Home rule has been vilified by many in New Jersey political circles as one reason why taxes and the cost of government in the Garden State have continued to spiral out of control.
The blame-game has gotten to the point that powerful politicians like Gov. Jon S. Corzine and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, D-Camden, are actually taking action to try and coax municipalities and other governmental entities into consolidation.
Gov. Corzine has used this year’s budget proposal as a bludgeoning tool, cutting aid for municipalities and asking small towns that rely on State Police coverage to begin paying heavily out of pocket for those services.
Last week Mr. Roberts called on state legislators to remove portions of law regarding the state’s Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission, which would end the practice of allowing legislators to vote and reject consolidation proposals made by the commission.
“Our addiction to home rule has forced us into a system of government that, quite simply, is no longer affordable,” said Mr. Roberts, in a statement. “If we are to have any hope of truly making the state affordable, we must give our newly-created consolidation commission the tools it needs to overcome New Jersey’s age-old aversion to regionalization and shared services.”
Under Mr. Roberts’ proposals, the legislature would simply no longer have an ability to vote down consolidation proposals coming from the commission. Local voters would continue to have the ability to vote on proposed consolidations, but towns doing so could face reduced state aid as a result of rejecting consolidation and the cost-saving it could represent.
New Jersey currently has 566 municipalities in 21 counties, with 617 school districts and 500 local taxing authorities, according to a report from Mr. Roberts’ office, which said New Jersey has more municipalities and government entities per square mile than any other state in the union.
While politicians here in Trenton argue over empowering the consolidation commission, it must be remembered that the most costly problem in New Jersey is political corruption and “pay-to-play”, which both drain billions of dollars out of government coffers and into the hands of firms and contractors who have no business doing work for the people.
Frequently they have contributed moneys into the campaign funds of officials who then hand out lucrative contracts at eye-popping prices.
Often the worst offenders are not the state’s smaller municipalities currently targeted for consolidation, but the larger towns and cities where little oversight paired with little accountability results in a lot of waste.
Consolidation may be a good tool to help reduce the cost of government here in New Jersey, but the most important method of ending perennial fiscal problems would be an overhaul of legislation dealing with “pay-to-play” and improved governmental oversight on public money and contracts.
A complete sea change in the business as usual attitude of government officials wouldn’t hurt either.