Privatization bill released

TRENTON – There was wide-ranging debate on a bill concerning privatization of public services that was released mostly along party lines by the Assembly Labor Committee.

The bill states that no public services would be privatized unless there’s a demonstrated cost savings, no additional fees are charged to the public, and level of services is not compromised. A cost analysis would need to be provided to detailing the cost savings, according the bill.

Pay for privatized employees would not be less either. The bill state states that “contractor employees have qualifications and wage and benefit rates at least equal to the agency employees currently performing the services.”

The bill would not apply to current/existing contracts, but just contracts approved following the bill’s enactment.

Michael Egenton of the state Chamber of Commerce said the bill amounts to “an anti-privatization” bill that would discourage potential bidders and wind up costing taxpayers more in the long run.

Dave Brogan of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association said the bill would create disincentives, saying the bill’s provision that salaries remain in the same in privatized plan would likely mean little to no savings.

“Labor costs are the biggest part of contracting,” he pointed out. “The bill would create less competition.”

Carol Katz, who was representing the Bus Association of New Jersey, also said the will “would stymie contracting and cost taxpayers money.”

But Seth Hahn, who represents the 70,000-strong Communication Workers of America said the system for privatizing functions in New Jersey are “broken beyond repair,” and has resulted in slashed pay for workers while company heads and CEOs “get paid handsomely.”

“This very literally means human lives are at stake,” he said.

He pointed out last year’s expose in the New York Times that detailed how poor the safety was at a private halfway house that the Department of Corrections contracted with to cut costs.

Hahn even took a shot at NJTV, asking if anyone thought public television was running better today than when NJN was operating. The transfer cost 90 jobs, he said.

John Donnadio, executive director of the New Jersey Association of Counties, said the bill would add “an unnecessary level of bureaucracy” at a time when counties are trying to find efficiencies. He added, “counties should have autonomy.”

But Eric Richards of AFL-CIO said the bill helps implement “best practices” and puts in place “common sense mechanisms.” He pointed out that a report from a task force headed by former Congressman Dick Zimmer had recommended doing a cost analysis prior to the approval of contacts, which bill A998 does.

The bill was released along party lines, with Assemblymen Jay Webber and Parker Space voting no, and Democrats voting yes. But Assemblyman Ron Dancer abstained.

Privatization bill released