Thursday, May 28, 2015

POSTED: Thursday, May 21, 2015, 5:12 AM

Being a patient doesn’t make you a healthcare expert.

But, more and more, people are having to make complex decisions about their health insurance and their medical care.

That’s why New Jersey healthcare analysts and policymakers are looking to create online tools that will help medical consumers get the maximum possible benefit for a given price or specific need.

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POSTED: Thursday, May 21, 2015, 5:11 AM

The idea of bringing self-service gas stations to New Jersey is once again being proposed by legislators with a bipartisan bill in the offing. The measure has sparked a fierce response on both sides of the issue, causing State Senate President Steve Sweeney to announce he was opposed to the legislation. That may make it unlikely to be posted for a vote.

But what do you say?

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POSTED: Thursday, May 21, 2015, 5:10 AM

The Eagleton Institute of Politics usually convenes a forum the morning after each statewide primary and general election. A panel of knowledgable political participants and observers reviews the previous day’s results and their implications with about 100 political junkies and, lately, a larger audience viewing a live stream of the event.

During the 30 “morning after” programs held over the past 15 years, the gatherings have become a predictable setting for informative, thought-provoking, bipartisan discussion and debate that is always respectful and civil.

But this year, the morning after the June 2 primary, we suggest you sleep in. The sad truth is that there will be few results worth discussing.

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POSTED: Thursday, May 21, 2015, 5:05 AM

New Jersey had 9,071 farms in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, accounting for over 715,000 acres. (2012 is the most recent year of the national agricultural census.)

That may sound like a lot, but the vast majority of these farms are either retired (27.1 percent); have owners who have primary occupations other than farming (38.1 percent); or earn less than $150,000 a year (21.5 percent).

There are 280 farms with sales between $150,000 and $350,00 a year, 328 farms that are classified as “midsized family farms” with sales between $350,000 and $1 million; and 208 farms that are considered large-scale family farms, meaning they have sales of more than $1 million a year.

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POSTED: Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 7:03 PM

Gov. Chris Christie this week filed his mandatory financial disclosure statement, which was notable for what it did not disclose:

  • The cost of Dallas Cowboys tickets, and flights to games, gifted by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Christie didn't mention these gifts despite the law that requires itemization of non-cash gifts worth more than $200. That's because the Christie Administration received a favorable opinion on the matter from acting Attorney General John Hoffman, a Christie appointee who has yet to be formally nominated or confirmed by the Democratic state Senate. When it was revealed that Jones was funding Christie's trips to games earlier this year, it drew controversy because Jones has a lucrative contract at the Port Authority, which is run in part by Christie. But Hoffman's six-page legal opinion says such a gift disclosure is unecessary because, he says, gifts only have to be listed if they are explicitly given in exchange for services. Such a specification is not mentioned on the actual financial disclosure form. 
  • The value of his personal investments in a blind trust. Christie moved his investments in stocks and bonds into a blind trust after he was elected governor, but he has not disclosed how much that trust is worth. There is a space for the governor to indicate the value range of the trust, but instead he marked down "N/A." According to the law, if Christie knows that value, he is required by law to release it. In previous years' filings he has not released the value.
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POSTED: Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 5:15 AM

Facing uncertainty over public-employee pension funding thanks to a pending state Supreme Court ruling, lawmakers heard little yesterday from Gov. Chris Christie’s state treasurer to believe a swell in economic growth will make it easier for the state to live up to its growing obligations to public workers.

Instead, Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff told members of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee during this budget season’s final revenue update that he was adding just $7 million to the forecast for Christie’s proposed $33.8 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

With no measurable last-minute boost to the economic projection, that puts even more focus now on how the Supreme Court will rule in an ongoing legal dispute over pension funding between the Christie administration and public-worker unions. A decision is expected at any time, even as lawmakers continue to evaluate the governor’s budget proposal in the remaining weeks before the state Constitution’s July 1 deadline for a balanced spending plan.

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POSTED: Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 5:14 AM

In a victory for Verizon, a state agency yesterday voted to reclassify basic telephone service, a step that will make it easier for the telecom company to raise rates for those who can least afford it, according to critics.

The unanimous approval by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities caps a four-year campaign by Verizon to loosen regulations governing traditional landline telephone service. Deployments of the service have declined dramatically in the face of competition from wireless carriers, cablecompanies, and other competitors.

But approximately half-a-million customers -- seniors, the disabled, and low-income residents -- still rely on the service because it is among the cheapest in the nation, now costing only $16.45 a month for unlimited local calls. The rates would increase $6 over a five-year period and then be unregulated, according to deal approved by the agency.

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POSTED: Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 5:13 AM

Despite a scientific consensus in favor of the mandatory vaccination of children, the procedure continues to spark heated arguments. And recently proposed legislation may not cool things off: It makes it more difficult for families to claim religious exemptions to keep their kids from getting required inoculations.

Some critics argue that the bill (S-1147/A-1931) is unconstitutional, but a group of legal experts say it’s likely to withstand a court challenge.

The measure attempts to eliminate ambiguities and cinch loopholes in the current regulations, spelling out in detail who does or doesn’t qualify for an exemption.

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