Friday, July 21, 2006

State Budget - Bergen Record - 3A of 6 - Editorial - Big bucks

Published in the Bergen Record, Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Editorial, Companion to 3 of 6
Big bucks


THE evidence presented in The Record's current series, "Runaway pay," could not be clearer: Drastic and painful changes in public employees' salaries and benefits must be made if New Jersey's property tax burden is to be lightened.

As the series explains, we are grateful to our police and teachers for the services they provide to us and our children. But we are collectively going broke paying for them.

The dramatic changes that are needed will not be palatable to anyone -- not the police and teachers themselves, not the lawmakers who must make those changes, and not even most taxpayers. You may love home rule, but it is too costly to sustain any longer.

The current situation is out of control. Routine six-figure salaries for police officers who patrol tiny towns and a union that prides itself on the fact that no teacher in this region pays anything for health insurance are simply unacceptable in a state that is in the midst of a fiscal crisis.

Police and teachers, who are the subjects of the weeklong series that began Sunday, must be far more flexible at the bargaining table from now on. Like all public employees in New Jersey, they must be ready to make concessions that their powerful unions have refused to even consider in recent years, particularly related to health care and pensions.

Free health care for these employees and their families, without even a small premium, is a luxury New Jersey taxpayers can no longer afford to provide. Unions across the country have begun accepting a two-tiered system that protects older workers but provides more realistic benefit packages to new hires -- benefits that are far more in line with the private sector.

Taxpayers must make sacrifices, too. North Jersey residents cannot gripe about high property taxes and continue to insist on home rule. It is central to the problem. We simply have too many towns, too many schools and too many police departments. We don't need them all, and quality of life will not change if some of New Jersey's 566 towns and 593 school districts sit down together and decide to share services or even merge.

There is no better time to begin this transition. We have a governor ready to lead the way toward property tax reform. Governor Corzine will address the Legislature on July 28 and open the special session that must rise to the occasion and take this task seriously.

Everything must be on the table. There must be no favors for special interests, no politics and no shortcuts.

Finger-pointing and blaming others are not going to solve this problem. Everyone who lives and works here -- and the people elected to serve us at the state, county and local levels -- are all in this together.

We all have a stake in the state's future, and we must all be willing to consider the greater good.

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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.