While our leaders debate stabilizing property taxes and other current issues, it would be beneficial to understand how these matters and their potential solutions fit into a vision and a long-term plan to catalyze sustained growth and prosperity for our State.
We should ask, what will New Jersey look like in 10 or 20 years? How will a future generation of our Garden State citizens view our stewardship of our state's rich historic assets, diverse natural resources and significant infrastructure? Are we really preparing for tomorrow's needs?
When we watch our state leaders deliberate important matters, settling on short-term, split-the-difference agreements that sunset in a couple of years, rather than agreeing to substantial change with a lasting impact on government, it makes us curious what the long-term plan is for our state, or if there even is a long-term plan.
Watching these debates makes, me reflect on the time I spent as a commissioner on the New Jersey State Planning Commission. It was there with representatives of state agencies and fellow public members that we observed — short and long term — trends and issues that required attention.
Together we used research, current information and our own insight, to discuss proposals on how to advance a clear vision for a dynamic prosperous State. This dialogue resulted in a consensus on the goals and policies that were meant to guide leaders at all levels of government.
This was followed by a public process called ‘cross-acceptance' which provided everyone an opportunity to offer suggestions for improvements to the Plan. This public input led to enhancements in the Plan and contributed to the broad support for the State Plan when it was finally adopted in March 2001.
Then as Secretary of Agriculture, again a member of the State Planning Commission, now representing a state agency, Department of Agriculture staff worked with farm leaders to develop an Agricultural Smart Growth Plan. Farmers endorsed this agricultural planning initiative that was one of the first in the nation. Seventeen New Jersey counties and 43 of its municipalities followed this worthy effort by creating their own plans for preserving farmland and supporting the farming industry.
This agricultural planning initiative was seamlessly consistent with the State Plan. Exactly the coordination the authors of the initial law that created the Commission were thinking, when using the following language drafting the law:
Coordinate planning activities and establish Statewide planning objectives in the following areas: land use, housing, economic development, transportation, natural resource conservation, agriculture and farmland retention, recreation, urban and suburban redevelopment, historic preservation, public facilities and services, and intergovernmental coordination (N.J.S.A. 52:18A-200(f)).
Governor Tom Kean signed the State Planning Act. So, one might ask, what's the problem?
The State Planning Commission has not had a quorum for a meeting in a year. The current State Plan was adopted 10 years ago and should be updated as the law requires. There seems to be no discussion on the future of our Garden State in the 10 to 20 year horizon.
Without a clear comprehensive long-term plan for the future, today's decision makers are oblivious to how their decisions help or hinder tomorrow's citizens.
With unemployment at historic highs, public programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, experiencing year-over-year participation growth of 27 percent and government services being stretched at all levels, it is time to think differently about how government is run.
If the plan is to advance energy policy; overhaul education; continue to improve an intermodal transportation system; explore new ways to govern more effectively and catalyze economic growth, there needs to be coordination. While these initiatives are important and must be addressed, it is the understanding of how they interrelate and fit in a long term plan that will make a difference for future residents of our state.
It is amazing there still needs to be a discussion about the merits of long-term planning. Most companies do business planning; to conserve resources and target their assets to advance strategies they believe will help their businesses grow.
Now is the time to utilize the resources of all the state agencies along with the State Planning Commission, and the public forum it provides, to facilitate a robust discussion to update the State Plan.
Let's all work to keep our Garden State green and growing.
Charles Kuperus, a Sussex Borough farmer, served as New Jersey's Secretary of Agriculture from 2001-2008. He's on the Internet at CharlieKuperus.com.
ALSO BY CHARLES KUPERUS