Did Economic and Fiscal Review go far enough?

The report the Legislature’s Economic and Fiscal Policy Review Committee released on New Jersey identified a number of areas the state needs to address, offering suggestions on some.

It even went as far as to say, “The fiscal future of New Jersey is bleak.”

But the report has received lukewarm reaction by business entities such as the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

And it drew criticism from Garden State Initiative.

GSI President Regina Egea, who served in the previous administration, said the recommendations are just another committee report.

“What was striking in the report was a lack of a plan of action,” she said. “Recommendations that do not include costs to implement and expected savings, along with a timeline of implementation, is not really a plan; but, rather, another committee report.

“Without a commitment to implement, residents and business leaders are likely to see this as just another report that will take its place on a shelf collecting dust,” she said. “It was heartening to see to the report include the recommendations on health benefits made by the Byrne-Healey Commission, albeit without mentioning their report.

“Unless we are willing to tackle the 800-pound gorilla in the room, which is the unsustainable level of payment of pension benefits, which this report fails to do, things like … consolidation and shared services are distractions that just nibble at the edges of our financial crisis.”

New Jersey Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Tom Bracken said in a statement that the group’s recommendations are an important step, but more time is required to digest and analyze the details.

“Many of the long-term and systemic economic problems the workgroup identifies will be tough to solve and will require sacrifices and compromises on all sides,” he said. “We need to fully vet the recommendations with all involved parties, so everyone understands the direct impact and the unintended consequences that could result from them.

Committee member Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director at Rutgers University’s Bloustein Local Government Research Center, preached patience.

Pfieffer said he understands the road ahead will be tough, but the state has been delaying dealing with the issues for far too long.

“This group is the fourth such group that I have worked with in one way or another since the mid-’80s, which tells you we have had these problems for a long time, and there’s not any easy fixes to that,” he said. “There’s no quick fixes to these things, but there are things that we can do to set ourselves up in the medium to long-term that can bend that cost curve on helping our local governments, counties get more efficient and reduce the property tax burden.

“We’ve been doing shared services at the local level since the mid-1970s, they’re not new, they exist, they’ve been voluntary. What we want to start looking at is setting some minimum standards of services, saying what is the critical mass of population being served, where we can deliver some services very efficiently.

“We recommend the creation of some bodies to start looking at those issues, to see where we can go with that, and then ultimately recommend either regulatory (solutions) or legislation that will start us moving us on that curve to have municipalities and counties do their jobs better and serve the public in a more efficient way.”

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