Tag Archive: tool kit

How To Succeed In Government Without Really Trying

“Big deal, big rocket; thinks he has the world in his pocket.”

      (I Believe in You: How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying)  

THE WEEK THAT WAS: How I Diverted Attention From My Snow Storm Fiasco or How I appeared Busy Although I accomplished Little, or How I Created a Lot of Attention with PR Blather or How I Heaped Praise on Myself That I did Not Deserve

  •  Sign the Anti-Bullying Bill – To appear caring, warm and fuzzy, although I rather like bullying. Besides I can call it a “tough” bill which has a nice ring to it.
  •  Direct attention to Higher Education – Appear to be concerned about our colleges and universities although I don’t plan to help them in any way; plus it’s another opportunity to push my Tool Kit.
  •  Issue another “In case you missed it” e-mail – to show how others love me, and besides Mike does all the work preparing it.
  •  Announce my Transportation Trust Fund Plan – Maybe my best idea of the week because it is so vague, unclear, and  misleading that others will be discussing it for days to come.
  •  Attack the Dems for their Back To Work NJ Bills – It’s always gets attention when I attack them; plus it just gets everyone confused when I assault them for creating bills I might actually like.
  •  Push aside the State Republican Committee Chairman without appearing to do so  – It’s fun and easy to do, so let people talk about that for a while.
  •  Fire seven county education superintendents – Requires no great effort on my part and keeps my favorite pot boiling.

    And now after another successful week and with snow returning to NJ, I wonder where my family wants us to go to escape this dreary weather.  

  • Christie’s Approach to Higher Education: Inaction and Kicking the Can

    “Today, I am asking Governor Kean to conduct a critical review and assessment that will grow infrastructure, increase accessibility and promote excellence in New Jersey’s institutions of higher learning.” – Governor Christie – May 7, 2010

    With the usual fanfare in May Governor Chris Christie signed Executive Order 26 establishing the New Jersey Higher Education Task Force. After having several weeks to review the Task Force’s recommendations, Governor Christie held a press conference on Tuesday. Christie’s response was not to help “grow infrastructure, increase accessibility, or promote excellence.” Rather, he simply put his own political signature on creating a Higher Education Council (Executive Order 52), and then kicked the can down the road by indicating the state can not afford additional investments in education now and by forming yet another advisory committee to develop recommendations for graduate medical education (Executive Order 51). He then diverted attention from the report by calling for passage of his own education “tool kit” proposals.

    After all the effort of Tom Kean and his fellow members, we are left wondering why Christie established the task force in the first place, and what commitment if any he has to this cause. And we can also wonder about the timing of the press conference and whether it was designed to divert attention from his abdication of responsibility during the recent snow storm.

    Tom Kean’s approach was to empower a new council and a Higher Education Secretary to take on more leadership. The Council Christie created is to consist of five members, all appointed by him and reporting to him, and meeting as infrequently as 4 times a year. Christie so far has shown no interest in appointing a Secretary to this long vacant position.

    The Task Force pointed out that New Jersey has the fewest post-secondary seats per high school graduate (page 138) and the lowest state appropriation in Higher Learning (page 126) than any other state. These long-known pressing concerns the governor ignored.

    Christie fancies himself an expert on graduate medical education because of his prosecutorial intervention into UMDNJ affairs. However, his only action was to call for the third study of this matter via an advisory committee with an extremely broad mandate encompassing hospitals, medical schools, nursing schools, UNDNJ, Rutgers and even NJIT.      

    His press release following receipt of the task force’s report spent almost as much space on promoting his Tool Kit as it did on the report itself. Hopefully the Legislature will pay more attention to the report’s recommendations.

    Legislature: Picking Up A Head of Steam

    Keep the N in NJN

    The Legislature had wanted to lead the negotiations with potential NJN buyers but in a compromise it was agreed that that the State Treasurer would have the power to negotiate a deal. The Legislature retains the right of approval, but likely will face a “take it or leave it” proposition from the governor who controls the money spigot. At least the governor has shown some degree of compromise. Senate President Stephen Sweeney said that NJN could get the additional funding it needs to stay on the air while lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie come up with a plan.” Nonetheless, this “Perils of Pauline” tale continues.

    Arbitration Awards

    Governor Christie, who has been pushing his “Tool Kit” as a solution to high property taxes, now is quoted in the hard copy Record (page 8) of today, as saying, “There’s no silver bullet to fix it.” Thank you Mr. Governor. Christie had wanted the arbitration cap to include pension and health benefit costs, over which local entities have little control. The cap compromise excludes these two costs, allows for increases above 2% in multiyear contracts if the overall increase does not exceed 2%, and calls for the limits to go away after three years. The governor secured less “wiggle room” to fudge the cost basis of the cap and a random selection of the arbitrators. As a result Police and firefighter union contracts would be limited to 2 percent annual pay increases if they seek arbitration, although arbitration is not even available in many municipalities.

    The nexus between AC and horse-racing

    In order to prevent war between the North and the South spilling out into the chambers of the legislature, those supporting initiatives for Atlantic City are also agreeing to benefits for the horse-racing industry. An Assembly committee yesterday voted to legalize casino internet gambling, including on-line poker, with the understanding that as much as $30 million in tax revenue would be used to subsidize horse-racing. Nearly a dozen bills designed to revive the state horse racing and Atlantic City casino industries drew bipartisan support in a key Assembly committee in Trenton on Thursday, as legislators raced to send many of the bills to Governor Christie’s desk before the end of the year.

    Property Taxes On Our Mind

    “The single most salient fact of New Jersey politics is the state’s high property taxes … and a populace forever perched on the edge of tax revolt – 3.9 million filers, wedgie’d and wet-willied by the state, screaming for relief.” – Jason Fagone: Is Chris Christie A Mad Man?

    Unlike with Alka-Seltzer, relief is not “just a swallow away.” A Monmouth University poll confirms that people “feel wedgie’d and wet-willied by the State,” and are pessimistic about property tax relief. Negotiations between Senate President Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Oliver, and Governor Christie are ongoing but will not produce a panacea. Governor Christie’s approach rather than solving the problem has simply postponed it. As the NY Times pointed out on Saturday, “It is the long-term problems of a handful of states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York, that financial analysts worry about most.”

    The Monmouth September poll indicates 66% of respondents find it difficult to pay their property taxes, and 62% say these taxes are the least fair. When asked “How likely is it that the state will enact reforms in the next few years to significantly lower property taxes,” 22% say “likely” and 75% say “unlikely.”

    Few people view the “tool kit” as a real solution. Sen. President Sweeney has said, “The point is (the tool kit) is not going to be the end-all.” Local officials say they “are angry the state’s most powerful elected officials rushed into a 2 percent property tax cap without giving them the tools to curtail taxes first.” As the Asbury Park Press, which supports the Tool Kit, says, “Christie never claimed his tool kit would usher in a low-tax utopia. He is simply trying to make the state more bearable for taxpayers.” More bearable is nice but not a soluton.

    {more below the fold}

    The Legislature Showing Resolve

    “We get it. It’s the economy. Too many people are out of work as we speak. Too many people are losing their homes still.” – Sen. President Sweeney

    “One thing we can all agree on is the need to create new jobs, reinvigorate our economy and put New Jerseyans back to work.” – Assembly Speaker Oliver

    The Legislature on Wednesday  introduced its “BACK TO WORK NJ” bill package to boost the economy and create jobs. This action followed Tuesday’s legislative offer to the Governor of a “Tool Kit” compromise on arbitration reform which the  governor rejected as “watered down.” Christie may yet change his stance on the compromise offer, and the legislature may introduce other “tool Kit” bills, particularly civil service reform. Senate and Assembly Democratic leaders, however, made clear that their focus into early January will be on “BACK TO WORK NJ.” Bob Ingle pointed out in a column “When you go to the governor’s page for his fall reforms under economic development you get the equivalent of under construction.” Christie’s plans are vague. The legislature, in contrast, has real plans and has taken ownership of the issue which most concerns New Jerseyans.  

    What’s Up Legislators?

    The legislature, which for good reasons does not like Governor Christie’s “tool kit” solution to deal with the 2.0% property tax cap, has made a number of missteps, failed to enunciate early and get support for its own proposal, and is now running out of time as the January 1 start date is looming. The legislature is correct in promoting shared services but such will not address the immediate problem. The legislature will be left holding the bag.

    more below the fold

    The “Tool Kit” and the Legislature

    On Thursday a somewhat tepid Assembly Bill 3393 cleared the Budget Committee and was scheduled for a floor vote yesterday, but something happened on the way to the chamber. Past Blue Jersey diaries and numerous articles have pointed out excesses in police and fire contract arbitration procedures which have led to high salaries. Governor Christie has been insisting that a hard cap is the only real way to control salaries for municipalities. The Democratic Assembly Monday appeared in disarray.

    The Assembly bill provides measures to reduce such police and firemen arbitration excesses, but it does not include a cap. During a Statehouse news conference on Thursday, Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Louis Greenwald, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver set out their version of a program that would fix the system and allow for more “creativity” and “flexibility.” However, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said, “Assembly Bill 3393 is weak and offers nothing to reform this broken system,” Democratic Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage said, “The Democrats’ attempt at reform does not go far enough,” and Cory Booker has long supported a hard cap. So between Governor Christie, mayors and county executives the bill is now in abeyance. The Democratic Assemblypersons need to regain their mojo. Also the fact that two of them are employees of DiVincenzo and others hold multiple government jobs further complicates the matter.

    Christie has been goading the legislators to move more rapidly on his “Tool kit,” while they have insisted on a more measured pace. So far they seem to lack a coherent vision on how best to approach arbitration and the larger issue of reducing costs for municipalities. And now they face the ire of county and city leaders. After the vote was cancelled, Speaker Oliver said “The Assembly’s goal in advancing this bill was to at the very least begin an intelligent debate.” That’s OK, but hopefully Democratic legislators will soon get beyond debate and develop a clearer strategy.  

    Although the issues involved are numerous, it is the police salaries which captured a lot of attention. To find out the median salary of police officers in your town, the number of officers there, and the per cent who make $100,000 or more scroll down on this page link. In Teaneck, for example,  the result is $97,486 – 93 – 33%. My County Executive McNerney has been a long-time supporter of sharing and consolidating services, but even this approach is not a complete solution and needs its own better tool kit.    

    Governor Christie and Employee Discipline

    I am writing this because it is an example of how one part of Governor Christie’s “tool kit” will affect every day civil servants in a negative way.  I don’t write this to try to embarrass any individual who may be referred to in this entry.  

    Currently, minor discipline for public employees is anything under 5 eight hour days of suspension.  Under Governor Christie’s “tool kit,” minor discipline will be anything under 30 days of suspension and will not be able to be appealed to the civil service commission.

    I have been a public employee for just over three years.  I work in a department that records anything that has to do with the telephones and computers.  In May 2010 I was notified that I was being disciplined for inappropriate comments I made during a recorded phone conversation in December 2009.  I admit I made an inappropriate comment to a female co-worker at work using work equipment, and I deserved some sort of discipline.  Had I made this same comment to this same female outside of work, it would have been no big deal because we are friends.

    My boss recommended I get suspended 12-36 hours for conduct unbecoming of a public employee and improper behavior.   Human Resources decides to neglect the recommendation and suspend me for 120 hours and add an administrative charge of sexual harassment.  At that point I am freaking out and I did what any normal person would do and I filed a step one grievance through the union.

    Loud & Clear: Women in New Jersey Need That Family Planning Money!

    O.K. So I already told you all about our meeting with the Governor, and we’re still waiting to hear back from him. I followed up by sending him a letter from the Federally Qualified Health Centers in which they say they’re getting close to the “edge” on funding. It is quite obvious that in addition to those folks who were thrown off Family Care Insurance by the Christie budget, the FQHCs are not going to be able to provide for an influx of new patients from the Family Planning Centers.

    Today we are having a Senate Health, Human Services & Senior Services Committe hearing. We’ll start with Congressman Frank Pallone who will give us information on how a state plan amendment will be allowed under the new health care reform law. The Committee will also question the HHSS Comissioner, Dr. Alaigh, about the status of these centers. We’ve invited the Treasurer to share with us his difference of opinion with the Office of Legislative Services on the funding mechanism. We were turned down by Jennifer Velez to testify on the medicaid waiver and apparently she could not send a representative from the Human Services Department.  Mmmm???  Should be an enlightening meeting. I’m sure the Governor has the message loud and clear that we are not going away on this important issue.

    Budget Committee is meeting to begin discussion on some of Governor Christie’s so called “tool kit”.  I predict that these ideas will be a lot more problematic in the legislature.  As you can see, this is and will continue to be a busy summer for us. The “heat” outside is probably matching what I expect will be the “heat” within our Trenton caucuses.

    Before the new budget really unfolds and folks feel the full brunt of it, the Governor started with a new distraction – School Superintendent Salaries.  A worthier target than classroom teachers and easier to spin as “greedy guys”. Just take a cursory look at this budget.  It is clear that the Governor did not re-invent the way Trenton operates. In fact he gave us more of what he’s blaming for our current economic problems.  Oh yes, he made big cuts in aid to schools and municipalities. Whereas Massachusetts increased municipal aid when their cap was instituted. He is skipping this year’s State payment to the pension fund, and will still complain that the fund going broke! Remember, employees continue to make their payments. And lo and behold, he’s going out to borrow money to shore up the Transportation Trust Fund – a fund going broke because most of the payments are going to pay debt! Can you imagine what the Republicans would be saying if this had been a Corzine-Democratic budget? I think we will hear the noise level when folks open their property tax bills this Fall.

    Yes, I know — He has the bully pulpit! But we need to do a better job translating to the public what the Christie budget priorities mean to New Jersey residents who I know think their schools are important, and who rely on their police and fire personnel to keep them safe.  They want to drive on decent roads and not pay increased costs to ride public transportation. They want uninsured women to have access to health care and to birth control. And yes, they did not want the “more than millionaires” to get a tax break, while the rest of us pay much more. Yes, it’s going to be a busy and overheated time!

    Keep your voices heard!


    2% Panic

    A story in today’s Times of Trenton


    has a bunch of Mercer County mayor’s sweating the new 2% cap.  It is funny to read the quotes as the mayor’s try and artfully dodge offending the governor while simultaneously crapping their pants worrying about next years budget after just slashing and burning this years budget.  My initial thoughts reading this article are, why did mayor’s stand next to the governor and wave the cap flag without thinking it through?  Are they that wrapped up in party politics?  Are they lazy or dumb? Both?

    Now the mayor’s and the League of Municipalities are shouting they need the “tool kit”.  The tool kit is just as much a farce as the cap.  Most of the tool kit is unconstitutional.  The legislature seems to be in no hurry to discuss the tool kit, and many legislators have said they have serious problems with a lot of the “kit”.

    There are many towns in NJ like Upper Freehold Township, Monmouth County.  UFT has no police department, has about 6 paid fire fighters (whose salaries are well below state average,  have never taken the town to arbitration, and have only had a contract for about 7 years), a handful of DPW employees, and your standard municipal building employees.  UFT is not a civil service jurisdiction. UFT has slashed and burned their budget this year, including layoffs, furloughs, and service reductions.

    My point is that UFT has not been subject to arbitration awards, they are not civil service, the council tends to be mostly republican, they provide very few services (no garbage collection, police), but have found themselves in the same boat as every other town and city in the state.  

    The “tool kit” is another sham by the governor.  Another policy that will erode the quality of life and  government in this state.  I predict only a handful of the “tools” in the “tool kit” will become law.  The legislature will be forced to add more exemptions to the cap law after disasterous consequences occur.

    The governor needs to address the overpopulation of municipalites and taxing authorities in the state, this is where efficiencies will be located.  The current policies do nothing to solve problems.  The cap will force municipalities to go to an a la carte system of taxing, and will actually lead to more government in NJ as mayor’s try and ditch departments within their municipality and turn it into a taxing authority to avoid those numbers showing on their books. Christie is chopping off his nose to spite his face.