New Jersey has seen a five percent reduction in its government workforce over the past 12 months, the largest drop of any state in the nation.
During that span 34,600 federal, state and local government workers have joined the ranks of the unemployed, putting the raw total of government jobs lost third behind only New York and California.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Bill Dressel, executive director of the State League of Municipalities. “I see that local governments in particular have been reducing their workforces quite dramatically over the past two years, more than I have ever seen in my tenure with the League. I suspect that trend will most definitely continue, hopefully not at that alarming rate.”
And while some call the decline in government employees good for residents burdened by bloated public payrolls, Dressel and others say the cuts no longer come from fat but from the bone of municipal and state services.
“When we start looking at reductions in fire and police and EMTs – social workers, public works employees and sanitation workers, you are talking about public services, you are talking about safety and quality of life and you are talking about cuts in some of the most important services that impact on people’s lives,” Dressel said.
Municipal police forces have been some of the hardest hit over the past 18 months, as some 3,800 cops have hit the unemployment line. The cuts have left a public safety void in places like Camden and Trenton that can ill afford rising crime.
“Today there are nearly 3,800 less officers in New Jersey than there were in January of 2010,” said state PBA President Anthony Wieners. “Our Cities and municipalities across the state have been forced to abandon the specialty units that were formed over the years. The progress we made in reducing crime and improving the quality of our communities is being lost. Narcotics and gang units officers have been placed back into patrol. The community building done through school resource officers and neighborhood units has been forgotten. Entire lists of crimes go unanswered because of budget cuts. There is little room for anything but 911 response in many of our cities.”
The cut in government employees directly coincides with the passage of the 2 percent cap on property tax levies that was passed by the Legislature last year. That cap, which was intended to lower property taxes, also coincides with the plummeting real estate market. The result? Less revenue to pay for government services.
“It has forced municipalities to make some difficult choices,” Dressel said.
A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, who fought for the cap on tax levies and preached shared sacrifice in a tough fiscal climate, did not return an email for comment.
For more coverage of municipal layoffs see below: