Dear Chairmen Smith and Wisniewski:
At the last meeting of your special Joint Committee on Consolidation and Shared Services, you invited us to review and comment on S-2244 (Proposed for Introduction). We thank you for the opportunity and, respectfully submit the following.
First, we commend the sponsor for advancing a concrete proposal that allows the people of New Jersey some say in the process.
Overall, the League has never opposed the consolidation of services, so long as several highly valued generally accepted principles are fully respected. The principles on which we judge the process are these.
- Only the affected may chose. Those affected by the consolidation must be able to decide for themselves that the choice is what they want. This may occur through their elected representatives, as is the character of a republican government. Or in the alternate, this may also occur through a referendum process in which the question is posed directly to the governed, as is the character of our democratic form of government. However, only those affected by the issue may participate in the selection of the choice. Those in another jurisdiction may not choose an outcome to be experienced by others.
- Accurate and Trustworthy Information. The choices placed before the elected officials or the voters must be accompanied by sufficient, accurate and trustworthy information about the consequences of the outcome so that the parties making the choice feel they have sufficient information to make a sound and informed decision.
- Objective analysis. An independent agency should be charged with conducting the study so that the electors may freely and confidently trust the information. There should be no likelihood of concluding that the information merely furthers agendas of special interests or others not pursuing the commonweal of the affected parties.
Unfortunately, as we read the bill in its current form, we fear it fails to respect these principles. Accordingly, we raise the following questions for your consideration.
If the purpose is to conduct a study with integrity and objectivity, then why does the bill seem to come to the foregone conclusion that consolidation of these services is “right and proper?” The bill seems to ignore any other possible outcome of the study and moves directly to placing the question on the ballot of every county.
If the purpose of the bill is give voters options, then why must the study produce just one optional process? The bill seems to assume that there is only one possible process, through which to phase-in a pre-ordained outcome.
If the purpose of the bill is to allow those affected to determine the appropriate level of government for the delivery of certain services, then why does the bill seem to bind all 21 counties to a single end and process? While the end and process may benefit some voters in some counties, a significant majority of voters in one or more counties may prefer current practice or an alternative means of achieving the same end.
We also see practical issues with the proposal. DCAs Division of Local Government Services has direct responsibility and knowledge of tax collection activities. The Division of Taxation are experts on tax assessment, and the Department of Health and Senior Services oversees public health agencies and animal control. Placing this responsibility with DCA limits the involvement of these agencies whose activities are affected by this sweeping and bold proposal. Further, DCAs limited expertise and limited personnel would make completing this study in the mandated 90 days impossible.
Without question, the League prefers an objective study with high integrity rather than the one that the legislation appears to advance. Similarly, we prefer a process that respects the ability of different voters in different counties to consider different options.
If this legislation is to proceed any further in the legislature, its purpose and intent must be made clearer. Similarly, the process needs to allow for alternative outcomes.
Again, we thank you for giving us this opportunity to comment on S-2244. And we stand ready to assist you further, in your efforts to advance significant, state-wide and sustainable property tax reforms.