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.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

There's just an underlying sense of trust that the East Coast doesn't have

North Dakota reels in a New Jersey native

While in North Dakota, Lasky acquired a motorcycle and began exploring the state. He fell in love with the Badlands, and he has a ready answer for friends in New Jersey who ask about the cold and question what there is to do. His parents came to share his appreciation for North Dakota after paying a visit.

"The people are just amazing in Minot and North Dakota in general," Lasky said. "When I moved here, Mac told me the people here are different. That's why people stay. It's just true. It seems like there's just an underlying sense of trust that the East Coast doesn't have."

Lasky also found compassion, through such examples as the city's eight soup kitchens, all run by churches.

"They care," he said. "You can just clearly see that in the way they talk and the way they act. That encouraged me to give it my best."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Documentary Exposes Mass Corruption in New Jersey Public School System

From Reason:

Over the weekend, I spoke at a conference in Philadelphia hosted by Students for Liberty, an impressive, rapidly growing national affiliation of libertarian-minded college students. One of the other speakers was Bob Bowdon, the occasional "reporter" for the Onion News Network (where he goes by the character name Brian Scott) and host of a forthcoming talk show on PBS.

Bowdon was speaking to promote The Cartel, a serious documentary he produced exposing some jaw-dropping corruption in the New Jersey public school system. New Jersey spends more education dollars per pupil than any other state, which Bowdon says made the state ideal for a documentary showing how much of that money goes to waste—and how little it buys in terms of actual education.

NJ: 400,000 people flee since 2000

Christie inherits a state that's in arguably the worst financial condition in its 233- year history. Last year's $7 billion shortfall, closed with stimulus dollars and tax hikes, has resurfaced at an even larger $8 billion for 2010. Residents face crippling property taxes (an average of $7,000 per capita), high income and sales taxes, $45 billion in debt and the net loss of 400,000 people since 2000.

From the NY Post

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Jersey home prices down in Q3

From the National Association of Realtors:

Metropolitan Area Existing-Home Prices and State Existing-Home Sales 

Metropolitan Area / Q3 Year over Year Price Decline

Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ / Down 6.1%
Atlantic City, NJ / Down 10.4%
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA / Down 14.1%
New York-Wayne-White Plains, NY-NJ / Down 13.9%
NY: Edison, NJ -/ Down 8.9%
NY: Nassau-Suffolk, NY / Down 9.2%
NY: Newark-Union, NJ-PA / Down 14.8%
Trenton-Ewing, NJ / Down 15.0%

Please visit the excellent New Jersey Real Estate Report for comprehensive coverage of the housing market in NJ. 

NJ #2 in U.S. for solar energy

PSE&G cleared for additional NJ solar projects

NEWARK, N.J. - New Jersey's largest utility has received permission from state regulators to finance another 51 megawatts of solar power , enough energy for more than 45,000 homes.

The Garden State is second only to California, with 100 megawatts of installed solar generating capacity.

Tuesday's decision means Public Service Electric and Gas Company can lend another $143 million to its customers to finance solar energy systems on homes, businesses and municipal government buildings.

The solar loan program has received applications for projects worth $105 million since it began in April 2008. Those earlier projects will be capable of generating 30 megawatts of solar power when they're all completed.

New Jersey anti-sprawl program proving ineffective

From WHYY, audio link available

Sprawling commercial developments across New Jersey have raised concern from legislators that towns are losing their green space, and traffic is becoming congested. Nearly five years ago, New Jersey passed a law allowing townships to adopt a program to help them mitigate sprawl, but only one town has taken advantage of it.

Under the program Transfer of Development Rights, developers have to pay property owners for their development rights, which they receive in the form of credits.  Those developers can then apply those credits in specially designated high density areas.

Carlos Rodriguez is New Jersey Director of Regional Plan Association.  He worked at the New Jersey Office of Smart Growth, which administers the program, for ten years.  He says Transfer of Development Rights is a costly and complicated proposition for towns.

Rodriguez: "What would help is if the legislature were to reevaluate the requirements that are contained in the statute in order to make it less onerous."

While New Jersey's program can cost up to $400,000, towns in Pennsylvania can do it for just $35,000, bypassing the state and county.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Talk To The Hand

Witty article written by Amy Alkon about how she confronted rudeness in our society.

The stereotype that New Jerseyans are a rude bunch does contain at least a grain, or two or three, of truth. There are some good pointers here on how to deal with and help neutralize rudeness.

I See Rude People

The fortysomething woman came within inches of crashing her Volvo station wagon into my car while simultaneously trying to park with one hand and yammer into the cell phone she was holding in the other.

When I beeped to keep her from swerving into me, she vigorously and repeatedly flipped me the bird (I guess to punish me for existing, and directly behind her to boot). For her grand finale, she exited her car in workout gear, toting a yoga mat, and snarled back at me, "Just off to find a little inner peace, you redheaded bitch!"

Uh, have a nice day!

An aggressive lack of consideration for others is spreading across this country like a case of crabs through a sleepaway camp, and there isn't a lot standing in the way. Although people are quick to blame rampant rudeness on advances in technology, the unfortunate truth is, rudeness is the human condition. We modern humans are a bunch of grabby, self-involved jerks, the same as generations of humans before us. It's just that there are fewer constraints on our grabby, self-involved jerkhood than ever before. We're guided by quaint Stone Age brains, suited to manage social interactions within a small tribe—yet we're living in endlessly sprawling areas that would more accurately be called "stranger-hoods" than neighborhoods.

People understand how they're supposed to act because of social norms. But every time brutes engage in some form of social thuggery, they make it that much more acceptable for somebody else to do it. Others begin to imitate their behavior unthinkingly, or feel stupid or silly for feeling some compunction about following their lead.

For most of my life, I didn't pay much attention to rudeness. And then, one day, I just couldn't take it anymore. Overnight, I was like that "I see dead people" kid, except it was "I see rude people." They were everywhere: pushing, shoving, shouting into cell phones; leaving snotted-up Kleenex in the airplane seat pocket for the next passenger. Like Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider and turned into Spiderman, I was transformed.

Intervention I: The Mobile Savage

A woman in the Hollywood Hills Starbucks decided to treat all the other customers there to a command performance of her impromptu spoken-word masterwork, "The Birthday Party Invitation." She made five very loud calls—each the same as the last—giving her name (Carol), detailed directions to a kid's birthday party at her house, plus the time, plus her home phone number. I left this message on her voice mail when I got home:

Carol, Carol, Carol...the microphone on a cell phone is actually quite sensitive. There's no need to yell. You look like a nice woman. You probably didn't realize that your repeated shouting into your cell phone drove a number of people out of the coffee bar today. Beyond that, you might consider that I'm just one of about 20 people who know that you live at "555 Ferngrove Street," and that you're having a bunch of six-year-olds over at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Now, I'm just a newspaper columnist, not a pedophile, but it's kind of an unnecessary security risk you're taking, huh? Bye!

Intervention II: It's Only Free for Telemarketers to Call You Because You Have Yet to Invoice Them

Even casual acquaintances know better than to dial my number on Monday or Tuesday, when I'm on deadline for my advice column, so the shrill ring of my phone late one Monday afternoon came as a surprise.

"Hello...? Hello...? HELLO?"

Was anybody even there? Not exactly. It took a couple of seconds for the recording to start: "Hello, this is Tim Snee, vice president of Smart & Final..."

Oh, is it? Great. Because if you're phoning me at home in the middle of my deadline, there's an appropriate next line to your call, and it goes something like "...and someone's died and left you a townhouse in the center of Paris."

But that wasn't Mr. Snee's message at all. Snee, I learned, was having some difficulty keeping shelves stocked at the warehouse store Smart & Final. He wanted to let his customers know they were working to solve the problem—lest anybody defect to Costco for their 100-packs of Charmin.

Yoohoo...Mr. Snee? You autodialed the wrong girl.

Now, I know most people just sigh and hang up when they get a call like Snee's—which is why we all get calls like Snee's. My time and energy are valuable, and he'd just helped himself to both. I drafted a letter spelling out my disgust for Snee's business practices and invoicing him for $63.20, and I e-mailed it to him:


How dare you call me at home with a recorded message? I am on the Do Not Call list, and I value my privacy. You woke me up in the middle of my nap during my deadline. Consider this an invoice for disturbing me: $63.20, which is my hourly rate for writing, since I'll probably lose at least an hour thanks to your interruption. I'll now try to go back to sleep so I can get my writing done.
I'm considering reporting you to the California Attorney General. Have a bad day.
—Amy Alkon

A few days later, I got this e-mail from Randall Oliver, Smart & Final's "director of corporate communications":

Ms. Alkon:
I am very sorry that we disturbed you close to your writing deadline. Our message was meant to provide a helpful update to our customers, not to irritate them. Nearly all of the responses we have received have been very positive.

Really? Did other customers call you up and say, "I'm so lonely, nothing makes my day like getting a recorded message smack in the middle of my afternoon nap!"?

And finally, Oliver wrote:

We value you as a customer and hope to continue to do business with you. We'd be happy to send you a check for $63.20 as requested or alternatively would be even happier to provide you a $100 Smart Card for use at Smart & Final. Please let me know which option you would prefer. 

I took the $100.

As wacky as my pranks may sound to some, behind every one is the message that it isn't crazy to expect people to have manners and consideration; it's crazy when we're seen as crazy for expecting it. If we're increasingly finding ourselves residents of Meanland, it's only because we aren't doing anything to change that. We get the society we create; or rather, the society we let happen to us. I'm hoping my book, I See Rude People, will galvanize at least a few people into performing their own interventions on the rude. But if we all just make an effort to treat strangers like they matter, maybe they'll be inspired to treat us like we matter, and maybe, just maybe, life won't feel quite so much like one long wrestling smackdown.

Excerpted from I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle to Beat Some Manners into Impolite Society by Amy Alkon (Nov. 27, 2009, McGraw-Hill)

Pharma's Decline In New Jersey

In 1990, 20 percent of the nation’s pharmaceutical jobs were in New Jersey. It now has 13 percent of them. From 2007 to 2008, the state lost 10 percent of its jobs in the high-paying industry.

Now a wave of pharmaceutical consolidations involving New Jersey firms, including Pfizer Inc.’s purchase of Wyeth in Madison and Merck & Co. Inc.’s purchase of Schering-Plough Corp., headquartered in Kenilworth, is likely to cost the state even more of those jobs.

N.J. has been hit hard by the recession

Sunday, November 8, 2009

NJ Cost/Benefit Analysis: We're Getting Shafted

Paul Mulshine sums it up perfectly

This article in the City Journal titled "The Big-Spending, High-Taxing, Lousy-Services Paradigm" is about California. But the author's conclusions apply equally to New Jersey.

William Voegeli makes the same point that I have been making for years: Don't believe politicians when they get up on their hind legs and tell you your state has high taxes because it provides a high level of services.

Those services don't exist. Every time I hear a Trenton pol tell me that I'm getting a high level of services in return for the extortionate level of taxes I pay, I ask that pol to name a single service provided today that wasn't provided before this state got an income tax in 1976.

I've yet to get an answer. The roads, libraries, schools, police services, fire services, etc. are all about the same as they were back then. And when I went to Rutgers in the early '70s, I paid about a tenth the tuition that it now costs to send my daughter there.

So where's the big improvement?

I don't see it. I'm sure you don't either. The improvement is enjoyed entirely by public employees, not the public. They have good salaries and great retirement benefits, and some can retire in their '40s. Meanwhile the rest of us will be working into our 80s to pay their pensions.

And it's the same in California, as Voegeli writes in comparing that state to Texas, which has much lower taxes but an equal level of service:

"What is surprising is the growing evidence that the low-benefit, low-tax alternative succeeds not only on its own terms but also according to the criteria used by defenders of high benefits and high taxes. Whatever theoretical claims are made for imposing high taxes to provide generous government benefits, the practical reality is that these public goods are, increasingly, neither public nor good: their beneficiaries are mostly the service providers themselves, and their quality is poor."

This is the problem here in Jersey, and as Voegeli notes, it is almost impossible to fix. Creating commissions to study efficiency and consolidation, as Chris Christie proposes, was tried in California and failed miserably. It won't work here either.

Anyway, read Voegeli's entire article if you wish to comment.

Where the Jobs Will Be in 2010

 From Business Week 

A full-fledged job recovery seems to be a long way away. But some metros are poised for significant job growth by the first quarter of next year. teamed up with Moody's to identify America's 25 next recovering job markets. These metros were ranked based on's projected job growth in the first three months of 2010.

Topping the list is Mount Vernon, Wash., a small town about 60 miles north of Seattle with just 48,000 workers. The town, which lost jobs quickly during the recession, could see a rebound, in part because tourism, retail, and hospitality will make a comeback as the economy improves. Additionally, the weak dollar will provide a boost to communities with international trading ports and metros that border Mexico, such as Brownsville, Tex. (a port town that is No. 4 on our list), and border town McCallen, Tex. (No. 3). Our list was also packed with towns that are closely linked to the energy industry (Billings, Mont., Houston, Tex., and Farmington, N.M.), college towns (College Station, Tex., Tuscaloosa, Ala., Auburn, Ala., and Lawrence, Kan.), and military towns (Columbus, Ga., Augusta, Ga., and Texarkana, Tex.).

None of the metros on the list experienced a housing bubble that had a disastrous pop. Miami, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Stockton, Calif., will likely be in a funk long after many Texas metros are in growth mode.

"These are areas that had little or no housing cycle and stand to benefit from the renewed firmness in commodity prices," said Chris Lefakis, an economist at Moody's "This could be an export-lead recovery with the replenishment of inventory leading to a resurgence in manufacturing."

America's 10 Next Recovering Job Markets
1. Mount Vernon, Wash.
Q1 2010 annualized job growth: 2.7%
Q3 2009 annualized job growth: -4%

First quarter of recovery: Q4 2009
Unemployment rate: 10.1%
Median household income: $53,656

Mount Vernon, a small town in the Skagit Valley, about 60 miles north of Seattle and 80 miles south of Vancouver, has a historic downtown, nearby whale-watching tours, eagle-watching and kayaking. The town's small job market has retracted significantly and could be poised for a rebound. Mount Vernon's relative affordability makes it an attractive alternative to Seattle.
2. Huntsville, Ala.
Q1 2010 annualized job growth: 2.6%
Q3 2009 annualized job growth: -2%

First quarter of recovery: Q4 2009
Unemployment rate: 8%
Median household income: $51,798

Huntsville's strong economy is likely to get stronger. Builders are busy putting up new apartments and houses to accommodate hundreds of families moving into the area as part of the Base Realignment & Closure consolidations at Redstone Arsenal. In addition to the arsenal, the city is known as the home of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, where scientists designed space rockets in the 1950s and visitors now come for interactive exhibits, rides, and movies.
3. McAllen, Tex.
Q1 2010 annualized job growth: 2.6%
Q3 2009 annualized job growth: 5.6%

First quarter of recovery: Q4 2009
Unemployment rate: 11.8%
Median household income: $30,157

McAllen, an affordable town about 10 miles from the Mexican border, is growing quickly with the arrival of immigrants, including wealthy Mexican homeowners. The health-care, education, and business sectors are expanding to accommodate the new residents.
4. Brownsville, Tex.
Q1 2010 annualized job growth: 2.2%
Q3 2009 annualized job growth: 1.7%

First quarter of recovery: Q4 2009
Unemployment rate: 10.9%
Median household income: $29,519

Brownsville, with a population of nearly 200,000, is booming in large part because of the Port of Brownsville, the state's southernmost international seaport. The weakening dollar could continue to give a boost to exporters in the coming year.
5. Auburn, Ala.
Q1 2010 annualized job growth: 1.9%
Q3 2009 annualized job growth: -1.8%

First quarter of recovery: Q4 2009
Unemployment rate: 8.8%
Median household income: $39,299

Auburn, a small college town located just west of the Georgia border, is centered around Auburn University, which employs more than 7,000 people. Small college towns have been relatively protected during the recession.
6. Lawrence, Kan.
Q1 2010 annualized job growth: 1.8%
Q3 2009 annualized job growth: -11.5%

First quarter of recovery: Q1 2010
Unemployment rate: 5.5%
Median household income: $51,803

Despite its recently slowing job market, Lawrence has a robust unemployment rate of just 5.5%. Lawrence is home to the University of Kansas and—like many other small college towns—it is likely to pull out of the recession relatively quickly. The politically progressive town draws retirees and other newcomers with its affordable cost of living and cultural offerings.
7. Dallas
Q1 2010 annualized job growth: 1.7%
Q3 2009 annualized job growth: -0.5%

First quarter of recovery: Q1 2010
Unemployment rate: 8.5%
Median household income: $55,591

Texas' Dallas metro has a diverse economy that held up well during the recession. It is home to major corporations such as ExxonMobil, J.C. Penney, and TXU Energy; it also has a major international airport and professional sports teams.
8. Laredo, Tex.
Q1 2010 annualized job growth: 1.6%
Q3 2009 annualized job growth: -2.1%

First quarter of recovery: Q1 2010
Unemployment rate: 9.5%
Median household income: $34,048

Fast-growing Laredo is known as the "Gateway City" because it is one of the busiest entry points into the U.S. from Mexico. The metro benefits from vigorous cross-border trade.
9. Las Cruces, N.M.
Q1 2010 annualized job growth: 1.5%
Q3 2009 annualized job growth: -5.7%

First quarter of recovery: Q1 2010
Unemployment rate: 7.4%
Median household income: $38,424

Las Cruces, home of New Mexico State University, is both a border town and a college town, which should keep the job market relatively strong into next year.
10. Billings, Mont.
Q1 2010 annualized job growth: 1.5%
Q3 2009 annualized job growth: -3.5%

First quarter of recovery: Q1 2010
Unemployment rate: 5.1%
Median household income: $49,386

Billings, the state's largest city, has a strong and diverse economy fed by agriculture, mining, energy, education, and health care. Its energy sector, which includes oil refineries, natural gas, and coal, is likely to help keep the local economy strong into next year.

Methodology: The metropolitan statistical areas were ranked based on Moody's job growth forecasts for the first quarter next year. The first quarter of recovery is the first quarter in which metro payrolls began to expand. The metro unemployment rate was for September 2009 and was provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median household income came from U.S. Census.

NJ now providing more detailed patient safety data

 Link to article

TRENTON, N.J. - For the first time, New Jersey consumers can access detailed information on patient safety at hospitals throughout the Garden State.

State health officials recently released a report that shows each hospital's patient safety performance and incidence of serious medical errors , such as operating on the wrong body part or leaving a sponge or instrument inside a patient's body.

While health care facilities had already reported preventable medical mistakes, the state had previously just published the number of errors, not the data for individual hospitals.

The new information is included the New Jersey Hospital Performance Report, published annually by the state Department of Health and Senior Services. It can be found at the department's Web site,

You Can't Handle The Truth!!!

Considering that New Jersey has been losing something like 5,000 - 10,000 jobs per month over the past year, this is a sobering forecast:

The numbers from the Rutgers Study apparently indicate that job growth for the period encompassing the years 2008 to 2028 will only amount to 6,550 annually, compared with the administration’s previous projection of 54,000 over the same period.

Governor Corzine asked to Reconsider Withholding Rutgers Housing Study

Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset), continued to call on Governor Jon Corzine today to release the results of a Rutgers study provided to the State Planning Commission that projects future population, employment and housing numbers in New Jersey. The numbers from the Rutgers Study apparently indicate that job growth for the period encompassing the years 2008 to 2028 will only amount to 6,550 annually, compared with the administration’s previous projection of 54,000 over the same period.

“These numbers are extremely important and will have a significant impact on the future development of New Jersey,” Bateman stated. “I can not understand why the Corzine Administration wants to withhold this study. We are talking about jobs, open space preservation, affordable housing and a whole host of other important issues that will impact the everyday lives of New Jersey’s residents.” 

            On September 21, 2009, the State Planning Commission denied an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to release the Rutgers report.  The assessment contains demographic and infrastructure data that will be used to compose a new state plan. The denial is currently under appeal to the Government Records Council.

            “The State Planning Commission and the State Plan are absolutely critical to the future of New Jersey,” Bateman continued.  ”If the Rutgers study is correct, than it is possible we do not need, nor can we afford to build as many as the 116,000 COAH units the administration has planned to build over the next ten years.  This is just one example the impact these numbers will have and why the Corzine administration should be open and honest with the people of this state.”

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Happiness Index: NJ #30

The Happiest:

1. Nebraska
2. Iowa
3. Kansas
4. Oklahoma
5. Montana

The Most Miserable:

46. Idaho
47. Oregon
48. Arizona
49. California
50. Florida Happiness Index: October 2009

How Happy Is Your State?

The newest installment of the Happiness Index has arrived and residents of the Midwest will be happy to learn that their strangle-hold on the top spots remains intact. There have been some big moves however. Vermont made a big leap, and New Jersey and Lousiana took serious tumbles. There’s also been some movement at the bottom and residents of the Sunshine State may be unhappy to learn that, well, they’re the least happy state in the nation, when it comes to money matters.

Here’s how the index works:

The Happiness Index, which analyzes household income, non-mortgage debt, employment and foreclosures, is a fresh take on the old and tired Misery Index, made popular in the 1970s. The Misery Index takes into account unemployment and inflation rates and seeks to identify the most financially miserable places to live.

...The Heavyweight Corruption Champion of the World! (well, of the U.S.A. at least)

The corrupt should not have their pay and benefits cut off

Oh, really? Is there anything else we can can do to ease the punishment for these poor, poor souls and continue to make corruption a crime worth pursuing?

Poll: Half of residents surveyed say Jersey political corruption has no equal

It is just shocking, shocking, but apparently New Jersey's residents believe the state's politics is so corrupt that at least half of those interviewed for a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll are certain that the Garden State's brand of corruption is greater than other states.

So naturally, New Jersey voters elected a former U.S. Attorney whose best known for indicting and jailing crooked politicians.

Rutgers-Eagleton pollsters interviewed residents October 15-20 and found that Garden Staters may be cynical but they are divided about whether the guilty pols deserve tough penalties. The corrupt should not have their pay and benefits cut off, but officials should step down once they are accused.

Oddly, these poll findings are just a little bit different from one Rutgers-Eagleton did in 2003 with the Star-Ledger where those surveyed about the quality of government thought New Jersey's political ethics were on the decline and only 1 percent thought government quality was excellent.

"What about the children!?" in 3...2...1...

Reclusive bobcat caught on camera in Water Gap park

(George Draney Photography)

He had been stalking the big cat for months and finally had the shot of a lifetime --photo shot, that is.

That's how landscape photographer George Draney explained getting a shot of an elusive wild bobcat in Warren County.

Draney, 60, of Washington in Warren County, said he photographed the bobcat on Oct. 21 in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

"I was doing nature photography and in early spring, I spotted it numerous times,'' Draney recalled. So be began staking out a narrow, scrub-lined path twice a week, for about three or four months. A couple of times the bobcat crept by him but was gone before he could shoot a photo, he said.

The morning he finally got the shot, he was sitting in his car near the path and the bobcat was between 25 and 50 yards away, he said.

"I saw it going up the pathway in a hurry, so I thought to make a noise to make it look my way,'' Draney said. "So I whistle real loud, and it stopped. When I shot, it turned, and I got two more shots.''

The animal was the size of a medium dog and he estimated it weighed about 25 pounds. It appeared healthy, he added.

"It gave me quite a look; it really gave me a stare,'' he said. "It didn't look frightened, but disturbed by my being there.''

The Water Gap and other areas of Kitatinny Ridge are the best habitat areas the state has for bobcats, said Mick Valent, a wildlife biologist for the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, who said there's no reason to doubt Draney's account.

State biologists have found bobcat tracks and scat in the Water Gap area, and have photographed them there with motion-sensitive cameras baited with scent, Valent said. Those and other methods are used to calculate the number of wild bobcats living in the state: at least 90, and most live north of Route 80, Valent

Bobcats are on the state list of endangered animals. They had disappeared
by the early 1970s because of habitat loss, so about 20 were brought from Maine from 1978 to 1982 to repopulate them in New Jeresey.

One sign that the big cats have bounced back are the dozen road kills found in
the past year, including one on Route 46 in Parsippany near the Boonton Reservoir this past spring, Valent said.

Bobcats are so shy that they pose no danger for people, he said. They are very reclusive and have individual territories ranging from one square mile to 25 square miles. They eat mice, chipmunks, squirrels and birds.

"There's no shortage of food for bobcats,'' Valent said, explaining why they are not common. "It's the habitat that's critical. Large forested areas are a core requirement. Small patches of woods are not enough.''

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NJ Requires Divine Intervention

Fixing New Jersey's tax burden will take a higher power's help

Republicans and Democrats are spinning their own interpretations of what Tuesday's elections meant on the national level. Let them spin.

The real answer will depend on what the victors will actually be able to do with their victories.

We are especially interested in how our neighbor, New Jersey, makes out.

It is easy to make fun of New Jersey. Many New York comedians do it all the time. But with more than 8.5 million residents, most of the ribbing about the state rolls right off.

But one thing that New Jerseyans haven't ignored is their status as the most highly taxed state in the nation, especially the property tax. And they let Gov. Jon Corzine know they weren't about to put up with it any more. He was soundly defeated him in a three-way race Tuesday.

Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie campaigned on the theme of change, re-enforcing New Jerseyans irritation with their high property taxes, their bloated government and Gov. Corzine's inability to do anything about them.

But Mr. Christie was weak when it came to explaining what he was going to do about the high taxes or how he was going to lower them as he promised. The campaign really was a classic example of seeing which candidate could raise rankles of the most voters.

Republicans everywhere took the Christie victory as a sign that their party is on the way back. Not so fast.

New Jersey is a huge, complicated state, ranging from the tomato farms of Cumberland County to the New York City suburb of Hudson County.

Changing the way it operates -- with its multi-layered governments from boroughs to townships to cities and counties, powerful public employee unions, and the heavy school district tax levies -- will take a miracle -- and then some.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Abandoning the state? Here's your roadmap

Link To Article

"Financial resources are yet another of the critical ingredients that turn policy into results that matter in the lives of a state's population, from environmental protection to education, health and transportation," writes the Pew Center on the States in Grading the States 2008.

"To gauge how well a state is functioning in the Money category, the Government
Performance Project team evaluated the degree to which a state takes a long-term perspective on fiscal matters, the timeliness and transparency of the budget process, the balance between revenues and expenditures, and the effectiveness of a state's contracting, purchasing, financial controls and reporting mechanisms."

Can you guess the states with the best financial performance in the survey? (Hint: Do not guess New Jersey, which received a letter grade of C-minus.) Utah is tops in the nation with an A, followed by Delaware, Nebraska, Virginia and Washington, all with A-minus.

The top states were marked by "transparency in transactions and public access to state fiscal information (which have) become two of the leading indicators of a state that is functioning well in this area. Several promising new practices in real-time tracking of statewide expenditures and budgeting decisions, as well as joint executive and legislative revenue forecasting approaches..."

Oh, well. Perhaps we'll score better for "Infrastructure," how a state maintains,
improves and plans for future physical needs, including roads, bridges and buildings. Nope. Utah is tops again, followed by Florida, Kentucky and Michigan. Us? C-Plus.

Well, we've got to do better in "Information Technology," right? After all, we're wired and oh, so savvy. (Insert sound of buzzer here.) Wrong again! We're a consistent C student -- C-minus in this case.

"Advances in information technology offer the promise of propelling every organization into the future. (The study) examined how well state officials deploy technology and the information it produces to measure the resource effectiveness and results produced by state programs, make budget and other management decisions, and communicate with one another as well as with the public.

"Growing demands for public sector transparency and for public access to services 24/7 are spurring a new level of creativity in meeting citizens' legitimate needs, as well as improving internal business processes."

Michigan, Missouri, Utah, Virginia and Washington all earned As.

The silver lining in the Pew report? If the next governor fails to make headway on these issues and others, at least we'll know where to move.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Jersey and Global Warming

Bye Bye, Hudson County!

Click on the link below for an interactive map which displays the effects of sea level rise on the NY Metro area.

New Jersey Sea Level Rise Map

In the worst case scenario, the melting of the entire Greenland Ice Sheet, towns as far inland as the Passaic River would be inundated. I guess other smaller business hubs, such as Parsippany, Morristown, and Mount Olive might benefit from businesses relocating further inland.

I'm surprised that we here in New Jersey don't hear more about the potential effects from global sea rise. Considering how close we are to the Atlantic, you'd think that it would be more of an issue. Atlantic City, if it's still around that far in the future, would be devastated.

Monday, November 2, 2009

You're Elected Governor of NJ: What's Your Plan?

Tell us what your plan to remedy New Jersey's many ills would be. Among the issues that need attention:

-Property Taxes
-Environmental Problems
-Crumbling Infrastructure
-Inner City Decay
-Whatever else you feel needs to be adddressed

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Does it really matter who wins the election?

Corzine. Christie. Daggett. In the big picture, in the grand scheme of NJ politics and life, I think they are at best a difference of a few degrees. Does anyone believe that any of these three will be able to make any significant difference in the next four or eight years? I think the best we can hope for is that one of them is able to plant some seeds of change, to steer the ship just a degree or two towards the right direction, so that perhaps some day far in the future we might just get pointed back to port.

Every election in my students’ memory, and my own, has been billed as the most pivotal in a generation, and every one has focused on the same issues. Candidates swear they’ll tackle corruption, lower property taxes, and do something good about transportation and something even better about education. Although our candidates tend to come from moneyed towns like Hoboken or Oldwick, they stop for photo ops in ailing cities like Newark and Camden, stand on some benighted corner and make noise about finally fixing the culture of failure entrenched in these places.

Escape From NJ: College Edition

It sounds like once students see the world beyond NJ, they're not too likely to return to home.

N.J. losing out on $6B a year when college students flee state

 When it comes to K-12 education, New Jersey is usually A-1. The state is the nation’s yearly valedictorian, or salutatorian. Certainly never less than fifth in the class.

So why then is New Jersey at the bottom of so many high education categories: 50th in per capita funding; 47th in college capacity, and therefore, worst, by far, at keeping students in-state.

Republican Chris Christie condemns the "brain drain" of New Jersey students going away to college and envisions corporate partnerships to keep students here.

Independent Chris Daggett says higher education is one of his top concerns, condemns the culture of low state support for public colleges.

Gov. Jon Corzine is vulnerable on the issue: state support for four-year public colleges and universities decreased $63 million to $1.436 billion last year and county colleges took an $11 million hit, down to $222 million.

In this economy, more and more New Jersey students want to stay home. At the state’s 19 community colleges enrollment is up 12 percent, nearing 100,000 for the first time. The nine state colleges (not including Rutgers), are also tipping near 100,000, up 20 percent in the last decade.

Yet in real dollars, the state spends less on higher education than it did 20 years ago. That’s one bottom line.

Here’s another.

About 35,000 kids leave New Jersey each year to go to college and take about $6 billion with them.

"When you factor in tuition, transportation and all other student spending, there is significant revenue leaving the state," said Paul Shelly of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities. "My calculations put it at $6 billion."

Shelly says the money isn’t going far, either. Most New Jersey students stay in the Mid-Atlantic or New England.

"New Jersey does much research as to where the students are going. I don’t think they want to admit our money is being exported just over to Lehigh Valley or down in Delaware."

"If we have the amenities and businesses to keep students in town, maybe they’ll consider Newark as place of permanent residence after they graduate," Pryor said.

Extrapolate that to the state, and it is the solution to the "brain drain."

"Studies show a very high percentage of students get their first jobs in the state where they attend college," Shelly said. "I don’t think New Jersey can continue to lose our bright students, the very students we create."

Friday, October 30, 2009

New Jersey is now a stretch of turnpike leading to Florida and North Carolina

Spotted this in a reply to a Wall Street Journal article detailing out migration from New York.

Outmigration is also a problem for New Jersey. Rutgers economists James Hughes and Joseph Seneca calculate the Garden State lost nearly a quarter of a million people between 2002 and 2006.

People are also leaving the region. New Jersey, once a destination for New Yorkers wanting to move to the suburbs, is now a stretch of turnpike leading to Florida and North Carolina.

The reason they are leaving the region is that the cost of government has increased, but the quality of services has not.

I think that sums it up quite well.

New Jersey Job Woes to Persist to 2019, Rutgers Says

 Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey, whose jobless rate is at a 32-year high, will take a decade to get back to pre-recession employment levels, according to economists at Rutgers University.

The most densely populated U.S. state will take until 2019 before the number of people in work surpasses the 2007 peak, said Nancy Mantell, director of the Rutgers Economic Advisory Service.

“The country, in contrast, will begin job expansion three years earlier,” Mantell said in a statement yesterday. “By 2019 it will have 7.7 percent more jobs than at the previous peak.”

New Jersey entered recession in January 2008, one month after the U.S., and has lost 161,300 jobs, or 4 percent of its employment base, Mantell said.

The state shed jobs at a rate comparable with the national figure during the first year of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. In 2009, the pace slowed to 1.8 percent, compared with 2.9 percent nationally.

The New Jersey jobless rate was 9.8 percent in September, up from 4.5 in December 2007, according to data compiled by the State Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The national rate is also 9.8 percent. New Jersey currently has 3.9 million non-farm jobs, according to state figures. In December 2007 it had a record-high 4.1 million such posts.

Slower Income Growth

Income growth in New Jersey will slow to less than 1.5 percent this year as the recession persists, after which it will increase by 4.2 percent annually through 2019, Mantell said.

Moody’s Investors Service lowered its credit outlook on $31 billion of New Jersey debt to negative from stable in August, citing the economic problems and budgetary constraints.

The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services projects the state will confront a deficit of as much as $8 billion next year as rising unemployment and damped consumer spending depress tax receipts. The revenue gap is more than 25 percent of the $29 billion budget enacted by Governor Jon Corzine, the former co- chairman of Goldman Sachs & Co., in June.

Tax and fee collections for the quarter ended Sept. 30 fell $190 million, or 3.1 percent, below estimates, Treasurer David Rousseau said. Corzine ordered $200 million in cuts and directed his cabinet members to identify another $200 million in reductions.

In that spending plan, Corzine’s administration predicted revenue would drop more than 1 percent during the fiscal year ending June 30 from the previous 12-month period.

The only industries that experienced growth during the recession were education, health and “other services,” according to Mantell at Rutgers. Losses have been focused in manufacturing, construction and business services.

“The professional and business services sector will turn around during the recovery and will be, as it was during the past decade, a strong contributor to growth,” Mantell said.

The Top 5 Least Affordable Housing Markets

According to Business Week...

Surprise! We're Number One! We're Number One!

Oh, wait a minute...#1 isn't always good

New York-White Plains, N.Y.-Wayne, N.J.

Homes affordable to median-income families: 21.2%
Affordable homes in Q2 2004: 15.2%
Median home price: $419,000
Median family income: $64,800
Unemployment rate: 9.6%

Manhattan is world famous for its culture and nightlife, but living in or near the city requires most people to stretch their finances. The suburbs include ultra-wealthy Greenwich, Conn.; Alpine, N.J.; and Scarsdale, N.Y. Long commutes are common in the tri-state area because land gets more affordable away from New York.

2. San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif.

Homes affordable to median-income families: 26.9%
Affordable homes in Q2 2004: 13.3%
Median home price: $580,000
Median family income: $96,800
Unemployment rate: 9.3%

3. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.

Homes affordable to median-income families: 31.8%
Affordable homes in Q2 2004: 10.2%
Median home price: $364,000
Median family income: $70,800
Unemployment rate: 9.5%

4. Ocean City, N.J.

Homes affordable to median-income families: 32.6%
Affordable homes in Q2 2004: N/A
Median home price: $350,000
Median family income: $67,200
Unemployment rate: 8.0%

5. Honolulu

Homes affordable to median-income families: 41.8%
Affordable homes in Q2 2004: 45.6%
Median home price: $395,000
Median family income: $79,300
Unemployment rate: 6.1%

You've never been west of Philly, have ya?

From the movie 25th Hour. This monologue often comes to mind, either when talking to those who express incredulity about leaving NJ, or just when daydreaming about life beyond the state's borders.

We'll drive. Keep driving. Head out to the middle of nowhere, take that road as far as it takes us. You've never been west of Philly, have ya? This is a beautiful country Monty, it's beautiful out there, like a different world. Mountains, hills, cows, farms, and white churches. I drove out west with your mother one time, before you was born. Brooklyn to the Pacific in three days. Just enough money for gas, sandwiches, and coffee, but we made it. Every man, woman, and child alive should see the desert one time before they die. Nothin' at all for miles around. Nothin' but sand and rocks and cactus and blue sky. Not a soul in sight. No sirens. No car alarms. Nobody honkin' atcha. No madmen cursin' or pissin' in the streets. You find the silence out there, you find the peace. You can find God. So we drive west, keep driving till we find a nice little town. These towns out in the desert, you know why they got there? People wanted to get way from somewhere else. The desert's for startin' over.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Litany #2: NJ's Got Character!

This is another common statement I hear when discussing life in NJ versus elsewhere in the U.S.

I take it to mean one of two things:

1) NJ has a particular type of character, unique unto itself (TRUE!)
2) Everywhere else lacks character (FALSE!)

Now #1 I can't argue. NJ (like most places) has a vibe and feel that is all it's own. We could discuss for days if not weeks what it entails, but there is no doubt that NJ does have a very strong and unique character.

But #2, though perhaps somewhat based on opinion, seems to me to be more often than not, a statement of ignorance.

Consider the following cities, all well regarded for their character: Savannah, New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Providence, Boston, Philadelphia, Austin....I could go on and on. Please note that I don't just mean the city proper either, but the surrounding metropolitan areas as well, and on into the suburbs.

The folks that argue #2, seem to have this view that once you get outside the NYC/NJ area, that the rest of the country is dull, flavorless, flat, boring, and made up of homogeneous neighborhoods with no trees and no soul. (Wait a minute, that sounds an awful lot like the many Gardens of McMansions that sprang up on manufactured cul de sacs in NJ over the past decade!)

But I digress, almost every part of the U.S. is rich in history, culture, and flavor. It's all a matter of what flavor you like. Read, travel, talk to people that live in other parts of the country. Get a true sense of life outside of NJ, don't just go by what you see on sitcoms and in movies.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

As New Jerseyan as Pizza Pie: Why do you choose to stay?

This is a chance for all of the die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool New Jersey lifers to explain why they would never consider leaving The Garden State. Aside from the obvious (family, friends, career), what are the ties that bind you to NJ?

It's the pizza, isn't it?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Infrastructureless #2: Constructile Dysfunction

1996 - 2008. That is the span of time that it took for approximately three miles of highway on Rt. 3 from Little Falls to Wayne to be expanded and paved. This included the reconstruction of three small overpasses along the way. Twelve years! This works out to one mile of highway being completed per four years.

That's an extreme example, but it seems to be a familiar story throughout New Jersey. Please share your tales of torpid constructile dysfunction.

Jersey City the 13th Best City to Raise a Family??

So says Children's Health Magazine. Does anyone want to attempt to defend this? I'm not suggesting that it's one of the worst places to raise a family, but it certainly doesn't strike me as being among the best.

Children's Health magazine, published by Rodale, named Jersey City the 13th best place to raise a family. The magazine released a top 100 list of municipalities across the nation. The only other city in New Jersey to make the list was Newark, who ranked 46th.

Burlington, Vt. topped this year's list.

"We compared 29 quality of life variables in the areas of employment, health, housing, safety, education and family life to calculate Children's Health's 100 Best Places to Raise Children," the magazine's Web site says.

"This administration and the City Council work tirelessly to improve the quality of life in our city and we are glad to see our efforts be recognized," Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy said. "I am proud of our diversity and progress. From art and culture to recreational activities and leisure past times, we have hundreds of things for families to do. Jersey City has great parks, restaurants, shops and wonderful neighborhoods that continue to attract families here all the time."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where Would You Go?

If you were to leave NJ, where would you consider moving to, and for what reason(s)? Have you spent any significant amount of time in this place? If so, please tell us what the place is all about; the people, history, geography, taxes, traffic, etc - give us the juicy details.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Infrastructureless #1: Traffic Lights

In a state with traffic as heavy as ours, and which prides itself on being modern and progressive, why is it that we are stuck with traffic lights from the 1950's?

First, why do we have so few traffic lights with left hand turn signals? How many of you have been in this situation? You're at a light either waiting to make a left hand turn or behind someone who is trying to do so. The light turns green, but you never get to make that turn because of the relentless traffic coming from the opposite direction. I've seen this happen where folks are stuck at the same light through several cycles because either they or the person in front of them are unable to make that left hand turn.

This frustration in turn leads to many who are attempting a left hand turn to try to "punch it" when the light goes green, in order to beat out the person in the opposing lane. And this of course leads to more shouting matches, accidents, road rage, and general confusion. The law clearly states that the person in the opposing lane driving straight has right of way. If you are turning left across an intersection you do not have right of way, you're supposed to wait until traffic is clear. But we in NJ seem to have become brainwashed into thinking that the polite thing to do is to let the left hand turning person to go first. I can't tell you how many games of herky-jerky-are-you-letting-me-turn aerobics I've witnessed because of this.

But there is an amazingly simple solution to all of this, a traffic light with a left hand turn signal. Such a simple investment would open up the blow off valve and release quite a bit of steam for stressed out (and delayed) NJ drivers. Sometimes, it is the little things that count, especially when they can positively affect our day-to-day lives.

Oh, and on a related note, traffic lights with sensors are helpful too. If you're at a light at 1am and there is no traffic to be seen, wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to sit at that antiquated, timed light for 2-3 minutes?

There was a time when I thought that this is just the way it is, that this is the best mankind had to offer, and since we live in a densely populated area, that we're just screwed. But then, about a decade ago, while out in the Midwest, I was introduced to the glory of the modern traffic light system, complete with traffic sensors and turn lights. But wait I thought, I'm from NJ, one of the wealthiest, best educated, most progressive states in the country! How is it that we don't have this newfangled technology? (and by new, I mean 10+ years old at the time).


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Poll Finds Almost Half of New Jersey Adults Want to Move Out of State

This article is from two years ago. The point, however, still stands and I doubt that the results would be much different if a poll were conducted today. The cost of living is no better and probably worse by many measures, especially considering rising unemployment and wage cuts due to the weakened economy.

The only exception I can think of is that housing costs have come down a bit, making houses more affordable for those buying today. But property taxes certainly are no better and continue to push out both residents as well as businesses.,2933,303159,00.html

Even New Jerseyans can't stand living in New Jersey, according to a new poll that said nearly half of adults residing in the Garden State want to pull up stakes.

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll, released Wednesday, found 49 percent of those polled would rather live somewhere else.

New Jersey already is suffering from an image problem and bears the brunt of jokes because of its corruption and pollution problems. But 58 percent of those residents polled said the heavy financial burden of just living in the state is no laughing matter, and that's why they want to leave.

Poll participants cited high property taxes (28 percent), the cost of living (19 percent), state taxes (5 percent) and housing costs (6 percent) as the main reasons they want out. The poll also found that 51 percent of those who expressed a desire to leave planned to do so, with adults under the age of 50 making between $50,000 and $100,000 the most likely to flee.

"If you have the ability to leave and you don't see any possibility for change with the way the state is run — and that's the No. 1 issue here — you have to vote with your feet," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Gilfillan said Corzine also had cut costs by reducing the government workforce, though he noted people would continue to leave New Jersey as baby boomers retired.

"Demographics are only going to accentuate this trend, as the bulk of these folks have yet to leave the workforce," Gilfillan said.

But a Rutgers University report released last week found that New Jersey, with nearly 9 million people, is experiencing a population loss and said the number of residents who had left the state more than tripled from 2002 to 2006, with 231,565 people moving elsewhere.

The Rutgers Regional Report, which examined U.S. Census Bureau and Internal Revenue Service data, noted 72,547 people left in 2006, ranking New Jersey fourth — behind California, Louisiana and New York — among states with the highest population losses in the nation.

High prices aren't the only thing driving people out. New Jersey ex-pats headed in droves to warmer climates, with 124,584 moving to Florida and 29,803 moving to North Carolina. Others (42,459) moved to neighboring Pennsylvania.

That migration depleted the state's tax coffers of an estimated $10 billion in personal income and $680 million in sales tax, according to the Rutgers report.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jersey earns 10th straight F for air quality

NJ gets a double wallop when it comes to air pollution. Not only do we generate much of it ourselves from transportation, factories, and our own power plants, but we also have to deal with pollutants, specifically mercury and particulate matter, carried over from coal burning plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Regardless of the source, our poor air quality leads to both chronic and acute health problems, which in turn results in an increase in sick days for both students and workers. It's of particular concern to children, the elderly, and those with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

You can read more about it at the links below:

New Jersey officials estimate a third of the air pollution in the state drifts east from power plants and other sources in the Midwest. Lagarenne says the biggest problem area "is really the Ohio River Valley, that's where all these big coal plants are, that's what dumps the mercury which is the worst pollutant."

Air pollution takes a significant toll on human health in New Jersey every year, shortening thousands of lives and sending thousands of people to area hospitals.

Premature death and hospital admissions are the most visible indicators of widespread health damage caused by air pollution. This damage manifests itself in the incidence of disease like chronic bronchitis, increased emergency room visits, more frequent asthma attacks, and missed work days due to respiratory illness in otherwise healthy people. At the root of all of these health problems lies irreparable damage to lung tissues not unlike that caused by second-hand tobacco smoke.

And while our air quality today is somewhat improved from ten years ago, it still gets a failing grade.

New Jersey's air was given failing grades for a 10th consecutive year by the American Lung Association in its annual "State of the Air" report, which again found that people in rural corners of the state suffer as badly as they do in the grittiest urban areas.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

N.J. again finishes near top in out-migration survey

If you're thinking about moving out of NJ, you have plenty of company.

The number of people leaving New Jersey continues to beat the number coming into the state, based on an annual report by Mayflower Transit LLC.

Through August 2009, 58.6 percent of the New Jersey moves handled by the St. Louis-based national moving company were “outbound,” or exiting the state. Only three states — Maine, Nebraska and Michigan — had a higher percentage of people fleeing.

The state’s ranking did improve from 2008, when 59.8 percent of Mayflower's New Jersey moves were outbound and only Michigan and Nebraska fared worse.

“The good news is that we’re not the worst in the nation,” said John Holub, president of the Trenton-based New Jersey Retail Merchants Association.

“It’s no surprise, since reports indicate that New Jersey has one of the highest unemployment rates in the region, and a tax and regulatory climate that’s consistently rated one of the least friendly for businesses,” he said. “It’s a costly and difficult place to do business, and the ripple effect is that people are moving out.”

Organizations like the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program Inc. are trying to help businesses cope with New Jersey’s costly climate by helping them adopt lean manufacturing and other techniques, but it’s still a struggle, said Robert L. Loderstedt III, chief executive officer of the Morris Plains-based organization.

“Companies usually don’t like to leave a state, especially if they have customers and families there,” he said. “But I’m sure that high taxes, a high cost of living and other burdens have something to do with [the Mayflower] numbers. These issues impact individuals and businesses alike.”

Why do you want to leave NJ?

What aspects of life in NJ give you reason to consider moving away to another state? For how long have you been contemplating a move, and how likely are you to actually get up and do it? Aside from family and career, is there anything about NJ that keeps you here and that makes the decision to move difficult?

What destination (or destinations) do you have in mind, and what is it about that place that appeals to you?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Litany: #1 "It's close to NYC!"

Oftentimes, when discussing the thought of escaping from NJ, folks will throw up a barrage of reasons as to why that's just a very bad idea. Many of these reasons are almost like canned responses, as if they've been programmed into us. I refer to them as The Litany.

Don't get me wrong, many if not most of these points do contain at least some shred of truth, but the weight of that truth varies tremendously depending on what your interests, values, hobbies, and desires are.

One of the most frequent points raised as to why someone wouldn't or shouldn't want to leave NJ is because it's close to NYC. This is true, NJ is close to NYC. But why does that matter? First, allow me to explain why it's not a big deal to me.

NYC is a fascinating and interesting place. It's rich in history and culture and pretty much anything you could ever think of can be found there. Yet, I find myself only going there maybe a few times each year. It's just not where I typically tend to choose to spend my time. I go for the occasional obscure, underground concert, museum visit, auto show, etc. Suffice it to say, NYC just isn't a huge priority for me. Therefore the fact that I live near it is not of great importance to me.

To this, many would say that I'm omitting the fact that NYC is an economic powerhouse and a big part of the reason why there are so many good jobs in NJ. This is true, but it also ignores the cost that being near NYC imposes on living here. Higher taxes, higher cost of living, endless traffic (and the resultant air pollution and road rage), crime, corruption, and a culture which values hyper competitiveness and nearly frowns upon cooperation. To some, this may be a plus. The extreme Type A personality might well thrive here.

Now, I do know some folks for which living near NYC is important, either due to career choice or lifestyle. If you're a Broadway aficionado, then it's understandable. If you want a shot at the Gordon Gekko lifestyle, I understand (though I would argue that that could also be pursued in London, Chicago, Tokyo and many other cities in Asia).

The point I'm trying get at here is that it strikes me that very few people consider what they mean when they say that living in NJ is great because it's close to NYC. It's a meaningless statement without being defined. Its like saying that you're great because your live next to a famous athlete, actor, or other person of renown. Why is it great? Why does it mean so much to you that it would play an active role in your decision either to move or not move out of NJ? If you spend great amounts of time there due to your career, hobbies, or family, then OK, that makes sense. But, if like me, you rarely go there, then what difference does it make? You're in effect, paying the high price of living near NYC for no other reason than that it's nearby.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

N.J. tax burden becoming too heavy for some

HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP -- In less than a month, Mike and Victoria Malinics, two lifelong Mercer County residents, will move across the river to Pennsylvania to pay half the property taxes on a bigger house.

"We couldn't sustain the cost of living and provide for (our children)" said Mike Malinics, 37, adding that New Jersey "has become a case of overwhelming taxation without representation."

Wife Victoria, 34, said she feels state legislators have ignored middle class residents like her and her husband, forcing them to make the difficult decision to move across state lines.

New Jersey continues to have the highest property taxes in the nation, according to a recent analysis by The Tax Foundation. After analyzing census figures, the foundation found the median property tax bill was $6,320, with 7 percent of the state homeowners' paychecks going toward property taxes.

Republican 15th District Assembly candidate Werner Graf and Ewing Mayor Jack Ball joined the Malinicses, a Ewing couple, on the New Jersey side of the Washington Crossing Bridge yesterday morning to call on state government officials to stop driving residents out of New Jersey.

"I'm not happy to see them leave, but ... I hope it sends a message to New Jersey politicians about why they're leaving," said Ball, adding that the state's high taxes have drawn away businesses from Ewing.

Graf said a large portion of residents' tax bills goes to schools, and even with a new school funding formula designed to shift some of the spending from urban districts to other districts that have large percentages of children from low-income households, there still is "no accountability" and wasteful spending in districts that are failing. He also said funding for special education should be part of income tax payments instead of being borne by residents when special needs children move from district to district.

Graf said he and running mate Kim Taylor would serve the needs of the residents of the 15th District, which includes Trenton, Ewing, Hopewell Valley, Lawrence, the Princetons and Pennington.

"They're part of the establishment in the Legislature of New Jersey, which has very little regard for middle class tax payer," Graf said of incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Princeton Borough, and Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-Ewing.

Graf also cited the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services' report from this summer which highlights an $8 billion structural deficit for the next fiscal year.

Coleman said she agrees property taxes in the state are high, and has encouraged municipalities and other governing bodies to consolidate. But she said the challenge for New Jersey is to continue to provide a high level of service people expect, such as road improvements and a commitment to open space, yet provide property tax relief.

"Almost half of the budget comes back to taxpayers in the form of services" like tax freezes for senior citizen homeowners, Coleman said, adding, "under this Democratic administration and Legislature, more property tax relief has gone into the hands of residents ... Republicans like my opponents are great to criticise, but they haven't come up with any solutions that work. If they cut services and fired everybody in state government," it still may not be enough to tackle the "huge" budget deficit, Coleman said.

Gusciora, said he has introduced a bill to find alternative methods for funding local government, and that lowering property taxes should be the priority for every elected official. "(Gov. Jon) Corzine should be given credit for increasing property tax rebates in the last four years. ... We've worked on returning more rebate dollars to tax payers," he said.

Pennsylvania ranked third, just behind New York and Florida, in the top 10 destination states for those leaving New Jersey, according to an October 2007 report by the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

According to that report, the state's population started to decline in 2002. New Jersey's 2005 aggregate adjusted gross income was reduced by $7.9 billion, a direct loss to the state economy and state taxes, due to the cumulative net outflows of people since the start of the decade, according to the report.

The report states "high housing costs, and its high overall cost of living" are possible explanations for the out-migration.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The idea of leaving NJ behind is not a new one. Most of us who live here have likely, at one time or another, heard a friend, relative, or co-worker (or even ourselves) declare that they'd love to get the hell outta Jersey! Surely greener pastures must exist.

How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways: High taxes, stifling traffic and ever present road rage, terrible roads with poorly placed signs, bad attitudes, rampant political corruption, as many brownfield toxic sites as actual gardens, sickening air quality, violent crime, and not even a single good buffet in the entire state!

And more recently, we can also add to the list: Housewives of NJ, the return of medical waste washing up on the shore, and the blight of all buildings/scourge of all sights/bane of Bauhaus architecture - yep, XANADU.

OK, enough NJ hate. I love NJ, and most people who want to leave do as well. It's close to so much: hiking, NYC, beaches, historic areas, cultural events, farms, etc. It is true that pretty much anything you could want to do can be done around here. It's rich in local lore, just pick up a copy of Weird NJ.

But, there comes a point when the love is overwhelmed by the bad. When the pro/con list becomes so badly weighted towards the 'cons', that the love just isn't enough anymore. This blog is to discuss just that conflict; to debate the pros and cons of NJ as well as why the grass just might very well be greener on the other side, be it Pennsylvania, California, Maine or Nebraska.

I invite those that have made the move elsewhere to discuss why they did so and to explain why where they are now is better (or possibly worse) than NJ. Folks who are considering leaving are welcome as well. It's never an easy decision to move, especially if you've lived here all of your life. And in general, I'd love to hear from those that live all over our country, to get a more complete idea of what life is like beyond the borders of NJ.

Finally, I'm hoping that we can break down and dismiss a great many stereotypes and assumptions that exist about other states in our country. Just as we Jerseyeans can be irritated by stereotypes of 'big hair' and 'Lawn Guyland accents', folks in other states share that sensitivity about their homeland. The middle of America is not all Walmart, inbreeding, NASCAR, and hunting.

I've heard plenty of asinine reasons for not wanting to move out of NJ to X or Y state, because 'militias are out there!' or 'don't they have meth labs out that way?!' So let me get this straight, we live in a state with some of the worst gang violence, and epidemic levels of heroin and crack on our streets, and you're worried about militias and meth labs? Seriously?

So without further ado, I welcome you to Escape from NJ.