Back in May, DynamoBuzz ran a post which explored the issue in-depth. Roberto points out, "And if big means more efficient, explain why New Jersey’s biggest cities (Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, Elizabeth) spend twice as much on schooling, emergency services and government as smaller towns, many of which have volunteer fireman and low paid town officials?" A very valid point.
This past week, the Bozo-coiffed Governor Jon Corzine weighed in, opining that mergers would help eliminate corruption. A report on NJ 101.5's website states:
"Mr. Corzine said the primary source of corruption in New Jersey is too many layers of government, often referred to as "home rule." He said the best way to remove the possibilities for bribery and bid-rigging is for municipalities to consolidate and share services."
I fail to see the connection. The source of corruption is greedy people and lax or absent enforcement of the law. It doesn't matter whether a municipality is large or small. Indeed, would the merger of Jersey City and Hoboken have prevented anything? Would Sharpe James have been more honest if only Newark were larger, say if it absorbed East Orange, Irvington and Nutley? Probably not.
As to cost savings, the problem is property taxes, not the size of municipalities. Until property taxes are no longer the basis for municipal finance and especially school funding, New Jerseyans will continue to pay more. While the regionalization of school districts (and the elimination of overlapping "sending districts") is in many cases warranted, consolidation of municipalities could potentially be nothing more than a power grab by political bosses.
The Founding Fathers wanted to decentralize government as much as possible to avoid a repetition of the tyrrany they had fought. It is why they improved on the English model and went with three branches of government, with a bicameral Congress, all to diffuse the power of government and those running it. That is why we have states instead of one central government. It is why, on the state level, government was again diffused among the state, counties and municipalities. Each level originally had its functions and jurisdiction, and the system was set up to make the consolidation of power as difficult as possible.
Is there room for improvement here in New Jersey? There sure is. But the public should not fall for the panacea of "merge the towns and everything will be OK". While consolidation may be appropriate in certain cases, it is not a cure-all. Do not fall for the snake oil salesmen who would tell you that it is.
What is needed in New Jersey is to continue imprisoning corrupt politicians, and serious reform of our repressive property tax system.
Now that will bring savings.