If you are going to take our State aid, give us Home Rule

On January 6, 2010, several newspapers published articles with titles like “no more aid for struggling cities”, “Christie will cut state aid” and the like; furthermore, in the body of these articles our Governor was quoted stating “You better budget based upon what you can raise”, “don’t look to Trenton” and “We don’t have the money.” I completely understand where he is coming from. However, if you are going to take our State Aid, give us Home Rule.

According to Horace E. Deming – a champion of Home Rule in the early 20th Century, “A local government needs from the central government, the state, nothing but adequate power to exercise the functions of local government.” (see footnote 1) What does this mean? It means that, in order for our cities to provide the effective and efficient government that our constituents deserve, State government should play a supportive not a domineering role. Think about it. How many times have city councils throughout the state tried to enact progressive ordinances only to be preempted by State law and thus found to be null and void; or attempt to negotiate a fair contract with our unions only to be pushed to the sidelines as a state arbitrator takes over negotiations and bestows upon the union an excessive award that cities cannot afford and continue to push us closer to the abyss of insolvency. Nobody can describe the predicament that city governments find themselves better than Mr. Deming when he wrote “Examples abound of the loss and damage to the city through its want of sufficient legal power to guard or promote the interest of its citizens. The city government is to a marked degree a helpless government.” (see footnote 2) Some of this damage can be seen in issues like our inability to regulate liquor stores, the times a business can stay open and lax residency requirements for public employees.

This damage can be reversed by creating a city government that is not helpless but resilient and self sufficient. To reverse the damage, provide us with the power to enforce residency requirements.

While other places have no jobs, there are thousands of jobs in the City of Paterson. But, most of them have been taken by individuals that do not live in our city and to make matters worse, these jobs are passed down to family members as if they were family heirlooms. This has created an economic crisis as our resources are funneled out of our city. For instance, the Paterson Public Schools budget is more than half billion dollars and most of that half billion is use to cover salaries; but most of that money never makes it to our coffers as more than 80% of teachers rush out of our City at the end of the school day – some as far as Pennsylvania. Furthermore, the City of Paterson’s budget is more than $200 million and more than 50% of it goes to pay our Police officers and Firefighters; Once again, most of them live outside the city, and just like teachers contribute very little or nothing to our local economy and our tax base. “Examples abound” of how detrimental this type of state oversight is to cities in the State of New Jersey.

The impact of allowing cities to enforce residency requirements will be an increase in home sales and therefore home ownership; a healthier tax base; an increase in our local economic output; safer streets; a “public workforce that reflects the community they serve.” (see footnote 3) The latter statement is a quote from the City Council of Nottignham (UK) Website, which also states that the reason why they have residency requirements “is because many areas of Nottingham have high levels of unemployment and although people in the City have the skills needed to do the jobs when vacancies are opened up more widely then often miss out.” (see footnote 4) Isn’t this in the same predicament that most of our cities find themselves?

Nevertheless, it is needless to say that unions will jump into the debate and argue that such ordinance, stipulating residency requirements, would be unconstitutional. It is not. “Generally, residency requirements have been upheld and deemed constitutional by federal courts so long the employing jurisdiction has demonstrated some rational basis for the provision.” (see footnote 5) Our rationale for demanding the ability to enforce residency requirements is reflective, if not similar, of Governor Christie’s rationale for cutting aid to the cities: We are broke!

The state’s repressive and sometimes archaic laws preventing cities from running city government in the most effective and efficient manner; while at the same time maximizing the quality of life of our residents, is one, if not the most important factor, impeding the progress of our cities. If the Governor would like us to take care of our budget; then untie our hands, give us the tools we need to generate revenue for our cities so we can deliver the goods for our residents without extraordinary assistance from the State.

Footnotes:
1) The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, “What is Home Rule” http://www.celdf.org/HomeRule/WhatisHomeRule/ta…
2) Committee on Municipal Nomination Reform, By Horace E. Demind, Esq. Chairman, National Municipal League, New York City (1905)
3) Nottingham City Council Website, “Job applications and residency requirements” http://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/index.aspx?art…
4) Nottingham City Council Website, “Job applications and residency requirements”
5) The Rights of Law Enforcement Officers (Second Edition), Will Aitchison, © 1992, Labor Relations Information System, Portland Oregon, pg. 173.

If you are going to take our State aid, give us Home Rule