Thursday, December 24, 2009

New Jersey: 49th Happiest State

"We have been asked a lot whether we expected that states like New York and California would do so badly in the happiness ranking. Having visited and lived in various parts of the US, I am only a little surprised. Many people think these states would be marvellous places to live in. The problem is that if too many individuals think that way, they move into those states, and the resulting congestion and house prices make it a non-fulfilling prophecy. In a way, it is like the stock market. If everyone thinks it would be great to buy stock X, that stock is generally already overvalued. Bargains in life are usually found outside the spotlight. It may be that exactly the same is true of the best places to live."

Top 5 Happiest:

  1. Louisiana
  2. Hawaii
  3. Florida
  4. Tennessee
  5. Arizona

Bottom 5

  1. Indiana
  2. Michigan
  3. New Jersey
  4. Connecticut
  5. New York

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

North Jersey corporate costs fifth highest

From The Record

Corporate executives looking to cut costs in the wake of the recession are more likely than ever to flee or avoid New Jersey, according to Princeton firm that specializes in helping companies relocate.

The Boyd Co. Inc. on Monday released a study that found North Jersey is the fifth most expensive place to site a corporate headquarters, costing $27.9 million a year to operate.

New York City topped the list, followed by San Francisco, Stamford, Conn. and San Jose, Calif.

John Boyd Jr., a company vice president, who compiled the report, said New Jersey’s high costs have deterred companies from expanding in the state for years. But the recession has significantly heightened the competition between states, to the detriment of those with a high cost of doing business, he said.

“The corporate headquarters arena is the next big frontier for corporate cost cutting,” said Boyd. “And that’s big news for New Jersey.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ailing States Retirees May Want to Avoid

From U.S. News and World Report

If you're nearing retirement or are considering relocating to a different state any time in the next several years, you need to do some careful thinking about how the recession and housing downturn have affected the finances of different states. The National Governors Association says it will take a decade for states to recover. Many states have had little choice but to raise taxes and fees in the teeth of the recession, and further increases are likely. Even so, public services will decrease, especially after one-time funds from the federal stimulus program stop flowing to the states.

These financial dilemmas will affect the quality of residents' lives, and could change your thinking about the place you'd like to spend your retirement years.

The Pew Center for the States recently released a study listing what it judged to be the country's 10 most imperiled states:

    * California
    * Arizona
    * Rhode Island
    * Michigan
    * Oregon
    * Nevada
    * Florida
    * New Jersey
    * Illinois
    * Wisconsin

California is the unfortunate poster child for states that have been effectively bankrupted during the past few years. Pew ranked all 50 states using six factors that it said had played major roles in California's spiraling financial decline: 1) high mortgage foreclosure rates; 2) worsening unemployment; 3) loss of state revenues; 4) the percentage size of the state's budget shortfall; 5) a legislative supermajority requirement that makes it hard to enact tax and budget cuts, and 6) a Pew ranking of how poorly each state managed its money. California had the high score of 30—a bad thing in this ranking—and scores in the other nine states ranged from 28 in Arizona down to 22 in Wisconsin. Pew noted, however, that many other states also were hurting and, in fact, the national average state score was 17.

While Pew focused on the more troubled states, it's worth noting the 10 states that had the lowest, or best, scores on its ranking system:

    * Wyoming (score: 6)
    * Iowa (score: 7)
    * Nebraska (score: 7)
    * Montana (score: 9)
    * North Dakota (score: 9)
    * Texas (score: 9)
    * Pennsylvania (score: 11)
    * Utah (score: 11)
    * South Dakota (score: 12)
    * West Virginia (score: 12)

Of these states, Wyoming, Texas, and South Dakota have no state income tax. has a detailed look at the various taxes levied by each state. To help provide a rough guide of how far your dollars will go in other places, has a free set of city cost-of-living reports that include comparisons with other cities.

There are, of course, many other reasons why a location might or might not be attractive. But it can't hurt to see which places might be most friendly to your finances.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"What you don’t see is how to regionalize and save money."

Local N.J. officials at annual conference focus on spending, not saving, taxpayer money

Much of the focus for New Jersey’s local government leaders at their annual conference in Atlantic City this week is on spending money — despite property tax bills that are at an all-time high.

Attendees are greeted inside the convention center by a sea of booths advertising products and services that are being offered by vendors who feed off taxpayer-funded contracts.

And the agenda for the convention, organized every year by the New Jersey League of Municipalities, is filled with workshops that teach local officials different ways to use their budgets for everything from crime prevention and green energy to transportation infrastructure and "emerging video technologies."

"You see a lot of ways to spend money," Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said. "What you don’t see is how to regionalize and save money."

About 20,000 people are expected to attend this year’s event, which runs through Friday. Many are billing their communities for meals and lodging, and most are in a public pension system that is teetering toward collapse, one that was the subject of a conference session held on Tuesday.

Other seminars are geared toward better collecting tax money. One is scheduled for Thursday afternoon that will offer ways local officials can fight their residents’ property tax assessment appeals in an effort to maintain their current budgets.

Another workshop scheduled for Friday will teach ways to use digital technology to improve tax maps.

The agenda includes a number of workshops focused on budget savings, including several discussions on consolidation and shared services, two themes that were often heard during the recent gubernatorial election, which saw voters side with Republican Chris Christie, the candidate who most aggressively called for tax cuts and reduced corruption.

Others seminars talk about ways to find savings through auditing, energy conservation and the use of new technologies.

"I think everyone here is focused on how we’re going to have more efficient government," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union). "They’re the ones people are stopping in the grocery stores." But only a handful of workshops will directly take on local property tax bills that are at an all-time statewide average high of $7,045.

Kean and Sweeney participated in a well-attended legislative forum this afternoon, where state mandates and other state policies were blamed.

The lawmakers were challenged by Tenafly Mayor Peter Rustin to do a better job of checking state spending.

"The government can’t be all things to everybody," he said.

But when asked what he would cut, Rustin replied: "My budget isn’t as bad as yours."

Sweeney said there has to be a focus on sharing services and overcoming a tradition of home rule that is celebrated at the conference.

"It’s not always the answer, but a lot of times it is the answer," said Sweeney, who also serves on the Freeholder Board in Gloucester County.

The conference agenda, meanwhile, is offering only a few sessions on ethics and pay-to-play — the practice of financing elections with contributions from regular government contractors — despite recent high-profile corruption busts that resulted in the arrests of several officials.

One of those local representatives in trouble, former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, was indicted on corruption charges earlier this week.

Ingrid Reed, director of Rutgers’ New Jersey project and the chair of the state’s Local Government Ethics Task Force, led a session today she said served as an introduction.

Citizens are demanding more transparency from their local governments when it comes to budgeting, competitive bidding of government work and conflicts of interest, she said.

"I think that’s really what people are concerned about," Reed said. "It’s not just bribery that they’re dealing with, it’s relationships that are built up over time that are not examined."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

“New Jerseyans are simply unsure about how good a place to live the state will be in 10 years"

From The Star Ledger

Only a little more than a third of New Jerseyans think living in the state will get better over the next decade, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll out today.

While 35 percent believed things would improve in the next 10 years, the poll found 41 percent believe conditions will stay the same and 19 percent think they will get worse.

Following Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s Nov. 3 victory, 43 percent of Republicans are more optimistic about the state’s future while 32 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of independents have positive outlooks. In 1999, New Jerseyans had similar feelings about the next 10 years when 38 percent thought things would be better and 27 percent thought they would worsen.

Pollsters asked 903 adults to evaluate the state’s economic future and their their own economic, social and quality-of-life concerns for the next 10 years. A 1999 Rutgers-Eagleton poll posed similar questions. They found state residents worry more about economic issues than they 10 years ago, but that they are not more pessimistic overall.

The poll was conducted Nov. 6-10 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for the full sample and plus or minus 4.6 percentage points for subsamples of about 450 respondents.

“New Jerseyans are simply unsure about how good a place to live the state will be in 10 years,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Ten years ago, about 60 percent thought the state would either stay the same or get worse as a place to live. There is clearly a long-term lack of positive expectations about the future of New Jersey.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Games Never End

Democrats discuss having Corzine resign early, then replace Lautenberg

STATEWIDE -- In what could become the highest profile game of political musical chairs in the state, Democratic sources claim they are considering replacing U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg with outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine.

It would work like this: Corzine would resign prior to January, when Republican Christopher Christie takes over as governor. A Corzine resignation would allow state Sen. President Richard Codey to serve as acting governor. Then Lautenberg would retire from the U.S. Senate, leaving Codey to name Corzine to fill the seat until a special election.

This is similar to a move made when Corzine resigned the senate to become governor, when he named then Rep. Bob Menendez to fill his own seat.

The move would prevent Christie from being able to name a replacement for the aging Lautenberg and would give Corzine a leg up as a senate incumbent in the special election next November.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Study finds Jersey's pollution on the rise

From The Star Ledger:

New Jersey remains among the top 20 states where carbon-dioxide emissions are steadily increasing, according to a state-by-state assessment of pollution contributions released yesterday by the group Environment New Jersey.

The 63-page analytical study, compiled from U.S. Department of Energy data and international sources, ranks the Garden State at 16 among the other 50 states for overall carbon emissions, and it concludes that pollution output has increased by 16 percent in the state over 1990 levels.

While the state ranking is well behind neighboring Pennsylvania, which is third in the nation for emissions, and New York, which ranked eighth, it is well ahead of neighboring Delaware, which ranked at 46th for carbon emissions.

Additionally, Environment New Jersey said the data show states like Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts and even New York, while still high in overall emissions, have reduced their overall emissions output since 1990, while New Jersey has steadily increased. New Jersey also bucks the national trend in that, where transportation is the nation's second-leading source of carbon dioxide pollution, it is the leading cause in the Garden State.

"In New Jersey, transportation was hands down the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions at 53.5 percent. "¦ More pollution than ever before is not a trend we want to be setting," said Matt Elliott of Environment New Jersey, citing statistics compiled in the report, entitled "Too Much Pollution."

Zoe Baldwin, the New Jersey advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the state needs to expand mass transit and address the reasons people drive so much in the state.

"We need to make sure we are stopping sprawl development so that people do not have to drive or drive as far," she said.

Baldwin acknowledged that a great deal of the state's traffic stems from interstate travel, with motorists passing through New Jersey to reach destinations such as New York City. But she contends the state still has the ability to reduce its overall traffic.

"We're not doing enough in New Jersey to shift the travel patterns," she said.

The report is based on data collected as of 2007, but acknowledges newer Department of Energy figures showing energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States dropped overall by about 2.8 percent in 2008, reaching their lowest level since 2001 and marking the largest decline since the recession of 1982. The decline has been largely attributed to soaring oil prices in 2008 and the economic downturn.

The leading cause in the nation for carbon emissions is electricity generation, and the report blames a heavy reliance on coal plants.

The group instead endorsed the development of other, alternative energy sources, demanding the state accelerate efforts to build off-shore wind farms and expand the use of solar energy panels.

A state energy goal, set by Gov. Jon Corzine, vows to have 30 percent of the state's electricity produced through wind and solar power by 2020.

The Environment New Jersey report is being released in conjunction with next month's international "Climate Conference" in Copenhagen and congressional debates over controversial "cap-and-trade" legislation designed to reduce the nation's carbon dioxide output.