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New Jersey Rep. Albio Sires announces he won’t seek re-election in 2022

(The Center Square) – A Democratic congressman from New Jersey will not seek re-election next year, joining a growing list of incumbents leaving Washington.

In announcing his departure, U.S. Rep. Albio Sires called serving “the honor of a lifetime.” He was elected to Congress in 2006.

“As a senior member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I consider the recent passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the billions of dollars we are delivering to fix New Jersey’s infrastructure, including the Gateway Project, as the capstone to a career of service,” Sires said in a statement.

Sires’ district is considered to be a safe one for Democrats. Robert J. Menendez, the son of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, is a potential candidate to replace Sires, the New York Post reported.

According to the report, roughly two dozen Democrats in the U.S. House are leaving, including 15 members who are retiring and four who are running for the U.S. Senate.

Sires, a native of Cuba who fled to West New York in 1962, was a teacher and a business owner before entering politics. He was the mayor of West New York and the speaker of the New Jersey Assembly before his election to Congress.

“From my service as Mayor of West New York, to my time in the New Jersey State Legislature, including as the first Hispanic Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly, to my service in Congress, I have always put our hard-working families first,” Sires said. “Whether it was raising the minimum wage, creating affordable housing, increasing funding for public education, or funding critical health research, I am proud of my service to our residents.”

Sires continued: “While my time in Congress will come to an end, my commitment to service remains as strong as ever,” he said. “I care deeply for the country, state, and town that took me and my family in when we fled Cuba and am grateful that they have put their faith in me to advocate for them in Congress.”

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New Jersey Assembly advances legislation to require new residents to register firearms

(The Center Square) – The New Jersey Assembly advanced legislation to mandate newly relocated New Jersey residents to register firearms that they legally acquired in another state.

Under A-3686, new residents would have 60 days to secure a “firearm purchaser identification card” and register their gun with municipal or state law enforcement. The registration would include the firearm’s make, model and serial number in addition to standard details such as the owner’s name and address.

“Anyone who chooses to live in our state should be subject to the same requirements as current residents – especially when it comes to the safety of their families, friends and neighbors,” Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, said in a statement. “Our firearm registration system fosters accountability by discouraging the illegal sale and use of dangerous weapons. It is time for New Jersey to close the loophole that allows new residents to own any gun without registering it here.”

The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

The state Assembly also passed a resolution, AR-277, supporting the “States for Gun Safety” Summit.

“There has been inaction from the federal government to target these issues for far too long. It is time that we address this problem in a greater capacity,” Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, D-Hunterdon/Mercer, said in a statement. “Bringing together governors from around the country and Puerto Rico will certainly bring more attention to this epidemic and set us on a path toward combatting gun violence across America.”

Lawmakers voted 47-26-3 in favor of A-3686 and 48-22-6 in favor of the resolution.

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New Jersey ranks high among states struggling with unemployment rates

(The Center Square) – New Jersey is among the states where unemployment rates have bounced back the least.

In a new analysis, “States Whose Unemployment Rates Are Bouncing Back Most,” WalletHub ranked New Jersey No. 47. The analysis ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In the region, New York ranked 48th, while Connecticut came in at No. 43, Pennsylvania was No. 36 and Delaware was No. 35.

“New Jersey has the fifth slowest unemployment rate recovery,” Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub analyst, told The Center Square. “This is due to the fact that compared to the pre-pandemic levels of January 2020, the number of unemployed people is still higher by over 76%.

“The state ranks low compared to November 2019 as well, with an increase of almost 81% in the number of unemployed people,” Gonzalez added. “The current unemployment rate in New Jersey is 6.6%, the fourth highest nationwide, and significantly higher than the national average of 4.2%.”

Nationally, Nebraska bounced back the most, followed by Utah and Oklahoma. Nevada ranked at the bottom of the list, edging out Hawaii and California.

Last week, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development said the Garden State had recovered about 548,500, or 76%, of the jobs lost in March and April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Cory Booker tests positive for COVID-19

(The Center Square) – U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said he tested positive for COVID-19.

The New Jersey Democrat said he is fully vaccinated, received the booster and reported mild symptoms.

“I learned today that I tested positive for COVID-19 after first feeling symptoms on Saturday,” Booker said in a Sunday tweet.

“My symptoms are relatively mild,” Booker added. “I’m beyond grateful to have received two doses of vaccine and, more recently, a booster – I’m certain that without them I would be doing much worse.”

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colorado, also tested positive for COVID, CNN reported.

“I regularly test for COVID & while I tested negative earlier this week, today I tested positive with a breakthrough case,” Warren said in a tweet. “Thankfully, I am only experiencing mild symptoms & am grateful for the protection provided against serious illness that comes from being vaccinated & boosted.”

The news comes amid an uptick in COVID cases nationwide and the emergence of the Omicron variant. Other lawmakers, including U.S. Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina; Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi; Angus King, I-Maine; Rand Paul, R-Kentucky; and John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, previously tested positive for COVID, according to reports.

The U.S. Senate has adjourned until Jan. 3.

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New Jersey ranks as the state with the worst tax climate

(The Center Square) – New Jersey ranked at the bottom of the Tax Foundation’s 2022 State Business Tax Climate Index.

The Garden State ranked 48th for both corporate taxes and individual taxes. It also ranked 43rd for sales tax, 44th for property taxes and 32nd for unemployment insurance taxes.

New Jersey “is hampered by some of the highest property tax burdens in the country,” the Tax Foundation said in its analysis. It also “has the second highest-rate corporate and individual income taxes in the country and a particularly aggressive treatment of international income, levies an inheritance tax, and maintains some of the nation’s worst-structured individual income taxes.”

In the region, New York ranked No. 49, while Connecticut ranked No. 47, Pennsylvania ranked No. 29 and Delaware No. 16. Nationally, Wyoming topped the list, followed by South Dakota and Alaska.

“As we continue the conversation about the great need to make New Jersey more affordable, the annual Tax Foundation report shows just how much of an outlier we are in the nation when it comes to taxes,” Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA) told The Center Square.

“Unfortunately, absent a real commitment to address our affordability challenges by our policymakers, New Jersey will continue to struggle to compete and will only maintain and enhance its reputation of not being business friendly,” Siekerka added.

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New Jersey continues to see increasing jobs, but the unemployment rate remains higher than the national average

(The Center Square) – New Jersey’s nonfarm wage and salary employment increased by 25,800 in November, marking the eleventh straight month of gains.

Additionally, the state’s unemployment rate for the month fell by 0.4 percentage points, from 7% to 6.6%, and the state revised its October job numbers upward by 29,800, citing “more complete reporting from employers.”

“So far this year the state’s job count has increased by almost 200,000,” Charles Steindel, New Jersey’s former chief economist, said in an analysis for the Garden State Initiative (GSI). “We are still about 170,000 jobs under the February 2020 peak, but with continued gains and the likelihood that the number has been understated, there now appears a reasonable chance a new peak could be reached next year.”

While all private sectors except construction saw job growth during the month, the state’s unemployment rate still exceeds the national average of 4.2%. Public sector employment also decreased.

“However, in contrast with the nation, where November saw a big drop in unemployment and a large increase in the labor force, New Jersey’s labor force was virtually unchanged,” Steindel said. “The longer-term stagnation in New Jersey’s workforce … remains baffling, even taking into account our sluggish population growth.”

The Garden State has recovered about 76% of the jobs, or 548,500 jobs, lost in March and April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development news release.

New Jersey’s Unemployment Rate

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New Jersey ranks in the middle of the transparency pack for reporting CARES Act spending

(The Center Square) – New Jersey ranks better than some states but worse than others when disclosing its federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act spending.

According to a report from Washington-based Good Jobs First, New Jersey was one of 27 states that fell into the “States with Some Disclosure.” Only six states fell into the “Exemplary States” category, while 18 fell into the category of “States with Inadequate or No Disclosure.”

The report included the District of Columbia in its list.

The report found the state’s website – nj.gov/covid19oversight/index.shtml – was easily accessible and included agency and fund allocations. However, the report noted the state’s site does not include recipient information or spending descriptions.

According to the state site, New Jersey’s executive branch agencies have received more than $48.3 billion in federal funds under Section 15011 of the CARES Act.

The state Department of Labor received more than half of the funds, $26.1 billion, followed by the Department of the Treasury, which took in more than $9.3 billion. The state has allocated nearly $35.1 billion of the federal taxpayer dollars.

When it comes to American Rescue Plan (ARP) money, the state received more than $6.2 billion via the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund and has spent about $67.8 million, roughly 1% of the money allocated. Republicans have blasted Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, for not proactively allocating federal COVID relief money.

“Unfortunately, months have been wasted, taxes have been raised on small businesses, and New Jersey now has the 3rd highest unemployment rate in the nation,” state Sen. Steven Oroho, R-Sussex, said in a statement last month.

“All of that could have and should have been prevented,” Oroho added. “The Murphy administration can’t undo the harm that’s already been done, but it can work to enact a comprehensive plan as we’ve proposed using the billions in relief funds that are still available.”

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Murphy marks the anniversary of New Jersey’s first COVID-19 vaccination

(The Center Square) – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy marked the first anniversary of the state’s first COVID-19 vaccination.

On Wednesday, the governor traveled to University Hospital in Newark to commemorate the occasion. The hospital was the site of the first shot given in New Jersey.

“Today’s anniversary marks a significant milestone in the progress we have made against COVID-19,” Murphy said in a news release.

“Over the last year, we have learned that vaccines are the best tool we have in preventing hospitalizations and death, and millions of New Jerseyans have rolled up their sleeves to protect themselves, their families, and their communities,” the governor added. “However, with data showing waning immunity over time, we encourage all New Jerseyans ages 16 and older to receive a necessary booster dose to enhance their protection against COVID-19.”

Murphy and New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli declared Dec. 15 as Boost NJ Day. Vaccination sites increased walk-in availability and extended hours to expand access to booster doses.

“As we approach the anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccination being administered in our state, we have made tremendous progress in vaccinating those who live, work, and study in the state with 73% of residents fully vaccinated and 84% with at least one dose of vaccine,” Persichilli said during a Monday press briefing.

“While we work to increase the vaccination rates in younger populations, we are also focused on getting more residents their booster vaccines,” Persichilli added. “Those ages 16 and older who have received their primary vaccination series are now eligible for boosters. Currently, 36% of all those eligible have received a booster.”

New Jersey has reported more than 1.1 million confirmed COVID cases and 177,614 probable cases. It has reported 25,808 confirmed deaths from COVID and an additional 2,835 probable cases.

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New Jersey hires correctional planning and design consultant to relocate Edna Mahan prison

(The Center Square) – The New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) has “enlisted” a planning and design consultant to help relocate Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.

The Moss Group (TMG) subcontracted Steve Carter of CGL Services for $312,752, according to information provided to The Center Square by Liz Velez, director of communication for NJDOC.

“The work he’s doing is an extension of the DOC’s partnership with TMG, which he’s a part of, making him acutely aware of the needs of the residents at Edna Mahan,” Velez said in an email to The Center Square.

In June, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the state to close the Clinton facility following reports of inmate abuse, and then-NJDOC Commissioner Marcus Hicks resigned following the announcement. The governor’s announcement coincided with the release of an investigative report into alleged misconduct at the facility.

According to a news release, the work includes “a three-phase approach,” including examining current prison facilities to see if the state “can retrofit infrastructure to meet the aligned vision.” It could also “partner with the New Jersey Department of Treasury to identify alternative vacant facilities.”

In an announcement, Carter said his evaluation “will initially examine the ability to adapt, and potentially expand, selected prisons to accommodate these needs with an eye towards an ultimate purpose-built women’s correctional center.”

In April 2020, the United States Department of Justice said it believed the NJDOC “fails to keep prisoners at Edna Mahan safe from sexual abuse by staff.” The state has reached a $20.8 million taxpayer-funded settlement of lawsuits involving current and former inmates at Edna Mahan.

In August, the federal government and New Jersey reached a proposed agreement to resolve inmate abuse claims at Edna Mahan.

“This process represents a significant transformative step forward with a clean slate that allows us to take into account the evolving needs of this generation of incarcerated women,” NJDOC Acting Commissioner Victoria L. Kuhn said in an announcement about the hiring of Carter.

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New Jersey’s pension system hovering ‘like a dark cloud looming over our economy’

(The Center Square) – New Jersey has seen a “more precipitous financial decline” in its pension system since 2001 than other states’ plans.

That’s according to a new Garden State Initiative (GSI) report titled “The Looming Tipping Point of New Jersey’s Pension System: the impact of more retirees than employees.” The analysis explored the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), New Jersey Teachers pension plan (TPAF) and New Jersey Police and Fire (PFRS) pension plan.

“New Jersey remains an affluent state with high average incomes but even in that context, New Jersey’s pension funding requirement is concerning,” the report noted.

The report recommends the state begin “increased risk-sharing between the government and public employees.” New Jersey should also consider increasing contributions, lowering benefits or reducing additional compensation, such as health benefits.

“For years, our pension system has hovered like a dark cloud looming over our economy, escalating pressure for taxpayers, for financial analysts, and our public employees themselves, yet we continue to kick the can and make little to no progress implementing solutions,” GSI President Regina M. Egea said in a news release.

“…Deciding to acknowledge and address our pension crisis is not a conservative or liberal policy issue,” Egea added. “We must all work together to strengthen our local economy and ensure economic equity in the entire State – and we cannot achieve this goal when we ignore our single most pressing issue.”

The report found the state’s aging public workforce is accelerating pressure on the system, making it “less able to handle investment risk and other risks.” It also concluded that the state’s pension system is more generous than typical 401(k) plans and that New Jersey’s taxpayers have shouldered the bulk of the pension cost increases.

“We can first begin addressing New Jersey’s pension crisis by ensuring more people understand how it affects all of us,” Andrew G. Biggs, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and author of the report, said in a news release.

“Often, the discussion about the New Jersey pension debacle focuses on the mistakes New Jersey has made in the past, and not enough on how it is curtailing our everyday services with our schools, municipal services and law enforcement,” Biggs added. “This report provides both a clear historical perspective, why it matters to everyone who lives or works in New Jersey, as well as defines reasonable, common-sense solutions to improve all of our futures.”