On the day of his inauguration, Governor Christopher Christie inherited a gaping $2 billion hole in the state’s budget and swiftly set about the people’s business in meeting our constitutional mandate guaranteeing a balanced budget. Shortly thereafter, he declared a State of Fiscal Emergency via Executive Order No. 14, effectively freezing most government spending with the intent of ensuring “that appropriations are not used to support waste, mismanagement or extravagance in a time of severely diminished fiscal resources.” While most rational citizens would agree that state spending has exploded and that much of the $550 million in frozen spending could clearly be characterized as “waste” or “extravagance” or even “mismanagement”, there is one cut that most certainly does not: the New Jersey Sharing Available Resources Efficiently (NJ SHARE) Grant—commonly referred to as the “Shared Services Grant.”
The NJ SHARE Grant, within the Department of Community Affairs, gives municipalities considering the consolidation, regionalization, or otherwise sharing of municipal services including police forces, public works departments, municipal courts, finance offices and other government functions the financial ability to professionally, impartially and dispassionately study and implement the very shared and consolidated services Governor Christie routinely tells us are a critical component to reducing government operations and effectively cutting the cost of government. In an interview with CNBC on February 18, 2010, when asked if the people of New Jersey are ready for consolidation of services, Governor Christie replied “I think they are ready for shared services. That’s the first step towards consolidation . . . all different aspects of shared services.”
If responsibly and professionally planned, advised and executed, shared services and municipal consolidation plans are the most indispensable way to drastically cut the costs of government operations. A quick look at just ten NJ SHARE Grants awarded clearly proves this, reiterating just how invaluable and crucial this grant is. Between these ten grants, $243,073 was awarded to different municipalities. The savings projected in the first year alone for these municipalities would result in a 2,920% return on the initial investment money. After ten years, a staggering $71 million in costs would have been saved as a direct result of the expenditure of less than a quarter of a million dollars.
Although Governor Christie is keeping his promise of maintaining taxes at their current level, his emergent actions threaten to hurt New Jersey in a number of ways. Some may argue that other cuts being made are far more devastating, such as those to pension and medical benefit costs, or money for school districts. However, it is critical to note that even though these cuts are upsetting to some, the most detrimental cut to the population in general (and to statewide long-term, cost-cutting efforts specifically) is the elimination of the NJ SHARE Grant–the sole part of the budget with the exclusive purpose of reducing the size of local government.
There is no doubt that Governor Christie is faced with many difficult decisions to make. The easiest one he could make would be to give municipal leaders back the one tool they had relied upon to greatly reduce spending; reinstate the NJ SHARE Grant. The decision to eliminate this grant as part of the solution to the budget deficit is one that needs to be reevaluated on a number of levels. First of all, freezing this grant eliminates the only portion of the state budget designed to save tremendous sums of essential funds. The money that could be saved because of this grant would result in exponentially greater savings than those that would be attained by simply eliminating it. Not only that, but the Governor clearly advocates the sharing of services in order to use money more efficiently, as he has stated through his own campaign, speeches, and even in interviews. This demonstrates the fact that the decision to eliminate the grant is shortsighted at best. It is obvious that the elimination of this grant will only add to our collective financial problem. The NJ SHARE Grant is a key part of our state’s long-term, cost-cutting solution.