Prescribing Our Addictions

As of August 2014, there exists a holy plethora of data and statistics that show the strong correlation between prescription opiate drugs, heroin, and addiction. Sadly, the high school graduating class of 2011 and I are watching the data come to life, right in the middle of suburbia. Opiate drugs have infected my town, turning many young Cherry Hill residents into full-fledged drug addicts.

New Jersey, and many other states, have launched specific task forces with the sole objective, “to educate young people on the dangers of prescription pain killers”. Hundreds of young people are prescribed percocet, tamarol, oxycotin, cyclobenzaprine, and others, for sports injuries and common procedures like wisdom teeth removal. I myself was prescribed several forms of opiate pills and muscle relaxants for one back injury.

It is important to note that I was completely immobilized by my pain, and I was taken to the hospital via ambulance, so some form of pain relief was in order. However, within three days of my injury taking place, I had been prescribed 80 days worth of opiate pills and relaxants between what I was given at the hospital and then at the physician’s office. Professionalism aside, that’s a stupid amount of pills for one injury. I only took the drugs for five days, but if I took them more regularly,  who knows, maybe I’d be next in line for heroin. After all, I was given 80 days to get hooked.

The sure ease of getting copious amounts of opiates is one aspect of our medical system that needs to change. A lumbar disk displacement should not result in that many pills of 4 different varieties.

The second aspect that needs to change when it comes to prescription opiates is that they all together, collectively, need to go away. New Jersey’s Legislature has the ability to outlaw their use either all together. Or, less extreme, the Legislature can outlaw the use for certain age groups, or more strictly specify what injury or pain should yield their prescription. The Legislature can also move forward with an initiative that better regulates the amount given to a patient within a specified time period. All four of those options are possible for New Jersey with a vote, and with such an addiction epidemic that is stemming from the use of opiates, one has to wonder why the vote wouldn’t happen once proposed.

But what would people do for intense pain if things like percocet are banned in New Jersey? The bottom line is that New Jersey can no longer stall with making medicinal marijuana an accessible treatment. A non-habit forming approach to treating temporary pain is what the Garden State needs. The only hold up seems to be the Governor’s refusal to speak about the taboo topic. Until he decides to entertain such a conversation or he eventually no longer holds office, New Jersey residents will continue to be subject to addiction following injuries and procedures. Everyone holds the right to not risk addiction as a side effect of every accident, injury, or procedure they endure. Opiates do not need to be claiming our children’s lives, but we are acting as if they are the only options when it comes to treating temporary pain.

As citizens, we also need to take some initiative and dispose of our unused poisons in a proper way. Flushing them down the toilet is not safe for our water systems, and leaving them in our medicine cabinets is another way in which our children get hooked. I’ve destroyed my unused medications based upon the guidelines by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, so they’re long gone and disgusting (read the hyper-link, I have a big dog who needs to go potty a lot).

It’s time to get serious about the root causes of so many young people’s addictions. For a society that classifies addiction as a disease, why are we essentially prescribing a disease? It is time to say that the temporary relief that non-addicts receive from opiate drugs is just not worth such damage to society anymore.

-Brian K. Everett

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Downtown Danger

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When it comes to Camden City, it is widely assumed, and known, that the Downtown Business and University District is the safest area of the city. After all, Rutgers University is right on Cooper Street with its own police force, L3 Communications has a security team, the Delaware River Port Authority has some jurisdiction in the area, and of course, the Camden County Police Force patrols within Downtown’s vicinity. The Adventure Aquarium and the Susquehanna Bank Center are also a part of Downtown Camden, and they both draw thousands of visitors throughout the year which in turn creates a need for high police presence. All of these locations are reachable by taking the PATCO or RiverLine.

However, the biggest danger that currently faces this section of Camden can not be tamed by any police force, no matter what jurisdiction of the law it may hail from. Downtown Camden, from a ground perspective at least, is facing the potential threat of a large building’s collapse.
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The Radio Lofts building says that “Condominiums (are) Coming Soon”, however these banners have been displayed for roughly a decade with no sign of condominiums coming anytime soon.  The Radio Lofts property is owned by Dranoff Properties, a redevelopment firm that owns and has constructed several high rise apartment and condominium structures in Philadelphia, as well as the Victor building in Camden.  On their website the firm displays virtual images of a proposed refurbishing project of The Radio Lofts in an effort to bring luxury housing to the Camden Waterfront.
The images of what could have become of the building are magnificent, even breathtaking.  However, I believe they are simply images of an abandoned dream now. Given the current physical state of the building, I do not see how Dranoff Properties can even touch the building without it falling in on itself.
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More importantly, though, is the safety risk that this seemingly forgotten project poses to pedestrians, motorists, and RiverLine passengers. There are several obvious locations on the Cooper Street facing side of the building where bricks and decorative cinder stones have detached and fallen to the ground.
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 At least two corners of the building display large separations of bricks of which appear to be growing.
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At some point in time, wooden support beams were installed in the window units, but now they are completely weather-beaten, and they are either falling in or out of the building.
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What appears to be most alarming about the visible dilapidation of The Radio Lofts can be seen from the cracks between a large gate blocking the entrance from the sidewalk. It appears that the ceilings are beginning to cave in, most likely from years of rain, snow, and wind. Most abandoned buildings in Camden have ended their existence following the destruction of the ceilings and roofs. That is when physics will take full effect and the buildings collapse.
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The City of Camden and Dranoff Properties need to act immediately. A building collapse of this size can cause dozens of deaths and serious injuries to motorists, pedestrians, and the RiverLine riders who wait at the foot of the building for the train to come. This is a threat to public safety without much time left to act, and monetary responsibility can no longer be an impediment to action.

National Power Over Dinner

According to an nj.com article published on July 11th, George Norcross III will be hosting a dinner fundraiser for his brother, Donald Norcross, on August 4th at Caffe Aldo Lamberti in Cherry Hill to raise money for his Congressional Campaign in New Jersey’s First District. Nj.com did not publish the article simply to advertise for the event, but rather it was published because US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be in attendance. Also, in order to attend, you’ll need to scrounge up $2,600 for dinner.

Given the price of dinner, I wonder why such a fundraising initiative is being attempted, especially while considering the Norcross camp does not seem to need the money. According to ballot results from the June 3rd primary and the finance contribution totals provided by ballotpedia.org, one can safely assume that Donald has the election won as it stands now.

Donald received 72.1% of the Democratic vote and his campaign reportedly spent $25,254.11 as of April, with a remaining $353,285.70 left to spend. With a solid $378,000 reported in one period, and roughly $25,000 spent before the primary, I think it’s safe to say that Donald’s campaign has more than enough money to finish out the race.

After all, New Jersey’s First Congressional District is overwhelmingly democratic. Ballotpedia also reports over 25,000 people voting in the Democratic primary, and just over 8,700 for the Republican primary. What may be concerning though to the Norcross brothers, is that their campaign has spent over $25,000 for 18,305 votes, but Garry Cobb, the Republican primary winner, reportedly has not spent a single cent nor raised any money at all for 6,602 votes, roughly 27% of all cast votes.

So, based upon the math, why is a $2,600 fundraiser even happening? My guess is so it filters back into the Camden County Democratic Committee‘s agenda for future elections around the state, and now even around the country. This particular plate is more expensive than some presidential fundraisers from 2012. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama attended several dinners for just $1,000-$2,500 a plate. They both also attended dinners upwards of $30,000 dollars, but that was also a very tight race for the White House, unlike this rather uncompetitive congressional race.

The dinner at Lamberti’s is “invite only”, so most likely only those who can afford it have already been asked to join. However, it still remains a mathematical question as to why such an expensive plate is being offered for this particular campaign. My last guess on the topic would be that the dinner has solely been planned to make cross-country allies with Harry Reid. After all, as the nj.com article states, the former chief of staff of Reid’s campaign had ties with George Norcross and a super PAC that maintained democrats in their legislative seats. Maybe the next time nj.com, or anyone for that matter, writes a story about George Norcross and his fundraising and powerful political strategies, the story won’t just be confined to New Jersey. The Norcross influence has now begun to extend throughout the nation.

Brian K. Everett: Now Introducing Rutgers University-CAMDEN

 

rucpicYesterday, the Courier Post published an article written by Camden’s mayor, Dana Redd. In the article, it is obvious that her intent is to promote the city’s willingness to accept businesses into the city which may find it worth their while to take advantage of New Jersey’s Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) and relocate to Camden City. This makes sense, due to Camden’s perpetual budgetary shortfall. However, it is definitely clear to big businesses, according to the mayor’s regional announcement, that Camden’s doors will swing wide open with a velvet red carpet should a corporation wish to relocate it’s operations to the city. After all, the mayor “applauded” the $82 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. Imagine what $82 million could have done for Camden’s Public Schools…

It is a nice change though, hearing a welcoming atmosphere being brought to the city. Previously, and for decades, Camden County’s affordable housing responsibilities were sent to Camden without much input from Camden residents at all. The wealthy suburban municipalities did not want them in their towns. Also, nobody heard about the placement of the unit locations! It has been a classic case of “out of sight, out of mind” for suburban Camden County. That is why Camden struggles to generate a sufficient tax base in order to balance the operating budget. Camden does not struggle, as the mayor stated, just because of “disinvestment”. It struggles because the County has placed 76.8% of it’s poorest families into one Camden City.

Mayor Redd also failed to mention an important anchor institution while she mentioned a list of, “committed partners […] and anchor institutions”. She forgot to mention Rutgers-Camden and the 7,000 students and faculty that go along with the campus. Now, as a student, this omission is not just insulting because of the literal fact that Rutgers-Camden has been, and continues to be an anchor institution, located within a rock’s throw from City Hall. It’s more so insulting because it appears that the mayor does not realize the extraordinary amount of work that the university does for her city.

This argument can begin and end with Rutgers-Camden’s Office of Civic Engagement, even though several other offices and groups are determined to make a difference. The self-describing office provides many services and programs that engage students and faculty with Camden residents through after school programs, soup kitchens, day care centers, health care providers, teen-mentoring efforts, non-profit organizations, as well as religious and environmental entities, all determined to make a collective beneficial difference in Camden. In some cases, the work by the Civic Scholars has preceded the authoritative efforts by Camden’s mayor.

For example, Mayor Redd said that her administration will be working with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development in order to, “provide customized job-training courses in work ethics, job coaching and personal finance management”. Although more volume is needed, this effort has already been in effect for more than year now, with the charge being led by Amy Mallon and Katherine Nguyen. Their program, NOW HIRING!, is a collaborative effort between Rutgers-Camden’s Human Resource department and the Civic Scholars. NOW HIRING! prepares Camden residents for the interview process, edits résumés, and has earned several residents a much needed job.

Katherine is also regular volunteer at Project H.O.P.E, INC, where she supports an effort to better men and women’s health for those who are at risk or experiencing homelessness in the city.

Madison Rogers also participates in helping Camden residents prepare for the workforce. She has created and mastered a curriculum for her ESL program which is offered to the parents of Molina Elementary School. As an extension of the Ignite after-school program, Madison and her team have empowered several classes with the English language skills required to communicate in the American workplace. The next class begins July 7th in Armitage Hall.

The work of the Civic Scholars and the Office of Civic Engagement does not only serve Camden’s adult population. Russell Tichian has participated at Holy Name School’s after school program for three years now, helping children with their homework and mentoring them along the way. Brian Gregg has also participated in a similar effort, where he regularly mentors teenagers and actively participates in their school life. This type of work is the beginning to a strong and prosperous workforce, and Rutgers-Camden is making it happen.

Marcus Biddle has even been honored by his service site, The Neighborhood Center, with an award. Within the facility he has performed just about every service the multipurpose non-profit offers. He has also begun work with Dr. Stephen Danley to create a newspaper for Camden residents to report their own stories, rather than have outside media sources continue to cast a dark light on all aspects of the city.

Take Angelica Shaw as another example. She has directed and planned several programs all throughout the year for TeenSHARP. It is so important to know that every single one of the 40 active Civic Scholars perform these works as community service while also balancing their classes, and at least one paying job. Faculty of Rutgers-Camden are also regularly engaged with community service efforts while balancing their research and teaching responsibilities. Chris Countryman, the program director of the Civic Scholars, regularly volunteers with TeenSHARP and visits every one of the 20 Community Partners of Rutgers-Camden.

I guess the mayor became too distracted by the mega dollar signs that have been making headlines in the city lately. It seems odd, and actually worrisome, that Mayor Redd omitted Rutgers-Camden from her article, especially when considering her own roles with Rutgers-Camden. She graduated from Rutgers-Camden, and she sits on the Board of Directors as well as the joint Rutgers-Camden/Rowan University Board of Governors which individually holds eminent domain powers in Camden City. In fact, it was the Civic Scholars who were asked to help set up the Camden Night Garden festival, which the Mayor attended and helped to organize as a effort to “witness the rebirth”. Maybe it was just a slip of the mind, it happens, but considering everything that Rutgers-Camden offers to the city, we should try to not let such efforts be overlooked again. Plus, I haven’t even touched the research power the campus holds…

 

Cherry Hill Remains Intolerant to New Jersey’s Poor

I find it fascinating that I have lived in Cherry Hill for my entire life, 21 years now, and it took a college education to show me the critical social injustice that my own town is and continues to be responsible for in New Jersey.

I calculated the injustice previously in my research, showing that Cherry Hill Township has 180 units of affordable housing available for poor families within the entire township, less than 1% of Camden County’s entire affordable housing total for low income families. This truth exists while Camden City has 76.8% of Camden County’s affordable family units. This information was obtained by calculating the data provided by the New Jersey Guide to Affordable Housing for Camden County, but those are simply the numbers.

An article published by philly.com  on June 16th demonstrates the true emotional and ignorant intolerance that some Cherry Hill residents have towards allowing low income residents the opportunity to live in a place of prosperity. The article, written by Suzette Parmley, displays a somber looking elderly white man moping about the Woodcrest Country Club as if his own opportunity to a successful life is about to be taken from him by having the golf course turned into an apartment complex that would include 169 units of low income housing. The contrary is the reality in this situation. Mr. Cohen, who is 69 years old, and the hundreds of families who have spent tens of thousands of dollars to block any sort of COAH mandated housing development in Cherry Hill are responsible for keeping low income families confined to only live in a select few municipalities in Camden County simply due to the location of these family units. Therefore, because of the locations of businesses and job opportunities, blocking these affordable family units in Cherry Hill is a direct sentence to remain of low income status.

The reoccurring suburban battle cry has been sounded; “Not in my backyard!”. Well, for my fellow Cherry Hill residents, at least you have a backyard. We have created a living culture in Camden County that continuously prevents low income children from learning in diverse and safe environments, therefore continuously yielding low tests scores and high school dropouts. The research by Dr. Doug Massey, found in his book “Climbing Mt. Laurel”, shows that low income children are much more likely to rise above the poverty line while they are able to grow up in thriving communities, rather than a poverty stricken city. Children and families of low income who might have the chance to live in these new units in Cherry Hill would have much better access to public transportation and to a more successful job market that already exists in the township.

It seems like my Cherry Hill neighbors are much more comfortable to allow all New Jersey tax payers to continuously pay more in state property and income taxes due to the rising amount of people who are forced to rely on public assistance programs such as food stamps, emergency room healthcare, and housing, rather than lose their backyard’s view of an empty golf course which in turn would give hundreds of families and children the opportunity to one day rise above the poverty threshold in a safe community.

I will agree with my Cherry Hill neighbors that such developments should not be built in the blink of an eye. Infrastructure needs to be taken into account so that flooding or sewage issues do not worsen. However, I do invite them to visit Camden during any rainstorm if they’d like to see flooding and raw sewage issues of epic proportions. That is a constant reality that low income families must endure while simultaneously being unable to purchase fresh foods or drink clean water. Cherry Hill residents have the luxury of purchasing fresh foods from either Wegmans, Whole Foods, ShopRite, Acme, Wawa, The Asian Food Market, and several corner placitas that sell fruits and vegetables. Cherry Hill’s water also does not contain chromium. Camden residents predominately rely on sugar and fried food vendors and soup kitchens for their meals simply because those are the only food sources available.

To end this article, I’d like to apologize to the children and families who currently live in places of food scarcity, high crime, and poor infrastructure, because I am not the stereotypical Cherry Hill resident. I do not have tens of thousands of dollars to fight on your behalf to have these developments built. I wish that wasn’t even necessary, and in turn, I wish I could purchase tens of thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables and meats. I want my town to be more accepting to those who simply need better access to the basic building blocks of life, like a grocery store, street lights, mass transit stops, and clean water. I want my town to no longer be so uninviting to low income families simply because their potential new homes of opportunity might scorn the view that their kitchen windows currently display. To me, that is just pompous, and it is exactly what Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, winner of the MacArthur Genius Grant, mentioned in his commencement speech at Rutgers-Camden. “The city [of Camden] burned down because another generation couldn’t figure out how to get along”, he said in his closing remarks. And I say on behalf of my generation, that people of all economic backgrounds are welcome to have a chance to live in Cherry Hill.

Organized Voices

I have documented a decent amount of research and statistical findings over the past semester. Much of it was based upon the concentrations of affordable housing units which yields impoverished cities and decreases opportunities to rise above the poverty threshold.

I have not contributed much opinion at all, so I will do so right now:

During the past semester at Rutgers-Camden I held an internship with the Fifth Legislative District of New Jersey. My work was varied amongst office “busy-work” and miscellaneous assignments from any of the three legislators; Senator Donald Norcross, Assemblyman Gilbert Wilson, and Assemblyman Angel Fuentes.

Amongst everything that I was able to learn about the legislative process, I think I learned that the most important aspect of New Jersey politics is that some people as individuals and some people as groups are very good at getting their voices heard. Other individuals and groups who may share an equally burning inner protest about a social issue are not very good at all at getting their opinions heard by the appropriate powers that be.

For example, the pro gun rights lobbyist groups are fenomenal at organizing themselves into a network that directs individuals to call every legislative office in the state. I personally must have taken 200+ calls from individuals who opposed Assembly Bill A2006, which reduces the maximum capacity of firearms in New Jersey from 15 rounds to 10 rounds. My coworkers at the Fifth District must have taken even more calls than I did plus the hundreds of automated faxes that all opposed this one bill.

Another very good example of organized voices came just after Senator Nicholas Scutari revealed his Senate bill, S1896, which aims to decriminalize the use and possession of marijuana. It was clear that there was not such an organized effort by any specific marijuana lobby, however we still received quite a number of phone calls, emails, letters, and faxes in support of Senator Scutari’s bill.

Unfortunately, amongst all good examples, there are bad examples. There was a lot of commotion coming from Camden City during my time as an intern specifically about what is happening to the city’s public schools. The newspapers and newscasts showed hundreds of families and students upset and protesting the Superintendent’s decision to layoff over 200 schools teachers and employees. The same media sources showed equal discontent when the state announced the plans for less public schools and more charter schools. The missing link here, in Camden’s case, was that the legislative offices were not receiving any amount of letters, phone calls, or anything. The Fifth District would receive calls from the teacher’s union and other entities within the educational realm, but pretty much nothing directly from the citizens. If it was not for media outlets documenting the student protests, the legislators that represent them in Trenton never would have known the event took place.

Voices of opposition from Camden City will be heard if they are spoken. I remember the swift organization that took place amongst Rutgers-Camden students and faculty in order to protest and then ultimately defeat the proposed merger between Rowan University and RUC. There were thousands of letters written to legislators of both the State and Federal levels, an online petition was created that received more than 10,000 signatures, and most importantly, the entire State and Delaware Valley were paying attention to what was happening.

Camden City residents can still make a very big statement, and they can stand up for their united beliefs by making sure that they direct their voices to where they are supposed to go. If public school students are tired of having their teachers fired, if parents are tired of their children being forced into alternative schooling types, if Camden residents are fed up with anything about their City, they should start writing some letters and making some phone calls. There are more than 14,000 letters that can be mailed from public school students and parents, and it would be nice to see half of that happen.

Until the calls are made and the letters are written, the Mayor’s office, the Senator, and Assemblymen will not have any documentation that shows how the public feels about these life changing issues. Because of this disconnect, the elected officials will support and oppose legislation without the input of Camden’s residents.

Rouhanifard “forced” to Fire; We are forced to Write

The original claim from Governor Chris Christie to seize the Camden City School District was obviously concerning to Camden residents. After all, this State take over was the third piece of State legislation within a twelve year time span that took away the residents’ governing powers. In 2002, Governor Jim McGreevey signed the Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act (MRERA) into law which took away the governing powers of the mayor and city council. This Act was somewhat justified at the time because of the recent history of corruption charges against former Camden City mayors as well as the city’s downward economic and social spiral. The second legislative robbery was the demolition of Camden City’s police department and the creation of the Camden County Metro Police. Such a ground breaking and momentous decision was also somewhat justified at the time because of Camden’s extremely high crime rate which earned it the national label of “most dangerous American city”, as well as making up more than 50% of the city’s operating budget. And, now, of course the third piece of legislation comes after decades of the Camden City School District underperforming on standardized tests.

What makes all three legislative approaches to resurrecting Camden City unjustified is that the residents have not, and they continue to not approve of Trenton making Camden City’s decisions. What also makes all three decisions unjustified is that they all serve as temporary, painful, and politically charged bandages for the more complex issues of American poverty.

The recent layoffs of 241 school teachers and administrators will benefit nobody. Rouhanifard is the Governor’s appointed “Superintendent” and he will do as the Governor wants. The layoffs are not an effort to guide the city’s school district into an era of better fiscal responsibility. Money really is not the issue despite the Superintendent’s citing of a $75 million deficit. It’s impossible for money to be an issue in a New Jersey public school, because by law, all public schools that have operating deficits, will have their deficits closed by equalization aid provided by the New Jersey Department of Education. This has been happening for decades and it is approved every single year by the New Jersey Legislature.

It seems as though we are witnessing the avalanche of New Jersey’s failing culture of austerity through the suffering of Camden City. Over the past four years, residents all across the state have been told that they are not worth a living wage, SNAP programs are too expensive, the State needs more affordable family homes but nobody is actually going to build them, and it is really okay that New Jersey has reached a 52 year high for the number of impoverished citizens, while simultaneously increasing our millionaire population.

Rouhanifard did not need to fire the staff in Camden’s Schools, and Newark (also under State control) does not need to fire it’s alleged 700 teachers later this year. New Jersey needs to support these cities by getting them the basic essentials for what it takes to be successful both economically and academically. How are we as a society holding impoverished cities to the same academic standards as the surrounding suburbs when we’ve classified some of them as “food deserts”? How can we expect children to perform well on standardized tests when they haven’t slept in a bed for weeks? How is austerity going to resurrect an educational system when there is not even anything to take from?

If you recall in 2008, the American economy was not saved from the brink of utter collapse by cutting budgets. It took +$700 Billion in stimulus funds to keep AIG and the auto industry afloat. Now in 2014, we have AIG, Chrysler, and GM back to making profits, and in return, they are greatly contributing to the US economy while also paying back some hefty interest rates. This scenario is exactly the same for Camden and it’s schools. Unless New Jersey begins to invest in the people and make an exhaustive effort to make sure the children are getting food, there will be no economic or social return. What will continuously return is the vicious cycle of poverty that exists from not having the basic building blocks to make the school day successful. This is the same vicious cycle that prevents affordable homes from being built, a higher minimum wage from being supported (thank goodness it is law though), and the richer New Jersey residents from paying an appropriate amount in taxes.

It’s time to stop playing political poker.

Research Presentation to the Fifth Legislative District of New jersey

After taking a hiatus from research during final exams, I am ready to share another post. Today at 2pm I will be sharing my research and recommendations with the Fifth Legislative District of New Jersey. Maybe some of these recommendations can influence the legislative process! My report is below:

Research Presentation to the 5th Legislative District of New Jersey

This report has been created by: Brian K. Everett of Cherry Hill, NJ

 

As of May 2014, there are several indicators that show both New Jersey and Camden City to be on the brink of prosperity. In some cases, these indicators do not include the State and Camden City at the same time, while other indicators are symbiotic. Within this report, I shall explore themes that include the minimum wage, affordable housing, marijuana, and Philadelphia.

 

 

Minimum Wage

I will begin by exploring some of the indicators that work to define the benefits of the minimum wage referendum. On November 5th of 2013, New Jersey voters approved the referendum ballot that increased the minimum wage to $8.25 which took effect on January 1st of 2014. This referendum, however, includes an annual adjustment to the minimum wage based upon a cost of living index. Such legislation will immediately benefit New Jersey residents come 2015, given that MIT projects the current cost of living to boil down to $11.13/hr. However, one part of this debate that is constantly missing from the public rhetoric is the impact that it can have on municipal and state budgets.

 

Below, I have outlined the potential increase of income for a Camden resident working at the minimum wage, and I have calculated the potential degrease in State Aid that Camden City would need based upon a constant correlation between current and future median property tax rates.

2011 v 2016 Income Proportion
2011 v 2016 Income Proportion
2011 v 2016 Property Tax Proportion
2011 v 2016 Property Tax Proportion

 

This scenario is not just confined to Camden City. It can be applied to several New Jersey municipalities that have high concentrations of minimum wage workers such as Trenton, Newark, Elizabeth, Paterson, Passaic, East Orange, Vineland, and more. In total, the State of New Jersey can expect to save +/- $300 million a year in municipal and educational aid should the correlation between minimum wage and the median property tax rate keep true.

 

Often times there is a lot of opposition to raising the minimum wage because of potential layoffs and closures of small businesses. When we break the math down to a weekly budget, I believe we can see that the burden is not as extreme as the public rhetoric makes it out to be. Given the current minimum wage at $8.25, an employee will make $330 by working 40 hours a week. This is an increase of X dollars a week from the previous minimum wage at $7.25. Should the cost of living index indeed elicit an $11.13 per hour minimum wage by 2015 which MIT suggests, employees can expect an additional $40 a week. So, in total, employers would be contributing an additional $155.20 a week based upon the change from $7.25 to $11.13. In a year, employers contribute approximately $8,070.40 more than they did three years ago for each of their employees, which puts minimum wage workers above the federal poverty threshold for the first time in more than ten years. The only thing that the Fifth Legislative District needs to do for this topic is continue to support the benefits of a higher wage for the citizens, especially at the beginning of the new year.

 

The money that the State can save money by granting less aid to distressed cities which can be a great opportunity for the state to fill the +$800 million deficit and make pension payments on time.

 

Marijuana

Another effort that the Fifth legislative District can support in order to mend the State’s fiscal problems is to support Senator Scutari’s effort to decriminalize marijuana. I would recommend a full study by medical professionals on the health risks given that marijuana is a drug and I am not a medical doctor. However, it seems as though there is a lot of literature in the medical field that suggests marijuana to be less dangerous than alcohol. No matter how dangerous it is or isn’t, we need to look at two specific topics; 1. The bill, and 2. Colorado.

 

As it stands right now, S-1896 takes the medical risks into account by outlining an age requirement of 21 years old, and by limiting the amount an individual is allowed to possess. Marijuana would continue to stay out of the hands of teenagers on a legal basis, just like alcohol, and tobacco for the most part. The main issue that I have with this bill is this distribution of the revenue, which bring me to the next topic.

 

Colorado has shown that the legalization of marijuana is very doable, and has become a brand new, and sorely needed burst of industry. It was projected during January that Colorado would make roughly $600 million in taxed marijuana revenue during this fiscal year. Such a large amount of money could be the perfect plug to New Jersey’s leaking budget. However, if marijuana was indeed to become a legal reality in New Jersey, the distribution of revenue within bill S-1896 needs to be revisited. As it stands right now, 70% of all revenue will be directed to the Transportation Trust Fund Account. With never ending cuts to educational programs, a lack of affordable housing units, failing sewage infrastructure, and continuously rising college tuitions, it seems unwise to direct at least $420 million of what could be New Jersey’s $600 million of marijuana revenue directly to one small part of the state’s budget.

 

Supporting the legalization of marijuana also means a smaller amount of incarcerations. New Jersey has a very high inmate population, which translates to another burden on the State and the tax payers.

Affordable Housing

We have just received new recommendations from COAH, however, I must agree with the public rhetoric that they are insufficient. The issue is not defined to end with there simply not being enough affordable housing, although that is a very important issue within itself. What continuously fails to reach the public rhetoric is the locations where we place affordable housing units as a government. Over the years, only a few municipalities have been burdened with building affordable units for families while other municipalities have zero units. This trend is directly responsible for leaving Camden City incapable of generating a sufficient tax base in order to provide basic public works projects. This trend has also made Camden City and at least 13 other New Jersey municipalities to become highly dependent on State municipal and educational aid on an anual basis. Below, I have outlined this trend by the numbers. A municipality that receives more than $10 million in municipal aid while simultaneously receiving more than $100 million in educational aid is a municipality with at least 40% of the entire county’s affordable housing units for families.

 

FAM.2

 

These municipalities also show poor education test scores, exhibit high crime rates, and in some instances have been declared food deserts. All of this is because as a collective government, we have only allowed our poor families to live amongst each other. In Camden County, for example, a poor child is 76.8% more likely to live in Camden City than anywhere else in the county simply because of the location of the affordable units. This also means that a poor child in Camden County is 76.8% to attend school in a place of high crime and poor access to food. By continuously limiting poor families to one city in Camden County, they never have the same opportunities to an education as the suburban families do, nor do they have the same opportunity to buy fresh food, or to seek employment, which then generates the need to commit crimes in order to survive, and has created a vicious cycle of continuous impoverishment.

A513

This bill is designed to take immediate action on the affordable housing crisis in New Jersey, thus eliminating the need to await official interpretation and implementation of the Mount Laurel Decision(s) by the New Jersey State Supreme Court. This bill is indeed inspired by the Mount Laurel Decisions, both I and II; however, A513 has a modern and formulaic approach to the placement of affordable housing for Family units. These units are denoted as FAM units on the New Jersey Guide to Affordable Housing. The original responsibility of providing the appropriate amount of affordable housing was left to New Jersey’s municipalities by the suggestions offered by COAH. Under their suggestions, a municipality was expected to build one unit of affordable housing for every four houses built, and one unit of affordable housing for every thirty jobs created within a given municipality. In Camden County, the opposite scenario exists in which Camden City contains 76.8% of Camden County’s FAM developments, and Cherry Hill does not contain a single FAM development. This drastic imbalance of family units has left Camden City to continuously yield an insufficient tax base, and has isolated Camden County’s poor families from prosperous economies and school districts which could empower them to rise above the poverty threshold. The consolidation of Camden County’s poor families has also left Camden City unable to introduce a higher median property tax in order to provide its citizens with the appropriate public services, which has made the city heavily reliant on annual State Aid. This scenario also exists in Mercer, Essex, Union, Hudson, and Cumberland Counties.

Due to specific municipalities in New Jersey holding an extreme percentage of family (FAM) developments within their boundaries, the following shall be henceforth established as law;

-Under no circumstances may any municipality in New Jersey contain more than 15% of a county’s FAM affordable housing units.

-Under no circumstances may any municipality in New Jersey contain less than 5% of a county’s FAM affordable housing units.

-Municipalities with a GDP of XX or above must provide at least 9% of the County’s FAM affordable housing units. Municipalities with a GDP of less than XX will receive an exception and only be required to provide 3% of a counties affordable housing units for families.

-The County Governments are responsible for the oversight and enforcement of all municipal affordable housing obligations based upon mathematical calculation to determine the appropriate amount of units for each municipality.

-The State Government is responsible for the oversight and enforcement of all County affordable housing obligations based upon mathematical calculation to determine the appropriate amount of units for each County. Each of New Jersey’s 21 counties should have no less than 4.5% and no more than 5.8% of New Jersey’s affordable housing units for families. The State Government shall intervene in municipal disputes when County Governments should prove unable to delegate the appropriate amount of affordable housing units for families by using executive authority.

In the event that a municipality contains more than 15% of a county’s affordable housing units for families, the county government will be responsible to engage in a collaborative effort with its municipal governments in order to balance the total FAM units in a more even fashion throughout the county. If this collaboration is unable to properly distribute the responsibilities of FAM affordable housing units based upon this bill, it will become the Governor’s executive responsibility to intervene and use executive authority to have county and municipal governments adhere to this bill.

 

As a state legislature we can reverse this cycle by adhering to the details within my Assembly Bill A-513 (see attached). I recommend that the Fifth Legislative District first supports these details specifically for Camden County itself. By passing legislation specifically for Camden County, the Fifth Legislative District will be directly aiding Camden City residents, but this action will also serve as another example of how the proper distribution of affordable housing can yield several successful communities, economies, and a much lower dependence of state financial aid.

 

Such an example already exists in Bergen County, where no municipality contains more than 10.5% of the affordable housing units within the entire county. Such a trend has made Garfield the most aid dependent municipality in Bergen County with a combined total of $57,758,979. In the case of Camden, Trenton, Paterson, East Orange, and others, Garfield’s number is half of the educational aid total alone because all of these municipalities hold family unit concentrations of 40% or higher. By adhering to the suggestions within A-513, the Fifth Legislative District can move towards making New Jersey a more financially responsible, and socially stronger state. Just like we here, “we need to spread the wealth”, it’s obvious that we also need to spread the impoverishment. Research by Dr.  Doug Massey of Princeton University suggests that low income families are much more likely to rise above the poverty threshold and no longer need affordable housing if they are living in a more affluent municipality. This is largely due to a thriving economy that has access to fresh foods, an approachable job market, and a lower crime rate.

 

Philadelphia

The city of brotherly love is absolutely in a prosperous phase. The public got word no too long ago that Comcast will be building a second skyscraper in Center City, a move that can generate millions of anual dollars. During this section, I’m merely regurgitating an article written by Rutgers-Camden Emeritus Professor Howard Gillette. He believes, as do I, that based upon Philadelphia’s boom and continued growth, Camden City can become Philadelphia’s Brooklyn. For younger individuals who may work in Philadelphia, it may not be financially possible to live in Center City. Camden, being just across the river, may be a cheaper option for these workers. As construction wraps up in City Lot 11, I find it very possible to imagine River Front housing with a total of five skyscrapers in the background.

 

  1. In order for Camden’s Brooklynification to be a success, we need to have a successful City with successful residents. The raise in the minimum wage will help low income residents get by easier than they have been, but their full potential will never be realized while they continuously remain surrounded by food insecurity, crime, and a poor educational success rate. Camden County needs to act on affordable housing independently in order to develop a “sister-cities” relationship between Philadelphia and Camden.

 

Although repairs and restorations are in the making as we speak, Camden will not become Philadelphia’s Brooklyn while the only train going into Center City from New Jersey is the PATCO line. I do not have any statistics or evidence to support this claim, however, I believe that Philadelphia and Camden and South Jersey in general will benefit from a new rail system that utilizes the forgotten air tram pillars. However, while we are connecting Philadelphia to Camden, why not have an above ground route that visits Cherry Hill’s shopping district, and other key locations along RT. 70 and RT. 38? Such a connection would truly make the Greater Philadelphia Region a rival to New York City.

The Bergen Example

An example of the ideal distribution of FAM developments exists in New Jersey, and it is called Bergen County. Overall, the distribution of affordable housing is very even without a single municipality possessing more than 10.5% of the county’s FAM developments. It is true that several of the county’s municipalities have zero affordable housing developments, however the somewhat even distribution of these developments has prevented a heavy reliance on State Aid for individual municipalities. These distributions can be viewed below:

bergen2

As shown, the places that have the highest amounts of State aid also have the most FAM developments within their city boundaries. Even so, the highest aid total, which is in Garfield, is still just $57,758,979, which in other places was the municipal aid alone.

Speaking in more practical terms, I believe this research can be used to create new laws for other counties in New Jersey. Take Camden County for example. Imagine a law that prohibited a municipality’s FAM concentration of more than 15% within one county, and no less than 5% of the county’s total FAM developments within one municipality. This would still allow an imbalance of FAM concentration between municipalities, however it would prevent an exponential concentration of FAM developments like in the case of Camden City, Trenton, Paterson, Elizabeth, etc. Such a law would also take the suggested responsibility of providing affordable units away from municipalities and instead pass the responsibility to the County and State governments. New Jersey’s municipalities have proven that they do not want that responsibility and in some cases are incapable of determining the appropriate amount.

The County governments would be responsible for ensuring a more equal distribution within the county’s towns, and the State government would be responsible for ensuring a more equal distribution within the State’s counties. In other words, each of New Jersey’s 21 Counties should have roughly 5% of the State’s FAM developments.

It is often said that a successful economy needs the wealth to be spread, and that may be true. But in this case, it is definitely true that the poverty needs to be spread in order to strengthen all of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities and then in turn create one stronger State.

Atmospheric Injustice

Every part of my blogging experience thus far has focused on some aspect of money within New Jersey. Due to inspiration from some of my friends, I’ve decided to look into some environmental reports for the State. The information provided in this post was created by State and Federal government entities, not me. I have simply read the report and provided my analysis of it here. After having read the 2012 Air Toxics Summary prepared by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, I must admit I find myself perplexed as to why this information is not a publicized priority in New Jersey.

Out of the 22 air toxics of concern in New Jersey, meaning they are above the health benchmark set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 10 of them are in their highest concentrations within the most aid-reliant and impoverished places in the state, the same places of which I have previously studied. These 10 toxics concentrations generally look like the following:

Benzene05

We see generally higher concentrations of toxics over Camden City, and then the northern Amoebaville area. Both of these areas were the places of early American Industry, and some toxics are still decomposing due to a very long half life.

Benzene is listed to come from mobile sources, since it is a component of gasoline and oil, which explains the widespread area of 5-10 times above the health benchmark. The following image is of the concentration of diesel particulate matter:

DieselTotalRisk05

It is important to note that this concentration is more wide spread throughout New Jersey, with a large portion of the state being 100-1000 times above the health benchmark.

Based upon the Concentration of Toxics report, we are able to see that families of low income do not just struggle with economic issues because of their place of living, but they are also directly exposed to greater health risks because of the placement of affordable housing units. Relating the issue back to the insensitivities of money, an unhealthy environment for low income families is almost a “double cost” because of a high rate of uninsured citizens, leaving issues such as asthma, COPD, and several cancers, to be paid for via the government when ill citizens go to the emergency room. I would think that if a person does not involve themselves in trying to solve the issues of poverty because of a lack of sympathy, hopefully now, as immoral as it is, such a person is starting to see that it is ultimately in their economic best interest to start supporting efforts to bring people out of poverty.

On a side note, the Benzene, Diesel particulate matter, 1,3 Butadiene, arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, ethylbenzene, MTBE, nickel, and PAH/POM are all listed air toxins of concerns in New Jersey because they are higher than the USEPA’s health benchmark. All of these toxics come from the burning of fossil fuels mainly described as “on road” sources, but also including industrious sources. It appears as though New Jersey could greatly improve it’s citizens’ health as well as the environment by creating stronger initiatives for using less oil and gasoline.