Of Home Rule in New Jersey

Home Rule is as old as New Jersey and the concept was borrowed from mother England and perhaps Holland. England had the counties and their respective counts which probably dated back to the Norman invasion of 1066. The system in turn was copied from the French who were the inventors of feudalism. In New Jersey, a colony with its vastness only sparsely populated by natives and even fewer colonists, small towns surged from the first settlements and by the time independence was gained from Great Britain in 1783, most of the system we have today was already in place.

Jump to 1947 and the Framers of the last State Constitution chose to maintain what we call Home Rule.

Jump to 2010 and I introduce my program which among other things, calls for the elimination of county governments, transferring all the taxing authority from the municipalities to the State (thus eliminating property taxes), consolidation of police forces and boards of education.

A few months later, governor Christie floated the idea of municipalities sharing services. He might not have been the first one who proposed this but he probably was the loudest. Nonetheless, with minor exceptions, his call fell on deaf ears and his tool-kit aiming to facilitate the process was for the most part ignored by the N.J. Legislature However he managed to pass a property tax cap of 2% although such cap caps nothing: It has a number of exceptions – the expensive ones – so it is pretty much meaningless as homeowners have discovered to their chagrin.

I don’t believe for a minute that I invented the idea of government consolidation nor was I the first discovering that the current system is untenable and that it places a tremendous burden on the people of New Jersey and the state economy. But I believe I am the first who has approached the issue with a radical plan which eliminates entire layers of government rather than executing flimsy unions of 2 or more DPW’s, fire or police departments, or some other local functions.

But moving on: The N.J Senate leader, Mr. Sweeney, has gone one step further and proposed an approach more Draconian that Christie’s although bland compared to mine: He has introduced a measure that would force local governments to share services or face a loss of state aid equal to the amount of the consolidation savings they passed up.

Sweeney has been pushing the shared-services agenda for some time. In October 2010, Sweeney spoke on the subject at a press conference with Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver about arbitration reform, hammering away at municipal government. Quite simply, he said, there was too much of it. And he was ready to turn towns “upside down” to bring about some changes.

Such unions, where they have occurred, have clearly shown that they do not save much if anything at all.

But from Sweeney’s – or any other member of the political establishment – point of view, that is the ideal diversion because it places all the onus on the taxpayers, focuses on the lowest workers rather than on the political hacks, and maintains the huge mantle of government layers intact. No one; Not Sweeney, or Christie, or anybody else talks about doing away with the medieval relics of county governments. They know that the more government layers, the more opportunities to place political appointees in public jobs. For the two political parties, their ability to dole public jobs is the very essence and foundation of wealth and power.

What I propose is the only plan which would yield significant results rapidly: A constitutional amendment that would not touch the independence or identity of municipalities except for the fact that they would not collect property taxes any longer and their police stations would be manned by Police of New Jersey rather that the local police department, although the officers will be the same individuals.

I would propose the unification of all boards of education into a New Jersey BOE. If New York City can do it, so can we.

I would propose the elimination of county governments and the takeover by the State of New Jersey of county schools and hospitals. The county DPW’s would go under the NJ-DOT. The counties divisions of Taxation would remain as state agencies of the Department of the Treasury to collect some property taxes which would remain (Example: property owners who are not New Jersey taxpayers.)

With the abolition of property taxes and a tax credit for renters, inevitably, income tax would increase and so would be the tax on dividend that does not originate in economic activity in New Jersey. For more information please refer to my pages relevant to this topic in my website.

The typical property tax pie is roughly 25% for the town, 25% for the county, and 50% for the local board of education. If we want to achieve big relief, we must be willing to take big steps. For the political class, that is rocking the boat. But there is no choice: We must cast at least part of the political ballast over the side.