Every week it seems that I hear of someone I know that’s leaving New Jersey. Why? Too expensive to live here. No jobs. Taxes too high. The bottom line is that government has made it too expensive to live in New Jersey. I’ve already illustrated how it costs roughly $200 a day just to get by on the bare minimum in New Jersey, which is far too much.
The bottom line is our government is broken, and I have figured out how to fix it. Sure, some of the following proposals are extreme – radical, even – but if New Jersey is to be saved, drastic steps must be taken. So here it is, the first steps that the next governor must take to save New Jersey:
- The practice of double-dipping must truly come to an end. Eighty-one percent of county sheriffs are “retired” law enforcement officers who are collecting both a pension and a sheriff’s salary. An additional 34 undersheriffs do the same thing. But this isn’t just about law enforcement officials. Many of our superintendents and “acting” superintendents are retired educators, collecting both a pension and a 6-figure salary. This practice must end.
If I were governor, I would demand that the Legislature pass a law limiting retirees collecting a pension to a combined salary of $20,000 for any public positions a retiree on pension earns. For example, if a retired law enforcement officer wishes to teach a criminal justice class at the local county college, wonderful; continue collecting your pension and collect the $2,000 per class per semester along with it. Similarly, if a retired teacher wishes to run for township council and earn up to $20,000 as a council member, wonderful; keep your pension and thank you for serving your local government. But anyone taking a public-job on the state, county or municipal level that pays more than $20,000 a year will be ineligible to collect their pension until they leave that other full-time job. And if the legislature refuses to pass such a bill, I’d issue an executive order ending the practice.
- Ending double-dipping is just the starting point. This next point is a biggie. The state needs to remove the school tax from property taxes and end the practice of municipal funding for education. The state should send each school district $12,000 annually for each student enrolled in their schools. Yes, many schools exceed this figure, particularly urban districts that spend double that and even more; often, these are the worst schools in the state. Every student will be truly equal and every school will be truly equal. Those schools that exceed the level of $12,000 per student will have to cut their budgets, some dramatically, but if our worst schools have to cut hundreds of administrators, I’m fine with that. Many urban schools cannot possibly perform worse anyway. If schools wish to spend more, on sports teams and the like, they can charge participants a fee and/or have participants conduct fundraising, the way private schools do.
- Removing school taxes from the property tax bill will cut property taxes by 60-70%. That’s a lot of savings! So I wish to completely revamp property taxes. All property taxes will be flat. If I have my kitchen renovated, yes, my home will be worth more money, but why should my property taxes increase? I am already creating jobs by renovating and the state is gaining revenue by taxing all the renovation work at 7%. Should I pay an increased property tax forever because I improved my living condition? Of course not. My improved kitchen doesn’t mean I am increasing the use of municipal services like the streets, the library, the local police or fire department, so why should I pay more? In fact, shouldn’t we all be equal? Shouldn’t a family that owns a mansion pay the same as a neighbor who owns a cottage? Fair and equal, that’s what property taxes should be, and after removing school taxes, people with low taxes will certainly be able to pay a little more while others will pay much less.
- You’re probably wondering how the state can pick up the tab for education without increasing taxes. The next step in saving the state is eliminating the prevailing wage law. The Reason Foundation says New Jersey spends just over $2 million per state-controlled mile on construction, maintenance and administration, triple the roughly $675,000 spent by the next-highest state, Massachusetts, and more than eight times the national average of $162,200. The reason for the expensive roads? Prevailing wage. And prevailing wage laws apply to any public project, like school or township construction projects. It is estimated that cutting prevailing wage could cut project costs by as much as 40%; money that could be put toward our schools, along with the savings from ending double-dipping.
Yes, there is more to look at and more to cut, but this is a good start. Our next governor must make dramatic changes to the way the state does business – Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno admitted this just last week – if we are to survive. New Jersey stands on precipice of disaster. New Jersey ranks dead last among states in business climate and is among the nation’s most taxed states. We also have the highest tolls. We cannot continue to force people to choose to leave their families behind for states with lower taxes and better business models.
We must make dramatic changes, and until I see a candidate propose changes like those I am proposing, people will continue to leave and New Jersey will continue down the road to insolvency.