Week of May 16

TRENTON – It’s not often you hear good news when it comes to financial matters in state government.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what was heard this past week, as the state coffers are expected to have hundreds of millions of dollars more in income tax revenue, thanks in part to the bonus-check-like payments high-income earners are starting to receive again.

While there is a discrepancy between the numbers – state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff projects $511 million more and Office of Legislative Services budget officer David Rosen forecasts much more at $914 million – they both said the state’s progressive tax system is responsible for the uptick.

Now, for the hard decision: How does that money get used?

It is not yet known where the money will go once it materializes. The administration would like to use the money toward beefing up the homestead rebates and making larger payments to the pension system. While Democrats agree with the need to provide additional property tax relief, Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald cautioned about one potential 800-pound gorilla – the pending state Supreme Court decision on whether the state owes more than $1.6 billion for funding at-risk school districts.


Gimme Shelter

Not so fast. You have to cough up a good amount to afford an apartment in New Jersey, and more than half of renters don’t make enough to comfortably afford a “modest” two-bedroom apartment. That was the finding of a new report.

According to “Out of Reach 2011,” a family in New Jersey must earn an hourly wage of $24.54 to rent and pay the utilities for “a safe and modest home.”

However, a typical Jersey renter earns well below that amount, having an hourly wage of $15.82. An estimated 61 percent of New Jersey renters do not earn enough to afford a typical market rate apartment, according to the Trenton-based Housing and Community Development Network.

The report was the focus of an Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee hearing on Thursday.

“This data only emphasizes the need for more affordable home choices in our state,” said Diane Sterner, executive director of HCDN.

Of the 21 counties in New Jersey, Bergen and Passaic County ranked as most expensive, where a two-bedroom, market-rate apartment costs $1,494. A family would need to earn $59,760 to pay for such an apartment.

Grading the teacher

In one ambitious step forward, the department of Education said Thursday it is planning to test out its new educator evaluation system in a handful of school districts on a voluntary basis.

The new system would put a heavier reliance on student test scores and professional development.

The New Jersey Education Association said it supports tweaking the evaluation system, although it doesn’t believe test scores should be the main driver, since they don’t accurately measure a teacher’s efforts in helping students learn.



Vineland center’s fate

VINELAND – It appears that much of the cost savings from shutting down the Vineland Developmental Center will be the result of workers in the community being paid less than their counterparts who work at the institution.

That is what Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez said on Tuesday in response to Sen. Jeff Van Drew, (D-1), Dennis Township, regarding the estimated $30 million in savings the state is expected to realize by 2014 by closing the Vineland center.

Velez said there is a “huge salary disparity” between state facility workers and community providers, some of whom are unionized as well. “It’s a pretty wide gap,” she said. “(The state has) contracts with hundreds of (the community providers) right now.”

Despite the lower pay, Velez said the level of care will not be compromised. However, a handful of examples have suggested otherwise, and community care facilities have seen much higher employee turnover rates than state institutions.


Work here, live here

If you work in New Jersey, you must live in New Jersey.

That is what’s behind Sen. Donald Norcross’s (D-5) long-lingering residency requirement bill (S1730) – which was finally signed into law by the governor this past week.

The law covers all state, county and municipal employees as well as anyone working for political subdivisions of the state. Employees of public authorities, the public education system, boards, agencies and commissions are also covered. The law provides some flexibility to institutions of higher education in order to remain competitive in the higher education sector.

Botox bill gets a shot in the arm

No beauty injections for those under age 18.

That is the gist of a bill that the Health and Senior Services Committee unanimously passed that would outlaw Botox (formally known as botulinium toxin) treatments for anyone under the age of 18.

The bill, A3838, sponsored by Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, (D-28), of Newark, would require the state Board of Medical Examiners to follow regulations restricting Botox injections, unless a physician requires it for medical reasons.

“At that age, you have no facial lines,” Tucker said. “For someone to submit their young children to Botox injections, without any medical reasons, I think is very wrong.”

Supporters of the bill hope it stymies a disturbing trend among teens pursuing Botox treatments. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) reported a 47.8 percent increase in teen Botox use from 2008, from 8,194 injections to 12,110.


Back to work

For the second month in a row, the state has seen job growth, but the overall employment rate (9.3 percent) remains stubbornly unchanged. The April figures are skewed because long-term unemployed workers are job-searching again, and that drives up the number (the Labor Department has termed such individuals as “discouraged workers”). Local government saw a slight uptick of 600 jobs, but the state continued to see decreases, with 200 less jobs in April. Week of May 16