Monday, July 17, 2006

Green - Courier - Letter: Budget initiative not against unions

Published in the Courier News, Monday, July 17, 2006

[Letter to Editor]
Budget initiative not against unions

Union County Freeholder Adrian O. Mapp's recent letter criticizing my efforts to avert a sales tax increase in the new state budget wrongly characterized my position regarding unionized state government employees. Please let the record show that I have been -- and will continue to be -- a strong supporter of union causes.

My decision to align with Sen. Stephen Sweeney and Assemblyman Paul Moriarty in the recent state budget fight arose out of a shared belief that all branches of government had to cut costs so we might avoid a sales tax increase from 6 percent to 7 percent. At no time did I ever call for "givebacks" or a unilateral voiding of employee contracts.

What my legislative colleagues and I advocated for was a 15 percent cut in compensation costs for state government employees. It was our position that such savings could have been achieved in a variety of ways: vacation compensation, health benefit copayments and furloughs, to name just a few. At no time did it mean a 15 percent pay cut.

In effect, we asked public employee unions to recognize that the state has severe fiscal problems. We asked workers to voluntarily find ways to achieve a 15 percent cut in overall compensation costs. We never dictated terms; our sole intent was to raise public awareness of the employee compensation issue while urging reasonable changes.

We sought this cost-containment as an alternative to the sales tax increase that had been proposed to help balance the governor's original budget proposal. While we were not entirely successful in preventing the sales tax increase, it is encouraging to know that some good did arise from our effort.

The budget -- which I supported in the end -- is less than what the governor originally proposed, and it now boasts a larger year-end surplus. We scored some significant spending reductions in the process: $50 million in management efficiencies, $20 million in information technology and $15 million through improved procurement practices.

The biggest change, however, came in the way the governor's sales tax increase will be used. Instead of all the sales tax proceeds being used to maintain the status quo of more and more state government spending, half of this expanded revenue stream -- an estimated $7 billion during the next 10 years -- will be used to provide property tax relief for New Jersey residents.

Freeholder Mapp is free to have his opinions, but he probably is the last person in Union County who should be making them publicly. Not only has he failed to exhibit leadership on county issues since he was elected to office, but also his only major accomplishment has been to show up on Thursday meeting nights so he can collect his paycheck.

It is absolutely wrong for anyone to suggest that I engaged in union bashing. I did, however, go to bat for property taxpayers, and that is a lot more than can be said for Mr. Mapp.


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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.