Tag Archives: Asbury Park Press

High public sector salaries and fake pointsettias in New Jersey

To save money, many New Jersey municipalities are cutting back on holiday decorations. The Star Ledger reports fake pointsettias have replaced real ones in Newark’s city hall. The outdoor Norwegian spruce will be powered by solar lights. Woodbridge has reduced holiday banners by one-third.

While it may seem miserly to cut down on festive decor at city halls, this doesn’t mean bare streetscapes. Bill Dressell, director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, notes in many cases local business districts and other groups decorate downtowns and main streets for the Christmas season.

What is truly depressing is the difficulty of reining in public sector salaries. According to the Asbury Park Press the median public sector salary for New Jersey’s 398,000 state and local employees (excluding police officers)  is $49,164. That’s less than the median salary for New York City’s (251,000 public employees) of $48,076. New York City has a population of 8.3 million, slightly less than the entire population of New Jersey. The highest paid public servant in New Jersey earns over $290,000 as head of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission.

If municipalities really want to save  money, take a cue from holiday cutbacks and reduce the public sector’s footprint on the local economy. It’s likely many currently public jobs can be provided by the private sector or non-profits. Lower property taxes will more than make up for missing tinsel.

Fixing Education First

Eileen Norcross has an op-ed in the Asbury Park Press arguing that Governor-elect Christie must deal with New Jersey’s education system before it will be possible to deal with the budget deficit, property taxes, income taxes, and outmigration:

School funding is a mess not because of decisions by the Legislature, but edicts from the state’s Supreme Court. For more than 30 years, the courts have controlled the schools through the Abbott decisions (which number 20 separate rulings over 24 years).

To wit, 31 court-designated Abbott districts must spend the same amount per student as the highest-spending district in the state. While other state courts have ruled on state funding formulas for education, none have effectively taken over the Legislature’s policymaking functions as the New Jersey courts have. Continue reading

Assorted Links

UK artist Tracey Emin may flee Britain for France to save on taxes.

Will California be the first US state to fail?

Austerity on the Strip: Las Vegas casinos cut back on expansion plan, and in New York City: Conde Nast closes Gourment, Modern Bride, and Elegant Bride.

The Asbury Park Press20 point plan for property tax reform in New Jersey.

D.C. students skip class to protest teacher layoffs.

Crushed by Taxes in New Jersey

Gannett has done its homework — and the homework of New Jersey’s government(s). This week its New Jersey papers are running a week long series on the state’s property tax crisis.

Visit the Asbury Park Press‘ website and click on a municipality in any one of New Jersey’s 21 counties. Wave your cursor over the bar chart to get a tangible sense of how property taxes are crushing the state’s residents.

For example in Fort Lee, Bergen County, residents face an average tax burden of $8,510, up from $5,545 since 2000. Factor in the property tax rebates from Trenton — the average check sent out in 2008 amounted to $944 — and that’s a 41 percent increase in property taxes in eight years with the rebate. You can get property tax details for each of the state’s 566 municipalities.

Yesterday’s analysis (Day 2) featured a series on one of the major drivers of property taxes: salaries for public sector workers.

Binding arbitration rules mean that unions negotiate their benefits and salaries through a seven-member commission in Trenton with the costs passed on to localities. (For background on the evolution of public sector negotiations in New Jersey from 1968 to today, read, “PERC After 40 Years.”)

Now,  thanks to what must have been a massive amount of data work for Gannett’s reporters, you can easily discover how much police officers, municipal workers, teachers, firemen, and judges are being paid in your town.

Each of New Jersey’s 460,000 public employees enrolled in a benefits program is in this data base by name, jurisdiction, and retirement fund. You can also look inside a police contract.

The Asbury Park Press highlights some of the biggest beneficiaries:

  • A principal at Freehold Regional earns $146,316.
  • A police officer in Belmar grossed $109,975.
  • In Eatontown, a patrol officer earns $90,000.

The reporting continues through Sunday, and it’s worth exploring. It’s also worth asking why some towns were more forthcoming with their data than others.