The proposal came out of the blue and it was made by George Norcross, the notorious democratic political boss of southern New Jersey who has been behind some other infamous ideas, such as restricting public employees from seeking medical care outside New Jersey (that was during in the original N.J. Benefits and Healthcare Reform of 2011 but was dumped at the end after mass reaction against it). He also gets credit for being behind the proposed Rowan-Rutgers merger; a move vigorously opposed by everybody at Rutgers but that has been embraced by governor Christie. And now he comes up with the constitutional convention proposal; an idea that the governor has not endorsed; not yet.
Why is the idea of holding a constitutional convention (last was in 1947) a lousy one, for New Jersey?
First: It is a very time consuming and a very costly process, and the bulk of the money comes from the tax-payers – already strapped for cash. It may take as long as a decade to see the end of the convention process and I do not believe New Jersey can afford to wait so long to see drastic change. The reforms that the state needs, in taxation and government structure (those two by default would cover education which should be funded from the general income tax only) can be handled perfectly with two, three constitutional amendments at the most.
Second: What is the difference between a convention and an amendment? It is the difference between open heart and arthroscopic knee surgeries; like day and night, like the Atlantic Ocean and an Olympic swimming pool. In a convention, the entire constitution is opened for review and change. In an amendment, it is just an specific section. The latter is what New Jersey needs. A convention, at this stage, is not in the interest of New Jersey. The convention would only serve to open opportunities to elements in power seeking more power and control in order to satisfy their greed at the expense of the majority of citizens.
Third: Imagine the swarm of perennial lobbyists around the convention delegates. And the worst part is that many will be paid with public funds because every municipality, county, and independent public agency will have somebody there, trying to influence the text of our supreme set of laws. Every contractor, every corporation looking to do business with the public sector, will be there too. The only ones who will have no one there are the people of New Jersey who will be busy at home or at work trying to make end meet. They can not afford a lobbyist; many barely can afford to live.
Fourth: There is no guarantee whatsoever that the finished product of this convention will improve life for the people of New Jersey. In fact, my expectation would be in the negative area. The current system and the two dominant parties do not have my vote of confidence or trust.
Then there is absolutely no need for a constitutional convention. There are certain things that must be amended to turn the state around. I will present the road-map for the transformation of the state tax system and its political structure prior to the election in 2013. However I can advance the following: If I am elected governor of New Jersey in November 2013 the first step I will propose to the Legislature is to transfer all the taxation authority of counties and municipalities to the State. That calls for a constitutional amendment. If the Legislature passes the law and the people approve the referendum, nothing will change for the moment but we will move to the next step which is introducing the laws abolishing the county governments, consolidating boards of education, and the police. If that passes too, then we must develop the new income tax system. The latter only requires legislative approval.
It is only then, when we have all the legal elements in place, when the logistics of the transformation has been developed, that in one single day we will abolish property and sales taxes, the new income tax system takes over, disband the above mentioned layers of government. Many or most of the employees of those units of government will automatically become state employees and if union, their contracts will be recognized by the State. The police remain at their stations, the counties DPW workers remain in their posts, the teachers in their classrooms. However the positive effects of the re-structuring will be immense.
As complicated as all this may sound, it is nothing compared to the chaos that a constitutional convention would create. And my measures will leads to strong economic growth. A convention on the other hand will initiate a period of uncertainty in New Jersey. Businesses do not like uncertainty.