Christie Administration Pursuing Fiscal and Economic Irresponsibility at All Costs

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has pursued countless cuts to essential programs, waged an ideological war on state employees and teachers, pushed tax cuts for the rich over the middle class, and advocated for costly and fiscally unsustainable privatization schemes. Even in light of overwhelming public opposition to privatization and the significant pitfalls associated with these types of schemes, the Governor established a privatization task force by executive order earlier this year.

The panel, primarily composed of lobbyists and business interests, issued a report recommending that the state privatize programs across the board, including toll booth collections, preschools, state parks, prison food services, bus routes, and car emission inspections.  However, the report's conclusions unabashedly promote conservative ideological desires in place of rigorous research or recognition of New Jersey's troubled history with privatization. 

As Rutgers University Professors Jeffrey Keefe and Janice Fine emphasize in a recent publication, In the Public Interest? Safeguarding New Jersey’s Public Investments: A Response to the New Jersey Privatization Task Force Report, which analyzes the Christie administration's privatization task force report:

We believe what is required is a more comprehensive system with standards and rules for transparency... our initial research suggests that resources for State oversight are shrinking and the State is incapable of overseeing its current vast array of contracts.  The Task Force, guided by an ideology of “the market is always more efficient,” has advanced a privatization program that will result in reduced services; higher fees, fares, and costs; and the substitution of bad jobs for good ones. If the privatization program is implemented it will  not achieve its advertised objective of saving costs through greater efficiency. In the long run these projects will cost taxpayers more, while providing fewer services and raising fees, fares, and user costs.

Despite mounting opposition, the administration has moved forward with these efforts. As points out, New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently issued a request for proposals (RFP) from contractors to assume operation of some of the state’s land-use permitting process.  Critics have expressed outrage, citing that the "DEP appeared ready to let a private sector company decide when developers can build near wetlands or other lands protected by state law — something that has never been tried in any state." As Progressive States Network has noted in the past, privatization efforts often reflect a desire for a short-term infusion of capital and result in lost accountability, policy driven by profit rather than public interest, potential conflicts of interests, and higher future costs and fees for state residents.

The Christie administration's short-sighted privatization efforts come at the heels of a slew of economically and socially irresponsible actions.  An error on the "Race to the Top" application cost the state $400 million in federal funds for crucial investments in education.  Last month, the Governor nixed the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) tunnel, which was slated to be the nation's largest job-creation project, would have doubled the existing rail capacity between New Jersey and New York City, and fostered dynamic economic growth once completed. Most recently, an audit uncovered that New Jersey has utilized less than 10 percent of federal Recovery Act funds dedicated to the state's weatherization assistance program.

At a time when unemployment remains persistently high and crucial investments in public structures are necessary to spur recovery, the egregious lack of foresight of the Christie administration's economic and fiscal agenda is wholly unconscionable.

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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