New Jersey has some of the most highly paid public employees in the nation, and cannot afford the bill anymore. When even a liberal paper admits that, the time for reform has come, even if it means amending the Constitution.
The Star-Ledger (Newark), in an editorial today, made some sobering admissions, at least from their traditional point of view. New Jersey’s cities and towns have among them the most highly paid police officers, firefighters, and teachers in the country. Reports elsewhere show that these public servants are now earning six-figure salaries that are far above average for New Jersey’s taxpayers. The overly-generous pension and sick-time cash-out provisions have already spurred the Senate, and then the Assembly, to act to curb, at least somewhat, the worst abuses.
Solutions to this problem must come from many levels, and not all can come from the State level. To be sure, the pension reforms that are now moving through the Senate and Assembly are a good start–though why sick-time cash-out and accumulation are not eliminated completely (they don’t exist in the private sector) is far from clear. The governor’s proposed constitutional amendment limiting property tax increases to 2.5 percent a year, with higher increases allowed only by referendum, would be another good start. Privatization could potentially save even more, with the savings limited only by the imaginations of the governor and his Privatization Task Force.
But other solutions and reform pressures must come from, and be applied at, the local level. Property taxes are applied by county and municipal governments and by school districts. For too long, voters have blithely approved slates of county freeholder, town council, and Board of Education nominees who run unopposed (at least in party primaries), and also approve school budgets that include the very property tax increases they decry. That must end. Attending public meetings and raising a voice in protest to higher taxes and out-of-control spending will go far, but not far enough: activists need to step up to the plate and run for these councils and boards.
The former mayor of Long Hill proposed another solution that might or might not be workable: consolidating neighboring towns. But consolidation imposes its own costs, and elimination of redundancy can go only so far to defray that cost. Ultimately, the State and its towns must reduce their core costs, and the cost of labor is one of them.
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