Politics

Flood Defense Act is smart long-term investment

(Editor’s Note: This Op-Ed originally ran in the March 18, 2019, print edition of ROI-NJ.)

Clocking in at more than 64 inches of precipitation, 2018 was the wettest year on record for New Jersey. Even so, experts predict worsening weather is still to come. 

Increased precipitation means increased polluted stormwater runoff, which is creating serious challenges. In fact, estimates are that it’s a $16 billion problem.

When rain or snowfall creates stormwater runoff in natural environments, that runoff can flow into nearby streams or be absorbed by the ground. But this isn’t always possible in more developed regions. When water falls onto hard surfaces, like streets or roofs, it can’t be soaked up. 

Richard Lawton of the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council

As a result, stormwater that is not managed properly can lead to frequent flooding. The effects of flooding can range from frustrating to catastrophic — including traffic nightmares, tainted drinking water and destroyed homes and businesses.

The Flood Defense Act, which is currently pending Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature, gives New Jersey communities the opportunity to establish stormwater runoff management programs on a purely voluntary basis. 

Stormwater utilities assess a simple and reasonable fee on properties with nonabsorbent surfaces — like concrete or roofing — that contribute to flooding from runoff. Local governments use those funds to construct proven on-the-ground, job-creating projects that capture polluted runoff, protect against flooding and repair failing infrastructure. 

These are smart, effective and fair solutions, and more than 1,600 communities across 40 states are already benefiting from them. It’s time New Jersey joined them.

Business leaders evaluating the costs and benefits of this legislation must consider the likely impacts over the near term and the long term, as well as who will be affected. Both the scope and outcome of this type of analysis will be based upon how business leaders define success.

There is a growing number of businesses that define success according to the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. Commercial success is not narrowly defined in economic terms only, but also by a company’s net social and environmental impacts. 

Stormwater programs present a chance for local businesses to adapt to changing environmental conditions in ways that will protect long-term profits against more serious damages and expenses in the future.

Without improved stormwater infrastructure, New Jersey businesses will have to contend with even greater costs. Not only does flooding lower property values and damage structures, but it can deter commercial activity. 

There is a growing number of businesses that define success according to the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.

While the first instinct of many business leaders may be to balk at any new potential fee, not considering the growing risks and costs of inaction could be considered to be a breach of fiduciary duty. In this case, what may look like an expense to a business taking a narrow, short-term view will look like a smart investment by those viewing it through a long-term, triple-bottom-line business lens.

Since the 1970s, more than 3,300 homes and businesses throughout the state have flooded. How many thousands upon thousands of dollars is the New Jersey business community losing every year due to flooding? We will only continue to lose business unless we take action.

Flooding is a risk, and it’s incumbent upon businesses to mitigate any hazards. Addressing the risk proactively and building resiliencies will yield economic benefits. 

Stormwater presents real dangers to New Jersey — flooding occurred on a regular basis last year, at times with such quick intensity that residents had almost no time to respond. 

Fortunately, the New Jersey Legislature and Gov. Murphy may grant our communities and businesses the opportunity to take on this threat. 

The Flood Defense Act is our chance to protect our businesses, our drinking water and our environment so that our communities and local economies can continue to adapt and thrive.

Richard Lawton is the executive director of New Jersey Sustainable Business Council.

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Show & Tell: Why the governor is pushing to legalize recreational marijuana

Gov. Phil Murphy recently reached an agreement with legislative leaders to legalize recreational marijuana use in New Jersey.

He talked about the reasons he’s been pushing for the measure.

“Legalizing adult-use marijuana is a monumental step to reducing disparities in our criminal justice system. After months of hard work and thoughtful negotiations, I’m thrilled to announce an agreement with my partners in the Legislature on the broad outlines of adult-use marijuana legislation. I believe that this legislation will establish an industry that brings fairness and economic opportunity to all of our communities, while promoting public safety by ensuring a safe product and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on serious crimes.”

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Should behavioral health, substance abuse patients be able to get treatment in primary care settings? DOH head Elnahal says, ‘Yes’

Making good on a commitment he made earlier in the year, state Department of Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal published guidance Monday that he hopes will allow health care providers to better serve behavioral health and substance abuse patients in the same clinical setting as primary care.

Currently, regulations make it difficult for those services to coexist in the same facility, because there are different departments and agencies regulating these three sectors. Elnahal hopes this recommendation will set the tone for permanent regulatory changes he is pursuing.

In January, at the announcement of the merger of Carrier Clinic and Hackensack Meridian Health, Elnahal told ROI-NJ that the current regulations are cumbersome because they assume these health care services will only be provided in separate facilities.

He particularly noted that the rules of their buildout show the disfunction. Elnahal and others have specifically noted the specifications for hallway sizes, locations of janitor’s closets, separate waiting rooms and other such rules, which make it hard to build out in a hospital.

“That makes no sense,” Elnahal said in January. “It increases costs, it makes it harder to deliver the right care and it’s not evidence-based. So, the single license is among the most important things we are doing.”

The guidance released by the DOH on Monday was well-received by the mental health community.

Former Carrier Clinic CEO Don Parker said the rules not only are a welcome change, but will impact the bottom line.

“You have three different groups coming down to inspect you on an annual basis, you have three different groups requiring different things from you from a regulatory point of view,” Parker said.

“So, your inspection cost is tripled, your response to the new requirements is tripled, it triples everything that you do, so operations are times three. That means you have to hire more people for regulatory issues, for confidentiality, for maintenance — you name it, it’s triple. It amounts to almost 5 percent of our budget is just dealing with regulations alone.”

The New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies CEO and President Debra Wentz also agreed it is a good interim step for the DOH.

“They are looking at what they have in their toolkit to increase access as they still move forward in the process for the single, integrated license,” Wentz said.

The guidance, she said, helps remove a barrier to care that has existed for some time, keeping parts of the health care industry in silos to the detriment of patients.

The new guidance helps indicate how the DOH is viewing and pursing streamlined licensing.

In the words of one behavioral health CEO, the guidance issued Monday is what providers need.

“What this does is, it moves behavioral health care into the world of health care,” CarePlus New Jersey CEO Joseph Masciandaro said.

The changes being pursued by the DOH, in coordination with the Department of Human Services, are being credited to a 2016 report by Seton Hall University, through a grant by the Nicholson Foundation, led by professor John Jacobi.

“They’ve published some informational materials on their website that I think does a lot to help health care providers pin down what the rules are, which might sound like a funny thing, but they’re really complicated,” Jacobi said.

“What the department has done, in a very transparent way, is describe to the regulated public what the Department of Health believes its regulations require. And that is a big step.”

Parker joked that the timing of the move by the DOH is personally beneficial — since it comes while he is still working in the field of behavioral health.

“It’ll make the last several years of my career special,” he said.

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NJEDA awards five $100K grants in second round of Innovation Challenge

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority has awarded five communities each a $100,000 grant as part of the second round of its Innovation Challenge, it announced Tuesday.

Last fall, nine municipalities were awarded $100,000 each as part of the first round of the program, designed to encourage communities to strengthen local innovation ecosystems in collaboration with higher education institutions and other partners.

“The robust and creative responses to both rounds of this challenge illustrate that communities throughout the Garden State are embracing Gov. Phil Murphy’s vision for making New Jersey the ‘State of Innovation,’” EDA CEO Tim Sullivan said in a prepared statement. “Strengthening local ecosystems where new ideas can thrive will have long-term positive effects that will impact the state’s entrepreneurs and small businesses for years to come.”

The five proposals that won awards in the most recent round, with details from the EDA, include:

  • Cape May County: County officials and local partners have proposed a project that will create an Entrepreneurial Resource Center to support the economic development plans of the county and local municipalities inside and around designated Opportunity Zones.
  • Hoboken: The city has proposed plans to team up with Stevens Institute of Technology, the Hoboken Public Library and Propelify LLC to launch a planning process for the creation of a coworking innovation center that will make the vital resources of space, mentorship, capital and community available to innovative practitioners and entrepreneurs.
  • Newark: The city intends to create a plan for the expansion of its technology infrastructure and to extend existing fiber-optic and wireless communication systems by providing street-level kiosks where residents can access the internet. The city will partner on the plan with the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the Newark Community Economic Development Corp., the New Jersey Innovation Institute, Public Service Electric & Gas and iNeighborhoods.
  • Paterson: The city plans to work with Montclair State University, William Paterson University – Small Business Development Center and two long-term lessees at the Paterson Food Incubator site to create a business strategy that involves consistent training resources and workforce development opportunities for tenants at the incubator.
  • Plainfield: The city will conduct a technology-needs assessment of the community’s underutilized and vacant industrial and commercial properties. The goal of the assessment will be to determine the feasibility of creating a network of commercial, industrial and mixed-use corridors within the city so that it can be an epicenter of New Jersey’s innovation economy.

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Murphy, top Dems reach broad agreement on adult-use marijuana

An agreement has been made by Gov. Phil Murphy and top New Jersey Democrats on the  legalization of adult-use marijuana in New Jersey.

Murphy, along with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Elizabeth) jointly announced Tuesday they have settled on a broad outline for adult-use marijuana legislation.

Murphy said the legislation should establish an industry that brings fairness and economic opportunities to the state.

“Legalizing adult-use marijuana is a monumental step to reducing disparities in our criminal justice system,” Murphy said. “After months of hard work and thoughtful negotiations, I’m thrilled to announce an agreement with my partners in the Legislature on the broad outlines of adult-use marijuana legislation. I believe that this legislation will establish an industry that brings fairness and economic opportunity to all of our communities, while promoting public safety by ensuring a safe product and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on serious crimes.”

Under the agreement:

  • Adult-use marijuana will be subject to an excise tax of $42 per ounce;
  • Municipalities that are home to a cultivator or manufacturer will receive revenue from a 2 percent tax on the product;
  • Municipalities that are home to a wholesaler will receive the revenue from a 1 percent tax;
  • Municipalities that are home to a retailer will receive the revenue from a 3 percent tax.

“This plan will allow for the adult use of cannabis in a responsible way,” Sweeney said. “It will create a strictly regulated system that permits adults to purchase limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. It will bring marijuana out of the underground market so that it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been since the end of Prohibition. This plan will also advance important social justice reforms to help reverse the discriminatory impact that drug laws have had on diverse communities.”

The bill calls for a Cannabis Regulatory Commission to govern all aspects of recreational cannabis. The commission will have five members, all appointed by the governor, but two will be chosen from recommendations by the Speaker and Senate President. The commission will also promote all regulations and govern the industry, and will oversee the applications for licensing dispensaries.

“The prohibition on marijuana has long been a failed policy,” Scutari said. “This plan will bring an end to the adverse effects our outdated drug laws have had on the residents of our state. As a regulated product legalized marijuana will be safe and controlled. It is time to legalize adult use marijuana in New Jersey and this is a well crafted legal reform that will advance social policy in a fair and effective way.”

Bill provisions include an expedited expungement process for people convicted of low-level marijuana offenses and a virtual expungement process.

Additionally, there are provisions to ensure broad-based participation in the industry for minority- and women-owned businesses, low- and middle-income individuals, and disadvantaged communities.

Coughlin said he’s proud of the social justice components of the bill.

“The agreement reached to legalize adult-use cannabis is the result of incredibly hard work by many people over many months,” Coughlin said. “Getting to this point wasn’t easy. We talked and we negotiated in good faith, but most importantly, we listened. I want to thank Governor Murphy and Senate President Sweeney for their tireless efforts and willingness to compromise so we could put forth the most responsible legislation possible. I believe this new, regulated industry will help boost our economy, but I’m particularly proud of the critical social justice components included in the bill.”

“After months of discussions and debate, I am proud that we have come to an agreement on a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis,” Quijano said. “We learned from stakeholders and listened to opponents. The final product is fair, responsible and focused on social justice. I want to thank Speaker Coughlin for his leadership in the Assembly and express my gratitude to Governor Murphy and Senate President Sweeney for partnering with us in this daunting endeavor.”

Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said adult-use legalization is the right choice for New Jersey.

“I want to thank Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney, Speaker Coughlin, Senator Scutari, and Assemblywoman Quijano for coming together and doing the right thing for New Jersey. The time for legalization has come. The old ‘reefer madness’ myths have been dispelled. We know legalizing recreational adult-use cannabis and expanding medical cannabis in New Jersey will address issues of social justice, help the state’s economy, and create a new, thriving workforce.

“It is time. Time to bring New Jersey in line with other states that have moved ahead with legalization and realized the numerous benefits it brings. I look forward to working with leadership to ensure legislation passes as soon as possible.”

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Talking incentives: In Trenton, quest for better business climate continues

A four-hour joint Senate and Assembly committee’s exploratory hearing Friday focused on the state’s current tax incentive structure — set to expire June 30 — and how to improve incentives for the future, if they should even be kept around.

Legislators asked university heads, business leaders, labor leaders and others for their opinions on the existing business climate in the state, and how the government’s role helps or hurts future economic growth.

The majority of responses favored incentives and state involvement, but who the beneficiaries should be varied greatly.

Some lobbied for incentives to apply across the board for small and large companies alike, while others suggested a focus on the startup, technology and academic space.

Here are some of the highlights from the hearing.

University heads discussed the idea of greater state investment in order to help lower tuition and make colleges more competitive and attractive for in-state students, and simultaneously called for the business community to invest more in the pipeline for its future labor market.

“We are incredibly efficient in this state, we are not just escalating costs,” said Sue Cole, president of Montclair State University.

“You can’t do it alone as the government, and business and industry can’t sit on the side and wring their hands on whether or not they have a labor force. We just need an organizing force to bring us together and look at the facts.”

File photo
Ali Houshmand, president of Rowan, was one of those testifying.

Ali Houshmand, president of Rowan University, said the state’s universities play a significant role in economic growth for any area.

“Between 2011 and 2019, Rowan employment has gone from 1,600 to over 4,000 employees, and our operating budget (has gone from) roughly $200 million to $550 million,” he said.

“All of that has created tremendous amount of economic activities. Throughout the Rowan Boulevard project, which is a (public-private partnership), developers invested $400 million to develop the whole campus. That area used to be a bad housing situation that generated only $110,000 ratables for the borough of Glassboro. As a result of this development, it now generates $4 million of taxation for Glassboro.”

On the topic of whether or not New Jersey remains the medicine chest of the world, Rutgers University-New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher Molloy — who has previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry — said New Jersey very much remains a pharma center, despite losses to places like Massachusetts.

This, he said, paired with the state’s incentives, helps maintain the robust pharma industry in the state.

“Pharma isn’t leaving, they just listen to the McKinseys and Accentures that told them all about what Massachusetts is doing and put a lot of R&D up there next to Harvard, and it’s a bit of a herd mentality, quite frankly,” he said. “New Jersey, in some respects, is its own worst enemy in marketing the great stuff in the state. This state hasn’t done a great marketing campaign since Gov. (Tom) Kean was governor, and I think that’s a really important aspect of why the Amazons perhaps didn’t look twice.

“I know you’re all probably looking for some magic elixir or silver bullet to solving our economic problems, but there are none.” Tom Bracken, New Jersey chamber

“So, there’s a lot of things we can do that don’t require a huge amount of tax incentives, though they certainly have helped, and it helped the Accentures and McKinseys to coax companies to look again. Many of my pharmaceutical colleagues didn’t want to go to Massachusetts and started biotech companies here in New Jersey.”

And the anecdotes of who is leaving and who is staying are mixed.

There are still companies coming to the state, with or without incentives, and companies that are leaving for lower taxes or for a redeveloping city where they might have more impact.

New Jersey’s incentives have been harshly criticized for favoring a few cities rather than looking holistically at the state.

To that end, David Henderson at Roebling Lofts in Trenton said that was the right move. But, he said, companies are still not ready to commit to coming to the city because the state has done little more than designate the city a growth zone — and needs a stronger showing of commitment to the capital city’s future.

“For an emerging market like our capital city to really take advantage of the new economy where, due to millennials preferences to live, work and play in authentic, walkable urban areas, diverse areas, we need a very solid commitment on the part of the state,” he said.

“The growth that we saw in the ’80s in New Jersey suburbs is not happening again. You can talk about how Grow New Jersey favored cities; well, that’s probably OK, because that’s where the growth is happening.”

File photo
New Jersey Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Tom Bracken was also among those who appeared.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Tom Bracken said there should be more diversity in the incentive offerings.

When asked what would happen if the state simply let the current incentives run out, Bracken said it would make the state less competitive.

“I know you’re all probably looking for some magic elixir or silver bullet to solving our economic problems, but there are none,” he said.

“It is important that the health of the business community is acknowledged and the health of the business community is nurtured. The business community right now is not in a good place. The business community has been ignored, taken for granted, taxed at an increased rate, overly mandated and vilified without justification, in many cases.”

One such example includes utilities, which are unable to invest in capital improvements due to regulations and other policy issues, he said.

If the state focuses on supporting the business community, the state can say something it hasn’t in years, Bracken said.

“This state is open for business. This state, right now, is not open for business.”

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With Murphy in office, NJ Future feels nothing can disrupt the progress it preaches

Gov. Phil Murphy couldn’t resist.

As the hecklers and protesters continued to scream at him from 20 or so feet away, Murphy didn’t lose his cool, didn’t raise his voice, didn’t — as he, himself, pointed out later, tell them to “Shut up and sit down.” He just continued on with his remarks at the annual New Jersey Future Redevelopment Forum at the Hyatt in New Brunswick.

But he threw in a little dig, too.

“I hope you’re protesting the governors of Oklahoma and Texas, too,” he said.

The crowd roared.

Tom Bergeron/ROI-NJ
The forum sold out quickly, with an audience of more than 600.

Murphy went on with his remarks, talking about creating a more sustainable state, rebuilding mass transit and investing in clean energy. He reiterated his support for incentives — and his belief that incentives alone are not enough to grow the state.

And he reiterated his ultimate dream.

“We have put such a focus on taking a longer view and thinking of the New Jersey we want to be in five or 10 years or beyond, not just this year or next year,” he said. “It’s why I signed an executive order for the Board of Public Utilities to create a new energy master plan to help us achieve our goal of a 100 percent clean energy economy in New Jersey by the year 2050.”

The talk was nothing new for the more than 600 people in a standing-room-only crowd.

The fact that a sitting governor was at the forum, was.

So said NJ Future Executive Director Peter Kasabach.

“We’re really excited that this governor is very much aligned with our smart growth redevelopment agenda,” he said. “When we have conversations with him and his staff, they’re all saying the right things, they’re all going in the right direction, policy-wise.

“Now, it’s a matter of starting to put the wheels of government and the gears of government moving in the right direction so that we can start getting action quicker than we all that we have in the past.”

Murphy’s 18-minute speech was right out of the NJ Future playbook.

“We are committed to achieving the vision of a more sustainable future that is shared by everyone in this room,” he said. “A strong New Jersey is more resilient, it runs on clean energy and is home to thriving and dynamic downtowns where people work in both new buildings and historic ones refurbished for tomorrow.

“A stronger New Jersey has safe and reliable mass transit for people to get to school and work and serves as anchors for smartly developed communities.”

Kasabach was thrilled to hear it.

“This governor is moving more in the direction of being very environmentally responsible, very community-oriented,” he said. “We’re now looking more broadly at how economic development can affect more people.

“So, it’s a shift. And the policy shift moves it in a little bit in a direction. It will never go as fast or as far as people want it.”

Murphy laughed off the group of protesters — as well as another who interrupted the speech from the back of the room later, saying there always is room for alternative ideas.

NJ Future
Peter Kasabach of NJ Future.

Kasabach said it comes with the territory.

“I think it’s true in any policy world you’re in, there’s always going to be two extremes,” he said. “And there are extremes on both sides. And we’re very comfortable that those extremes keep coming up and they keep making their case, and we’re comfortable with the governor moving in the direction that he’s moving.”

NJ Future, after years of feeling as if it didn’t have a voice, is just glad it has one again, Kasabach said.

And, judging by the record crowd — the conference actually closed registration earlier in the week — Kasabach feels the voice is gaining strength.

“When the policy winds are blowing against you, you have your hardcore folks who are working with you and you’re fighting the good fight,” he said.

“Once the winds start blowing in your direction, you start to create new allies, you get new opportunities to work with people. That part has been very good.”

Even if it means you have a few blowhards trying to interrupt your event.

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Charity care funding to remain unchanged at $262M — but, this year, it comes with requirements

The fact that the state is proposing to maintain the current level of funding for charity care, which helps hospitals cover the costs of uninsured and poor patients, was lauded Tuesday by health care officials.

But the stable funding — $262 million in Gov. Phil Murphy’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal — comes with strings attached.

First, the hospitals receiving charity care can only do so if they are connected to the New Jersey Health Information Network, a network of electronic health records of all patients in the state.

In addition, what charity care dollars cover will be changing.

Charity care dollars are used by the state’s acute care hospitals, and matched by federal dollars, to help cover the costs of uninsured and poor patients.

In the past few years, the funding has decreased with the onset of the Affordable Care Act, which helped drive the number of uninsured down. Since the individual mandate was repealed at the federal level, charity care funding is back in the spotlight.

The Murphy administration is using this to impact how health care is delivered in the state.

File photo
Cathleen Bennett of the NJHA.

“Hospitals that receive charity care funds will also be required to connect with the New Jersey Health Information Network to improve interoperability,” according to the budget proposal.

NJHIN began under the former Department of Health commissioner, and the current New Jersey Hospital Association CEO and president, Cathleen Bennett.

Commissioner Shereef Elnahal told ROI-NJ on Wednesday that the HIN has 62 of the 72 acute care hospitals in the state participating. He hopes the budget proposal will lift that number to 100 percent participation.

The HIN requirement lines up with federal requirements for hospitals to have patients able to access their information electronically, Elnahal said, so hospitals should already have the equipment necessary for that.

The administration has made gathering data a key moving forward.

“To encourage improvements in health care access and quality, one-12th of each participating hospital’s charity care will be contingent on the reporting of key indicators,” according to the budget proposal.

Those indicators include the number of charity care patients who are connected to follow up preventative and primary care upon discharge.

This changes the dynamic of charity care dollars being used as a crutch for emergency visits, as some hospitals have been accused of doing in the past.

Elnahal said the state conducted a survey last year to determine what was being done to help charity care patients avoid costly emergency room visits.

The majority of the answers, he said, indicated use of Federally Qualified Health Centers and hospitals using their ambulatory care sites.

The latter would qualify for charity care dollars, he said.

The state will be issuing more details on the requirements once the budget is enacted, Elnahal said.

After the budget address Tuesday, the Fair Share Hospitals Collaborative said in a statement that keeping funding flat was the right thing to do.

File photo
Shereef Elnahal, New Jersey’s commissioner of health.

“All hospitals are safety nets for their communities and rely on the Charity Care program to help offset the cost of treating low-income and uninsured patients,” according to FSHC.

“For the past several years, Fair Share Hospital Collaborative member hospitals have disproportionately borne the brunt of the previous administration’s drastic cuts to the Charity Care program, yet continue to provide high-quality, cost-efficient care to all New Jersey residents, regardless of their ability to pay for services.

“We are happy to see Gov. Murphy recognizes the critical role all hospitals provide in serving their community and has chosen to maintain last year’s increase of $10 million to the Charity Care Program. It’s a great step towards restoring funding to statutory levels for all New Jersey’s hospitals.”

The NJHA also lauded the funding, but it pushed for greater focus on post-acute care and elderly care facilities.

“Our health care system is in a transformative period, focusing on value, population health and the expectations of our health care consumers,” Bennett said.

“Health care providers are investing energy, resources and some really innovative thinking into these areas — as they should. And yet, New Jersey hospitals continue to face the age-old challenges of caring for people without health insurance:

  • “In 2016, the most recent year data is available, our hospitals provided $565 million in charity care services to individuals. With the governor’s proposed funding of $262 million, New Jersey’s hospitals will shoulder the burden of $303 million in unreimbursed care for our state’s most vulnerable residents.
  • “Meanwhile, the number of N.J. residents insured through the ACA’s online marketplace has declined by 40,000 the last two years, and the state’s uninsured rate is once again on the rise — from 7.7 percent in 2017, to 8 percent in 2018, to 9 percent today.”

That being said, Bennett and NJHA increasingly have been focused on the aging population of the state — an issue that has taken hold nationally as one of the most important for the health care industry to focus on.

“We appreciate a budget proposal that recognizes those same goals, and we welcome the opportunity for further discussion with elected leaders on the present — and the future — of our health care system, including the pressing need to adequately fund nursing homes and other providers who care for our seniors in post-acute settings,” she said.

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N.J. native, Rutgers alum Gottleib announces he’s leaving FDA

Scott Gottlieb announced he will be leaving the Food and Drug Administration within a month to return to his family in Connecticut.

The New Jersey native and Rutgers University alumnus is leaving on a high note.

In the past 24 hours, the FDA has made headlines for expediting generic drug approvals and helping increase competition to drive down drug costs, as well as putting several corporations on notice for selling e-cigarettes to minors — all attributed to Gottlieb’s leadership.

Insiders in New Jersey’s pharmaceutical, life sciences and academic research sectors were all shocked by the surprise announcement Tuesday.

All requested anonymity, stating it would be inappropriate to comment on his departure since their industries are directly affected by him.

“He has been very engaged, and I think the industry has had a very good relationship with him, he has been working very constructively with everybody,” one insider said.

“I think we’re all disappointed,” another insider said. “From the standpoint of investing in the continuous pharmaceutical manufacturing, biologics manufacturing, the future of cell and gene therapy, and trying to be progressive in terms of creating regulatory procedures that are in line with science, I think he has been a very positive force.”

Another said, “He is very well liked and respected, and he has been doing things to move the FDA forward.”

Industries regulated by the FDA now face significant uncertainty regarding who will fill his shoes.

The market wasn’t closed when the announcement was reported Tuesday, and the stocks took a sharp dip in the life science sector. But the tobacco industry stocks jumped at the end of the day.

In his letter to the FDA, Gottlieb said his family was pulling him away from his job.

“This is a very special institution, and the work that binds us in a shared mission is inspiring,” he said.

“I know that the opportunity to serve in this role was a privilege, and an endeavor that I’ll never be able to replicate in my professional life — the impact of our public health work, the camaraderie, and our ability to improve the lives of Americans.

“I’ll depart knowing that the FDA is strong, its people outstanding and is mission well recognized and deeply respected across the government, and indeed, across the world.”

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Business, policy leaders mostly agree: Budget proposal is bad for business

How the heads of some of the state’s top business groups and economic policy think tanks reacted to Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget address:

We cannot afford yet another tax increase

Tom Bracken, president, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce

“We applaud the changes he proposes to the public employee and retiree benefit programs and the reduction in state government expenses, which will save more than $1 billion. We agree with his proposed investments in education and infrastructure, and we support the strengthening of economic investment programs to retain and attract business to New Jersey.

“However, the New Jersey Chamber strongly opposes the governor’s proposal to increase the tax rate on those who make the investments and create new jobs in New Jersey.

“New Jersey cannot afford yet another tax increase, and the New Jersey Chamber believes the $447 million — out of a $38.6 billion budget — to be raised by this tax increase can be found through a more aggressive and much-needed cost efficiency initiative across all of state government.

“The pain from this new tax would be severely disproportionate to its benefit.”

Today’s proposal will not improve the outlook for N.J. businesses

Michele Siekerka, CEO and president, New Jersey Business & Industry Association

“NJBIA appreciates Gov. Murphy’s efforts to prepare a FY 2020 state budget that is fiscally sound, drives economic growth and makes investments in New Jersey’s future.

“We also appreciate the governor’s efforts to offer significant health care savings in this budget, as we and others have advocated, to bring more fiscal responsibility to our state. However, this proposed budget also adds nearly an equal amount of spending. It increases New Jersey’s overall budget by 3.2 percent compared to last fiscal year and 11.2 percent from FY 2018.

“To balance this additional spending, Gov. Murphy again looks to increase taxes on an already-overtaxed state. Today’s proposal will not improve the outlook for New Jersey businesses, which saw tax increases and a wave of costly mandates over the past year that collectively strike hard at profit margins and overall competitiveness.

“In addition, lowering the threshold for the top gross income tax rate will continue to encourage the outmigration of wealth from the state. New Jersey has a net loss of nearly $25 billion in adjusted gross income over the last 12 years of available data. This will continue if more individuals have to pay a top income tax rate, which ranks as the third-highest in the nation, and the highest in our region.”

Governor needs to focus on business and growing our tax base

Anthony Russo, president, Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey

“We hope the governor and his team will do a deeper dive to find additional savings and cut expenses, as opposed to a millionaire’s tax,” Russo said.

CIANJ applauds the effort to tighten the state’s belt and cut costs by $1.1 billion, but questions how the overall spending package will be supported.

“This year’s revenue growth is not meeting expectations and the shortfall needs to be addressed,” said Russo. “We cannot spend what we don’t have — revenue has been disappointing and a tougher look at the state’s spending package must be undertaken.

“The governor needs to focus on business and growing our tax base. He needs to view businesses as partners and that is ultimately how all residents will thrive.”

Sweeney, Coughlin need to hold the line on taxes

Regina Egea, president, Garden State Initiative

“The question I recall from my time in both the treasurer’s and the governor’s offices each February was: ‘How can we reduce our state’s crushing tax burden?’ Today, we now know the only question being asked in those offices is: ‘How can we spend more, tax more and drive more New Jerseyans away?’

“This administration has failed to grasp what the IRS data has already told us: Taxpayers are mobile. Shouldering an ever-larger tax burden, our neighbors have been fleeing our state and taking tax revenue with them.

“Today’s budget address may as well have been sponsored by the Florida or North Carolina chambers of commerce. Doubling down, as this governor is, on spending more each year without acknowledging the damage being done to our economy and tax base is the definition of reckless.

“It is imperative that Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin are responsible leaders and keep their word to hold the line on no new or higher taxes. They have demonstrated strong conviction on many issues over the last year. Now is the time to show up for New Jersey and stop the irresponsible and damaging polices of the Murphy administration.”

This is a fiscally sound vision that invests in N.J.’s greatest assets

Sheila Reynertson, senior policy analyst, New Jersey Policy Perspective

“The budget outlined by Gov. Murphy sets a foundation for shared prosperity and fiscal health. It pairs significant cost savings with continued investments in critical programs and services, while also committing to a healthy surplus that will safeguard the state from future economic downturns or natural disasters. Simply put, this is a fiscally sound vision that invests in New Jersey’s greatest assets, while lifting up the most vulnerable families in the state.

“Further, we commend Gov. Murphy for centering his speech on the state’s role in providing opportunities to help New Jersey families thrive in a variety of ways, including increased funding for affordable homes, expanding free community college, covering birth support for black mothers, and increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“We also applaud Gov. Murphy for his commitment to tax fairness and his inclusion of a true millionaire’s tax in his budget proposal. Given the state’s growing income inequality, racial disparities and lopsided tax code, asking New Jersey’s wealthiest individuals to pay a little bit more is the definition of fairness. This overdue change in the tax code will impact less than 1 percent of tax filers, many of whom just received a generous tax break from changes to the federal tax code. The additional funds from a millionaire’s tax will help to fund the state’s property tax relief programs and allow the state to continue investing in services that benefit all New Jerseyans.”

Investing in infrastructure upgrades is smart move

Peter Kasabach, executive director, New Jersey Future

“New Jersey Future is encouraged by the governor’s commitment in his budget address to investing in critical infrastructure upgrades, particularly NJ Transit.

“Reliable public transportation is vital to the success of our cities and to meet the increasing demand for housing near transit, but this is not the only type of infrastructure in need of investment.

“Our water infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and we hope to see funding for this in the next budget.”

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