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An ongoing discussion about conservatism in New Jersey.
The Latest
Peter C. Hansen  (October 19, 2013, 2:05 am)

Analysts on the Right have been divided about the recent Booker-Lonegan by-election, with most finding some evidence of a conservative-led Republican resurgence in the Garden State. One partial dissenter is Matthew Kaminiski of the Wall Street Journal, who has opined that Lonegan's Tea Party loyalties limited his appeal:

Some Republicans were left to wonder about Mr. Lonegan’s real intentions, too. He said he wanted to stay true to his beliefs, but his uncompromising conservative pitch sounded better suited to Utah or Texas. Headlining his closing rally last weekend was Sarah Palin, a divisive and unpopular figure in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie, who’s cruising to an easy re-election next month, shows Republicans can win the Garden State. Just not the way Mr. Lonegan tried to do.

There is some truth in each view. Yes, conservative fervor did run up Lonegan's share of the vote, especially in a low-turnout election. Yes, the election no doubt reveals some popular weariness with the Democratic agenda and President Obama's governance style. Yes, Lonegan made an aggressive and largely effective appeal against a Democratic media star whose record and character he seriously put into question. In the end, however, Lonegan's policies and allegiances just didn't gibe with a majority of the NJ voting public. This is likely because Lonegan's Tea Party affiliation put a ceiling on his appeal to NJ voters, especially during the federal shutdown triggered and then prolonged by his fellow Tea Party adherents in Congress.

The modern Tea Party's politics of panic was on full display during the melodramatic and patently foredoomed effort to defund Obamacare that coincided with the Booker-Lonegan by-election. The push to defund seemed like a re-enactment of the "really futile and stupid gesture" scene from Animal House, with Senator Cruz as Bluto and the House defund caucus as Otter. The Intransigents' announcements of eschatological crisis, obtusely maximalist demands, and denouncements of "appeasers" were all frankly bizarre. Worse, the entire effort made no strategic sense whatever vis-à-vis its proclaimed target, Obamacare. At most, the entire shutdown gambit seems to have been nothing more than a cynical and reckless power play for dominance within the Republican Party, conducted before a disgusted national majority.

When Lonegan appeared with Tea Party avatars Sarah Palin and Mark Levin in this context, he presented himself not merely as the opponent of Democrat Cory Booker, but also as an opponent of the Republican Establishment in Washington. Such a niche marketing strategy is a loser in a deep-blue state like NJ. The statewide number of Republican-leaners is already limited, and those folks want to back a winner if they are going to take the trouble of voting in a heavily Democratic state. Marketing oneself as an insurgent against your own side's leaders raises voter worries about electability, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even apart from such crowd psychology, the espousal of uncompromising, hardcore views is likely to turn off most of the Garden State's many moderate or committed-but-pragmatic conservatives, particularly among the traditionalist gentry.

In NJ, apocalyptic language and efforts just don't play. Apart from the lack of any firebrand cultural tradition, the Garden State is basically a vast suburb moving to its own deep rhythms. Such settled complexity, layered decade after decade, causes people to feel that life will not change quickly or much. No matter what wacko policies are dreamt up by idiot politicians, life will go on much as before – traffic will still be bad, strip malls will gradually change over, people will still mow their lawns, kids will grow up, and so on. New Jerseyans' blasé attitude toward government is also explained by the fact that most people ascribe to the state government qualities normally attributed to the mafia – corrupt, self-serving, abusive, useless, creepily insular and operating so behind-the-scenes as to be nearly invisible.

After more than a century of enduring such abuse, New Jerseyans do not see new government programs as existential threats, but simply as more expensive foolishness. So long as it occurs off-screen, it tends to be overlooked and tolerated. It is only when the burdens of such programs start to impact on daily existence – for example by getting an insurance policy cancelled or taking money budgeted for a vacation – that New Jerseyans will rise up to throw the bums out. That is how Christie became governor, by defeating public-union supporter Corzine just as Whitman ousted the tax-hiking Florio in 1993.

Whereas Lonegan the Tea Partier lost his election by a substantial margin, Christie is now (per polling higher in his re-election bid than a Democratic opponent who is neither scandal-plagued nor otherwise unelectable. Christie leads among men, women, whites and Hispanics, and has won the support of one-third of blacks statewide. This is not because Christie has called a truce on social issues, or adopted a progressive agenda. To the contrary, Christie is known to oppose "gay marriage, abortion rights and tying future minimum wage increases to inflation — all issues that earlier polls show the majority of the state's voters support." Nevertheless, at a 62-to-28 rate, the inhabitants of deep-blue New Jersey "say that Christie’s views on issues are generally in line with most New Jerseyans," while at a 40-to-34 rate, the same people in a heavily Democratic state say that the Democratic candidate's views are "out of step" with those of "most Garden State residents."

How can this possibly be? Both Lonegan and Christie hold roughly the same ideological positions, yet Lonegan is unelectable while Christie is trouncing a Democrat in a dark-blue state. Since ideological differences cannot explain such a vast gap in political acceptability, other factors must be at work. Among them, personal likeability and flamboyance no doubt play a role. The most important factor by far is, however, Christie's extraordinary focus on local conditions and local culture, whereas Lonegan imprudently nationalized his candidacy.

In September 2010, nine months into Christie's administration, I wrote that the "voicebox of New Jersey's soul" had "done merely the obvious and sensible thing. Not just for this election cycle, but in any cycle." He "show[ed] he is the pocketbook voter's friend, and [took] on the reactionary public-sector unions that NJ loathes." As Steve Malanga of the Wall Street Journal observed, Christie achieved his signature victory over the public unions by "secur[ing] labor support, especially among construction and trade unions, by emphasizing restraints on government spending, caps on tax increases, incentives for job creation, and vigorous rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy." Even the State Senate President, Democrat Stephen Sweeney – an official of the International Association of Ironworkers – "has helped Mr. Christie cut pension benefits for state workers and require greater retirement contributions."

Christie succeeded by channeling the anger and resentment of the Garden State's voters into targeted conservative assaults on the actual object of that anger and resentment. Whereas many politicians attempt to bottle their power by perpetuating conflicts, Christie actually set about ruthlessly and cunningly to win the war that the public wanted. In a state where thick skin and determination are prized, and political sincerity is a rarity, New Jerseyans marveled at Christie's determined march to victory. With his Jersey accent, self-deprecation and delightfully abrasive Garden State manner, Christie gained immense credibility by consciously presenting himself as the "avatar of the NJ ethos[,] channeling the householders one hears talking in dentist offices, diners and supermarkets across the state."

By making himself the NJ Everyman, Christie has been able to embed his conservative agenda into NJ life. This has in turn allowed him to quietly apply (insofar as possible) conservative policies that would otherwise be deal-breakers for many voters, such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage. By contrast, Lonegan gained little traction by portraying himself as part of a national movement through his self-identification with the Intransigents during the shutdown, and through his appeals to out-of-state Tea Party celebrities. It is not merely that Lonegan sided with a polarizing and generally unpopular group. Lonegan also failed because he indicated that he was interested more in national affairs than in NJ's own deeply held concerns and yearnings. For a state that long lived in the shadow of New York and Philadelphia, and that is all too often misunderstood and dismissed in national discourse, such subtle disrespect can be the kiss of death.

It remains to be seen whether Christie's appeal will translate onto the national plane. Many vociferous conservatives have dismissed him as a RINO, but this is largely because they wish to impose their regional (and southern-inflected) brand of conservatism as the national model. Their attitude, like their dismissals, is parochial and off-putting. It would instead behoove conservatives nationwide to give Christie a serious look. It is not that the NJ style of conservative governance is readily translatable to other states and regions. After all, New Jersey is not Alabama. What makes Christie a valuable contributor to the conservative discussion is that he has been able to inculcate conservative values and approaches deep into the political culture of a traditionally Democratic state. He did this not by haranguing or unilateral imposition, but instead by drawing out conservative elements of NJ culture and tradition.

Doing this required not just political shrewdness, but also a native understanding of local conditions and history. If conservatism is to win back other long-lost territories across the country, a network of figures like Christie will be needed to translate conservatism into local dialects. It is ironically through such localism and pluralism – approaches long celebrated by American conservatives – that a truly national conservative movement will emerge.

Peter C. Hansen  (March 2, 2013, 5:12 pm)

The uproar over Gov. Christie's exclusion from this year's CPAC conference has hit a conservative nerve that has grown ever more raw since the 2012 election. Jonah Goldberg, for example, has observed that CPAC's decision could look like a "knee-jerk and insecure retreat at precisely the moment conservatives should be sending the opposite message."

Unfortunately, it seems that CPAC's disdain for Christie is echoed, even if only in muted tones, by the normally tent-expanding editors of National Review, who state in their critique of CPAC's decision that Christie "remains wildly popular with self-described conservatives and Republicans in his own state." Any NJ conservative has to note the term "self-described" with concern. Its insertion by the editors – which was not necessary – clearly suggests a suspicion that at least some NJ conservatives are squishes or even liberals suffering from a false consciousness. That is both ridiculous and pernicious, and it reflects the influence of a regional form of conservatism that is making it hard for Republicans to compete nationally, and especially in blue states like NJ.

The three criticisms presently leveled against Christie by CPAC and others (including Goldberg) are that Christie: (1) is tough on guns; (2) harangued Congressional Republicans to pass the Sandy relief bill; and (3) surrendered to Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.

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Peter C. Hansen  (February 10, 2013, 10:42 pm)

A recent PolitickerNJ article noted that radio talk show host and Atlantic City attorney Seth Grossman intends to challenge Gov. Christie in the Republican primaries. Mr. Grossman, who in 2003 founded a reform group called Liberty and Prosperity 1776, asked, "Why would any Republican in his right mind want to support Chris Christie? Republican voters deserve a choice."

A choice between what and what, exactly? Mr. Grossman may be a fine guy, and his Eight Point Program for 2013 is hardly radical as manifestos go. Why then does Mr. Grossman feel compelled to treat Gov. Christie as an infidel? Indeed, to what political program is Christie an infidel? Seriously, enough is enough. Just as Fox News has started to dump the most tin-eared denizens of its echo chamber, it is past time for NJ conservatives to start calling out the Kool-Aid quaffers in our midst.

Gov. Christie has had some missteps, and I have criticized him on various matters. The man has, however, single-handedly turned the state back from fiscal oblivion. He reined in the public unions with skillful diplomacy that engaged private-union supporters. He has even canned patronage workers at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission. In short, he has become the avatar of the NJ ethos by channeling the householders one hears talking in dentist offices, diners and supermarkets across the state. Back in 2010, I wrote that "[i]t's as if the man were formed by the swirling aether of NJ good sense into a planet-shaped force for good." I stand by that statement, and as of today 70% of deep-blue NJ agrees with it.

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Peter C. Hansen  (January 1, 2013, 12:28 am)

In a recent, controversial post on National Review's Corner, Kevin Williamson decried views on gun control espoused by New York attorney and conservative Brett Joshpe (who responded here). Without seeking to wade into that discussion, I would note that Williamson's forcefully expressed, Texan views on guns provide a precise snapshot of a mindset which is alien and even repugnant to many mainstream, blue-state conservatives, even those who enjoy guns and shooting.

Williamson writes that the "purpose of having citizens armed with paramilitary weapons [i.e. 'an assault weapon with a high-capacity magazine'] is to allow them to engage in paramilitary actions." To make his point crystal-clear, Williamson states that "[t]here is no legitimate exception to the Second Amendment for military-style weapons, because military-style weapons are precisely what the Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to secure our ability to oppose enemies foreign and domestic, a guarantee against disorder and tyranny."

Williamson's premise is that private (and indeed individual) armies are required to keep American government within proper bounds, and more generally to prevent a politico-social apocalypse. This makes a certain small degree of sense, since an unarmed populace cannot be a militarily effective force. Williamson wrongly assumes the obverse, however, to wit that an armed populace would make an effective military force. There is no reason to believe this. A gun is merely a tool, and does not create militias ex nihilo, let alone "well regulate" them in line with the Second Amendment. Williamson's position is thus founded on a dubious premise, and consequently rings hollow, and indeed strange and worrisome, in blue-state ears.

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Peter C. Hansen  (December 22, 2012, 12:51 am)

Metropark is known to most folks as a major Amtrak and NJ Transit rail stop, nestled in a cat's cradle of arterial roads, streets, parking lots, corporate buildings and small shops. My father remembers it, however, as a place where he hunted rabbits. He used to wander with his hunting dogs all around the farms and empty country around Metuchen – places like the Great Dismal Swamp, which now has its share of townhouse developments. When he was drafted into the Army, he became a prize-winning marksman. His guns – like those of an earlier generation on my mother's side – are still in the family.

In Montgomery today, no wander across fields or forest fails to turn up an old shotgun shell poking up from the dirt, the metal rusted but the plastic still bright. My uncle and cousin hunted in our wooded backyard, which merged into neighboring lots so seamlessly that property lines were as abstract as those in the deepest Amazon. I remember when the same uncle took a shine to vintage guns and we found ourselves firing an old-time, 50-caliber muzzle-loader at targets near the house. When I shot it, I found myself staring straight up from the recoil, and my shoulder aching. When my uncle shot, he put a massive hole through a can that inspired grim thoughts in me about what combat really entailed.

Having been born soon after the major highways went in, I grew up in the 1970s hearing how things had changed, how the area had gotten too crowded, how the traffic was getting ridiculous, yadda yadda yadda. The family guns rarely if ever appeared, and my dad had retired from hunting. My uncles went out every season, however, and hoped to see and bag a deer. (My, how times have changed.) It was a manly culture, but not one of jerks. When I see The Deerhunter, I know those guys – maybe a little rowdy in their younger days, and good drinkers, but still very proper around kids, tough workers, and willing to rip the shirt off their back for you.

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Peter C. Hansen  (December 20, 2012, 3:02 am)

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

"A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." (Matthew 2:18)

When we approach Christmas, the Gospel story we read is about a child in a manger, not a child in a morgue. The Slaughter of the Innocents takes place later on. This year, however, the old story has been horribly reversed. Children expecting Santa were instead greeted by a sadistic Adam Lanza. The scene for us remains frozen at their horrifying last moments. We cannot picture them at rest because we cannot be at rest. We cannot bear the fact that affectionate little kids were shot to pieces, exposed to extreme terror and without hope of rescue. Like Rachel, we refuse to be comforted, we weep and we mourn, because they are no more.

As the shock of the Newtown massacre reverberates through our society, a political storm has predictably begun to brew. It promises to be a retread of past struggles, however, and most of it will be dispiritingly pointless and frustrating for everyone. To avoid refighting old cultural battles, perhaps the following five simple (and hardly original) suggestions might prove useful:

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Peter C. Hansen  (December 12, 2012, 5:51 pm)

With today's NPR announcement of Ravi Shankar's death at age 92, an era has ended. On the one hand, Indian classical music has lost its most recognized icon, and the "World Music" phenomenon has lost its godfather. On a more personal level, which is of course irrelevant to these larger streams, my favorite musician has now gone and I can only collect his existing albums without hope of new ones.

On a hot summer day in 1986, my friend Noah (himself now long and sadly passed away) and his mother took me to New York City. What the reason was, I cannot recall. In some record store, I looked through the international offerings with a vague desire to learn about Indian music. I had never really heard it before, although Indian communities in and around my hometown of Piscataway were burgeoning. I picked up a casette which I still have, and which I have never seen on CD – The Genius of Ravi Shankar. I had no idea who this fellow was. Nevertheless, I listened to it, got deeply into it, picked up his Sounds of India with its 12-minute Bhimapalasi, and was off to the races. This was not a popular decision in my household. On a tense highway drive through the snows of Maine during a college interview visit in the winter of 1988-89, I popped in Shankar and was quickly ordered to "turn off that g*****n rubber-band music!" I have heard the phrase around the house since, usually jokingly, but everyone has long gotten used to hearing that twang around my computer.

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Peter C. Hansen  (February 23, 2012, 5:07 am)

The New Yorker has published a truly first-rate exploration of the Clementi case, in which a gay Rutgers freshman leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge after being exposed online by his roommate, Dharun Ravi. The author of the article, Ian Parker, has brought forward a trove of new facts, and his many insights and perceptions are unfailingly deft. The case is a morbidly fascinating one for many reasons. It is also sad, puzzling and enraging.

Because this case lies along the modern fault line of homosexuality, there has been a popular tendency to attach simple labels, motives and causes (both forensic and political) to the events of the case. Mr. Parker's article dispels these for any careful reader. If anything, Mr. Parker exposes the horrors of late-adolescent life in the age of smart phones and Twitter – self-discovery in front of an unblinking webcam. The events of the case are almost entirely known because they were almost entirely documented in real time by the actors themselves. Theirs was, and is, a world so devoted to electronic communication that the two figures taken in by police – Mr. Ravi and Molly Wei – actually texted about being questioned by police while Ms. Wei was being questioned.

In Mr. Parker's story, the ubiquitous communications technology used by everyone in the case gives the sickening impression of a loaded gun in a child's home – a seemingly quiet bit of machinery, sitting on a desk, that with a sudden blast has fearsome and irreversible effects. None of the actors seemed to realize its full power, and it took just one foolish and aggressive kid (Mr. Ravi) to thoughtlessly train it on someone near him and fire away. The dystopic scene of Mr. Clementi searching his room for hidden webcams gives any reader of Orwell's 1984 a shudder. (For the reason why, see here, at 7:05, the Italian dub not obscuring the brutal arrest of the nude Winston and Julia after the state reveals its surveillance.)

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Peter C. Hansen  (January 26, 2012, 8:54 pm)

Somehow, when I saw the grizzled mane and sunglasses on the agency photo of Robert Hegyes, I knew what I was about to read next. And so it was: "The actor died of a heart attack at his New Jersey home on Thursday." From his unmistakable look, and Eastern European name, I couldn't imagine that guy living anywhere else. What I also couldn't imagine was just how Jersey he was.

A former Sweathog, famous for playing a Puerto Rican Jew on Welcome Back Kotter, Hegyes could easily stand for Mr. New Jersey. He was a Hungarian-Italian combo, born in Perth Amboy and raised in Metuchen. He went to, and later taught at, Glassboro State (now Rowan University). He was even, so the Wikipedia entry says, a cousin of Jon Bon Jovi. (I will have to check with my brother-in-law on that one, as he is also related to the Bon Jovi clan. It's quite a large group.)

Mr. Hegyes had a pretty distinguished career, in a low-key Jersey kind of way, as a performer and teacher. If you aren't from Jersey, it's probably hard to get just how ridiculously familiar he seems. Or how utterly normal a Hungarian-Italian blend is. Or for that matter how unexceptional a Puerto Rican Jew would be. In a state where icon-doting Ukrainians can live next to Italians, blacks, Chinese, Indians and white mongrels (that last one would be me), anything is possible.

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James D. Agresti  (December 6, 2011, 12:06 pm)

Writing in the Star Ledger, columnist Paul Mulshine asserts:

Any federal law banning abortion would be rooted in the same section of the Constitution now being challenged by conservatives in the suits against Obamacare: the Interstate Commerce Clause. Conservatives argue the original meaning of that clause permits Congress only to facilitate interstate commerce, not restrict it. If that’s true of Obamacare, then it’s true of abortion.
In fact, the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution—which are both independent of the Interstate Commerce Clause—may entail and affirmatively require federal involvement in the issue of abortion.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, declares that "No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Likewise, the Fourteenth Amendment made this portion of the Fifth Amendment applicable to the states by explicitly affirming, "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Constitutionally, the issue of abortion can be boiled down to whether or not the unborn fall under the Constitution's definition of "any person." During the oral arguments for Roe v Wade, Henry Wade, the attorney responsible for enforcing Texas' abortion law, cited a fact that bears upon this question.

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Peter C. Hansen  (September 27, 2011, 11:37 am)

Word comes from the NY Times that Gov. Christie has blocked an otherwise approved tax credit for the next iteration of "Jersey Shore." In the delightful Jersey cut-to-the-chasery of State Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D, Middlesex Cty.), the cast is "just a bunch of deadwoods getting drunk and getting arrested."

Christie is letting tax credits go forward for other shows, like Law & Order, SVU. Christie, however, claimed a duty to prevent taxpayer from "footing a $420,000 bill for a project which does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the state and its citizens." Christie blamed the "difficult fiscal climate" as a justification for holding that "the taxpayers of New Jersey should not be forced to subsidize projects such as ‘Jersey Shore.’"

One might perhaps argue that "Jersey Shore" is entitled to be judged by the same criteria as other shows. It is indeed interesting that Christie has imposed not so much a morals clause, but rather a penalty of lèse-majesté against New Jersey. At the same time, I suspect that many a NJ patriot's blood boils at seeing a horde of out-of-staters trash NJ before the world. (Seriously – I watched Jersey Shore at a private home in Nairobi, Kenya. It was rather hard to explain.)

If the cast were home-grown (only 2 of 9 are), that might be a different matter. Let's face it – Jersey has its share of guidos, and the State can make exuberant fun of itself. It is having outsiders do it that rankles. It's an ancient wound – not exactly a Balkan-level grudge, but irritating nonetheless. It's like going back to a high-school reunion and getting teased again by the class jerk. The fact that NY dregs wash up at certain spots of NJ's coastline is distasteful, but a fact of summer life. Having those NY dregs publicly misrepresent Jersey's highly diverse shore communities as a cesspool is just wrong.

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Peter C. Hansen  (September 15, 2011, 3:06 am)

Bullying has become a cause célèbre in NJ these days, due largely to one particularly grievous recent crime. Unfortunately, the seemingly inevitable law that has resulted is loonier than the usual faddish overreaction. School superintendents are rightly complaining about it and its 18 pages of "required components" for schools' now-mandatory "comprehensive antibullying policies."

The new law brings the police to lunch lines, and trains kindergarteners (for six full class periods) on fine distinctions between "telling" and "tattling." Strangest of all to the common law tradition, the "innocent bystander" rule has been declared null. Scrawny third-graders will now have to confront sixth-grade thugs who shake down their classmates. How will they do this, exactly? One instinctively thinks of the "Ralphie loses it" method – the gold standard for discouraging bullies. This is not very PC, however, so presumably the formerly innocent bystander will have to go fill out a form somewhere, or simply distract the bully away from the victim and ... on to himself. Good luck with that one.

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Peter C. Hansen  (April 29, 2011, 1:21 am)

The Clementi case, in which a Rutgers student outed by webcam leapt to his death, has now resulted in an indictment against one of the two people originally named as co-conspirators. While Molly Wei has been let off for now, apparently because she will testify for the prosecution, Dharun Ravi has been charged on 15 counts, which in the words of the New York Times includes "acting with antigay motives." The hate-crime element bumps up Mr. Ravi's potential penalty from probation to a jail sentence of 5 to 10 years.

I yield to no one in my loathing of Mr. Ravi's actions. There was no excuse whatever for what he did. If Mr. Ravi felt threatened by having to share a room with someone who found members of his gender attractive, he could have asked for a room change, or simply made himself scarce. Had he been an open-minded university student in the classical sense, he could have engaged Mr. Clementi on a human level, and talked things out so that they reached a modus vivendi. What Mr. Ravi could not do under any moral calculus was publicly expose and humiliate Mr. Clementi. This was an attempt to harm and destroy him by surreptitious means. This was the act of a coward, and it deserves harsh punishment.

This being said, there is a problem with Mr. Ravi's potential sentencing. The law is simultaneously too weak and too strong. Mr. Ravi would normally get probation for what he did. This seems far too slight a punishment where the victim stands to be humiliated to the point of considering (or, in Mr. Clementi's case, actually committing) self-harm. A wider range of punishments, or simply a harsher baseline, should be adopted for invasions of privacy in order to provide an appropriate deterrent.

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Peter C. Hansen  (February 8, 2011, 2:45 pm)

PolitickerNJ has today reported that Gov. Christie has canned an additional 71 "employees" of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC), a government body that until recently has lacked government oversight. The Christie firestorm began when the Star Ledger published an exposé of the Commission, which the paper described as "an island of job security for the connected, their families and their friends." The level of nepotism and backscratching is epic, and making an example of this body (including with prosecutions wherever possible) will be a good start to an extended anti-corruption campaign that will hopefully include tougher legislation and systematic oversight.

As the paper notes, the PVSC's $46.4 million annual "payroll includes spouses and children of commissioners, mayors, friends of mayors, and the brother-in-law of a mayor who is also a commissioner, the documents show. The median salary there has jumped by nearly 30 percent over the past five years." In a classic instance of Jersey humor, "Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) once famously described the PVSC’s budget as 'an awful lot of money to push poopie through a pipe.'" The Star Ledger did a great job in detailing the institutionalized nepotism and abuse of funds:

At least 85 of Passaic Valley’s 567 employees make more than $100,000. Three are paid more than $200,000 –among them, a former aide to an influential Democratic congressman who earns $220,443 and was given the keys to a new Ford Expedition to take home.Click here to continue ...

James D. Agresti  (February 5, 2011, 12:37 am)

In the wake of a sting video showing a New Jersey Planned Parenthood worker helping a "pimp" to maximize the output of his "14-year-old prostitutes," some media outlets (such as the New York Times) have written about this affair as though it happened in a vacuum. However, the public should know that Planned Parenthood has an extensive and distressing history of such actions. In addition to what is documented on the videotapes in the previous link, consider the following sickening details from Just Facts' research on abortion:

All 50 states have laws requiring that workers who interact with children in a professional capacity report suspected cases of child abuse. Also, in all 50 states, a sexual relationship between a 22-year-old man and a 13-year-old girl is illegal and explicitly defined as child abuse in the laws of most states.

In 2002, an organization called Life Dynamics phoned more than 800 Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Federation abortion clinics and offices. In these calls, a woman from Life Dynamics told the workers at these facilities that she was 13-years-old, had been impregnated by her 22-year-old boyfriend, and wanted to get an abortion to hide the situation from her parents. In more than 90% of the phone calls, the Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Federation workers did not act to report the situation.

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Peter C. Hansen  (February 4, 2011, 4:22 pm)

From oddities to high art, NJ sends out a country's worth of culture, and can't be pigeonholed or typecast. (This is no surprise, since the immensely diverse NJ would be the third most densely populated major country on earth if it were independent.) In the face of some recent perusals, I got to thinking about one of our odder sorts of inhabitant.

There has been a surprisingly fair, accurate and interesting report on BBC comparing perceptions and realities invoked by Jersey Shore. These were set point-by-point against a review of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where the U.K. version of the show is going to be set. Newcastle, where I once had my backpack stolen, actually seems not a bad place overall, and in some ways pretty familiar. As the article points out, the vast majority of folks are rather normal, and this statement certainly resonated: "But the other thing we [in Newcastle] are known for is being very friendly and down to earth. We don't really do snobby or stuck up in this part of the world."

As for our own Jersey Shore, I am not going to join fully in the righteous public disdain of guidos. (Yes, that's what they are, and that's what they have always been called in fair NJ. No one in NJ confuses them with Italians in general. They are to Italians what punks and soccer hooligans are to the English.)

Instead, I would like to offer a somewhat contrarian view.

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Peter C. Hansen  (February 1, 2011, 3:14 pm)

A new undercover video shot by the new Live Action site gives a disturbing peek into the abortion industry in the Garden State. In the video, the office manager of the Perth Amboy Planned Parenthood advises two people she thinks are a pimp and a prostitute seeking treatment for a stable of imported Asian prostitutes (aged 14 years old and up) who can't speak English. The office manager recommends a certain clinic for abortions for the 14 year-olds, advises how to get good prices on contraceptives for the teenagers, and states that after an abortion, the girls (i.e. the middle-schoolers) should act only "waist up," or provide "extra action" as a display to entice business, for a minimum of two weeks.

(For information on Planned Parenthood in NJ, and its recent announcement that it wishes to double the number of its NJ abortion clinics by 2013, this article is a useful resource. Planned Parenthood's move comes despite Gov. Christie's cut in funding to Planned Parenthood.)

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Peter C. Hansen  (December 13, 2010, 2:38 pm)

Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota, has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal today on the destructive impact of public-sector unions on government expenditure. The whole thing should be read, but here's his diagnosis:

The majority of union members today no longer work in construction, manufacturing or "strong back" jobs. They work for government, which, thanks to President Obama, has become the only booming "industry" left in our economy. ...

[A]cross the country, at every level of government, the pattern is the same: Unionized public employees are making more money, receiving more generous benefits, and enjoying greater job security than the working families forced to pay for it with ever-higher taxes, deficits and debt.

How did this happen? Very quietly. The rise of government unions has been like a silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions.

Public employee unions contribute mightily to the campaigns of liberal politicians ($91 million in the midterm elections alone) who vote to increase government pay and workers. As more government employees join the unions and pay dues, the union bosses pour ever more money and energy into liberal campaigns. The result is that certain states are now approaching default. Decades of overpromising and fiscal malpractice by state and local officials have created unfunded public employee benefit liabilities of more than $3 trillion.

If there is a good reason for a public-sector union to exist (which is debatable), there is no legitimate reason whatever for a public-sector union to have a right to participate in election activity. I have written about this before here and here.

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James D. Agresti  (October 29, 2010, 12:40 am)

A couple of people have asked me for an explanation of the lone NJ ballot question in the upcoming election. Typically, these are tough to parse, but the interpretative statement on the ballot helps to clarify matters. This time, however, the interpretative statement is more confusing than the actual question.

There seems to be widespread approval of this initiative on both sides of the aisle. My assemblyman (Jay Webber, a conservative) is in favor of it, as is the New Jersey Education Association (the state teacher’s union) – although they originally refused to take a position on it.

Here is a concise synopsis from a friend who is very knowledgeable on the subject:

A “Yes” vote on this question shuts the door on the State from invading unemployment compensation, disability or any other employee benefit funds. It dedicates those collected funds so they cannot be invaded nor used as security for a loan and can only be dispensed for employee benefits.

I also asked a colleague who runs a NJ policy think tank to publish a full explanation, which is here.

For one more view, the NJ League of Women Voters offers this analysis:

Reasons one might vote YES

# Passage will require that worker benefit funds be used for the purpose for which they are collected.

# Some of these worker benefit funds are currently in poor financial shape, in part because of the diversion of money collected for them. Passage would help avoid this problem in the future.

Reasons one might vote NO

# Passage will limit the ability of the Legislature to make decisions based on the State’s financial needs at any given time.

# This ballot measure does not address whether the amounts currently collected for these programs are sufficient to support the programs into the future, or whether the programs themselves should be reformed.

Personally, I plan to vote "Yes."

Peter C. Hansen  (October 27, 2010, 10:03 pm)

On October 21, 2010, I had the pleasure of interviewing Congressman Leonard Lance (R, NJ-7) for Jersey Conservative. The major theme of our wide-ranging conversation was, unsurprisingly for this year, the need for fiscal responsibility and reducing deficits. We did, however, also discuss the role of unions, the rise of Gov. Chris Christie, what conservatism means in New Jersey, environmentalism and nuclear power, immigration and sanctuary cities, the age of the webcam, and conservatives and homosexuality. Congressman Lance was candid, thoughtful, solidly grounded and ready to take on all sorts of topics, even at the end of a long campaign season.

I wish Congressman Lance the very best in the coming election, and after this interview would recommend him to all those looking for a return of the Reaganite spirit to Washington. Congressman Lance seems ready and eager to work with the Republican leadership in the Herculean task of getting our national house in order.

Here is the text of the interview:


Interview of Congressman Leonard Lance (R, NJ-7) by Peter C. Hansen for Jersey Conservative

October 21, 2010

MR. HANSEN: Good morning, Congressman Lance. Let's start right off. What was your ideological upbringing, and who were your political influences?

CONGRESSMAN LANCE: I was raised in a house where public policy was always a topic of discussion. My late father was in our state legislature and was president of the state senate in New Jersey, and certainly, my brother and I were always aware of public-policy issues. We tended to discuss those matters at the dinner table.

I had the honor of meeting President Eisenhower when I was a very young person, and certainly I have always considered President Eisenhower to be a role model. He had a decent respect for a balanced federal budget, and I think those are policies we need to emulate.

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James D. Agresti  (October 1, 2010, 11:37 am)

I echo Peter Hansen’s wise and insightful sentiments and also express my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Tyler. It is heartbreaking to see this talented young man’s life cut short, and I pray this sad incident serves as a wake-up call to all of us about the importance of kindness and decency.

Yet, something struck me about the wall-to-wall coverage of this tragedy. I remembered recently reading about several analogous incidents that did not receive nearly as much attention, which include:

• 18-year-old Jesse Logan, who committed suicide after a nude picture of her was passed around her school, and students began to taunt her with sexual epithets

Denise Simon, who committed suicide after a team of armed IRS agents raided her home while her 10-year-old daughter was present

• 22-year-old Jesse Kilgore, who committed suicide after his Christian faith was shattered allegedly through a professor and fellow students

While Tyler’s suicide made the front page of the New York Times, I found no mention of these other shocking tragedies in the Times’ search engine. Why does one suicide warrant front page coverage while similar others are neglected? Is Tyler’s death more significant than the deaths of Denise, Jesse, and Jesse? Were the people who catalyzed these events nationally vilified by the media? The sad reality is that because Tyler’s suicide was precipitated by the exposé of a homosexual encounter, the press and activists will use him as a prop to further their agenda. Regrettably, in the eyes of the some, certain victims just don’t register.

Peter C. Hansen  (September 30, 2010, 5:20 am)

A very sad case out of Rutgers today shows how the modern mania for livestreaming video, combined with an absolute lack of moral standards, has led to the suicide of a talented young violinist.

The facts of the case are simple. Mr. Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers, requested exclusive use until midnight of the room he shared with Dharun Ravi. Mr. Ravi acceded, but then went to the room of his high school friend Molly Wei. Mr. Ravi turned on a hidden webcam to watch the unwitting Mr. Clementi have an encounter with another man. Mr. Ravi posted the video of this encounter online, and another such video two days later. Mr. Clementi soon thereafter leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge.

As seems clear from Mr. Ravi's Twitter feed (since deleted, tellingly), Mr. Ravi was disgusted at having to share a room with a gay man. That's his prerogative – everyone is entitled to feel safe in a private refuge. Mr. Ravi, however, denied the same right to his roommate. If Mr. Ravi did not want to live with Mr. Clementi, he could have asked for a room transfer. Instead, he used streaming video to expose and humiliate Mr. Clementi to all the world. Through Mr. Ravi's malevolent act, the Web turned a human life with all its complexities into just another meaningless, tawdry Web image for people to laugh at.

The horrible irony is that a fleeting Web shot, so easily forgotten by viewers, is to the victim as shattering as a bullet. The immediate impact is over instantly, but the damage is permanent. Mr. Ravi created an image that could be dredged up from a hard drive at any moment, to haunt Mr. Clementi for the rest of his life. This goes beyond blackmail. It is the reduction of a human life into one degrading instant, forever replayed, allowing no progress and no redemption.

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Peter C. Hansen  (September 28, 2010, 2:49 pm)

In a recent National Review Corner note, Robert Costa reports a statement by David Axelrod of the Obama Administration:

More from David Axelrod, in conversation with Politico’s Mike Allen at the Newseum: Asked about New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Axelrod calls him an “attractive” political figure. “I actually like him, and I just doomed his candidacy by saying that.”
What candidacy could Mr. Axelrod be dooming? The presidential primary nomination? That's seriously in question?

OK, it's high time the political silly season ended. I bow to no one in my admiration for Gov. Christie's work so far. It's as if the man were formed by the swirling aether of NJ good sense into a planet-shaped force for good. He's got the "Big Mo," he's a wonderment to the nation, and he is the voicebox of New Jersey's soul. Behold, America, the champion of the householder! Behold the thunder-striking good government guy!

Facts are facts, though. The good governor has barely begun his orbit around the political firmament. In showing he is the pocketbook voter's friend, and in taking on the reactionary public-sector unions that NJ loathes, Mr. Christie has done merely the obvious and sensible thing. Not just for this election cycle, but in any cycle. If Gov. Christie seems a blinding revelation, that is a sad comment on the state of our politics. We should have hundreds of Christies standing like grim guardians across New Jersey. We should have ten-thousand Christies across the country, in whatever regional variant best approximates this most Jerseyan spirit.

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Peter C. Hansen  (August 26, 2010, 11:40 am)

While the Democrats and the teachers union are "piling on" Gov. Christie for allegedly whiffing on Race to the Top funds, this is not only unlikely to harm Gov. Christie with average folks, it will likely be to his long-term benefit. Why? It comes down to basic management and basic politics. First, Christie publicly protected the people in the Department of Education who screwed up, like a great boss should. Second, Christie can wave that single sheet of paper like a bloody shirt whenever people get mad about lost education funds. He can say, quite rightly, that a union-friendly, Democratic administration down in DC made every man, woman and child in New Jersey pay an extra $50 over a single sheet of paper. (That's $200 per four-person family.) In an age where DC churns out 2,000-page, "you gotta pass it to learn what's in it" bills, no one is going to accept being disqualified by DC for $400 million over a single sheet of paper. Enormously more likely is that New Jerseyans will see themselves as pawns in a game by Obama to embarrass their rising reformist governor. Using what amounts to sanctions against NJ's population is a very poor hand for DC and NJ Democrats to play.

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Peter C. Hansen  (July 28, 2010, 10:27 pm)

Gov. Christie's newly adopted plan to transform the NJ gaming and mass-entertainment industries (including the Xanadu project) is sweeping. There are no doubt serious reasons for the State to seek solutions to these industries' massive problems. Billions in taxes and economic benefits (read: jobs) are on the line. At the same time, however, there is little indication that the State can really "turn a profit" here. There is also a serious question whether the State should even be trying to fix things itself.

The first operative section of the committee report outlining the plan concerns the Nets' lease at the IZOD Center, formerly known as the Brendan Byrne Arena (pp. 6-8). This bit is business-like if depressing. It looks like the IZOD Center will be abandoned, and sitting on the NJ Sports and Entertainment Authority (NJSEA) books for the foreseeable future. There is some happy talk about a $4m early-departure fee tiding NJSEA over (minus major offsets), and the retained right to host a new NBA team. It is hard to imagine, however, that NJ will have much luck attracting a team given the presence of two major teams just over the river in NYC.

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Christopher J. Obudho  (July 9, 2010, 9:56 am)

According to North, Governor Christie’s government reform commission, headed by former Congressman Dick Zimmer, has come up with some unique plans to shrink the size of government – good old privatization. Finally! After fighting the unions, the legislature and conventional wisdom about the role and scope of government, he finally got to the crux of the problem with New Jersey. Government services are too all-encompassing and vast. It’s time to scale back what government does and get back to a leaner, more efficient state government.

The commission is proposing using private sources to construct preschools, provide food services, run state parks and administer educational programs in prisons. The one privatization idea that will cause the angst is motor vehicle inspection. Everyone remembers that Parsons nightmare, so the Governor should tread carefully because that’s an easy target for attack on the whole privatization plan. He shouldn’t let those attacks scare him, but he should make sure that it’s done right.

For those who would attack him, they only need to look at the Ground Zero site and see what happens when government is running something, as opposed to the private sector. There’s a great video on YouTube by PajamasTV’s Steven Crowder that shows the still-open, still-under-construction pit at Ground Zero (9 years later) and then goes into World Trade Center Building 7, which has been rebuilt and is open for operation. Building 7 was reopened in MAY 2002, a mere 8 months after the attacks. Why is the government taking so long to rebuild ANYTHING at the Ground Zero site? I’m sure many of my colleagues could answer that question with both hands tied behind their backs.

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Peter C. Hansen  (July 7, 2010, 10:58 am)

There is something inherently satisfying about constitutional amendments one likes – they're more permanent, and all that. Christie's effort to impose a constitutional cap on property-tax increases (at 2.5%) was, however, never a very sound one. The reason is simple: it would freeze one moving part in a complex machinery, and cause no end of disruptions.

Let's say that inflation kicks up again, to a modest 3%. This means that property taxes would have to rise 3% just to stay the same in real terms. Those who received cost-of-living increases would have 3% added to their incomes, so they would not feel any worse pinch. If property taxes could legally rise only 2%, however, people would pay 1% less in taxes and localities would have 1% less spending power than they did a year before.

(Given current federal spending, the Fed's easy-money policies, and the political need to let house prices fall in real terms without appearing to fall, it is possible that inflation could go much higher than this for a while.)

If you are overtaxed (i.e. if you live in New Jersey), this sounds absolutely wonderful - inflation will silently reduce your tax burden. The problem is that such glories never really happen in practice. Don't expect towns to retroactively adjust their contracts and plans according to each year's unpredictable inflation tallies. What would happen instead is that sales taxes would be raised, new taxes ("school book tax," anyone?) imposed, state income tax "aid" to localities increased, and rebates of various kinds slashed. The battles over spending can't be avoided by letting inflation work its reductive magic. The battles will just move to new areas.

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James D. Agresti  (July 1, 2010, 3:54 pm)

For those who have ever searched for primary source data on NJ state government finances, you know what an arduous process this can be. Thankfully, we now have some help via the NJ Government Transparency Center, which was just launched today by the Christie administration. It’s a work in progress, but I already see vast improvements over the antiquated, clumsy system that preceded this.

Peter C. Hansen  (June 2, 2010, 9:33 pm)

A very substantive discussion, and a great prelude to the roundtable! I'll consult with the Contributors and keep our readers posted on when this will take place.

Thanks again!

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 9:33 pm)

We should find out if we can do a podcast in the future.

Peter C. Hansen  (June 2, 2010, 9:31 pm)

Very apt, Murray!

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 9:31 pm)

I have been shocked by the ability the governor to crystallize the discussion for people who aren't wonks. He actually is leading the way...the question is, can we convince constituent groups who are normally out of touch with a republican leader on board? I am gonna say yes...but it will require a consistent, focused effort.

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 9:30 pm)


Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 9:29 pm)

Same as above.

Peter C. Hansen  (June 2, 2010, 9:29 pm)

Murray - I'll check out why the quote isn't coming through, and will fix it.

As we close, can each of you provide us with your final thoughts?

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 9:26 pm)

Governor Christie should call for an education summit. Or E3 should hold a conference that should be steamed on the Internet. Invite interested parties from across the education spectrum, teachers, administrators, policy wonks, and other experts. The sooner we have the dialogue the sooner we will have better outcomes for all youngsters.

One of my favorite quotes:

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 9:26 pm)

You know... the walkout in Newark frustrated me for two reasons:
Kids walked out for the wrong reasons...they should have been leaving...particularly in Newark...because they attend some of the state's worst schools.
They also attend some of the country's worst expensive. Some of my folks talked to these students...hipped them to these key facts and, sadly and amazingly, they were ashamed and upset. This big lie hurts kids too.

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 9:21 pm)

Students in low income areas desperately need the skills to succeed in our economy. Whether they learn them in a school, home school or other arrangement is almost irrelevant. Taxpayers are paying billions in New Jersey for poor outcomes. That is unacceptable for everyone--students, parents, taxpayers, etc.

We need to present alternatives to the top down education decision making and get the Supreme Court out of the way. See my post today on my website.

Peter C. Hansen  (June 2, 2010, 9:20 pm)

I think that the paradigm shift which you both lay out is compellingly interesting, but in the closing minutes, could you perhaps explain a bit further how NJ could make the transition to a locality-driven and often volunteerist system of education? I would think that simply removing mandates, funding, etc., could lead in the short term to chaos rather than a quickly functioning educational system, with predictable political consequences. What types of practical adjustments could make the change smoother and more likely to achieve optimum success?

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 9:15 pm)

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 9:13 pm)

I don't think they'll accept a lower level of achievement. And I don't think they should have to. I don't say this to dismiss any of the seriousness of the challenges around educating disadvantaged children, but the minute we give up having an absolute standard to which we'd like our low-income children to strive, we might as well toss it all away.

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 9:12 pm)

Governor Christie could become the Pied Piper of free market education. He would need to explain that unshackling teachers, students and their parents from the (dead) weight of federal and state mandates. There is an incredible education bureaucracy that needs to be abolished and education becomes once again a profession--a calling--instead of a civil service position.

I made this point last spring when I spoke with Christie endorsing him in the primary. He knows why I believe we need to decentralize and redcue and eliminate the state's role in education.

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 9:06 pm)

This whole discussion misses everything though. we can;t afford the cost of education in this state. What are your thoughts on actually controlling the cost of ed here? I think we might need something more drastic than the cap and civil service reform.

Peter C. Hansen  (June 2, 2010, 9:06 pm)

It seems that you are both comfortable with non-state solutions to education for low-income areas. I have no problem with this, but do have a question about implementation. Going back to what Derrell wrote earlier, how far can volunteerism go in education in poorer areas? It is no doubt possible that all the usual subjects (down to music and AP history) could be taught well. It may not be likely, however. As practical and moral matters, would state voters be willing to accept that a lesser level of learning may be all that is available in a low-income area?

Secondly, what specific legislative measures would you propose to maximize educational volunteerism and locality-driven education? Would specific tax breaks be useful, for example, or even state fund-matching or student-assessment assistance, perhaps? Should the state impose baselines, and then free educators from liability for failures above these baselines?

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 9:04 pm)

We have the same problem in higher education. Bill Gates does not have a Ph.D. let alone a BA, and he could not teach at the college level. But what college would not jump at the opportunity to teach its students.

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 9:00 pm)

Murray, you're right on but I want to refine it a tad. There are tons of very, very smart people out there...many of them retired or displaced, who are willing to help out. But you are dead on...if you're not in the teaching guild, they don't want you. Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel, can't teach physics in a NJ public school. Come on man.

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 8:59 pm)

As long as we have the current system in place, I support any tax credit that increases opportunities for youngsters and reduces the funds for a government monopoly.

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 8:56 pm)

We have Volunteers in Medicine providing health care to the uninsured around the nation. Volunteers in Education could be the next model to provide better education to low income kids wherever they live--urban suburban, rural. The NJEA and AFT would go bonkers because this could potentially take away jobs but save taxpayers a boatload of money.

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 8:53 pm)

Shameless plug.
Schools that are mission driven will take care of this. The challenge is that there are few mission driven schools in the cities that are not inherently religious, or charter. That's not a challenge...there are a universe of people who want to pretend that religious institutions don't contribute anything meaningful to the world...the challenge is that some folks want to ignore it...and that's plain "not smart."
I'm working on a bill that would expand choice for low income kids attending the state's lowest performing schools. These children are not the problem. We have adults who are either unwilling or unable to meet the challenges of these children. If there was ever a time when you have to go big, or go home...this is it.

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 8:50 pm)

Society, that is, the people who live in a specific geographic area, create solutions to everyday needs. That has been the history of the human race--the spontaneous order that Hayek wrote about for decades. Education can be delivered in so many ways that are effective without the need for state involvement. For example, with the state of technology today, youngsters can learn by using a computer loaded with software that can teach a myriad of subjects. We have to end the notion that the current educational structure is untouchable.

Peter C. Hansen  (June 2, 2010, 8:43 pm)


Going back a bit to what Murray said, a major issue seems to be how best to provide for low-income children. Murray raised the possibility of parochial schools as a solution. Without necessarily getting into the weeds on church-state issues, how can the "volunteer dependency" inherent in such solutions be most effectively addressed? In other words, if no one volunteers to educate low-income children in a given area, and the municipality is not up to the task, what should the state's response be?

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 8:42 pm)

What's frustrating is that no one talks about how school funding rode the rails to oblivion with the housing bubble. Consider...housing prices rose and school costs rode up with them. the housing bubble pops, but school costs do not decrease. is there something wrong here?

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 8:32 pm)

States and municipalities are cash starved because the current system "functions" on an annual basis. As long as the revenue was coming in the tendency in governmental institutions is to spend, spend, spend and thus increase the fixed costs of education. So when the financial crisis hit, revenues dried up and the budget shortfalls have been enormous.

In other words, there has been no strategic planning because the current system is not geared to look at these issues. It's all about spending as much as the schools can without regard for future revenue and expenses.

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 8:26 pm)

I was at a forum in Newark last night where there was a lot of talk about the Governor's budget cuts. There was also no talk about the fact those cuts preserve essentially $1.3 billion in stimulus aid.
There was a lot of talk about layoffs. "Hundreds of teachers." Never a word about "new" teachers. Or "young and effective" teachers. Never a conversation about the 100+ teachers in the Newark central office who got to keep their jobs because they are tenured, versus the kids who need teachers out in the field. I think this is the moment to drive this point home.

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 8:25 pm)

Someone once said war is too important to be left to generals. I would expand that to education is too important to be left to politicians. That is the current system, taxpayer funded and overseen by the political establishment.

For better results, we need to put teachers and parents in charge of education.

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 8:17 pm)

Murray, you get at the heart of one of the great challenges here...people fundamentally believe there is something "different" about the way education is consumed and delivered than all other services. I won't say it's totally untrue, but it is largely myth driven. To wit...cell phones come with many functions...but you don't need to know all of them to make a call.
We can quantify the basic service of education into something understandable. (And here's where I talk out of both sides of my mouth) However, even though you can quantify and measure it, it still requires a certain art and skill that the current system drives out.

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 8:12 pm)

A good friend of mine runs the Foundation for Educational Choice, formerly the Milton and Rose Friedman foundation. He offers that we should support government financing of education, but not the absolute government administration of education.
Beneath that there is a really important nugget. Real or imagined, our traditional district systems live with this "we must do it all" dogma. And when you try to do everything well, you normally do nothing well.
There remains a place for "government" schools, certainly, and for the government funding of schools. But continuing to give one sector a "monopoly on trying" is blowing up in our faces.

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 8:10 pm)

I have made the argument that there is no reason education should not be subject to the same principles as other services families "consume." The challenge is to have organizations in place for low income families. Parochial schools do a very credible job, for example, of educating students from inner cities.

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 8:04 pm)

As a former believer in public education reform, the events of the past several decades have convinced me that we have to separate the state and education

Derrell Bradford  (June 2, 2010, 8:02 pm)

I'm Derrell and I'm here also. Looking forward to a spirited blow up on ed reform and other education related issues in NJ this evening.

Murray Sabrin  (June 2, 2010, 8:00 pm)

I am in the building.

Peter C. Hansen  (June 2, 2010, 7:09 pm)

This evening, Derrell Bradford and Murray Sabrin will discuss the state of NJ education, and areas where reforms are needed. This will serve as a prelude to a full roundtable on NJ education that will shortly be scheduled.

Derrell is head of Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), and has spoken and written widely on education reform in the Garden State. Murray is Professor of Finance at the Anisfield School of Business, and the Executive Director of the Center for Business and Public Policy, Ramapo College of New Jersey. In 1997, he was the Libertarian Party candidate for NJ governor.

Derrell's education-related postings on Jersey Conservative can be found here and here. Murray's can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

We hope you will be able to join us!

Peter C. Hansen  (May 28, 2010, 12:40 am)

The New York Times presents a depressing example of how the popular will for reform can be easily thwarted in NJ. While 58% of school budgets were recently voted down in the state, "in the weeks since, many of the 316 defeated budgets have been adopted with few, if any, changes by town councils, where members risked thwarting the will of voters – and incurring their wrath – rather than cut sports, lay off teachers or increase class sizes."

Most of the school budgets failed because they ignored Gov. Christie's popular call for modest cuts in school spending, including a wage freeze for teachers, and a requirement that teachers pay a miniscule amount for their health care benefits. (The teachers recently threw a fit about having to slow their golden treadmill down a bit.)

In response to well-founded populist anger, the town councils of Ridgewood and Woodbridge respectively cut 0.1% and 0.5% off the original school budget proposals. This will respectively lessen tax increases by $12 and $52 for the year. Council members no doubt want to be seen as martyrs to irreconcilable conflict: "In a year of huge reductions in state education aid, many of the council members struggled to find a compromise between those outraged by high taxes and those worried about cuts to the classroom."

So, the municipal legislative titans dug deep within themselves for the courage to make cosmetic changes to bloated budget proposals: "'Going into this, we knew whatever we do is not going to make either side happy,' said James Major, president of the Woodbridge Council, who said he had lost sleep at night from the pressure. 'As a governing body, you try to hear all sides of it. You become a little Solomon-like in trying to make a decision.'" Solomon? If Solomon had ordered the baby divided into 99.9% and 0.1%, the baby would have had his nails trimmed, and Solomon would now be remembered only as the butt of comic folktales.

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Peter C. Hansen  (May 17, 2010, 10:44 pm)

The New York Times today has an article on the decisions of Trenton and Princeton to issue ID cards to illegal immigrants. Aside from the usual concerns with legitimating illegal entry, etc., this is a very bad idea for the illegal immigrants themselves. By putting a face, a name and a written public record together, the card issuers make the identification of illegals very easy. The very raison d'être of the card – giving those without official ID some kind of ID – is the same reason why a roundup would be made simple. On the one hand, public records are open to public inspection – one can't have a secret public identity. On the other hand, if a person produces a city ID card but can't show any proper indicia of legal residence, this would sustain a reasonable suspicion of illegal residence. If the cardholder is indeed a legal resident, this can easily be checked against other public records. Otherwise, the card holder is out of luck.

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Peter C. Hansen  (May 3, 2010, 10:20 pm)

Way back on February 24, I predicted that Mercer County Inspector General Robert A. Farkas would duck the "Larkin Incident." As you may recall about this bit of Third World thuggery, Mercer County Sheriff Larkin forced a county professor to apologize to him in front of his class because the professor had noted newspaper accounts of the sheriff's double-dipping. The county prosecutor, Mr. Bocchini, wouldn't even investigate. This left Mr. Farkas as the one official who was in line, indeed required, to uphold county ethics rules. (Presumably among these rules: Don't intimidate county personnel on county property using county resources!)

My prediction of pusillanimity was accurate, apparently. I left a phone message on Mr. Farkas's office voice-mail on April 21, nearly two weeks ago. I requested information on how to get his report on the Larkin Incident so that we could "close our books" on the subject. I gave him my e-mail address. Mr. Farkas has not seen fit to respond to my request. Meanwhile, the NJ Attorney-General's office would not comment to me on whether or not an investigation was being undertaken in the Larkin Incident. This latter silence is perfectly kosher, and indeed laudable. Mr. Farkas's quiet, however, discredits the office he draws a salary to fill.

Here is my February 24 post, which still accurately describes the present state of affairs even more than two months later:

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Peter C. Hansen  (April 15, 2010, 10:55 am)

Exactly one year ago, Jersey Conservative was inaugurated. At the time, our concern was to build a group blog that would stand out by discussing NJ conservatism in a calm, positive and deliberative manner, with no red meat:

The discussion here is not intended to be proselytizing, but rather an effort to hash out what are now often murky areas of political thought. Ideas, values, social constructs, morals and dispositions are going to be revealed and examined by some of the top thinkers in the state. The result will almost certainly not be a single definition of "conservatism" for New Jersey, but instead a rich and diverse philosophical framework within which New Jerseyans (and others) can evaluate their own manner of thinking and the issues of the time. (Inaugural Entry of April 15, 2009.)
It has been a great first year. The site's thoughtful and active Contributors have cogently expressed and explored very different strains of conservative thought, all while fostering a welcoming and collegial environment. We have had roundtable discussions, a host of one-off entries providing insights on diverse topics, and even a campaign to uphold the rule of law (after the "Larkin Incident"). It has been very fun, and in the midst of it all we had Governor Christie's election and now the previously unthinkable headline by Bill McGurn of "Reaganism, New Jersey Style."

We look forward to continuing our discussion, and we encourage you to spread the word! We appreciate your readership, and on this Tax Day we wish you as much relief as possible!

Peter C. Hansen  (April 6, 2010, 2:27 am)

On NJ's state NJ-1040 form, at line 44, there is the most menacing and yet most ridiculous tax demand of all: "Use Tax Due on Out-of-State Purchases (See instruction page 39). If no Use Tax, enter ZERO (0.00)." This tax applies to all "items or services that [are] subject to New Jersey sales tax." A shiatsu massage in Tokyo? Covered. Landscaping at your vacation home in Florida? Covered. (See here for a quick guide to services taxable in NJ.)

The term "use" is a misnomer, since NJ doesn't actually care whether you make "use" of the item purchased. The "use" tax instead seeks simply to extend NJ's tax jurisdiction to the world at large. If you live in NJ, the world is your NJ shopping mall. Manila? South Beach? It's all Paramus to you, baby!

The "use" tax is in effect an excise tax or customs duty since it imposes a tax on items brought over the NJ border. This is clear even from the NJ tax instructions' examples (p. 39), which are here quoted verbatim:

° You purchased a computer for $1,500 from a seller located outside of New Jersey and no sales tax was collected. Your use tax liability to New Jersey is $105 ($1,500 x .07 = $105).

° On a trip to Maine you purchased an antique desk for $4,000 and paid Maine sales tax at the rate of 5%. The difference, $80 (2% of the purchase price), is due to New Jersey as use tax.

NJ's "use" tax seems quite clearly to be unconstitutional since the U.S. Constitution, Sect. 8, gives customs power solely to the federal Congress: "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises ...; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States."

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Peter C. Hansen  (April 1, 2010, 1:13 pm)

Governor Christie is now pressing for a salary freeze for teachers, among other things. Once again, kudos for taking the fight for fiscal sanity forward! To be sure, salary freezes – like statutory or constitutional caps on taxes or spending – are blunt instruments and have serious drawbacks. They can, however, be useful for changing the "narrative" of the present system. One of the traditional purposes of any comprehensive legislation is to make it impossible to work outside of the legislated set of parameters. The system's proponents try to make it impossible to articulate an alternative.

When the system becomes so complex and oppressive that all avenues of basic reform are closed off, the only way to effect changes – even urgently needed ones – is by the crude blow that ignores the system's "narrative." Christie has struck such a blow, and he can now expect to have a wave of opprobrium fall upon him. (For a very colorful example, check out this PolitickerNJ report on the NJ teachers' extraordinarily profane Facebook page.) The teacher's union will do its utmost to reimpose its narrative about NJ education, which will over time lead to a renewed status quo ante. Christie must not give in to this demand. Having started the fight, he has before him only victory or lasting political shame. (See Arnold Schwarzenegger for the latter.) To win, Christie has to permanently change the narrative of the NJ education system. Here are a few ideas for such a new covenant that centers on truly professionalizing teachers.

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Murray Sabrin  (March 27, 2010, 5:43 pm)

Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, chairman of the Budget Committee, wants to give municipalities the power to impose taxes to make up for the reduction in state aid next year. Governor Christie rejected Greenwald’s proposal. The governor does not want more taxes levied on the people of New Jersey, claiming they are overtaxed and that spending must be reduced instead to close next year’s $11 billion budget gap.

Christie and Greenwald are both right. New Jerseyans are overtaxed and should not have to pay any more taxes. Both state and local governments must reduce their spending to balance expenses with revenues. However, Greenwald’s proposal is consistent with a key conservative principle — decentralization. Local institutions should be supported by local resources — a proposal I have been advocating for several decades. In fact, Greenwald’s initiative should be embraced unequivocally by fiscal conservatives — with a major caveat.

Governor Christie should embrace Assemblyman Greenwald’s proposal in exchange for the abolition of the state income tax and a reduction in the sales tax. The State of New Jersey would then use the revenue it raises from the lower sales tax (a 4% rate) and other fees and to pay for its annual expenses. The transition from the status quo to an income tax-free New Jersey with a lower state sales tax could be accomplished over the next four to six years. New Jersey then would become one of the best places in the country to do business and work.

Municipalities would then have to raise the revenue from whatever sources – e.g., payroll tax, sales tax, fees, etc. – they decide on to pay for their schools, police, fire and other services. In short, municipalities would then have to be managed super-efficiently because there would be no dollars flowing from the state to help pay for their expenses.

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Peter C. Hansen  (March 22, 2010, 11:07 pm)

Governor Christie gave his budget speech on March 16, 2010, and it is certainly worth reading. It is serious, sensible and far-ranging. Hopefully he will be able to sustainedly pursue the agenda he has laid out. The only point in the speech that gave me pause was the proposal to constitutionally cap spending and property-tax rises at 2.5%. A more practical number would be the rate of inflation, which can fluctuate dramatically over time without affecting "real" spending.

This quibble over caps led me to a throwaway political line amidst all the good sense and worthy proposals:

Over the course of two decades, time and again the State has borrowed to pay its every day bills. You wouldn’t do that in your own home, and we shouldn’t do that with your tax dollars.
Christie meant that the government should not incur long-term debt to maintain imprudent spending levels. This is certainly true, but this line also provides an opportunity to consider the proper and improper uses of state borrowing. A viable theory of NJ state spending cannot be developed without understanding the distinction between these uses.

Short-Term Borrowing Is Actually a Necessity for Governments

In reality, it is perfectly natural for a state to borrow for everyday bills. The state requires a steady cash flow for expenditures, and borrowing keeps the state from being held hostage to tax returns at each cycle. This is why many businesses have a line of credit. If payroll had to depend on sales every week, a lot more businesses would fail. This is why toy stores aren't open just at Christmas.

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James D. Agresti  (March 11, 2010, 11:19 pm)

I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for many teachers, but I have the exact opposite opinion of teachers unions, and this video from the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) about the underfunding of teacher pensions is a prime example why.

For years, the NJEA (and other public-sector unions) have successfully lobbied for spending levels that have made it practically impossible to fully fund pensions, all while simultaneously complaining that the pensions are underfunded.

Their bluff, however, has been called. Right now, New Jersey has bipartisan support for a constitutional amendment that would require full funding of these pensions, but the unions are refusing to support it. Moreover, the excuses they are putting forward are transparently duplicitous.

First, the unions say this matter should not be put to a vote because it might be voted down. Yet, if this amendment fails to pass, the status quo will prevail, and government can continue making contractual obligations with unions that load the burden onto future taxpayers. The truth is that these unions are not worried about this amendment failing but passing. This is because it would require true fiscal responsibility – a genuine version of what Obama calls “PayGo”.

Second, the NJEA has condemned the amendment because it would phase in over seven years instead of becoming effective immediately. Yet, when asked if they would support an amendment requiring immediate and full funding of pensions, the NJEA refused to answer. How’s that for disingenuousness?

The NJEA is not just opposed to a gradual requirement for full funding of pensions; they oppose it completely but are not honest enough to say so. The fact is that if this amendment becomes effective immediately, it will mean cuts in union dues or tax increases (of which New Jerseyans have had enough).

Sources and Additional Reading:

N.J. public workers union leaders argue against pension ballot question

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James D. Agresti  (March 6, 2010, 7:24 pm)

Unless Trenton takes action, beginning on July 1st, New Jersey employers and employees will be hit with a 50% increase in unemployment taxes – or an average of $400/year more for every employee. This is because federal law governing unemployment benefits requires automatic annual tax increases when a state’s unemployment “trust fund” drops below certain limits.

I place the phrase “trust fund” in quotes because most politicians can’t be trusted with funds, and they have raided billions of dollars from NJ’s unemployment “trust fund.” Thus, this “fund” has absolutely nothing in it and actually owes a billion dollars to the federal government.

Although employers pay the majority of unemployment taxes, this money ultimately comes from the paychecks of employees, and hence, the situation represents a tax increase on every working person in the state of New Jersey.

Governor Christie has proposed a course of action that would reduce the looming tax increase from 50% to 17%. His plan is to bring New Jersey’s unemployment benefits into line with those of other states. Forty states don’t pay unemployment benefits until a person has been unemployed for at least a week, whereas NJ pays them from the outset. Also, NJ pays the second highest unemployment benefits in the nation. The governor would like to reduce these by 8%, in which case, NJ would still be paying the third highest unemployment benefits in the nation.

These fixes are simple and eminently fair, but the Democrats in Trenton – who seem obsessed with taxing and spending – are refusing to pass the legislation needed to implement Christie’s solution.

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Harp Amar  (March 3, 2010, 10:48 pm)

Following up on my last entry about the massive unfunded liabilities deficit facing New Jersey: on Monday, Calpers, the country's largest public pension fund and a national trendsetter, announced that it is exploring reducing the targeted rate of return on its assets from 7.75% (similar to New Jersey's) to as low as 6%.

The rationale for the potential reduction would be to provide a more realistic picture of the funded status of the state's public employee pensions. Unfortunately, even under the rosier assumptions, Calpers is already facing an estimated $16 billion funding deficit -- and that doesn't include an additional $52 billion in health and dental retirement benefits promised to state employees.

Therefore, an immediate consequence of reducing the target to 6% would be an even larger fund deficit -- approximately $30 billion over the next 10 years, according to Wall Street Journal calculations -- which will inevitably be financed in part through additional direct contributions from California state and local governments. The additional billions in direct contributions will wreak further havoc on a state which already faces a massive $20 billion budget deficit, meaning further cuts in state and municipal services. Despite the additional stress on his current budget woes, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has come out in support of the lower targets as the right long term solution.

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Peter C. Hansen  (March 3, 2010, 10:47 pm)

A recent poll showed that the Tea Party is viewed favorably by 27% of New Jerseyans, as opposed to over one-third of Americans nationally. A 27% support rate is nothing to sneeze at, but it hardly shows a major warming trend in the Garden State. How could this be for a group in pro-Christie New Jersey that allegedly seeks "fiscal responsibility, individual liberty and limited government"?

As always in politics, popularity is determined by likeability, with policy points used to put feelings into respectable words. If you like to hang around with Tea Partiers, you probably support them. If you are scared of them, abstractly bothered by their existence, or are simply worried that talking with them will spark anti-immigrant tirades in public, you don't support them. Likewise, if you are put off by Sarah Palin playing to a stewing cultural resentment that you don't feel, you likely don't support the Tea Partiers.

Most New Jerseyans long for fiscal responsibility and some brakes being put on the state's careening government. They also don't like their creepy neighbor who mutters about "shooting all those crooks" and "those damn (insert ethnic slur)" after a beer or two at the picnic. It is this clash of sensibilities that likely explains the significant but not whole-hearted NJ embrace of the Tea Party. Many rational folks want to have a vehicle to express the revolutionary spirit of '76 and to wash out the Garden State's Augean Stables. They are also worried, however, about being associated with John Birchers and assorted wackos. They don't want to be the creepy neighbor's new best friend.

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Peter C. Hansen  (March 3, 2010, 9:11 pm)

As of now, the Larkin Incident is in abeyance until the next shoe drops. (See here, here, here, here and here for sequential coverage of the story as it has unfolded. Alternatively, check out our home page or have your browser send you updates automatically.)

Where do we stand? Well, Sheriff Larkin remains unrepentant about forcing an apology from Prof. Glass in front of his students. Meanwhile, on March 1, Prof. Glass officially broke his silence in a letter to the Trenton Times, "An Object Lesson in Civil Rights":

[T]he most important aspect of that night ... was the sheriff's rush to judgment and his improper use of his position to infringe on my civil rights, namely my freedom of speech in a classroom setting and my academic freedom. He was intimidating, threatening and, quite frankly, belligerent in his tone and manner. He barged into my class based on the text messages and/or phone call of one student, who works for Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami-Covello. The sending of text messages or using one's cell phone during class is not permitted at Mercer County Community College. The sheriff was accompanied by a woman who verbally berated and insulted me in front of the class. ... Everything I discussed was in the public domain.

One would normally think that a longtime law-enforcement officer would investigate unsubstantiated comments or hearsay before taking action. That night, I used Joe Santiago, Trenton's former police director, the sheriff, and other examples in response to a student's question about whether there are public servants in the local area who make large salaries and/or pensions. It was a two- to three-minute mention of the sheriff in a long, two-and-half-hour class. The class discussion concerned what state programs the students would keep and what practices they would eliminate if they became the governor tomorrow and faced the same billion-dollar revenue shortfalls that Gov. Christie finds himself facing today.Click here to continue ...

Peter C. Hansen  (February 26, 2010, 12:01 pm)

It looks like there may be a civil-rights lawsuit brewing in Mercer County. Prof. Glass, from whom Sheriff Larkin coerced an apology in his own classroom, has finally broken his silence:

Glass said Larkin's main offense was his "rush to judgment and his improper use of his position to infringe on my civil rights, namely my freedom of speech in a classroom setting and my academic freedom. ... He was intimidating, threatening, and, quite frankly, belligerent in his tone and manner .... He wanted to know what I was saying in class, and I said it wasn't personal, that nothing I was discussing has not already been in the public domain."

(For full coverage of this incident, see here, here, here and here. Or you can just visit our main page or get automatic updates.)

This incident is starting to get that Touch of Evil look. The Star Ledger has today expressed the view that Larkin "abused his authority to settle a personal score." That sums it up perfectly. Indeed, Larkin remains unrepentant about what he did, other than shaking Glass down on county property: "This was initiated by Glass, these personal attacks .... If defending yourself against personal attacks is wrong, I don't want to be right."

This matter goes deeper than just one abusive cop, however. Why did Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini (609.989.6305) refuse even to investigate Larkin's assault? Why has Mercer County Inspector General Robert A. Farkas (609.278.8084, Fax 609.989.7529) been invisible in this scandal? (See here and here for something less than a profile in courage by Farkas.)

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Harp Amar  (February 25, 2010, 9:59 pm)

The Treasury Department today released New Jersey's unfunded state employee pension liability, a staggering $46 billion as of June 30, 2009.

It's no secret that the state has long attemped to delay judgement day by failing to meet funding obligations in favor of diverting cash to temporary stop-gap budget items. However, after a particularly devastating period where the state's employee obligations spiralled out of control while asset prices stumbled, the latest report by the Treasury Department sends an unmistakeable message that judgement day can no longer be put off.

However, what's most frightening about the state's unfunded liabilities crisis is the fact that the official numbers -- as attention grabbing as they are -- actually understate the true extent of the state's obligations. First, the headline figure of $46 billion only accounts for the state's unfunded pension obligations. In addition to the pension obligations, successive state governments in New Jersey have also promised substantial gold-plated healthcare benefits which by some estimates could take the total obligations into the neighborhood of $100 billion -- the equivalent of roughly $30,000 for each New Jersey household.

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Peter C. Hansen  (February 25, 2010, 1:16 pm)

It's official – the right and the left, both in NJ and nationally, think Larkin should go.

The Huffington Post, Reason Online, National Review (Phi Beta Cons), The American Thinker, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Lew Rockwell and the story-breaking PolitickerNJ are either on the case or calling for Larkin to be sent packing.

When Jersey Conservative and Blue Jersey both post demands for Larkin's ouster, it shows that it's about good governance, not an ideological or party fight. Let's hope Mercer County Inspector General Robert A. Farkas (609.278.8084, Fax 609.989.7529) is listening.

Jersey Conservative has gotten thousands and thousands of hits on its detailed coverage of this incident – see here, here and here, or just visit the home page. (You can also get a ton of facts and figures explaining NJ and its civil service here.)

Despite massive national coverage of this event, the NJ papers have barely stirred to look. The Trenton Times (a Mercer County paper), has provided just two brief reports (here and here). The Trentonian (also in Mercer County) appears today with a new pseudo-apology from Larkin, who opines on constitutional rights and traditions of academic freedom thusly: "Outright lies about me and my family do not apply to the classroom."

Inspector General Farkas should be asked (609.278.8084) how this Larkin pronouncement squares with our Constitution and county ethics (which is hopefully not an oxymoron):

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Peter C. Hansen  (February 24, 2010, 10:35 am)

We can now add the national Huffington Post and Reason Online as calling for Larkin's ouster. PolitickerNJ is covering the move toward a real investigation as officials are being gradually shamed and pushed into finally doing the right thing. One heck of an effort is needed, given the resistance by Larkin's buddies in government.

Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini (609.989.6305) has found "no information to prompt an investigation for official misconduct." I guess Mr. Bocchini doesn't mind possibly armed men walking into places like schools and churches to publicly shake down speakers. Well, perhaps that overstates things. Maybe Mr. Bocchini only minds it when they don't wear a badge and feed him business.

We're not talking about actual prosecuting here, mind you. Mr. Bocchini won't even open an investigation. To him, Mercer County sees nothing wrong with what Larkin did. Mr. Bocchini is turning a blind eye, and proud to tell everyone he's doing it. Congrats, Mercer County. Now you know you have on your hands a guy who lets government bullies off without a look. For Mr. Bocchini, it seems that if you have a badge, you have a pass.

Mercer County Republican Chairman Roy Wesley to his credit has approached Mercer County Inspector General Robert A. Farkas (609.278.8084, Fax 609.989.7529) to request an investigation. This is after all precisely what Farkas is supposed to be doing anyway. What has Farkas's response been? He plans to review the county's quick-and-dirty "internal investigation" (which has not yet been released to the public!) before "deciding whether the now famous incident between Sheriff Kevin Larkin and a professor warrants an inquiry by his own office." Quoth Mr. Farkas:

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Peter C. Hansen  (February 23, 2010, 12:11 pm)

When Sheriff Larkin decided to march into Prof. Glass's lecture to get a public apology, he no doubt figured he would be calling all the shots.

Larkin was indeed a prophet, but not in the way he thought. He left the room saying "this isn't over." It sure isn't. The Mercer County tough is fast becoming a national story and a poster child for the oppressed Garden State's abusive public sector.

Ever since the Mercer County Community College Voice broke the story, it has continued to grow. PolitickerNJ picked it up on February 19, 2010, only four days ago. Jersey Conservative has since helped to publicize the story, as have other influential blogs like Lew Rockwell,The American Thinker and National Review's Phi Beta Cons. Now the Trenton Times has picked it up. So have the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education. At least one major national outlet is investigating the story.

Inside the state, Larkin's former election opponent Jim McSorley has (rightly) called for a proper investigation to replace the quick-and-unpublished dodge thrown together by county officials Patricia Donohue and Jose Fernandez. Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes has criticized Larkin. The Republican Women of Mercer County is helping to press the issue, and Jersey Conservative luminary Murray Sabrin has today called for Larkin's immediate ouster.

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Peter C. Hansen  (February 19, 2010, 6:49 pm)

Paging Prof. Sabrin! Better call your office to make sure it's safe to show up ....

Tenure may be great for letting one ease back a bit, but it doesn't ward off angry cops in New Jersey.

PolitckerNJ and Mercer County College's College Voice newspaper have reported that elected county Sheriff Kevin C. Larkin entered Prof. Michael Glass's West Windsor campus classroom during a lecture, called him by his first name, took him out in the hall, had a little chit-chat with him, marched him back in, and got the good professor to apologize for talking about Larkin, who stood real close to him the whole time. Even then, he left saying "this isn't over."

Strangely, this incident was about the only thing worldwide in the past 24 hours not to have made it onto YouTube. That perhaps tells you how free the students felt in the presence of a guy so apparently insecure that he has to emulate Bull Connor. Here is what Prof. Glass said about his experience:

I was surprised to see him show up at the classroom, and ... I was wondering if it was appropriate for him, one, to be there, and two, to want to be in the class .... I didn't feel it was the time or place to discuss it, but since he was physically there, I reacted in the way that I did. ... Yes [I felt intimidated] .... I thought ... he'd have a clear understanding of what any given professor, whether it's me or anybody else, can or can't say in a classroom.Click here to continue ...

Peter C. Hansen  (February 16, 2010, 4:23 pm)

After reading Christie's right-on speech about fiscal prudence and his willingness to take the necessary hits, it was rather depressing to turn to the more local matter of Leonard Lance's campaign launch for New Jersey's 7th District seat in Congress. Without delving into personality politics, I think that the juxtaposition of these two events reveals some telling aspects about conservatism in New Jersey.

On the one hand, we have Christie. His speech to the Legislature in Trenton was excellent, even Reaganesque. (I may be biased in saying this, of course, since his speech read like the themes of our January 18 Roundtable here.) Christie channeled the Zeitgeist of the state very well, most especially its loathing of the pampered and often parasitic class of state government workers. Christie seemed in the vanguard of the fiscal-conservative ascendancy in New Jersey, and ready to make some big moves. Time will tell if he truly has the guts for extended trench warfare, but it was a promising start. For the moment at least, the hopes of fiscal conservatives in New Jersey ride with him.

On the other hand, we have Lance. The PolitickerNJ report of his launch was a masterpiece of snark and telling character portraits. His supporters kept calling him a "statesman" (at least of Hunterdon County, if not DC). His tepid launch, however, revealed a political scion in charge of a local ruling clique, little more. State Senator Michael Doherty (R-Washington Twp.) was portrayed as having been brought to Lance's heel after having unsurprisingly failed to win over the local politicos with a jeremiad of Ron Paul views. Meanwhile, Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin Twp.), a pro-gun and pro-life Republican, was described as "Lances' protege and longstanding family friend."

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James D. Agresti  (February 11, 2010, 11:54 pm)

During Jersey Conservative’s pre-inaugural roundtable in which we put forward ideas for the incoming administration, Dr. Sabrin suggested this brash course of action: “Soon to be governor Chris Christie should declare a financial emergency and start at ground zero.”

Today, in the words of the Statehouse Bureau, Governor Christie “declared a fiscal emergency, seizing broad powers to freeze aid to more than 500 school districts and cut from higher education, hospitals and the Public Advocate.” Outraged, Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (Democrat) declared, “What the governor did today is in essence declare martial law.” The Christie administration noted that state law gives the governor authority to “impound” funds to achieve a balanced budget.

Let’s not forget why we are here. A mere three weeks ago, former Governor Corzine assured us he was leaving NJ with a $496 million surplus. Quite to the contrary, within 72 hours of his inauguration, the NJ Treasury Department informed Christie that our state was on track for a $1.2 billion deficit this fiscal year (closing on June 30). In response to this revelation, Corzine continued to claim he had left NJ with a surplus and that the Treasury Department’s number was fictional. In a way, maybe the number was – but not in the direction Corzine claimed. Less than a month later, the estimated deficit has grown by 83% and stands at $2.2 billion.

Significantly, the speech Governor Christie gave announcing these budget cuts was reasoned, articulate, and passionate (see the videos at the end of this article). Time will tell – but right now – it looks like the citizens of NJ have done something exceptional and elected a compelling speaker who is genuinely true to his word.

Peter C. Hansen  (January 18, 2010, 8:50 pm)

Apt closing words, Derrell!

Thanks very much to all of the Contributors who gave us their insights and proposals. Hopefully the Christie Administration will take heed, and that NJ will benefit from this vigorous source of constructive policies!

Derrell Bradford  (January 18, 2010, 8:40 pm)

More like a battle for reason. We can't afford the government we have right now. That's not about's about reality.

Peter C. Hansen  (January 18, 2010, 8:29 pm)

We are entering the final minutes of the roundtable. Does anyone have a quick numbered list of priorities for Christie?

I'll put these down:

  1. Transparency measures to open up state government to public scrutiny (see here)
  2. End the ability of public-sector unions to influence state elections (see here)
  3. Reform of the civil-service laws, especially with regard to pensions (see here)
In closing, I'll say I agree with George that teachers should be treated as professionals (see here). I also agree with Gregg that a battle royale would be a welcome and indeed healthy thing to have with the NJ public-sector unions.

Harp Amar  (January 18, 2010, 8:26 pm)

As George, Allan and others have brought up, there are quite a few parallels between the situation Christie finds himself in with the situation Obama found himself in a year ago. Christie would do well to pay close attention to the pitfalls which have led to Obama's current situation.

While the economic tailwinds are admittedly more favorable for Christie than they were for Obama, I would say the two key lessons for Christie would be: (1) limit your priorities to meat-and-potato issues (perhaps just the budget and school vouchers) and invest your time and efforts largely into ensuring you have meaningful accomplishments in those issues; and, (2) stay true your principles and personality. The electorate is likely to be more satisfied with a leader whose priorities they clearly understand and who has delivered on those priorities, even if they don't always agree with his methods.

James D. Agresti  (January 18, 2010, 8:23 pm)

Regarding the number of opportunities Christie may have to make appointments to the Supreme Court, Alan Steinberg writes:

“During the next four years, two New Jersey Supreme Court justices will reach the mandatory retirement age, and two others will be up for reappointment.”

In addition to the lamentable NJ Supreme Court decisions highlighted in Steinberg’s article (Abbott, Mount Laurel, Lautenberg-Torricelli), let’s remember that in 2000, the Court struck down a law requiring parental notification for minors undergoing abortions. Hence, a 13 year-old can now have an abortion in NJ without her parents’ consent or knowledge, but it is against NJ law for anyone under 18 years of age to get a tattoo or body piercing without written consent from their parent or legal guardian.

Murray Sabrin  (January 18, 2010, 8:14 pm)

Christie should "push" merit pay for public school teachers. After all, we have merit pay in higher education. Most college professors begin as assistant professors and they are promoted based on merit to associate and then full professor. Christie could drive a nice wedge between outstanding teachers and the NJEA. Let the games begin.

Harp Amar  (January 18, 2010, 8:11 pm)

Pete, I second your desire to see if a Reagan- / Thatcher- like showdown with the state employees' unions over the civil service reform. I think it would be a defining symbolic moment for Christie and send notice to both entrenched interests as well as the electorate that he is indeed serious about fighting for the ordinary taxpayer in NJ.

Without such a stark message to confirm that we are indeed in uncharted territory, union bosses no matter how nervous at the moment will revert to their tried-and-tested playbook for prior difficult periods: lay low, stall and hope that they can hold out until the electorate loses focus (as it inevitably will).

Gregg M. Edwards  (January 18, 2010, 8:10 pm)

George, sadly, the teachers' union stands in the way of treating its members as professionals. The union devalues teachers by insisting that all teachers be treated the same. The NJEA is the enemy of the teaching profession.

Alan J. Steinberg  (January 18, 2010, 8:10 pm)

Note my column in today, "Christie Can Succeed Where Obama is Failing":

Key quotes from article:

"In short, the result of the first Christie budget will be a test of wills between the new Governor and municipal and school district officials throughout the state. These local officials will hope that threat of property tax hikes and major reductions in education and municipal services will cause Christie to raise state taxes in order to close the $9 billion deficit and maintain state aid to municipalities and school districts at existing levels."

"Will Chris Christie succeed in making the focus on the property tax issue the reduction of local costs, rather than the amount of state aid? His success in this regard will determine how his administration will be judged, not just by the voters in 2013 but by historians in general. The ability of the Christie administration to communicate this message will depend on the political skills of his top officials."

"Christie can win the test of wills with local officials and the various public employee and teachers’ union, most notably the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) if he holds firm and now conveys a real message of Hope: that after a painful period, the state’s budget expenditure can be reduced, that further reductions in taxes can be implemented, and that a more business friendly climate in the state will be the result."

Peter C. Hansen  (January 18, 2010, 8:08 pm)

NJ government and its local mini-me's (actually not so mini, unfortunately) depend on the shadows to build their empires and job rosters. What is needed is a vast amount of sunshine.

How about a super-FOIA for NJ? Allow any member of the public to review any NJ government file and e-mail unless an official accountable to the courts declares an item off-limits on the basis of a tightly worded regulation? Moreover, if an official uses a private e-mail account or file system to conduct state work, then that account or system must be opened to public scrutiny so that public items may be disclosed. In essence, it would mean giving the public read-only access to all NJ government network drives and e-mail accounts.

The implementing regulation could allow that items concerning identifiable private individuals must be kept in a shielded folder and redacted when disclosed upon order by a FOIA official or the courts. Moreover, any inter-office item intended to be confidential would have to be publicly listed as existing, but could be shielded from review for a set period unless a state FOIA official found no good cause existed to keep it hidden.

I'll admit that this is a radical proposal, and perhaps not even completely feasible, but it does provide a good starting-point for thinking about how to make NJ government more transparent.

Gregg M. Edwards  (January 18, 2010, 8:05 pm)

Peter, budget realities probably will force a Reagan/Air Traffic Controllers-type confrontation here in NJ. I won't go into the details here, but Corzine's June agreement w/ the unions to get "cost-savings" invites a legal battle; Christie can do little to get wage concessions w/o violating parts of that outrageous agreement. I welcome this confrontation. It will make a compelling case for changing the management-employee relationship.

George Zilbergeld  (January 18, 2010, 8:04 pm)

Dear James

I like the tone of your advice. I think this is very important.

Our model should be how Reagan acted and spoke. Christie must not repeat Obamas mistake of being aloof. He has to be the forceful voice of each proposal. I know this is easy to say for a professor who spends most of his time seated in comfortable room, but I agree with everyone who thinks our time is limited. You used a word "magnanimously". This is key. We can't come across as the root canal folks.

I think we should be clear about what we think about the teachers. We need to forget the talk radio hatred of teachers. I know that we often separate the unions and the teachers but the tone is still quite hateful. This is a shame. According to an article in the union magazine they think that about 40 percent of their membership is conservative. We can win some these folks over if we would just stop yelling at them. We can score points by taking on a common sort of corruption in New Jersey: Teachers are rarely addressed as professionals by the administration. For example: Are you aware of the practice of having principals and higher administrators changing grades/changing who doesn't get into the honor society? It won't cost a dime to have the Governor champion treating teachers as professionals.

The point is that if we cant to stay on top we need to be about something more than taxes.


Peter C. Hansen  (January 18, 2010, 7:52 pm)

Harp, I like what you say about a declaration of emergency potentially being perceived later as "appearing overly alarmist down the line as the economy rebounds."

It strikes me, however, that declaring an emergency would be a good risk nevertheless. It would be an exact foil to the recent crisis and the federal takeovers – a Reaganite reply, if you will. It would be a great reflection of the present Zeitgeist, as the federal expansion was in its (very recent) day. At the same time, a Reaganite revolution in NJ would lay the foundation for NJ's lasting economic health, and would thus very likely gain a lastingly good reputation where the feds' TARP and such have become increasingly covered in ignominy.

Gregg - I agree that civil service reform is fundamental to getting NJ back on track. I earlier wrote on this as a way to combat official corruption in NJ. Taking the Reaganite conceit a bit further, could we perhaps envision a Christie-public union showdown like that between Reagan and the air-traffic controllers back in the day? At a minimum, it would be a joy to behold triple-pension holders publicly demanding that their privileges continue, and the public reaction thereto.

James D. Agresti  (January 18, 2010, 7:49 pm)

Peter hit the bull’s-eye in pointing out that the NJ Supreme Court (who fancy themselves as lawmakers instead of jurists) could certainly get in the way of Christie’s agenda. Does anyone have an idea as to how many opportunities for appointments to the Supreme Court Christie may have in the next four years?

Derrell Bradford  (January 18, 2010, 7:48 pm)


Interestingly, I think education reform broadly should be a priority for the Christie administration and Bret because it is the one area where there is a pretty solid nexus of bipartisan consensus, and because it further outs the NJEA for playing its obstructionist role. For instance, the recent flap over the state's Race to the Top application, and its requirement that a "proposal" for linking student assessment data to teacher review be submitted, is something that seems wholly reasonable to the man on the street. It's, in fact, one of the signature issues of a democratic president...and there are many democratic and republic legislators who see the value in this, but the NJEA, in its practiced chorus of "no, no no" ain't having none of it. That sort of resistance just doesn't pass the smell test.

As for priorities...I'd say the Lesniak/Kean tax credit scholarship bill should be a front runner, because it's the kind of thing that needs to be done quickly, and because there's a great deal of support for it. In parallel...any charter school reforms the department can enact on its own. Then, revisiting the charter school law and possibly the "dollars follow the child" concept in the school funding formula. These, followed by a series of steps around transparency and teacher quality that pair with the state's second bite at the Race to the Top apple, are all good stuff.

George Zilbergeld  (January 18, 2010, 7:42 pm)

Dear Harpriye and others,

I agree that something should be done quickly. The publics mood is not good and we can't be sure the public won't turn on us as quickly as they have turned on the liberal establishment.

I don't want to see a repitition of what Whitman did where she cut some of the lowest paid people working for the state. This left a bad taste in many people's mouth. This school year the professors had to take a seven day furlough-but the staff ( who earn a good deal less) had to take an eleven day furlough. This was done by Corzine but the poit is that New Jersey has a bad habit of doing this over and over. If we do something else it will be a great opporutnity to a be the heros.

The gourp we should be aiming to please is the middle class. I think there are great opportunities to do this in high education. The middle calss is not interested in ideological battles but they sure are interested in getting a good education for their children. They are especially interested in being sure that their children who are in the liberal arts are going to be ok. Of course the liberal arts are where most of the political correctness occurs. Perhpas we should urge that no university's budget be approved until there is transparency and an audit. During the audit it should be possible to eliminate some ideological programs and courses.

For example:

A. The core curriculums are poorly designed if you want your liberal arts student to learn the fundamental skills they will need for the rest of their lives.

B. We can have them look at the basic composition courses and see that are taught by adjuncts. Why? So that the professors can go off and teach/preach their ideology?

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Gregg M. Edwards  (January 18, 2010, 7:40 pm)

Necessity dictates that Christie's first budget will treat symptoms of NJ's fiscal problems, not the root causes. Our tax system relies to heavily on the unstable income tax. Allowing the last year's rate increase to "sunset" is a good first step at addressing the structural problem. But other structural reforms are needed. Christie should implement his pledge to require that all expanded and new programs be "sunsetted" after a fixed numbers of years. He also should implement his pledge to require that expanded and new programs include clear performance indicators by which these programs should be measured.

Two more important reforms: NJ needs a constitutional spending cap. Second, labor costs will never be controlled without reforming NJ's civil service law.

Today's severe fiscal problems should be used to highlight the need for significant structural reforms.

James D. Agresti  (January 18, 2010, 7:40 pm)

I agree with Peter in that Christie cannot achieve spending cuts solely through his executive authority, which is why I use the phrase “in concept.” In practice, Christie needs to wield his veto pen liberally and take his message straight to the people, who are fed up with the fiscal situation in this state. If Christie can communicate forcefully, clearly, and magnanimously (ala Ronald Reagan), I think many of us will be shocked to see the positive reforms he could accomplish despite the power of the teachers’ unions and other special interests. The time for such action, however, is right out of the starting block – because this is when the electorate is most willing to give the new kid on the block some room to run with his ideas.

Murray Sabrin  (January 18, 2010, 7:39 pm)

The State's motto provides the answer to what needs to be done, which I have outlined over the years:

The mantra should be: Local institutions, local resources. Meaning: phasing out the state income tax so funding of public schools takes place with local resources. The Abbott districts would have to rely the state income tax, local property taxes, grants, tuition, etc.

Ending state tax dollar support for nonprofits. If they are performing well, they should get voluntary contributions for their operating revenue.

State colleges and universities should be financially independent within 7-10 years by increasing their endowments to make up for the phasing out of taxpayer support.

A major effort should be made to attract as many new businesses to NJ as possible. Phasing out the CBT would be the great incentive for business expansion in NJ and attract overseas businesses and companies from around America.

In short, the liberty agenda is easy to figure out, and "selling" it should be relatively easy. Morality and good economics are on our side.

Harp Amar  (January 18, 2010, 7:35 pm)

Declaring a financial emergency is certainly an interesting gambit as it would at the very least sustain popular and media interest in NJ's structural issues. However, I wonder about the risk of potentially appearing overly alarmist down the line as the economy rebounds.

I suppose if Christie feels he needs the additional leverage that such as announcement might be worth looking into. But it would have to be sooner rather later, as he will want to be in position to wind it up with some tangible progress before such strong terminology loses its credibility or relevance towards the back end of 2010.

Peter C. Hansen  (January 18, 2010, 7:29 pm)

I agree completely, Derrell.

As I have written before, the NJEA is arguably the biggest obstacle to state reform today.

I would be curious to get your views, Derrell, as to what Schundler's priorities should be.

Harp Amar  (January 18, 2010, 7:23 pm)

The timing of tomorrow's inauguration in New Jersey could overlap with a stunning GOP Senate victory in Massachusetts, providing some ammunition to those whose might want to start tracing a national GOP revival to the northeast.

There is little doubt that this administration has strong conservative philosophical underpinnings on key issues such as fiscal management and education reform. A lot of how much actually gets implemented is now a matter of both execution as well as how the political landscape shifts over the coming months.

However, the prospects for redefining a nationally viable GOP on the back of unambiguously conservative beliefs (i.e. school vouchers) makes being a "Jersey Conservative" suddenly a very fashionable item after a long period of political exile.

Peter C. Hansen  (January 18, 2010, 7:21 pm)

Murray and Jim, I think that in principle it is a good idea to declare a financial emergency (largely because there actually is one). On what first principles could Christie build, however, especially given the present constitution? (One thinks of all the Abbott interpretations of the education clause, for instance, and Christie would have a hard time – at a minimum – overriding the judiciary.)

Plus, could Christie feasibly risk at his inauguration proposing a wholesale restructuring of the state? I wonder, actually. I think that if Christie promised a wholesale review of NJ government, and a major reform bill for 2011 which contained the fruits of the study, that could prepare the electorate and get a lot of people looking at the structural flaws of NJ government.

Murray Sabrin  (January 18, 2010, 7:20 pm)

I would take with a grain of salt any optimistic budget projections for FY 2011. Christie should hit the ground running tomorrow and for the next six months. He should state unequivocally the that the welfare state has been an economic, financial and social failure. He should explain that the goal of every adult and family should be financial Independence and that we can achieve that goal if we have an educated populace and robust economy. And we will not have an educated populace with a collectivized education system. In short, education is too important to be controlled by politicians and bureaucrats.

Derrell Bradford  (January 18, 2010, 7:19 pm)

I'm going to offer a different reason for escalating the throwdown with NJEA than most...I think there are actually some competent, well meaning folks in the legislature who want to do "the right things" but for whom the de facto NJEA veto on so many policies is just too much to overcome. Which is to say, even in a discussion that does not include education reform, NJEA reform should be a priority. And here are two places to start:

First: open contract negotiations. Shadow is catalytic in how NJEA leadership gets over on taxpayers and, more importantly, works to keep bad teachers in the profession. After all, a bad teacher pays the same amount of dues as a good one, so the more teachers, the better, regardless of ability or outcomes. Additionally, it's a lot easier to ask for things most taxpayers would find borderline absurd when no one can watch the dog and pony show around teacher contract negotiations. The process should be made visible for everyone to see.

Second: stop making school districts the fiduciary entity for dues collection. This has less to do with leveling the playing field, and more to do with the free speech of NJEA members. There are many teachers, liberal and conservative, who do not agree with NJEA agenda items, but they must contribute to the overall agenda nonetheless. How about NJEA "asking" members for their money for political donations instead of getting a huge pot of cash delivered straight to them via taxpayer financed school districts? Makes too much sense to do it, right?

Part of getting folks to do the right thing is giving them a chance to. I don't write this to let everyone in Trenton off the hook...but to say there's a way we can enable them to at least be excellent, or terrible, on their own terms.

George Zilbergeld  (January 18, 2010, 7:15 pm)

Lately conservatives have done well just yelling at the flaws of the liberal proposals.

I wonder thought is we don't need to address various problems with conservative solutions-but still solutions. that is what I remember Reagan doing. He didn't just denounce . He always had a story to tell.

An example of that being done is our support for the voucher program.

George Zilbergeld

Peter C. Hansen  (January 18, 2010, 7:13 pm)

I think that Christie's appointment of Schundler is a great first step to getting some proper urban education reform going in New Jersey. This is best for the children in the affected districts, and fairer to NJ taxpayers. Obviously, the question is whether the NJEA and its servants in the Legislature will let Schundler go through, but I think he will do so. Not letting him in would be tantamount to a declaration of war at the start of the term. Given the impending and startling Brown-Coakley election, I doubt that this would be something the Democrats would be itching for at this time. The real fights will come later when actual measures are proposed.

Beyond this, I agree with Harp's view that the possible amelioration of NJ's tax revenues over the coming year may decrease interest in reform, and that Christie has to move quickly. I think one of the best things he could do is open NJ government offices to the media (including bloggers) for scrutiny. No doubt security would be an issue, but this is a matter of implementation. As I have said before, transparency, transparency, transparency!

James D. Agresti  (January 18, 2010, 7:13 pm)

I agree with Dr. Sabrin – at least in concept. If Governor Christie does not take drastic measures, the status quo of fiscal irresponsibility will prevail.

Murray Sabrin  (January 18, 2010, 7:06 pm)

Soon to be governor Chris Christie should declare a financial emergency and start at ground zero. By doing so, he can reshape, restructure, and reform state and local government. Failure to do so will preserve the status quo and give the entrenched interests the time to fight what is needed a substantial downsizing of state government, the regulatory apparatus, and the huge state and local tax burdens.

Peter C. Hansen  (January 18, 2010, 6:53 pm)

Good evening. Tonight the Jersey Conservative Contributors will be holding an online roundtable on the topic of "The Prospects for Conservative Policies in the Christie Administration." We will be chatting from 7 p.m to 8:30 p.m.

We look forward to a great discussion, and welcome to our readers!

Peter C. Hansen  (January 18, 2010, 6:46 pm)

It is great to welcome two great new Contributors to the team - Harpriye A. Juneja and Derrell Bradford.

Harpriye is a financial-services expert who served on the Christie transition team.

Derrell is head of E3, which pushes for education reform in New Jersey.

We look forward to reading their views and comments online!

Harp Amar  (January 18, 2010, 6:30 pm)

The financial crisis which swept through the U.S. and the world since mid-2007 has left public finances almost universally in ruins.

New Jersey, with its historically reckless fiscal management and high dependence on Wall Street tax revenue, has proven more vulnerable to the global financial turmoil than most peers around the country. The crisis therefore not only played a decisive role in Governor-Elect Chris Christie's November victory, its deeply felt pain has also been correctly identified as providing favorable tailwinds for a pro-growth, pro-reform economic agenda. However, these favorable tailwinds may not carry as far into Christie's gubernatorial tenure as some around Trenton may believe. As 2009’s bumper Wall Street results have signaled, the financial hurricane is over – even though it has clearly left significant wreckage in its wake.

Lost amid the political furor over record bonus payouts has been the remarkable reality that capital markets, which had been badly strained for approximately two long years, have to large extent recovered. This semblance of normalcy in capital markets will in due course mean at least some recovery in access to finance for businesses seeking to expand their workforces, families seeking to buy homes and even consumers seeking to splurge. Consequently, most forecasters expect the U.S. economy to expand at a healthy 3% clip in 2010.These factors raise the possibility that as tax revenue again starts flowing into Trenton’s coffers, the state’s actual FY2011 deficit may not be as dire as currently projected.

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Peter C. Hansen  (December 15, 2009, 7:24 pm)

Excellent points and statistics, Jim! The NJ public salaries and budget statistics you cite are stunning and depressing. (For those into such downers, I recommend some further stats here.) The threat which an out-of-control NJ civil service poses is immense because there is no commercial market force dictating or regulating its growth. It is like an invasive species running wild and threatening the NJ economic ecosystem.

To be fair, there may be some instances where large increases in government spending could be justified in a free market:

  1. To repair gaps in market-facilitating services, such as a temporary effort to repair neglected infrastructure
  2. The new officials are able to clear the market's path, so that their pay is a fraction of the growth they induce
  3. To meet unforeseen challenges that threaten the market, such as a massive outbreak of crime
  4. To socialize market-facilitating processes done less efficiently by private sector, so costs go down for same service

If on January 1, 2010, we could look out over a gleaming network of new infrastructure and a liberated, dynamic NJ marketplace, we might think that the decade's explosion in government growth was well-directed, and ready now to subside to a maintenance level. Instead, we observe an ever-heavier dead hand of government lying on the NJ marketplace, reducing profit outlooks and commercial predictability. This is government-as-parasite, not government-as-helper. This sort of government chases business and investors out of NJ. It chokes the life out of its economic host.

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James D. Agresti  (December 15, 2009, 1:01 am)

The state government of New Jersey is undergoing budget “cuts,” and government officials are moaning as if they are destitute. I place the word “cuts” in quotes because in this context, “cuts” is a relative word. Budget “cuts” compared to what? Let’s get out the calculator and see.

From 2000 to 2009 – even after adjusting for inflation and population growth – Jersey state government spending rose by 29%. Let me put this another way: If spending grew in accord with population and inflation over the past ten years, New Jersey would have enjoyed a $5.7 billion surplus in fiscal year 2009 instead of suffering under a $4.3 billion deficit.

Similarly, according the latest Census Bureau data (2007), local governments in Jersey have increased spending at well above the rates of inflation and population growth – though not as rapidly as the state government. Yet, the executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities recently stated that the state’s “cuts” in aid to municipalities will “absolutely, positively have an adverse impact on quality-of-life services.” Hence, I did some research and found that this public servant’s compensation is $191,580/year. Does this give anyone ideas as to how we could handle these budget cuts without adversely impacting our quality of life?

This reminds me of a classic incident involving my plain-spoken Italian grandmother who became outraged when she noticed a certain brand of crackers had gone up in price, down in quantity, and was now costing more than $9.00/pound. This prompted her to send a letter to the manufacturer scolding them for selling crackers at a higher price per pound than filet mignon. A senior manager wrote back, attempting to placate her with an explanation about the high costs of production, marketing, and distribution. Unimpressed with this response and now in possession of the name of a corporate executive, my grandmother penned this simple reply:

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Peter C. Hansen  (November 6, 2009, 3:41 pm)

Alan's article today on PolitickerNJ, "Christie Versus the NJEA," is spot-on, as usual. It is arguable that the NJEA's role in the state goes to the very core of the state's dysfunction, at least insofar as most suburbanites are concerned. Nothing drives NJ property taxes like education spending, and the NJEA acts as a massive impediment to healthy change by working tirelessly to keep public education a cossetted, untouchable and growing guild.

As I wrote earlier, public-sector-focused unions such as the NJEA should be barred from political activity to prevent the state and its workers from setting up political machines that impose high barriers to entry for opponents of the bureaucracy's agenda, and consequently squelch democracy in NJ.

Alan very correctly points out that Christie is impeded by the lack of a major statewide media outlet. At the same time, however, there are very attractive alternatives: nationalization and opening up to reporters. Christie went on Hannity before the election, and he could show up on talk show after talk show to say he is spearheading a reform movement, and that he needs help. This would shine the spotlight on the Legislature and reactionary groups like the NJEA.

Next, as I have said before, "transparency, transparency, transparency"! What if Christie simply ordered all state government officials to assist and provide free access to credentialed reporters seeking information in state files? Can you imagine the NY Times and Philly Inquirer articles that would result? Or the TV specials? Frontline? Breitbart videos online? Etc., etc. It would cast a brilliant and disinfecting sunshine on the state's danker corners. It might also help to shed some light on where all those Abbott funds have actually gone ...

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Dominick G. Spadea  (November 5, 2009, 10:58 pm)

What if Nancy Pelosi passed a Health Care Law and nobody complied?

What if doctors leave the profession in droves and work on the black market? What if private citizens buy their health care under the table for cash, as is done in all socialist countries? What if Catholic hospitals, opposed to mandated abortion services, acting alone or as a group, refused to comply with the Pelosi / Reid take over of the US Health Care System? How would the Federal Government respond to this defiance?

I am not talking about civil disobedience. When groups of people get together and break small laws in order to have a bigger law repealed.

I am not talking about jury nullification. When a jury sitting at trial refuses to convict a person who has broken a specific law.

I am asking the question of what would happen if citizens themselves decide that this particular legislation is so onerous and inimical to liberty that they just cannot obey. Would an otherwise law abiding population, coming face to face with a law they believe will strip them of their historical rights, traditional privileges, and constitutional liberties, exercise their God given prerogatives and defy it?

This would be so serious a defiance of law that it has happened only one time in American history.

In 1775, British General Thomas Gage, Royal Governor of Massachusetts, wrote a letter to King George III. A year before, by legal act of Parliament the Port of Boston had been closed. This law is known in history as the Coercive Acts. No ships were allowed to enter or leave the Port of Boston. Thousands of people became unemployed, sickness and death became commonplace. Four British regiments and the power of the British navy enforced the law.

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Peter C. Hansen  (November 4, 2009, 8:09 pm)

Well, we must be doing something right - the site crashed at the very end!

Our hour is up, and I would like to thank everyone for taking such an active part. It was an amazing discussion – perhaps the only one of its kind in NJ these days – and it should help to inform the new Christie administration about what conservatives are thinking about in NJ, and hopefully the transition team will pick up some policy ideas to recommend.

We have to do this again sometime soon. In the meantime, keep the ideas coming, and let the conversation continue, if at a slower pace. Thanks again everyone, and all the best!

Peter C. Hansen  (November 4, 2009, 8:05 pm)

I think that having public-sector unions lobby for the government of their choice is destructive of democracy. As I recently wrote, this practice creates a political machine that poses a nearly insuperable barrier to entry to anyone who disagrees with the bureaucracy.

I also agree on pressing for vouchers, especially in the Abbott districts, as an alternative to top-down, corruption-prone state spending.

Christopher J. Obudho  (November 4, 2009, 8:04 pm)

Murray and Dominick,

With respect to repeal of the "thorough and efficient" clause: what would it be replaced with? Would we work off of the assumption that voters and parents expect that sort of education without billions of dollars attached to the mandate? Don't misunderstand, I like the idea, but I'm just curious about your thoughts on what would be next.

I agree, Peter, that pushing that effort would be an extremely tough sell, but maybe we nibble around the edges first to see where we could take it.

Murray Sabrin  (November 4, 2009, 7:54 pm)

The public should get a bill every month for state, county, local government spending as well as a bill for the cost of running the public schools. When the public find out how much government really costs, they will have second thougths about government "services. Thus, abolish the income tax and sales tax.

Christopher J. Obudho  (November 4, 2009, 7:54 pm)

I must admit, I was conflicted about whether to vote for or against the ballot question. I'm studying to be an historian and portion of the question on historic preservation made me pause. I ultimately voted against it due to the price tag. I have to agree with Dominick on this one. How many insignificant 1/4 acre lots do we need to "preserve" around the state? There are more abandoned buildings, old factories, etc. that could be refurbished to be turned into commercial use (I'm sure the attorneys and regulatory experts on this blog who know more about brownfields could speak to this) than there is a need for more parks!

Jobs and a sustainable tax base is what we need now. This open space movement is just about making voters feel good, while spending millions we don't have, when they're driving through traffic jams and seeing a Starbucks on every corner, but when those debt chickens come home to roost, we're going to be in a real jam!...

Dominick G. Spadea  (November 4, 2009, 7:53 pm)


You wrote. "Repeal of the "thorough and efficient" education clause would go a long way to a creating a conservative New Jersey".

That is an excellent idea.

And after that we need to phase out government schools by allowing vouchers to be used for religous and private schools.

Unless we break the NEA in this state we can never recover economic freedom and growth.

Peter C. Hansen  (November 4, 2009, 7:50 pm)

I don't believe that the populace would go for a repeal of the "thorough and efficient" clause, since it sounds like one wants to throw poor kids out of school. Nevertheless, the ridiculous abuse of this clause's wording require immediate rectification. How about the following:

  1. Christie orders (good idea, Chris) that any Abbott funding (requested or disbursed) must be accounted for in detail online
  2. Christie orders that any Abbott funding shall be disbursed by the state only once requested by a local school board, with signed certifications by the Board and relevant school and municipality officials that all assessments and bids have been properly conducted per regulations
  3. Christie orders that any Abbott funding requested will make the funds subject to state audit
  4. Christie sets aside, or demands from the Legislature, a large sum for anti-fraud auditing and investigation
  5. Christie pushes for a sweeping set of anti-corruption laws with severe penalties
  6. Christie pushes the Legislature to make any public official privately liable for all costs incurred by the public in rooting out corruption in which the official took any part (a form of joint and several liability)

Alan J. Steinberg  (November 4, 2009, 7:49 pm)

Peter, as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowland Commission under Governor Whitman, I increased spending for open space, particularly in wetland areas. I know that open space purchase is environmentally beneficial and necessary to ensure orderly development.

Having said that, there is a limit as to how much debt New Jersey can reasonably incur. California is talking about bankruptcy with $25 billion of debt. We in New Jersey have over $40 billion in debt with a much smaller state. What does that tell us about our electorate ?

Murray Sabrin  (November 4, 2009, 7:47 pm)

Whether it is the totalitarian central planning of the former Soviet Union or the "velvet" authoritarinism of the New Jersey Supreme Court, central planning does not work. Chrisite has to shout loud and clear that he will end "judicial tyranny" and reverse the Court's decisions that have no place in a free society.

Dominick G. Spadea  (November 4, 2009, 7:41 pm)


I don't know how much time you have spent in the Pine Barrons , but I have spent many years hunting, hiking and camping with my kids , friends and alone. It is a great resource. But it is all the open space a practical people concerned with producing wealth should really want. Plus we have the miles and miles of shore line. Enough already.

It is a luxury we cannot afford. Buying into the liberal premise that open space is good and developemnet is bad is destructive of wealth creation...and need I say it rights and free enterprise!

Borrowing money to put out of productive use land in this small State is like eating our seed corn passed down to us by our ancestors. I know it is not PC to say but I believe growth is good. Free use of a person's own property is good. Building houses, sewer plants, nuclear plants , roads,etc is a good thing. Hell, more people the better, if they are productive!

Christopher J. Obudho  (November 4, 2009, 7:41 pm)

My father is a retired state employee (Democrat) and he doesn't trust any politician. They are all "crooks" as far as he is concerned. He spent the last 30 years working for the State as a member of the CWA. From talking to him, I firmly believe that the most important thing for him to do is to stay grounded. Corzine and most of the other statewide elected officials we've had (suffered through), were seen as elitist, limousine liberals. Yeah, Christie walked in the halls of power for many years, but he's not insanely wealthy like Corzine and comes off as a "regular guy".

Conservatism is simply common sense. Christie needs to look people in the eye and tell the truth, just like Reagan did, and he'll begin to win over those Blue Dog/Reagan/Independent/Moderate Democrats. If he can manage to stay out of prolonged fights with the Legislature (which they will be giddy to get him into) and be seen as above all that while working to get our fiscal house in order, he should have success.

I'm not saying he should set up canned beer drinking sessions with those voters (then again, why not?), but be and stay NORMAL. That goes a long way to winning over people like my father...

Alan J. Steinberg  (November 4, 2009, 7:41 pm)

In the past, both Democrat and Republican legislatures tried to resolve the desire of the citizenry to "have their cake and eat it too" by "one shot" items, such as selling roads, refinancing debt, borrowing from other funds, etc. The question is what the legislature will do when they run out of one-shot items.

My answer: Legislative leaders will determine what will result in greater public outcry: the elimination of the "goody" or the increase in tax necessary to fund it. Based on this determination, they will either raise a tax or eliminate the expenditure item.

Peter C. Hansen  (November 4, 2009, 7:40 pm)

You are quite correct that the Abbott and Mount Laurel decisions have completely skewed the relationship of government and the people in NJ. Abbott is simply a wingnut spending fantasy written out as jurisprudence, and it is a ticket to corruption. The middle classes don't get the top-spending schools, but have to pay for other schools to get them. And, of course, free government money in NJ equals corruption.

Mount Laurel is another fantasy – that classes can be forced to mix happily and harmoniously. This concept exists to be dodged as much as possible by rich towns. (How many "senior citizens' apartments" can one town have?) I personally would like to see a class mix in all communities, but this isn't the way to do it. In Montgomery, a lot of working-class people have had to leave, not because of a lack of "low-income" housing, but because their property taxes went through the roof and they couldn't keep their homes and a living at the same time.

Having more jurisprudentially conservative judges (I'll settle for simply sensible) would help a lot in getting back to a proper tripartite government in NJ. I hope Christie has the guts and acumen to get us the state equivalent of a Roberts, and that he will avoid the Harriet Myers route.

Murray Sabrin  (November 4, 2009, 7:34 pm)

Conservatism should be about decentralization of governmental decision making. In other words, most governmental "services" should be performed at the local level and paid for by the public at the local level. State government should provide very few services other than what is constitutionally authorized. Repeal of the "thorough and efficient" education clause would go a long way to a creating a conservative New Jersey.

Christopher J. Obudho  (November 4, 2009, 7:30 pm)


I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I don't trust politicians when they talk about transparency. They all do it and they all violate the spirit and letter of whatever promise, regulation or law they espouse. That being said, it would be great if that were part of Christie's effort to open government and make it (and him) more accountable to the citizens.

Transparency initiatives are but a small part of the overall mission to "change Trenton as we know it", but it would be, if given the necessary "teeth", a great way to start and, as a former prosecutor, Christie is in a good position to be taken seriously if he were to propose such measures...

Peter C. Hansen  (November 4, 2009, 7:28 pm)

This is the great conundrum, not least because (as this blog shows) "NJ conservatism" is a concept still very much in search of a definition.

What steps do you think Christie could take that would attract average folks like the Reagan Democrats in Middlesex County (my childhood county) that Alan wrote about today?

In other words, how does Christie get average union-member Joe to say to his friends at the bar after work, "I don't give a (insert appropriate Jerseyism) about 'Republican this or that,' this guy's getting it done. What did Corzine and those jokers ever do for us"?

Alan J. Steinberg  (November 4, 2009, 7:28 pm)

The property tax issue in New Jersey is in reality a suburban property tax issue. The property tax relief fund, established in 1976 and funded with the proceeds from the New Jersey gross income tax was intended to provide aid to school districts uniformly throughout the state, thus reducing the reliance on property tax.

In 1990, however, the New Jersey Supreme Court, in the Abbott v. Burke decision, held that the "urban 30" school districts must be funded with state aid so that their finances would be equivalent to those of the "lighthouse districts", the wealthiest districts in the state. This resulted ultimately in suburban school districts throughout the state getting a much smaller share of state school aid than the "urban 30 Abbott" districts. Accordingly, suburban districts have been compelled to excessively rely on property taxes in order to fund education.

The Abbott v. Burke decision, like the early 1980s Mount Laurel decisions, was a quintessential example of the New Jersey Supreme Court legislating from the bench. As conservatives, we believe that the authority of courts must be limited to interpreting the statutes and constitutional provisions rather than legislating from the bench.

Governor-elect Christie has pledged to appoint justices who will not legislate from the bench. He will have the opportunity to appoint four new members of the seven member Supreme Cout. If he fulfills his pledge, this will be a significant triumph for conservatism in New Jersey.

Murray Sabrin  (November 4, 2009, 7:25 pm)

If voters approve a referendum, then the funding should be allocated on a per capita basis. So instead of borrowing the funds, which the public sees as "costless' because they do not get a bill for the project(s), the public should have to pay immediately. The public would think twice before they vote for more debt.

Dominick G. Spadea  (November 4, 2009, 7:22 pm)


You make an interesting point about the ambiguous nature of the electorate. But what happens when the music stops and the State can no longer afford the goodies. What happens when Christie faces a real money crunch with State services and pensions?

And how will it all play out with the dems controlling the legislature?

Christopher J. Obudho  (November 4, 2009, 7:22 pm)

Christie will have to make good (and frequent) use of executive orders and other regulatory mechanisms in order to put into effect many of his goals. If he is willing to stand up to the unions (I hope) and the entrenched bureaucracy (I pray), he may be able to shame them into changes. His lack of a strong mandate will make this difficult, but he'll have to fight or go around them. The Legislature isn't going to want to give him any victories, and if they do, they will be early while everyone is settling in (see Obama's first three months). Once the Democrats get their legs under them, watch out.

Now is the time for creative governing with conservative principles. Sun Tzu-like tactics are the only way to advance an agenda in this blue state...

Peter C. Hansen  (November 4, 2009, 7:20 pm)

I agree that it seems facially dichotomous to vote against increased taxes and for a large open-space bond, but I think this comes out of NJ's being one of the most densely populated large jurisdictions on earth. (Details here - we come in after Bangladesh and South Korea. Japan, eat your heart out!)

People in NJ are desperate to maintain what open space remains in the Garden State. A very beautiful state has been turning pretty quickly into one gigantic complex of subdivisions. Montgomery, I'm afraid, took that route in the 1980s and has only recently started to push back against overdevelopment. Then there's the Halpern Farm in Piscataway, three blocks from where I grew up. That scandal is a Target waiting to happen.

I think people also want to spend money on open space because it represents a pleasant public good, like parks, as opposed to murkier issues like complex infrastructure projects. Plus, it seems cleaner than most other projects, although I would be interested to see if there is in fact a lot of corruption here as well.

Murray Sabrin  (November 4, 2009, 7:14 pm)

Christie's mandate is to govern according to what he thinks is the right thing to do. He said thinking about a second term is not on his agenda. He should announce his agenda ASAP after he assembles his team. He should then inform the people of New Jersey the depth of the budget crisis and what he will do to put Trenton on the right track.

Peter C. Hansen  (November 4, 2009, 7:12 pm)

Christie absolutely has to trim government regulation. More important than simply trimming the hedgerows surrounding people, however, is hacking into the root of the problem. There needs to be a lot more transparency at every level of state and local government. Here are a couple of ideas in this vein:

  1. Require (and subsidize) any regulatory or spending decision in the state to be put online
  2. Require all entities receiving state funds to be subject to state audit, and really fund the auditors (this could really help with Abbott fund corruption)

  3. Allow a private claim for treble bidding costs against any public or private person found guilty of corruption with respect to the bid
  4. Publish online all salaries, benefits and pension rights of all state and local government workers

Christopher J. Obudho  (November 4, 2009, 7:11 pm)

Hello All,

Whew! What a night! With respect to a mandate for Christie, I would say has a very limited one. Voters in NJ and VA are simply saying: Slow down! to Obama and the Democrat's agenda. He would be well-advised to keep in mind that he shouldn't lag behind the voters, nor should he try to outpace them. Jersey voters are a fickle bunch and if he tries to be all things to all people, he'll fail.

Dominick G. Spadea  (November 4, 2009, 7:11 pm)

The first fact is that Christie won by the skin of his teeth and therefore has very little mandate.Second , I believe his victory margin was so thin because he failed to energize the conservative base. Virginia, Maine and the Rino humiliation in NY23 were clear evidence of Conservative ascendancy. NJ, IMO, was clear evidence that people who were sick of Corzine and didn't want to waste their vote on a 3rd party candidate had no where else to go but the GOP. The problem for conservatives in NJ is that the GOP leadership will now beat the drum that only moderates like Christie can win. But in reality, I believe the election shows we now have a solid base of independents feed up with the tax and spend democrats who went GOP for the first time. The lesson I believe is with the right conservative candidate we can build on that base by motivating the Right to come out.

Alan J. Steinberg  (November 4, 2009, 7:10 pm)

The message from the electorate is very ambiguous. It is the same age old conflict of wanting reduced taxes yet wishing to retain the products and services that high taxes obtain.

By electing Chris Christie, the electorate was sending a message that there is widespread discontent with high state income taxes and local property taxes. Yet simultaneously, the electorate was approving an open space bond act which will add expenditure to future budgets, potentially resulting in the same higher taxes the citizenry wish to avoid.

Murray Sabrin  (November 4, 2009, 7:07 pm)

Chris Christie won the election. He does not need a "mandate" to do what is necessary to restructure state government in order to provide tax relief and eliminate onerous business regulations. He also has to revisit the Abbott Supreme Court decision that put the Court in the driver's seat regarding the use of the income tax to fund education in the state.

My hope is that Christie takes his case to the public with the message that the income tax was a Trojan Horse and that it should be repealed. The benefits of an income tax free New Jersey would be enormous. He should take this opportunity to restore local control over education and argue that local funding of education is the right thing to do, thereby saving suburban taxpayers' billions of dollars per year.

Peter C. Hansen  (November 4, 2009, 7:04 pm)

We are no doubt simultaneously typing, but I'll jump in with this basic question: does Christie have a mandate? I would say yes, to "change" things. Beyond that, it's very murky. People want the pain to go away, but this will require some pretty radical surgery. I don't know if folks are really up for that.

I think Christie will have to build his mandate, and that his re-election campaign will be the real mandate - a building wave of reform, one hopes.

Peter C. Hansen  (November 4, 2009, 4:09 pm)

Welcome to Jersey Conservative's analysis of yesterday's Christie victory! We will be discussing its implications as a group from 7 to 8 p.m. this evening.

Although Christie's win was decisive by NJ standards for Republicans, the policy implications of his victory are not clear. For example, Christie did not set out a specific plan for reducing property taxes, and it is anyone's guess whether he has the political acuity to beat the political machines that keep these and other state taxes high. It is also uncertain whether New Jerseyans really want to cure the state's disease, or merely treat its worst symptoms.

Our panel tonight will discuss whether Christie's victory was just a protest vote, and whether he actually has a mandate for serious change. We will also propose and discuss our different ideas as to what Christie's priorities should be, and how he can best effect change from Trenton. We hope you will enjoy the discussion!

Peter C. Hansen  (November 4, 2009, 10:56 am)

Please join us this evening as the Jersey Conservative Contributors liveblog about the policy implications of the Christie victory. Is this a defining moment in NJ political life and ideological trends? Or is it simply a protest that the yoke has gotten a little too heavy? What does Christie have to do to get the state back on the right track? What should his priorities be? And what can Christie actually do?

These questions and more will be discussed this evening. I hope you can join us.

Murray Sabrin  (November 1, 2009, 5:47 pm)

Based on the latest polls which have independent gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett below 10%, it is not going to happen, an independent elected governor of New Jersey.

On Tuesday, a week ago, I predicted a Chris Daggett victory based on polls that had him at 20% two weeks before Election Day. I expected the "anti-Corzine and anti-Christie" vote to break for Daggett, and a surge of support by Independents who may have been willing to go for Daggett because of their frustration with the Democrats and the GOP running the state into the fiscal mess we are facing today. (For the record, my analysis of Daggett's chances to be the next governor of New Jersey was not an endorsement of his candidacy. I have criticized his tax plan in one of my recent columns. My optimistic assessment of Daggett's candidacy was based on my belief that this could be the year that blue state New Jersey surprised all the political experts.)

Apparently, the anti-establishment voters are going to hold their collective noses and vote for either Corzine or Christie, cutting into Daggett's support. For Daggett to have made a better case for his candidacy, a "home run" mailer to several hundred thousand independent voters would have been necessary in order to make a direct appeal: "Had enough of the irresponsible Democrats and Republicans?" Without a few more hundred thousand dollars, the Daggett campaign was always dogged by the 'wasted vote" syndrome.

Would an injection of cash have made the difference in the last two weeks of the campaign? I think so. If Daggett could have appealed directly to New Jerseyans who wanted to shake up the political establishment, he could have made the case that their votes would not be "wasted." Instead, it looks like the electorate will be content to reelect Jon Corzine and his big government agenda, or give Chris Chrisite a chance to "change" Trenton.

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Peter C. Hansen  (October 29, 2009, 2:25 pm)

Next Tuesday remains a toss-up, although the auguries seem to be pointing, however faintly, to a Christie victory. Relative to Corzine, Christie would be a major improvement in the eyes of any conservative who doesn't subscribe to Lenin's "worse-is-better" philosophy while waiting for a purist revolution. I won't get into the Christie-versus-Daggett question since Murray is a Daggett man, Alan is for Christie, and both likely feel much more strongly about this question than I do.

My discontent is not with any candidate, but arises instead from the fact that NJ voters are being encouraged to focus on a symptom rather than the disease. Property taxes are an outrage in NJ, no doubt. But simply cutting them will do nothing to reduce the state's deficits. Nor will a tax cut cure any of the state's chronic woes or reduce the gargantuan public sector. Indeed, it would just add to the public's interest payments and makes things even worse later when higher taxes return.

What has to be attacked along with high taxes is the uncontrolled spending that makes such high taxes necessary. This spending goes mostly to paying for ever more government workers. (Click here for details.) These outsized expenditures arise directly from the stranglehold of the public-sector unions on NJ elections. I don't believe that NJ is a particularly left-wing state in terms of social liberalism. It is instead a blue state mostly because of unionism, and most especially public-sector unionism.

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James D. Agresti  (October 25, 2009, 2:25 am)

There are some intriguing facts in this study that have serious implications for the upcoming election and the long-term future of New Jersey:

"Between 1960 and 1970, the state added 589,199 jobs, increasing employment by 29 percent, a record not yet surpassed. During this period, the state had no sales tax and no income tax."
"Public spending in New Jersey doubled in real terms, as a percentage of GDP, between 1971 and 2008…."
"Until recently, New Jersey’s pension system was considered sound. In 2000 the plan was funded at 111.4 percent…. Today it is funded at 50 percent."
Given the fiscal and political history of our state, these facts point to the conclusion that conservatism leads to healthy growth and prosperity, while liberalism leads to debt and impoverishment. Why is this so? Eileen Norcross and Frederic Sautet offer an insight that explains a good part of this:

"Government policy most often entails the forced migration of resources from the decentralized realm of individual decision making (markets), to the centralized control of the public sector. As more resources are transferred, however, the process of entrepreneurial discovery is gradually replaced by a command-and-control regime, which is ultimately irrational."

Dominick G. Spadea  (October 3, 2009, 9:01 pm)

Peter That is a great study. Thank you for the link. I haven't finished reading it in full yet but the following excerpt jumped out at me: "New Jersey is ranked 46th in economic freedom, with the highest state and local tax burden in the nation, at close to 12 percent of average income. New Jersey’s income tax is highly progressive, with a top bracket of 10.75 percent on income over $1,000,000."

Holy cow. 46th in economic freedom! Everyone hould take the time to read this study.

Peter C. Hansen  (October 2, 2009, 6:01 pm)

For anyone interested in why NJ is in its present budgetary situation, the Norcross-Sautet working paper, "Institutions Matter: Can New Jersey Reverse Course?" should be next on your reading list. The study's related website and podcast are also very helpful indeed.

This study was produced by the excellent Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and rather sadly not Rutgers or Princeton. Ms. Norcross is, however, a NJ native and deeply concerned for her home state. She and Mr. Sautet have added to the discussion a very important set of data and insights which will be helpful to those figuring out solutions for NJ.

One particularly relevant aspect of the Norcross-Sautet study is its very complexity. The simplistic treatment of property taxes in the recent three-way gubernatorial debate made it starkly clear just how out of touch the current political discussion is. It is almost certainly too much to ask voters to consider the economic effects of the Abbott districts, state intrusion into property taxation, ever-greater bracketing of state income taxes, etc. Frankly, it's not the voters' job to do this. It is for politicians and journalists to do it. If these latter groups were more fluent and open about these realities, and explained to voters a realistic plan how to unravel this tangle and what the tradeoffs would be, I believe that the voters would respond very positively.

For those now realizing that the Christie ascendancy may not run through November, patience is warranted. It is not the man that matters, but the ideas. No matter how the election comes out, we seem to have a ways to go yet before a truly constructive, detailed, conservative reform agenda arrives in Trenton. Unless the thinking is correct, any action will just be so much blithering. So, let's get to work and figure out some policies.

Peter C. Hansen  (September 30, 2009, 2:04 am)

Ms. Norcross does some excellent work dealing with the Garden State. Here is her notice about Gannett's week-long study of property taxes in New Jersey. The information is predictably dire, but it is always good at least to have some sunshine poured on NJ taxes.

Dear old Montgomery Township has the third-highest average tax fee in Somerset County: $12,856, with a not-exactly-hefty $1,313 rebate. That makes for a 70% increase from 2000 to 2008. What makes this even more painful is that the two higher-tax Somerset towns, Bernardsville ($13,085) and Peapack-Gladstone ($13,243) have immensely higher average property values: Montgomery ($511,440), Peapack-Gladstone ($817,273) and Bernardsville ($947,196). You can see all this here.

Montgomery has been school-building and administrator-hiring crazy for years and years, but this is a seriously off-kilter disparity. What was the point of planting houses where all that corn used to be? It's meant a lot less scenery and local culture, and a lot more tax apparently.

For fiscally conservative candidates in Montgomery (and innumerable other localities), I would be trumpeting these tax figures every day, in every interview, along with some practical solutions. Here's one: post the town's school and town budgets, plus financial statements done in detail down to the individual purchase level, online in real time. All the time. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, after all.

Peter C. Hansen  (September 30, 2009, 1:47 am)

Thank you, Mick, for your lead-off post, which is quite a credo indeed. I look forward to discussing all manner of New Jersey items with you, as surely do the other Contributors.

Dominick G. Spadea  (September 29, 2009, 2:12 pm)

The time for optimism is at hand.

We conservatives must understand that the Obama Presidency is not our Winter of Discontent but a magnificent historical opportunity to roll back the forces of Progressive Liberalism that have for over a century watered down and diminished the liberty of the individual American citizen. We must understand clearly what the election of Barack Obama really means for our nation in this time of crisis so that we can seize the opportunity and make it serve our cause of restoring liberty to this great nation. It might seem odd for me to say that Obama's election should be a cause for optimism given the potential for damage to our nation from this man of the Left. But consider this.

We are facing unprecedented, even catastrophic, economic and social disruption due to the fiscal and monetary policies instituted by the United States Government under both political parties since the creation of the Federal Reserve System and the ratification of the 16th Amendment (Income Tax) in 1913. And that is not just my opinion. From the great economist Ludwig von Mises, who warned in his seminal work, Human Action, that "there is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion," to many contemporary observers like Professor Nouriel Roubini, Robert Prechter, Gereld Celente and Peter Schiff the message is the same. Massive government debt and fiat money creation cannot be sustained. The financial center of our modern economy that was created in 1913, the core of which is fiat money created by the Federal Reserve Board, cannot hold.

We must heed these warnings and prepare for the worst economic and social crises of our lives. It is just around the corner. And let me be blunt. It is our job as free market conservatives to see that Barack Obama and Progressive Liberalism get the blame for what is coming.

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Peter C. Hansen  (August 26, 2009, 6:31 pm)

Today's news of Sen. Ted Kennedy's death has brought out the Camelot mystics and true believers. Most of the paeans have reflected an understandable liberal pride and pain, but some statements revealed even to jaded ears a surprising degree of bitterness about our national Kulturkampf. If Kennedy was indeed a great-hearted friend even to opponents, and drew some Republicans along with him from time to time, this warm portrait clashes with the angry, Manichean philosophy his eulogizers have ascribed to him. How can the two descriptions of the liberal "lion" go together? They do somehow, but I think rather uncomfortably if his warmth was not a sheerly cynical tactic. All of this got me to thinking about what Ted Kennedy means for conservatism in New Jersey, particularly in light of today's most-quoted soundbite, taken from his 1980 concession speech:
"For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
Kennedy's opponents in 1980 were not seeking actively or even passively to crush hopes and dreams. The question in 1980 (like now) was not whether people should have their hopes and dreams realized, but how best to realize them. (In Reagan's case, it was through the market's dynamism.) Kennedy and his quoters might have thought he was proclaiming eternal war on reactionaries, but in reality he was just arguing over method. Everyone was already on board for mass prosperity.

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James D. Agresti  (August 22, 2009, 11:38 am)

At their heart, the laws of economics are grounded in psychology because they spring from forces that drive humans to certain actions and inactions. Hence, economic principles often apply in significant and surprising ways to many spheres of human endeavor.

With the insidious corruption we see in places like New Jersey, Illinois, and quite frankly, across the nation as a whole, it would behoove us to harness these laws of economics to stem the tide of this pestilence.

A fundamental law of economics is that increased prices lead to decreased consumption. The question then before us is, How do we increase the price of corruption? We could increase the criminal penalties, but there is another factor at play here, which is the probability of being caught. This is where I think headway can be made.

In a criminal court, the defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is a high standard (as it should be). Furthermore, the prosecutor responsible for pressing charges may be politically connected to the corrupt official, a situation that is an accepted yet blatant conflict of interest. As a result, public officials can often operate above the law with little fear of being held accountable.

In civil cases, however, anyone can bring suit, and the standard of proof is “preponderance of evidence,” which is a lower threshold. Thus, although O.J. Simpson walked out of his criminal trial a free man, his murdered ex-wife’s family was able to obtain a measure of justice in civil court.

I propose a similar remedy to political corruption that would take the form of legislation enabling citizens to hold public servants personally responsible for their actions via civil court. If taxpayers suffer a loss due to a crooked politician awarding a contract to a friend, we should be able to recoup this money directly from the pocket of the politician. Likewise, other companies who were denied the contract should have grounds for suit.

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Christopher J. Obudho  (August 19, 2009, 10:29 am)

Peter, you make some good points about how to "reform" Christie's public corruption reform plan. Some of his ideas make me wonder whether or not he is really serious. The main point of contention I have is with the elected state auditor. Considering the fact that we have thousands of elected officials throughout the state who are supposed to be watching out for our taxpayer dollars, how is yet another statewide elected official going to help fight corruption? Judging from the ease with which our politicians accept bribes and favors, another office will not, in my opinion, make this state any cleaner or more corruption-free.

Not only are we now going to have a lieutenant governor (which adds still more staff, money and potential conflicts of interests to the mix of statewide politics), but we are honestly going to think about an "independent" state auditor that will have to go through the same process of securing the "lines" in the counties, making speeches, raising money, hiring consultants, getting on television and radio, hiring campaign staff and the like? This position will be either a Democrat or Republican and will be beholden to whoever funds, nominates and elects him/her and not the people of this state. Cynical? Absolutely. But what other possibility could be drawn from the constant (almost weekly) indictments, "perp walks" and jail sentences doled out over the past ten years?

The only way I see this position working (and I still have my doubts) is to make it non-partisan (is that possible in NJ?). There would have to be deep FBI-style background checks, strict rules of conduct, professional responsibility training and at least 10 years (if not more) of forensic accounting and financial management experience. We can no longer trust our elected officials. It's as simple as that. We must demand the highest standards of conduct and "change" the system in which we select our watchdogs.

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Peter C. Hansen  (August 11, 2009, 4:19 pm)

The Christie campaign recently issued a plan for fighting corruption in NJ, and it bears some review. Here are the headers:
    1. Eliminate dual-office holding
    2. Eliminate dual public employment
    3. Require forfeiture of public pensions for corruption convictions
    4. Require strict disclosure of conflicts of interest in the Legislature
    5. Establish an elected state auditor to be an independent watchdog
    6. End pay-to-play for everyone
    7. Strictly prohibit the use of campaign funds from criminal defense costs
    8. Suspend all public officeholders charged with a crime
    9. Require a new, detailed annual disclosure form of all public officials
    10. Require mandatory forfeiture of convicted officeholders' campaign accounts

This is not a bad start, but there are some flaws here, and some additional ways to really give this plan teeth.

Dual-office holding and pension forfeiture

Dual-office holding and dual public employment (Christie Points 1 and 2) are not inherently related to bribes. They instead mostly concern the accumulation of overblown pension rights, especially when little work is actually required or done. In small communities, part-time work may well be the most practical arrangement, but such occasional work hardly justifies pension rights unless it fills in for a regular (8-hour-day) job. The rule fix here is quite simple, and not actually "conservative" so much as just practical:

    1. No person's total state pensions can amount to more than the pension for one full-time public position at the grade which is the average of all positions in which the pensioner earned state pension rights;

    2. The pensioner's state pension will be reduced in proportion to any private pension earned over the same period, with such reduction being the proportion of an eight-hour day (five days per week) occupied in private labor during the state-pension earning period (so no pension-worthy "overtime"); and

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George Zilbergeld  (August 9, 2009, 5:31 pm)

I think we need to focus on areas other than lower taxes and smaller government. Right now we are faced with massive corruption in New Jersey. Come to think of it, we have been faced with corruption ever since I was a child in New Jersey.

This seems like a good time to talk about conservatism in this area. As I understand it, a major reason people (including the Founding Fathers) are conservative is their bleak view of human nature. Their view has been that human nature is flawed and that these flaws (such as greed in this case) will show up in their major endeavors and that there are few greater endeavors than public ones. As the Greeks noted, politics is human nature writ large. Some current writers like Thomas Sowell have made this a major part of their philosophy. Mr. Sowell calls liberals people who have an unconstrained vision; they think that if only they were in charge, so much could be accomplished and it would all be free of past corruption (i.e., before they got in charge).

On college campuses, it seems to me that the left hates capitalism because they view capitalism and democracy as barriers to an even better society than now exists. I am worried because their views remind me of the attitudes prevalent in Germany between the World Wars. I don't think we are anywhere near there, but the attitude of the left is still worrisome. They will gain during this period of outrageous corruption if we don't make some suggestions for reform. Does anyone have any ideas in two areas:

1. How we can use this period of corruption to educate students? For example, this might be a time to talk about checks and balances which has become a kind of cliché without any punch. Would this be a good time to explain why the founders wanted to rely on strucure and a modest government, to save our liberties, as opposed to relying on good men alone.

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Peter C. Hansen  (June 28, 2009, 11:46 pm)

While my understanding is that the "American Clean Energy and Security Act" has no great chance of passing the Senate, I find it highly disturbing that some NJ Republicans almost alone helped it get through the House. In making some observations on this sorry event, I will for simplicity's sake look only to Leonard Lance, my own congressman and someone for whom I did a bit of campaigning.

In his relevant press release, Mr. Lance appears to base his support for this "long overdue step" on the alleged need for energy independence from anti-democratic countries and the need to reduce funding for terrorism. He also appears to think that NJ is already a "national model" for clean energy use, and that NJ is poised to do very well at increasing jobs under a massive energy-regulation scheme. He believes that a "national program" for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is in the "best interest" of the NJ economy. He was willing to vote for the program even though the Democrats wouldn't even let him bring to the floor an amendment to "provide some financial tax relief should this legislation adversely affect middle-class families." This rollover is perhaps explained by the fact that Mr. Lance has accepted the notion that a gigantic cap-and-trade system consciously designed to raise energy prices so much that consumer behavior is massively realigned will in fact be of "minimal" cost to the consumer, "equivalent to the prices of a first-class postage stamp a day."

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Christopher J. Obudho  (June 22, 2009, 4:49 pm)

All of the comments concerning public education funding have been enlightening to say the least. As a late-blooming college student, I have learned a lot from all of the writers here and from my current educational opportunities. As I'm sure most of you were, I am surrounded by leftist professors who unashamedly mock anything deemed "conservative" or had to do with former President Bush. Even more depressing, my classes are full of well-meaning, younger students with a propensity to fall for the leftist ideologies (some subtle, some not) of those professors. Given my relatively advanced age in these classes, I find myself the sole "common sense" thinker who is shocked almost daily at the laissez faire attitude of some of the these future leaders when it comes to discussions of freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and individual rights. Collectivism is the norm for these young adults and I'm truly concerned about the future sometimes.

All of that to say we can talk about funding until we're blue in the face, but results must be top-of-mind during all of these discussions. In a required history class I attended this past spring, I was amazed that not one other student in the class could name the first four Presidents of the United States! Most could honestly care less about the "history of old, dead white guys" (Professor's quote) and weren't ashamed to dismiss any discussions of the importance of the Founders. I would have thought that once one came to college and is paying for his/her education, that an increased level of seriousness would be prevalent (I guess I'm still pretty naive).

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Peter C. Hansen  (June 6, 2009, 1:00 am)

Murray, I can't say that I see a boundary on the NJ courts' authority being necessarily established by Article VIII(I)(7) of the NJ Constitution, which you quote. If the court were to determine that a "thorough and efficient system of free public school" is best represented by the most expensive one in the state (per Art. VIII(IV)(1)), it would presumably take little legal technique to find that the NJ Legislature must "reduce" or "offset" the property taxes that would have been paid by poorer school districts to create the same system. Since the NJ Constitution does not require the Legislature specifically to refund paid income tax, the "reduce" or "offset" language could likely be ignored in every practical sense since anything could theoretically be paid (and "offset") from a property tax. (I say all this informally, by the way, as I am not licensed in NJ as a lawyer.)

I would also like to engage a bit with your interesting points on school funding. You seem to be arguing that the costs of education should be borne by the parents as much as possible, except perhaps for a minimum per-pupil payment to parents from the state income tax. I agree in part and disagree in part. I find the per-pupil grant to the parents highly attractive, as it provides financial means to be educated but does not dictate where it must be spent. This allows for free competition among providers, and does not necessarily harm traditional public schools if they can provide services at a reasonable cost. (Indeed, I suspect as a practical matter that the state minimum fee would be carefully attuned to public school costs.)

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Murray Sabrin  (June 4, 2009, 10:16 am)

Most commentary, including the New Jersey Supreme Court decisions about funding public education in the state, cite the following constitutional amendment: "The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public school for the instruction of all children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen." (Article VIII, Section IV, paragraph 1)

However, the most important constitutional requirement regarding the funding of education can be found in Article VIII, Section I, pargraph 7.

"No tax shall be levied on personal incomes of individuals, estates and trusts of the State, unless the entire net receipts therefrom shall be received into the treasury, placed in a perpetual fund and be annually appropriated, pursuant to formulas established from time to time by the Legislature, to the several counties, municipalities and school districts of this State exclusively for the purpose of reducing or offsetting property taxes..." (Emphasis added)

According to the above sentence, the Supreme Court clearly overstepped its authority in creating a school funding formula in the Abbott and other decisions. The New Jersey State Constitution gives the Legislature, not the Court, the authority to decide how the income tax funds are to be distributed throughout the state.

Although the recent Supreme Court decision upholds Governor Corzine's new school funding formula, namely, that school aid should follow children who have special needs and should not be targeted by zipcode, the funding of education begs one huge question: Why do conservatives, who are supposed to be champions of free enterprise, continue to debate how to fix public, i.e., socialized, education?

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Peter C. Hansen  (June 3, 2009, 2:50 pm)

George, you make an excellent point about the need always to keep one's tone in mind when addressing persons or groups. While I don't find there to be a harsh tone or edge on this blog myself, this is something really in the eye of each beholder. If conservatism is to win friends in New Jersey (i.e. independents), it is critical that an appealing presentation be given to appealing ideas.

I was struck by your references to the (quite laudable) efforts of the Montclair professors' union to preserve free speech on campus and the right of professors to confront accusers. I think that you make a valid point when you show that unions can serve to protect classical liberties. I would doubt that anyone here would refuse to give the union credit on this count. At the same time, I have to take issue with your assertion that "[m]any union people and representatives are old fashioned liberals." If this were true in the broadest sense, I cannot see how teachers' unions could be the anti-competitive and anti-merit institutions that they so very often are.

If, however, you mean that most individual teachers oppose the thought police, and that a teacher's union will usually reflect this view, I think this is probably and happily true in the very large majority of cases. Even for my teachers who were obviously on the left, most of the time this meant simply that they wanted kids to think and imagine freely, without a lot of prejudices and constraints gumming things up. I was hugely grateful for this, and I still strongly believe that it's the best environment in which kids can develop their minds. Unless one is of a certain type of socially conservative bent or group, I find it hard to believe that many mainstream conservatives would find any qualm with such classic negative (i.e. pro-freedom) liberalness.

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George Zilbergeld  (May 29, 2009, 3:13 pm)

Here and elsewhere I note a harsh tone regarding public school teachers and teacher unions. Perhaps this is a bit of a mistake.

First, the harsh tone makes it difficult to recruit public school teachers to a more conservative view. This is not a lost cause, as anyone who knows any public school teachers knows. The official magazine of public school teachers noted a while back that 40% of the readers have a more conservative view than the teachers union has. From time to time, if you are a regular reader of such reading matter – and I admit it is heavy sledding, since the writers always seem to assume we are always in the 1930s – they will even publish letters from a disgruntled teacher who is angry about the consistently liberal view of the articles.

Second, things are so bad on my campus that our union is a conservative force compared to the leftist dingbats. For example, when the left wanted to have a speech code I wrote to the president that doing this would make Joseph Stalin proud, but would be wrong in America. That remark did little, but when the union went to the President and explained that a speech code was contrary to American values and might result in bad publicity, that ended the effort to have a speech code. The same thing happened (without my remark) when the left wanted to institute a system that allowed a student to make an accusation against a professor – which the professor would have to answer for – without knowing who made the charge, the union went into action again and we still have the same rights as regular citizens.

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James D. Agresti  (May 29, 2009, 12:08 pm)

When it comes to giving every child an opportunity for the best education possible, no principle has proven to be more important or effective than freedom. Upper and middle income parents exercise such freedom for the benefit of their children by virtue of where they choose to live and by sending their children to private schools. Why should this educational freedom be denied to lower income people when it can be easily provided while saving the taxpayers money?

This issue is especially important in a state like New Jersey, where we have school districts like Madison and Newark that are within 15 miles of one another, yet Madison is light-years ahead educationally, while Newark is spending 42% more money per student than Madison!

To claim, as liberals often do, that school choice or vouchers don’t work is as absurd as saying private schools or good public schools don’t work. Two months ago, Barack Obama declared that his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan,

“will use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.”
Obama and Duncan know what works as evidenced by the choices they make for their own families. Barack and Michelle Obama did what works for their children and placed them in a private school. Likewise, in an interview with Science magazine last month, Arne Duncan was asked where he sends his daughter to school, and he replied:

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Christopher J. Obudho  (May 29, 2009, 10:18 am)

Not to jump out of my lane, but I would be interested in hearing the thoughts of my fellow contributors on the NJ Supreme Court's ruling re Corzine's school funding formula. Having just reviewed some of the reactions across the state on the ruling, I get the sense that, at minimum, this ruling takes us into "fairer" territory with respect to education funding. At least the Court and the political branches have acknowledged that the Abbott districts should not be receiving the lion's share of the billions of dollars spent each year. I'm not saying that I am jumping up and down applauding this ruling, but in New Jersey, any legislation, policy or ruling that recognizes that dumping billions into mismanaged communities/schools isn't the way to go is a good thing. I'd still rather not see $8 billion spent on schools when high percentages of children can't read or write, let alone graduate. How will this work out on a practical, everyday level? It all depends on how much the Legislature is willing to stand up to the urban education lobby. If funding is reduced in the Abbott districts, they will scream bloody murder and threaten the re-election chances of those who supported the formula. We'll see. It sure will be interesting to watch.

Christopher J. Obudho  (May 25, 2009, 1:20 pm)

The bottom line that we can all agree on is that public education is about one thing and one thing only: educating young people. If we lose sight of that fundamental goal we are all lost. This, of course, is obvious, but getting tied down with different funding formulas misses the issue in my opinion. Even if we fund each child, through vouchers, income or property taxes at 10, 20 or 30 thousand dollars per pupil, the question becomes: are they effectively prepared to succeed in the real world (or more basically: are they learning anything)?

I've recently decided to return to college after many years and I must admit, the level of reading and writing skills among the students I'm in class with is appallingly low. Would vouchers or home schooling have helped these young people be more prepared for college-level work? Probably. But, the reason, I feel, that we are seeing such a crunch with respect to public education (results, costs, etc.), is the overwhelming power of the state teacher's unions. The teacher's unions have such a vise grip on the politicians of this state that any slight hint of a thought of a possibility of change is met with a flurry of accusations, posturing and good old-fashioned demagoguery. At what point will the teacher's unions accept the responsibility of teaching young people properly, taking pride in the duties they have and not looking for a life-long pension? Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with teachers wanting to work, be appreciated and be rewarded, but how on Earth could teachers honestly complain about a cut in pay or having to pay more into their health benefits (or whatever complaint they may have during contract negotiations) when stat after depressing stat shows that children are not able to do the basics necessary to compete (read, write, etc.)?

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Alan J. Steinberg  (May 24, 2009, 5:53 pm)

I applaud Murray Sabrin for his creativity and insight that he displayed once again in his article on public education. There are two issues that I raise in response.

The first is the issue of the New Jersey Constitution, which states in Article VIII, Section IV, paragraph 1, :

“The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years.”

This clause has been the subject of extensive litigation over the last five decades, most recently with the various Abbott v. Burke decisions of the New Jersey Supreme Court. I am hardly an expert on New Jersey Constitutional law. My instinct, however, is that Murray's recommendation that parents finance their own children's education, with their payments being deductible on their tax returns, would clearly fail to meet the "thorough and efficient" test, even with a conservative New Jersey Supreme Court.

Yet there remains an issue of whether the "thorough and efficient" clause requires public provisioning or public financing of education. Public provisioning means that the state must establish a public education system of "K through 12" education. Public financing means that the state provides sufficient financing to the parent of each student in order to enroll the child in a good "thorough and efficient" school, public or private. This could be done in the form of vouchers, which leads to my second issue: What is the most effective way for the state of New Jersey to provide a thorough and efficient system of education for the children of New Jersey ?

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Murray Sabrin  (May 14, 2009, 3:11 pm)

I am ecstatic we have a discussion about funding public education. We need to discuss this issue not only on this website but also at a "summit" in New Jersey where all the perspectives are brought together to hash out the pros and cons of public education as well as the funding of public education.

As Alan pointed out in his essay in response to my call for abolishing the income tax at both the federal and state levels, New Jerseyans and probably the general populace across America support government, i.e., taxpayer financed schools. This should not be surprising given the American people's support for educational opportunities for all children. But it does not follow logically that government-run schools and massive local property and state income taxes as well as federal tax dollars are required to provide quality education for all children.

Using this line of thinking, then, healthcare, food, housing, etc., should be provided by the government, otherwise how would all children grow up in a clean, safe, healthy environment without government help? Is it true that socialism is necessary to create a more perfect union? Sure we have government programs such as food stamps, housing subsidies, Medicaid, and SCHIP for low and middle income families. But these programs beg the question: is it right for the government to "plunder" a portion of society for the benefit of others, albeit for good ends?

This is the issue that divides mainstream conservatives from libertarian conservatives, who oppose all forms of coercion to achieve social ends. Clearly, the mainstream conservative viewpoint is in reality no different from the liberal perspective, we must have a comprehensive welfare state to address economic needs of low income families. The difference then between the mainstream conservatives and liberals is how big the welfare state should be. More on this in future posts.

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Peter C. Hansen  (May 11, 2009, 11:27 pm)

From the preceding entries, we appear to have come to a quintessential New Jersey issue – how to fund education?

Murray states in this regard as follows: "Local governments that run schools, especially urban school districts that rely on the state income tax for virtually all their funding, will have to rely on local resources and other creative means to deliver education to their youngsters."

Alan replies as follows: "There is, however, a general consensus widely held among the electorate that certain activities should be implemented through government. Among these are: ... 3) public education for students K-12 ...."

Jim provides in this respect a number of cautionary statistics about school funding to evidence the truth of the "adage, 'If you’re heading in the wrong direction, speeding up isn’t going to help.'"

Public education is a political reality in New Jersey, and arguably a valid public good as well (at least according to Alan). How then shall it be funded? Currently, it is done through a mix of property taxes and state taxes. This two-tier system allows for poorer districts to be subsidized from the state kitty, but also presents broad opportunities for abuse. For example, the taxpayer in Bergen has no proper say in how a Camden school spends his or her state tax money.

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James D. Agresti  (May 6, 2009, 4:13 pm)

In seconding what Mr. Obudho has so eloquently articulated, I’d like to elaborate on a principle of sound public policy. All too often, we innocently accept underlying assumptions without testing them to see if they are warranted. For instance, how do we know federal money given to Peter would “benefit” his fellow New Jerseyan Paul? Likewise, how do we know that paying taxes “to finance a public school system” produces a “well educated citizenry”?

The assumption is often made that government money injected into various spheres of society has positive effects. However, a great deal of data points to neutral or reverse correlations. Take education for example.

According to John Taylor Gatto, former New York City and New York State Teacher of the Year: “Abundant data exist from states like Connecticut and Massachusetts to show that by 1840 the incidence of complex literacy in the United States was between 93 and 100 percent….” Specifically, Gatto notes that the Connecticut census of 1840 found more than 99.8% of citizens to be literate. All of this was before government became significantly involved in education.

Contrast this with a 2001 U.S. Department of Education adult literacy study, which found that only 11% of people with a high school diploma and 50% of people with a four year college degree are capable of such essential literacy tasks as comprehending and explaining the difference between two types of employee benefits.

Furthermore, consider that over the last 30 years, education spending per student has more than tripled, even while adjusting for inflation. Yet, with all of this increased taxpayer money pored into public schools, reading and math competency for the average 17-year-old has remained stagnant.

Such examples are endless, and should give us pause before we presume that government expenditures will produce positive results. To take note of an adage, “If you’re heading in the wrong direction, speeding up isn’t going to help.”

Christopher J. Obudho  (May 6, 2009, 12:55 am)

This discussion has been enlightening and I appreciate all of the thoughts given. I would like to propose a hypothetical: What if we ended or drastically curtailed federal spending for those things that the Constitution does not mandate and only authorized spending for the "Common Defense" and "General Welfare" (Article I, Section 8)?

Common defense seems to be pretty clear, but the $64,000 question is: What does "General Welfare" mean? The obvious answer is: whatever the party in power thinks it means. It could mean $4 billion for ACORN or $27 million for "community development." This is how we've gotten ourselves into this pickle. If the spending (much of it duplicative) on a host of different federal (and state for that matter) programs was eliminated, where would we be? Would the people of this country revert to cannibalism and ravish the land? Or, would we find appropriate means to fill the gaps? Would brilliant entrepreneurs rise to the surface and figure out ways to help their fellow man? I think so. We've seen examples of this throughout our entire history as an independent nation (resource exploration, technology, etc.).

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Alan J. Steinberg  (May 4, 2009, 3:51 pm)


I agree with much of what you say in your excellent article. In particular, I agree with your support of a gas tax as a user fee on driving on the state's roads. Furthermore, I am in general support of your preference of certain activities not being a function of government but rather of the private sector.

There is, however, a general consensus widely held among the electorate that certain activities should be implemented through government. Among these are: 1) national defense and the maintenance of public safety; 2) a safety net for the infirm and less fortunate; 3) public education for students K-12; and 4) public transportation roadways and mass transit systems. As to these four functions, it is also generally agreed that society as a whole benefits from their proper implementation by the government at some level, even if certain categories of individuals are not direct beneficiaries.

For example, senior citizens are not direct beneficiaries of our public school systems. It is abundantly clear, however, that the entire polity benefits by having a well educated citizenry. Accordingly, given the general benefit to society, it is appropriate that all citizens pay tax to finance a public school system, even if they do not have children attending these schools.

Having established that there are certain legitimate activities of government, the question becomes one of the most fair and efficient methodology of funding.

Murray, I share in general your opposition to graduated income taxes. As the late Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman often noted, the income tax is not a tax on wealth, but rather on becoming wealthy. Graduated income tax structures actually inhibit economic mobility by government taking an increasing percentage of the income earned by an individual working his or her way up the economic ladder.

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Murray Sabrin  (May 1, 2009, 10:09 am)

The history of the income tax is one of deceit, dishonesty, and delusion. After the Supreme Court ruled the income tax unconstitutional in 1895 proponents of a direct tax on the people's income began a campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution. The Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was certified by the Secretary of State in February 1913, and what began as a modest tax—rates started at one percent and rose to seven percent—initially exempted 98% of the American people.

The income tax was enacted during the "reform" period known as the Progressive Era. The federal income tax was popular because the tax burden was now going to shift from the relatively high protective tariff on goods consumed by average working and middle class Americans to the country's rich who lived primarily in the Northeast. Instead of remaining a "rich man's tax" with rates under ten percent, the income tax morphed into a broad-based tax reaching marginal rates of 77% during World War I and 94% during World War II.

Rates were lowered during the 1920s under the leadership of Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon and were raised again during the Hoover and FDR New Deal policies. (President Herbert Hoover was the first New Dealer. See Robert Murphy's new book, Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal.)

Since the 1960s the top marginal tax rate has been reduced several times and is now under 40%. President Obama wants to raise the top rate to just under 40%, where it was under President Clinton. In other words, the president believes upper income earners should pay even more for the cost of running the federal government.

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Peter C. Hansen  (April 29, 2009, 3:29 pm)

Current federal deficit spending is doubtless cause for serious concern. At the same time, however, if strategic opposition to expansive federal spending prevents a tactical attempt by the NJ delegation to claw back more NJ federal tax, at least some of the "lost" money will go to subsidize the little empires of other states' politicians. This would not advance federal fiscal responsbility. Moreover, to use Murray's words (rather out of context), this would leave unremediated the "burden on [NJ] taxpayers who are trying to raise their families and improve their lives."

It would seem that the NJ delegation has in any event hardly been zealous in seeking federal spending from DC, since NJ is dead last in getting its money back (61¢ on the dollar). Paradoxically, a more vociferous and demanding NJ delegation could actually advance NJ conservative principles by sparking a serious inter-regional debate about the nature and purposes of federal spending. Moreover (although sadly less likely), if the NJ delegation were actually effective in clawing back a greater share of the federal tax paid by New Jerseyans, other states might be weaned a bit off the federal teat.

Now, a serious caveat must be raised at this point. Any tax "clawed back" from DC as spending would not go directly back to taxpayers, but would instead benefit politically favored persons and groups. Principled objections to this arrangement have already been articulated below quite effectively by Murray, Chris and Jim. Such objections are actually the same as those against NJ's subsidy of other states – i.e. no one has a right to take from another using the state. The objections articulated below seem, however, to include within their scope a blanket refusal to accept federal funds unless they take the form of direct and proportional refunds to individual taxpayers. In other words, if the feds rob Peter, New Jersey should not then pay Paul with the loot.

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James D. Agresti  (April 28, 2009, 5:34 pm)

When I read about the money that New Jersey and other states receive from the federal government, it reminds me why government spending at local, state and federal levels has spiraled upwards so rapidly.

Even though many voters consider themselves to be fiscally conservative, few are willing to forgo the taxpayer-funded largesse that benefits them. The justification is usually something like this: “I paid into the system and have a right to get some back.” By this logic, anyone who has ever paid taxes can justify riding the government gravy train.

The blind spot of those who rationalize in this manner is the failure to realize that the money we paid into “the system” is long gone. Government is not returning our money to us, but reaching into someone else’s wallet to fill ours.

I say it is time for principled individuals to lead by example. The left advances their political fortunes by appealing to greed and offering us the fruits of our neighbors’ work. By refusing to accept it, we do what is morally right and stiffen the spines of others who are with us in principle and will follow if we lead.

Christopher J. Obudho  (April 28, 2009, 7:43 am)

Senator Lautenberg's announcement of $27 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money, on its face, would make it seem as if he is doing what the voters of New Jersey sent him to Washington DC to do. I beg to differ. Our elected officials should be in the business of protecting the economic viability of our state and the nation, not simply crowing at the fact that they are sending our tax dollars back to us.

The issue of what money is sent to Washington as opposed to what we receive in return is missing the more fundamental problem of government. Granted, the defeatist may say that they're going to spend the money anyway, so we may as well get some of it back. As a conservative, however, it is more important to step back, face the fundamental issue of government control and spending, then work to change the mindset behind it.

This all may seem like grasping at straws (changing the mindset of government), but that is (and should be) the mission of conservatives all across the country. Unfortunately, in today's society, government is top-of-mind to many people regardless of ideology. Socioeconomic status or nationality doesn't matter either. "What can government do for me" is the common question (spoken or unspoken) too often asked before any other solution is even entertained.

As President, Thomas Jefferson said in his 1802 Annual Message: "To preserve the faith of the nation by an exact discharge of its debts and contracts, expend the public money with the same care and economy we would practice with our own, and impose on our citizens no unnecessary burden, are the landmarks by which we are to guide ourselves in all our proceedings."

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Murray Sabrin  (April 27, 2009, 7:47 pm)

Senator Lautenberg's office announced that New Jersey is receiving $27 million from a Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) as part of the federal stimulus program that supposedly will help low-income families weather the financial storm and improve their lives. This spending begs so many questions.

Let's start with the obvious. The federal government has to borrow every additional dollar for its "stimulus" program. The federal deficit will hit an unbelievable $1.75 trillion this fiscal year, triple the previous record. Borrowing money to redistribute income is "robbing" future generations for today's profligate spending. Second, redistributing income does not lift people out of poverty. Low income people need more desirable marketable skills that will boost their incomes. They don't need to become more dependent on DC or Trenton. In addition, low income couples and single women should have children they can afford to support. This is so politically incorrect, but true. To get out of poverty individuals and couples need to delay family formation until they are in a better financial position. That will take time.

In the meantime, low income folks who have more children than they can afford to raise are a burden on taxpayers who are trying to raise their families and improve their lives. Lastly, these funds should be rejected because they are fiscally irresponsible for the reasons I outlined above. No self respecting fiscal conservative should support Senator Lautenberg's continued fleecing of future generations and current taxpayers.

Peter C. Hansen  (April 27, 2009, 2:41 pm)

Today comes a press release from Senator Lautenberg announcing that New Jersey will be receiving $27 million in Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program funding "to put people back to work, reduce poverty, revitalize low-income communities and improve self-sustainability for low-income families." This comes to roughly $3 per person, equivalent to the "please check here to fund federal elections" box on one's tax return. It will doubtless leave unaffected the Garden State's rock-bottom ranking in getting value back from Washington (i.e. 61¢ back for $1 sent – see here for more).

Such an announcement can evoke mixed feelings in a conservative. On the one hand, when looked at as a simple return of tax paid, the $27 million reflects at least a feeble attempt to balance New Jersey's vast net export of income to Washington. Indeed, a NJ conservative might reasonably call on the DC delegation to demand even more money and a bigger piece of the pie, so that more money stays at home rather than getting spread about by, and to political benefit of, other states' politicians. (Doing so is hardly unpatriotic, if one makes the eminently reasonable assumption that some of the dollars lost to NJ are being spent on items that are not truly necessary and critical federal expenditures.)

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Peter C. Hansen  (April 15, 2009, 11:08 pm)

Welcome to what promises to be a fruitful discussion of the meaning of "conservatism" in New Jersey. As my article on this site, "Some Facts About New Jersey," makes clear, New Jersey has a great number of unusual characteristics that greatly affect its political and cultural thinking. The site's Contributors and Commentators will no doubt have such facts (and many others of similar import) in mind as they discuss how "conservatism" can be defined and applied in the unique setting of the Garden State.

As will quickly become clear, the participants on this site do not always see eye to eye on every issue. The discussion here is not intended to be proselytizing, but rather an effort to hash out what are now often murky areas of political thought. Ideas, values, social constructs, morals and dispositions are going to be revealed and examined by some of the top thinkers in the state. The result will almost certainly not be a single definition of "conservatism" for New Jersey, but instead a rich and diverse philosophical framework within which New Jerseyans (and others) can evaluate their own manner of thinking and the issues of the time.

We hope in all events that you will enjoy reading this discussion as much as we do.