Sunday, August 2, 2015

POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2015, 5:15 AM

The state’s extra funding for school districts with high special-education costs was created more than a decade ago. For districts eligible for the aptly named “extraordinary aid,” the state would pick up the bulk of additional costs for students who cost more than $40,000 a year to educate.

Over the last five years, though, that promised amount has dwindled.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Education alerted districts applying for the extra aid that it would pay 58 percent of the eligible costs. The funding level is a drop from 63 percent last year, and marks a significant drop from even the aftermath of the state’s fiscal crisis in 2012, when the state paid 77 percent.

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POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2015, 5:14 AM

The New Jersey Supreme Court announced yesterday that it plans to take up another high-profile case involving a key component of Gov. Chris Christie’s signature 2011 public-employee benefits-reform law.

The high court just last month struck down a major element of that 2011 law, which increased state contributions to New Jersey’s chronically underfunded public-worker pension system.

Now, the justices have decided they will weigh in on whether annual retiree cost-of-living adjustments can be suspended, which was another key change that Christie and Democrats who control the Legislature agreed to enact in 2011. They had teamed together on a bipartisan basis to restore the health of a pension system that covers an estimated 770,000 current and retired public workers in New Jersey.

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POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2015, 5:13 AM

The state is considering new regulations that would let electric companies remove high-hazard trees -- providing they get property owners’ permission -- even if they are not in a utility’s right of way.

In a pilot program conducted in the territories of Jersey Central Power & Light and Public Service Electric & Gas, approximately 120 high-hazard trees were cut down to prevent future power outages.

The problem of trees or large limbs falling on power lines is a major source of outages, one exacerbated by the unusual extreme storms that have hit portions of New Jersey in recent years. In the wake of those storms, regulators have promised to take a tougher stance on the issue.

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POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2015, 5:12 AM

The number of people signing up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act's federal health insurance marketplace rose in every ZIP code in New Jersey this year, according to new U.S. government data.

Information released earlier this month by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also indicates that close to half of New Jerseyans seeking Obamacare in the enrollment period ending February 22, 2015 were new customers. In Cape May, for instance, 39 percent of 3,104 people got health insurance through the ACA for the first time, while in Hudson County, 54 percent of 19,222 people were new enrollees.

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POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2015, 5:11 AM

The urgent need for new rail tunnels under the Hudson River is getting new attention from Govs. Christie and Cuomo following several days of NJ Transit train disruptions last week, with the governors saying they will meet with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to discuss Amtrak’s proposed Gateway tunnel project.

Gateway’s profile has been rising since May, when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey held a conference on trans-Hudson transportation and an Obama administration official called the tunnel the nation’s “most important rail project.” The deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia subsequently drew notice to underfunding of the agency’s entire Northeast Corridor line, and the delays last week -- caused by electrical problems in the 105-year-old Hudson River tunnels currently still in use -- further heightened the pressure on New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Foxx.

Foxx reportedly wrote to the governors on Monday, and Christie and Cuomo agreed to meet with him soon. In a radio interview this week, Cuomo, who has barely addressed the tunnels since he was elected, said, “Gov. Christie and I both agree we need to repair those tunnels as quickly as possible.”

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POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2015, 5:10 AM

If Gov. Chris Christie’s national plan to slow the rate of Medicaid spending increases ever became law, New Jersey residents – especially seniors and the disabled – would feel it in their pocketbooks, according to a new analysis.

The state would receive $15.1 billion less over eight years if Christie’s plan were to be enacted, according to a report by New Jersey Policy Perspective, a self-described progressive research organization.

Christie, as he campaigns for the Republican nomination for president, has proposed linking growth in Medicaid spending to inflation. However, since healthcare costs, including Medicaid, have been growing faster than inflation for decades, report author Raymond J. Castro foresees dramatic spending cuts.

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POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2015, 5:05 AM

There are 21,486 inmates in New Jersey’s jails and halfway houses, 15,193 of whom are housed in the state’s prison complex. Another 2,878 are being held in halfway houses or county jails, with 3,415 youths being held in juvenile detention centers and institutions.

The number of those incarcerated has been slowly dropping in the past few years. In 2011, the number of state inmates was 25,139.

Most inmates (57 percent) are in prison for serious crimes: homicide, sexual assault, aggravated assault, robbery, kidnapping, and other sex offenses. Still, 17 percent of those in prison were committed for narcotics-law violations, including possession, sale, and distribution -- although the vast majority (82 percent) of these are being held for sale and distribution, not possession.

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366

POSTED: Thursday, July 30, 2015, 5:05 AM

States are understandably eager to grab bragging rights for whatever beauties of the natural world are found within their borders, and things are no different when it comes to counting lakes. But it’s tough to settle disputes when there’s no definitive ranking of lakes by state -- or even an agreed-upon definition as to what constitutes a lake.

Alaska is commonly given the top spot, claiming 3 million lakes. New Jersey has 366, at least according to HomeTownLocator.com, but another website -- disagreeing as to what constitutes “lakehood” -- knocks that number down to 202.

, New Jersey’s largest freshwater body, covers 2,560 acres (about 4 square miles) and boasts 45 miles of shoreline. It’s located between Sussex and Morris counties. Second-largest is Hunterdon County’s Round Valley Reservoir, at 2,350 acres. It’s also the state’s deepest lake, going down 180 feet.

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