It's very rare for good news to come out of a hearing on the New Jersey state budget, but that's what happened Thursday when the state's labor commissioner testified before the Senate Budget Committee.

NJ Labor Commissioner Hal Wirths in Liberty State Park (Townsquare Media)

Unfortunately for Gov. Chris Christie's administration, that came at about the same time the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics delivered bad news for the Garden State.

The good news involved the solvency of the state Unemployment Trust Fund.

"Major reforms, particularly the anti-fraud efforts my department has undertaken under the Christie Administration to maintain the fund's integrity, has saved more than $800 million from being diverted from the fund," said Hal Wirths, commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Roughly $216 million in taxpayer dollars, Wirths said, has been saved since July 2010, when New Jersey toughened restrictions on state residents collecting unemployment benefits after being fired for misconduct.

"Much more, $592 million, has been saved since March 2011 through anti-fraud programs my department put into motion and continues to expand," Wirths said.

According to Wirths, the unemployment fund was created to help residents through hard times and should never be an easy target for fraudsters -- the majority of whom are people trying to keep getting benefits even after they've gotten a new job.

The negative news from BLS revealed the state's unemployment rate inched up to 6.5 percent last month, one full percentage point higher than the national average for March.

BLS figures for March included:

  • Trade, transportation and utilities lost 4,600 jobs;
  • Professional and business services lost 3,000 jobs;
  • Construction lost 2,300 jobs.

There was a bright spot for New Jersey in the BLS statistics: Manufacturing added 2,800 jobs last month.