Plan to Partially Furlough Public Employees Awaits Governor’s Signature

JOHN REITMEYER | MAY 15, 2020

NJ Spotlight

Gov. Phil Murphy at coronavirus briefing Thursday, May 14

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A plan that would pave the way for state and local governments in New Jersey to cut costs by partially furloughing public employees — without hitting the workers in their wallets — is now on the governor’s desk awaiting final action.

The bipartisan proposal, which builds on prior state law and also seeks to take advantage of enhanced unemployment benefits available during the COVID-19 pandemic, won overwhelming support in both houses of the Legislature on Thursday.

However, the fate of the bill remains uncertain as Murphy, a first-term Democrat, has not taken a firm position for or against the proposal since it was first introduced earlier this month.

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Sharp Dip in Total Tax Revenues Reveals COVID-19’s Impact on Garden State

JOHN REITMEYER | MAY 14, 2020

NJ Spotlight

Gov. Phil Murphy at the May 13 coronavirus briefing

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New Jersey’s revenue collections have fallen off the pace for the first time this fiscal year, as taxpayers have been given more time to settle up with the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Total revenues were off by about 8% through the end of April, compared with the same 10-month period last year, according to updated tax-collection figures that were released on Wednesday by the Department of Treasury.

For just the month of April, revenues dropped by nearly 60% year-over-year as the pandemic began to take hold, and as the state delayed important tax-payment deadlines in response to the coronavirus.

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Coronavirus has killed dozens in state prisons. How N.J. failed to stop it.

Posted May 13, 2020

The day after New Jersey lowered its flags to honor coronavirus victims in early April, a grandmother died in Belleville. She was a nurse at Northern State Prison.

Two weeks later, a pregnant woman from Bridgewater drove her husband, gasping for air, to the emergency room. He is an officer at East Jersey State Prison in Avenel and remains on oxygen.

Three days after that, a man who had made it more than a year-and-a-half as an inmate took his last breath at a Trenton hospital. He was a former Bloomfield councilman, awaiting possible release in July from a halfway house.

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The verdict is in on New Jersey’s universal vote-by-mail experiment. It works.

Posted May 13, 2020

By Shennell McCloud

 

Local elections in Newark, Montclair, Nutley and dozens of other communities across the state were held Tuesday and even before all the ballots have been counted, it’s clear that turnout has already exceeded levels achieved during more traditional election days in years past.

In Montclair and Nutley, turnout jumped in the midst of competitive races. In Newark, turnout rose by several hundred votes year over year and is likely to rise further by the time all ballots are counted (thanks to the work of voting rights activists, the number of registered voters also jumped this year). This is no small feat for a school board election held in the midst of a pandemic.

For those of us who have worked to register voters and championed expanded vote by mail for years, this is proof positive of what we’ve long believed: voting by mail is an easier, more inclusive, and more progressive alternative to requiring voters to vote in person.

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Newark giving low-income residents struggling due to coronavirus up to $1K to pay rent

Posted May 13, 2020

Tenants across New Jersey can use their security deposits to help pay rent, but there hasn’t been any direct cash assistance to renters who are struggling during the coronavirus crisis.

But in Newark, where about 78% of residents are renters by one 2017 study’s estimate, city officials aren’t waiting around for help.

The city created a $1 million Emergency Housing Assistance Fund to provide low-income residents up to $1,000 each to help pay rent or utilities. It’s a one-time assistance program unless the city can get more funds from the federal government, Newark Department of Economic and Housing Development Director Allison Ladd said.

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Were NJ’s Minority-Owned Firms Shortchanged on COVID-19 Recovery Loans?

COLLEEN O'DEA | MAY 14, 2020

NJ Spotlight

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)

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New Jersey’s small businesses have fared better in the second round of the federal government’s main COVID-19 recovery program than they did in the first, but officials are raising questions over whether minority-owned firms have been shortchanged.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker sent a letter to the chief executives of about a dozen banks that do business in New Jersey, asking for detailed information about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans they have written to date, including how many went to small businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans. New Jersey has between 240,000 and 300,000 minority-owned businesses, many of which are very small and struggle during good times, but it’s unknown how many may have gotten federal help.

“It is critical that the funding allocated by Congress for PPP reach the businesses for which they were intended — those in most need,” Booker wrote. “I am deeply concerned by conversations with constituents and media reports that lending institutions have largely turned away many minority-owned businesses, thereby barring access to PPP’s critical emergency financing.”

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In New Jersey, a Kennedy’s running against the Democratic machine

A member of the Democratic Party’s most prominent political dynasty is running for office in New Jersey, but in an altogether unfamiliar position — as an outsider.

Amy Kennedy, a former teacher who grew up in southern New Jersey and is married to former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), announced her campaign for Congress in New Jersey’s 2nd District in January, shortly after Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) switched parties from Democrat to Republican.

By then, however, South Jersey’s powerful Democratic machine that’s run by power broker George Norcross — the same operation that built Van Drew’s career and propelled him to Congress as a Democrat in 2018 — had settled on political science professor Brigid Harrison as its favored candidate.

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Murphy rolls out plans for expanded testing, contact tracing as reopening pressures mount

New Jersey is about to spend hundreds of millions of dollars developing the health care infrastructure it needs to begin reopening its economy, Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday.

With revenue forecasts collapsing under the weight of a Covid-19 recession, Murphy described the broad contours of his administration’s plan to expand coronavirus testing and assemble a contact tracing corps in advance of the state’s economic revival.

Both are essential for the state’s recovery from the pandemic, Murphy said. So far, the coronavirus has killed more than 9,500 New Jersey residents and infected at least 140,00

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Fiscal Assistance for Local Governments Amid COVID-19 Pandemic?

COLLEEN O'DEA | MAY 13, 2020

NJ Spotlight

City Hall in Newark

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Local governments in New Jersey may get the option to borrow in order to pay salaries and other bills and at the same time blunt property-tax increases resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two Assembly committees have approved two separate bills that local officials say are vital to helping them compensate for lost revenues and, in at least some places, increased costs due to the viral outbreak that began 10 weeks ago in the state.

Republicans are balking, however, particularly at the prospect of allowing bonding without voter approval or, as is envisioned by one bill, state oversight.

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Can N.J. restaurants open at 50% capacity? One group has a plan.

Posted May 11, 2020

Francis Schott knows he’s one of the lucky ones.

The restaurant he co-owns, Stage Left Steak in New Brunswick — one of New Jersey’s premiere steakhouses — has successfully made the transition to takeout during coronavirus. To boot, the restaurant’s wine store is thriving. His debt is manageable and things are going well enough that he won’t consider reopening his dining room until he can do so at 75 or 80 percent capacity.

But Schott knows not everyone can wait that long. Thousands of Garden State eateries that have now been shuttered for two months due to the pandemic are anxiously awaiting word on when they can reopen, no matter the capacity limit.

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