TRENTON – Dropping the gavel, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) starts this hearing on privatization of transportation services by sounding a cautionary note to Dick Zimmer, the chair of Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s privatization task force, and James Simpson, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation.
“Privatization is an issue that seems to come and go in cycles,” said Wisniewski, who notoriously gave former Gov. Jon Corzine a beat down when the governor waded into a series of ultimately fruitless chalk talks on monetizing New Jersey’s highways. “There are times it is talked about a lot, and then fades into the background. It is always slightly below the surface and seems to come out when economic conditions are tougher.”
A Democrat – and chair of the State Democratic Committee – Wisniewski quoted Republican President Abe Lincoln to ruffle the ideological feathers early of Zimmer and Simpson.
A butchered, paraphrased version of the quote: “The Legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people… what they cannot do so well for themselves in their individual capacities.”
“This is existential question of government itself,” said the chair, straining the individual intellects of the people in the room who have only the vaguest of memories of Camus’s “The Stranger.”
But Simpson didn’t blink.
“I went all around with Bush, and this is the smartest legislature I’ve seen,” he told a gaggle of Republican legislators before the hearing, who cracked up nervously when informed that the observation was practically a newsflash.
Now Zimmer attempted to go toe to toe with Wisniewski by trotting out the quote of a Democrat: former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.
“It is not government’s obligation to provide services but to see that they are provided,” quoted Zimmer, who later gave what he said were successful public-private partnership examples undertaken by Chicago Mayor Daley and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
Simpson went to the mic next.
“Just because we do a public private partnership doesn’t mean we’re going to throw out the existing work force and bring in a new work force – it doesn’t mean that at all,” he said.
In the next breath, he mentioned that one of his recommendations is the privatization of part-time toll collecters in South Jersey.