Tag Archives: Chris Christie

To merge or not to merge?

Princeton Image

Consolidating municipalities is a common policy prescription from across the political spectrum. In New Jersey in particular, many democratic and republican elected officials have thrown their support behind merging municipalities. In part, this support is based on the experience of Princeton. In 2011, Princeton Borough and Princeton Township moved, the first New Jersey municipalities to do so:

New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie as well as governors in Ohio and Pennsylvania have been urging local governments to seek savings by eliminating unneeded costs. Christie endorsed the Princeton plan and offered to pay 20% of the $1.7-million unification cost, Bloomberg News reported.

The forecast is that Princeton taxpayers will save $3.1 million annually by consolidating services, including those for police and fire protection.

“We have redundancy in government,” borough resident Cole Crittenden told NJ.com in explaining why she supported the merger.

Framing municipal mergers as a way to get more bang for the taxpayer buck makes the proposal difficult for anyone to oppose except for those municipal employees who are redundant after a merger. However, the cost savings of consolidation are not well-understood. In an article in Governing Magazine earlier this week, Justin Marlowe writes:

It turns out that consolidations rarely save money. In fact, for the majority of citizens directly affected in these cases, consolidation has meant higher taxes and spending. Some cities consolidated because a larger government could improve local infrastructure. This has usually meant new debt and new taxes to repay that debt. Others offered generous pensions and health-care benefits to employees pushed out in the consolidation, thus saddling the new government with expensive legacy costs. In the consolidated town of Oak Island, N.C., per capita spending is two or three times higher than before consolidation, and that’s by design. Consolidation allowed this coastal community to offer new services needed to build a vibrant tourist economy.

Superficially, municipal consolidation looks like an opportunity to reduce taxes or to provide increased services for a given level of revenue. However, as Marlowe indicates, larger jurisdictions do not always result in anticipated efficiencies. As policymakers’ gain control of larger jurisdictions and in turn the ability to access more funds from revenue from the state and federal level, they may spend more, rather than less, per capita.

Assorted Links

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Norcross in New York Post

Eileen Norcross has an op-ed in today’s New York Post in which she argues that only substantive reform can fix New Jersey’s budget problem.

[Governor-elect Chris] Christie inherits a state that’s in arguably the worst financial condition in its 233- year history. Last year’s $7 billion shortfall, closed with stimulus dollars and tax hikes, has resurfaced at an even larger $8 billion for 2010. Residents face crippling property taxes (an average of $7,000 per capita), high income and sales taxes, $45 billion in debt and the net loss of 400,000 people since 2000.

This is not the time to tinker at the margins with rebate programs and line-by-line budget deliberations. Without question, turning Trenton on its head means tackling the state’s two greatest and most immediate threats: the Property Tax Relief Fund (PTRF) and unfunded mandates on municipal governments.

[…]

Christie has his work cut out for him. Reviving New Jersey will take hard work and persistence, not just by the new governor, but by the people who elected him. They must demand a fundamental rewrite of the rules under which the state and municipal budgets are drafted — and hold their elected leaders to account if they stray off course.

Read the whole thing here.