHub, the five least ethnically diverse cities are Barre, VT; Watertown, SD; Hialeah, FL; Clarksburg, WV; and Parkersburg, WV.

February 13, 2018

Despite warnings about the imminent collapse of the home solar market in New Jersey, Solar Power Rocks rates the Garden State No. 1 based on it "friendliness to rooftop solar." The report assesses the environment for home solar in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, awarding letter grades for factors like renewable-energy mandates, tax breaks, and available solar incentives.

Solar Power Rocks isn't all sunshine about New Jersey's solar future. It warns that there is "an urgent need for the Legislature to pass a reintroduced bill to increase the state's solar carve-out and design a replacement for the SREC program.''

February 12, 2018

A monumental milestone has been reached by a New Jersey nonprofit, which distributed more than 550,000 tissue grafts worldwide in 2017 - aiding in the care and recovery of an estimated 400,000 people in 50 countries.

MTF Biologics, the world's largest tissue bank, indicates the grafts were created from donated human skin, bone, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and placental tissues. They were used in orthopedic procedures, post-mastectomy breast reconstructions, and to heal wounds - among other purposes.

February 9, 2018

Public school parents in New Jersey believe there is “too much” rather than “too little” standardized testing in their child’s school by a margin of 52 percent to 6 percent. The remaining 39 percent think there is just the right amount of testing. Fifty-five percent of public school parents believe such testing should be a graduation requirement, but 44 percent do not. (When public school parents are combined with parents who have children in other types of schools, the figures tilt in favor of standardized testing — 57 percent to 42 percent.) The findings, released yesterday, are from a Rutgers-Eagleton poll that was conducted late last year.

Other poll results: Most parents who have children in New Jersey’s public schools are satisfied with the quality of the education their children receive, and many of them are very satisfied. Thirty-eight percent believe the specific school their oldest child attends does an “excellent” job and a further 42 percent believe the school does a “good” job. But there are also parents who are underwhelmed by the quality of education, with 14 percent saying the school their oldest child attends is doing a “fair” job, and 5 percent classifying the school’s performance as “poor.”

February 8, 2018

The New Jersey Healthy Communities Network’s Community Grants Program (NJHCN) has awarded $1.3 million to 66 New Jersey nonprofits. The NJHCN is a coalition of six funding organizations that support communities that increase opportunities for healthy eating and active living.

The 66 recipients represent a cross-section of nonprofit, school, and government organizations from across the state. Each will receive a grant of $20,000 over a two-year period.

Each grant will address at least one strategy to increase opportunities for physical activity and one strategy to improve access to healthy eating. Among the initiatives are school-wellness policies, farmers markets, open streets, healthy corner stores, bike racks, walk/bike/food audits, and community gardens.

The funding organizations are Atlantic Health System, New Jersey Department of Health, New Jersey Health Initiatives, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids, Partners for Health Foundation, and Salem Health & Wellness Foundation.

In addition to funding, grantees are assigned a coach, receive technical assistance, and are evaluated on the impact of the organization’s work.

February 7, 2018

Bipartisan legislation (S-763) revamping and expanding the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship (NJ STARS) has passed the full Senate. The new program, titled the New Jersey HonorScholars, expands eligibility to students ranking in the top 20 percent of their class. The STARS’ cutoff was 15 percent.

The revamped program will still award scholarships that cover the full cost of tuition at any New Jersey community college. Students who earn an associate degree with a minimum 3.25 grade-point average are eligible for an NJ STARS II scholarship of up to $2,500 per year at any New Jersey public or independent four-year college or university.

Additionally, New Jersey HonorScholars will create new scholarships for students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class to attend a four-year institution for four years.

The bill’s sponsors are Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem) and Sens. Sandra B. Cunningham, (Hudson), Robert W. Singer (Monmouth and Ocean), and Linda R. Greenstein (Mercer and Middlesex).

February 6, 2018

Today is the 18th annual National Black HIV Awareness Day.

New Jersey Department of Health officials are marking it by encouraging African-American residents to take proactive steps to protect themselves and their community from HIV/AIDS.

“New Jersey has been making great progress in reducing transmissions of HIV with medical advances in HIV prevention and treatment methods,” said Acting Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal. “However, minority communities are disproportionately affected, and while African-Americans are 15 percent of New Jersey’s total population they represent 50 percent of those currently living with HIV/AIDS in the state.”

There are more than 37,000 people living with HIV in New Jersey.

While there is still work to be done to ensure everyone knows how to protect against HIV, significant progress is being made within the black community. African-Americans are more likely than other races and ethnicities to report that they have been tested for HIV at least once: 68 percent versus 55 percent for Hispanics and 37 percent for whites, based on data from the New Jersey Behavioral Risk Factor Survey.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested at least once, and those at higher risk should be tested at least once annually. Healthcare professionals should offer an HIV test as part of routine care.

February 5, 2018

New Jerseyans have decidedly mixed feelings about their home state, according today's Rutgers-Eagleton poll and newly released "2018 State of the Garden State" report.

Nothing upsets residents more than the way their state government has handled taxes: 82 percent of residents say they are dissatisfied — 60 percent consider themselves "very" dissatisfied — with how the government has managed the issue. Three quarters say the same about cost of living and government spending.

Residents' itch to move out of New Jersey has grown in the past decade — from 22 percent in March 2010 to 30 percent. Forty-six percent want to stay exactly where they are and continue living in their current neighborhood, a double-digit drop from when the question was last asked almost eight years ago. Six percent now say they want to move somewhere else in their current town, and 15 percent want to move elsewhere within the Garden State. Millennials are one of the biggest flight risks for New Jersey, with more than a third wanting to move out of the state entirely.

Yet despite an increase in those who want to leave the state, residents continue a longtime pattern of being more positive than negative about New Jersey as a place to live - 61 percent ("excellent"/"good") to 39 percent ("fair"/"poor"). Yet this is a notable drop-off from how residents rated quality of life at the turn of the 21st century and for decades before that, with ratings frequently surpassing the 70 percent mark for most of the poll's history.

February 2, 2018

Don’t break out the bongs just yet, even though Gov. Phil Murphy has pledged to legalize marijuana as part of his criminal-justice reform agenda. It seems that not all New Jerseyans are fired up about legalizing marijuana. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, released yesterday, found that while a majority support some changes to existing law, the percentage in favor of the legal sale and use is 42 percent. Fifty-three percent would support something other than the legalized sale and use of the drug, and 27 percent want to maintain the illegal status of recreational marijuana while allowing medicinal use of the drug. A majority of those polled favor revisiting the charges against those previously convicted of marijuana offenses.

February 1, 2018

Which states benefit most in economic terms from immigration and which benefit least? The personal-finance website WalletHub analyzed that aspect of the currently hot-button political issue and released the results this week. Among its findings — New Jersey rates third overall among the states that benefit most from its immigrant population. The others in the top five are New York (1st), California (2nd), Massachusetts (4th), and Delaware (5th). At the other end of the scale are Idaho, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and, last of all, Mississippi.

Other key findings related to the Garden State: New Jersey ranks first among the states for the percentage of foreign-born STEM workers out of its total STEM labor force; second for the percentage of jobs generated by immigrant-owned businesses; third for the median household income of its foreign-born population; and eleventh for the percentage of its foreign-born population aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

January 31, 2018

The latest FDU Public Mind Poll indicates that Gov. Phil Murphy is beginning his administration with an approval rating of 35 percent.

Although this is a significant improvement over public support for the outgoing Christie administration, Murphy's numbers are considerably lower than for his past two predecessors when they began their terms in office.

Among adults in New Jersey, around a third (35 percent) say they approve of the job Murphy's doing so far, with a fifth (21 percent) who disapprove and a plurality (40 percent) who don't know enough to register a response.

"At this point, support, or lack thereof, for Murphy is more of a gut reaction. However, it's notable that Murphy fares worse in the so-called 'honeymoon period' than Christie and Jon Corzine," said Krista Jenkins, director of the FDU Poll and a professor of political science.

In January 2010, when Chris Christie began his two terms in office, 48 percent approved while 31 percent disapproved. Jon Corzine had the support of 47 percent in March 2006 with a 16 percent disapproval rating.

January 30, 2018

After recent changes to the federal tax code put a $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes, Gov. Phil Murphy and U.S. Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Bill Pascrell proposed using property-tax payments as charitable contributions to help New Jersey homeowners get around the cap and maybe take a lesser hit when paying their federal taxes.

Unfortunately, that strategy is highly unlikely to work, if a New Jersey Society of CPAs’ poll is anything to go by: Of 828 certified public accountants who were polled this month, more than 70 percent said the maneuver would not pass muster with the Internal Revenue Service.

The accountants pointed out that since taxpayers would receive a benefit from their charitable donation, such as a reduction in their property taxes equal to the amount of their donation, it would not qualify as a contribution. Others warned that the strategy might lead to an increased risk of audit. Some also doubted the IRS would grant a 501(c)(3) status to the proposed creation of related charitable trusts.

January 29, 2018

As the state that gave the world Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey has more than enough street cred. No surprise then, that there were 13 Grammy nominees who either hail from or live in the Garden State at last night's gala:

  • Jack Antonoff (Bergenfield)

  • Cardi B (Englewood)

  • Jean and Marcus Baylor (nominated for their band The Baylor Project, from Morristown)

  • Bill Charlap (Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University in Wayne)

  • Tom Coyne (Elizabeth)

  • Alex Han (Tenafly)

  • Ice-T (nominated in his band Body Count, from Newark)

  • Jake Luhrs (nominated as part of the band August Burns Red, from Montclair)

  • Christian McBride (Montclair)

  • James Murphy (Princeton Junction)

  • Robert Randolph (nominated with his band Robert Randolph and the Family Band, from Irvington)

  • Bruce Springsteen (New Jersey)

  • SZA (Maplewood)

Honorable mention: Ted Resnick from Flemington installed the red carpet!

January 25, 2018

Today, we clink our glasses for the Garden State’s wine industry and its contribution to the state’s economy. A new study reports that its economic impact in 2016 amounted to $323 million. That was an increase of almost 40 percent over 2011 ($231 million).

It seems the industry’s been on a bit of tear of late. Between 2011 and 2016, wine production here increased by just over 73 percent (from 405,954 gallons to 702,671 gallons). During the same period, the number of wineries in the state went from 38 to 50. By 2016, 1,582 acres here were under the vine.

The study, which was released by the Garden State Wine Growers Association, notes that most wineries in New Jersey are small, producing less than 5,000 cases a year. And most sell their wine directly to consumers through winery tasting rooms.

January 25, 2018

It's always good to have something tucked away for those rainy days, but apparently New Jersey needs to do a lot more tucking. According to the latest iteration of the Pew Charitable Trust's Fiscal 50 Tool, New Jersey could have operated just 4.6 days on its budget reserve, which totaled slightly more than 1 percent of spending, during fiscal year 2017. The 50-state median was 29.3 days, based on reserve funds that totaled eight percent of spending.

January 24, 2018

WalletHub’s recent ranking of New Jersey as the 10th most-educated state is troubling for several reasons. We usually finish in second place, right behind Massachusetts, which is in its accustomed berth. Why the plummet in position? For one thing, WalletHub is factoring all levels of education into its calculations — from high school diplomas and associate degrees (or “college-experienced adults”) to bachelor’s to graduate and professional degrees. All these certificates are hard won, but should they be counted equally?

New Jersey does just fine for bachelor’s (5th) and graduate/professional degrees (7th) but gets pulled down by finishing 26th for high school and 23rd for associate degrees. We think the assessment and the ranking could have been fairer. WalletHub may disagree.

January 23, 2018

Recently released New Jersey jobs data show a loss of 11,400 jobs in December 2017. Although job numbers rose for 2017 overall, the increase wasn’t anything to write home about; it came to 22,900. Unemployment in the Garden State at the end of last year was 5 percent, which was above the total for the previous year (4.7 percent).

The number of people employed in non-farm jobs in the state at the end of December was 4,166,400. Included in that figure were 406,600 jobs in “goods producing,” 249,200 in manufacturing, and 156,100 in construction. The big job numbers were in education, health, and social assistance services (705,000), government (620,300), and the leisure and hospitality industry (369,800). Jobs in mining and logging? 1,300.

January 22, 2018

New Jersey workers stand to lose $21 million in tips a year under a proposed federal Department of Labor (DOL) rule making it legal for employers to pocket their workers' tips as long as they pay those workers the minimum wage, according to a new report released this week by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The proposed rule, which was unveiled in December, rescinds portions of longstanding DOL regulations that prohibit employers from taking tips. New Jersey has an estimated 140,000 tipped workers, and they are more likely than nontipped workers to live in poor households and lack any type of health insurance.

January 19, 2018

Spending by the so-called Big Six committees totaled 13.3 million in 2017, but the amount was dwarfed by independent special-interest spending, according to an analysis by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).

Independent groups spent $45.4 million on last year's election, more than triple the sum spent by the two state parties and four legislative leadership committees. The governor's seat and all 120 legislative seats were up for re-election.

"Party committees are now regularly outgunned by independent groups during New Jersey's statewide elections," said Jeff Brindle, ELEC's executive director.

In 2007, Big Six committees spent 142 times more than independent groups in the election. By 2017, independent committees spent more than three times the Big Six total. Of the total amount spent by the two groups, the 23 percent share by the Big Six was its lowest ever.

January 18, 2018

H3N2 Virulent flu virus that has knocked NJ for a loop

This year’s influenza outbreak is already the most widespread on record since health officials began keeping track about a dozen years ago, with millions of Americans being infected by emerging and current strains such as the dominant H3N2.

Unfortunately, New Jersey is one of the 26 U.S. states, districts, and territories experiencing high rates of influenza-like illness. The past three weeks have seen a spike in positive laboratory tests for flu throughout the state — particularly in northern and central New Jersey — and in reports of absences in schools and workplaces. Emergency department visits for influenza-like illnesses also have risen during this period.

The flu is nothing to fool around with: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 56,000 influenza-related deaths in the United States for 2012 to 2013.

This year’s vaccination is estimated to be between 10 percent to 30 percent effective, but adults and children are urged to get a flu shot — if they have not yet done so.

While children and people over 65 are most vulnerable, the flu can have complications or be fatal to people of all ages. Women who are pregnant and people with diabetes and other chronic illnesses are also particularly vulnerable.

Enter your ZIP code at www.cdc.gov/flu to find a location near you that is offering flu shots.

January 17, 2018

Rideshare programs like Lyft are a convenient way to get around. Now it appears that they’re a good way to spread some wealth around as well. An economic impact report released by the company indicates that Lyft passengers generated an additional $63 million for local businesses in Newark.

The report also created a profile of Newark Lyft drivers and passengers, including:

29 percent of Lyft passengers use Lyft to connect with public transit;

30 percent of passengers use Lyft to get around when public transit does not operate;

64 percent of drivers identify with a minority group;

71 percent of drivers are the primary earners for their household;

22 percent of rides start in low-income areas.

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