Open Letter to Jeff Van Drew, Nelson Albino, and Matthew Milam

The Honorable Dr. Jeff Van Drew, Senator The Honorable Nelson Albino, Assemblyman The Honorable Matthew W. Milam, Assemblyman
21 North Main Street. Cape May Court House, NJ 08210

Gentlemen:

Your recent March 11, 2008 was most appreciated. Your 7-point plan is a small beginning to addressing the root cause of the continuing budget deficit. In itself it is not the answer, a beginning perhaps but not the solution.

I offer the following comments on your seven initiatives which it seems from your letter you believe will lead the state in the right and prudent direction to fiscal responsiblity:

• Regarding the Constitutional amendment SCR79, while it would end using non recurring revenues it does nothing to reduce the massive deficit.

• Again, it appears that all you are doing with Constitutional amendment SCR78, is prohibiting the State from borrowing money and incurring debt – without voter approval. What is needed is a moratorium on financing such as this; until the state has a fiscal plan that makes sense.

• With SCR50, you are amending the state Constitution by placing a cap on spending. What good is the cap when you still have not addressed the core issue – pension reform?

• S421, legislation introduced, would reduce the Trenton bureaucracy by 10 percent. This is a great idea, the problem is for this reduction to be meaningful it has to reach all levels of government – state, county, authorities and municipalities, otherwise it is self defeating.

• Constitutional amendment, SCR49, would create a “rainy day” fund. At this point in time it is a bad idea. Once you have a balanced budget; then perhaps you can put funds aside for a rainy day.

• Bill, S1388, for a new state Comptroller — a good idea, however, it is too late to attempt to rein in a runaway budget. All this new cabinet position will do is create more jobs and increase the cost of government.

• Bill, S230, to reduce unnecessary printing costs – a reasonable attempt, but, the end result in the state budget is a savings of pennies.

Unfortunately, fiscal stability can not be accomplished with piece meal legislation. You are right it will take courage on the part of the Legislature and the Governor, however, until the Legislature and the Governor addresses the root cause of the problem all you will continue to do is dig a deeper hole and find the state further in debt.

If there ever was a time for immediate action, the time is now.

The Governor and the Legislature must accept the fact that what is needed is a complete reform of the pension system. No matter what the pain the state must do away with double dipping, a massive reduction in the number of political appointments at all levels of government – state, county and local and at the same time a major reduction in the work force.

The Governor and the Legislature can no longer continue to dance around the real issue confronting all our citizens. Simply put, the issue is an excess of public employees collecting salaries, fringe benefits and pensions that the ordinary citizen and taxpayer never in their lifetime will collect.

It is painfully obvious that what we have here in New Jersey are two groups of citizens. The ordinary citizen who receives a modest pension and health program at retirement and at the other end of the spectrum we have the government employee, the elected officials and appointed officials who retire with excessive five and six figure pensions and health benefits adding an additional five figures to the retirement salary. This alone puts all government employees above the private sector employees; yet they still have a trump card. They have “colas” which increase their benefits every year.

The mission of the Legislature should be to recommend to the Governor that tolls should be increased a nominal amount. These funds should be dedicated to the toll roads to maintain their infrastructure. The funds should not be diverted to any other use.

The Legislature should recommend an increase in the gasoline tax. These funds should be dedicated to the Transportation Trust Fund. They should be used only for the secondary road system.

Finally, all pensions should be placed on the table and the Legislature should bring the pension and benefit system into the 21st century. What the legislature gave; the legislature can take away no matter how painful.

The retirement ages should be reconsidered along with programs such as the 401K type. If corporations can layoff tens of thousands of employees and adjust benefits and pensions; so too can the state take such drastic actions.

We can no longer wait. The time for action is now.

Very truly yours,

Louis C. Ripa, J.D., B.S.C.E.

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