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