BY TOM HESTER SR.
Gov. Chris Christie Thursday signed an executive order creating a task force to determine how to privatize the work of some state agencies or the jobs of state employees beginning in January.
The "New Jersey Privatization Task Force'' is directed to determine how to cut the size and cost of the state government by identifying which jobs or agencies could be operated by a private contractor and how it could be done.
Former New Jersey congressman Dick Zimmer, now a Washington lobbyist, was named to head the five-member commission. The panel is to submit its recommendations by May 31. Christie would attempt to implement recommendations during the 2010-11 fiscal year that begins July 1.At a Statehouse news conference, Christie declined to identify what agencies or jobs could be privatized, but said he would not privatize the State Police or toll roads.
The privatization action shows Christie's intent to layoff state workers, a move sure to raise a strong protest by their unions.
Christie is timing any layoffs for January so he would not be subject to a contract agreed to by Gov. Jon Corzine that would require the state to provide millions in pay hikes to workers who kept their jobs.
The contract calls for raises of between 7 percent and 11 percent for thousands of public employees in 2011, Christie said he must do all that is necessary to blunt what he described as poorly conceived and ill-timed contractual obligations that would effect the 2010-11 and 2011-12 state budgets.
"We are stuck with this problem, but that does not mean I am barred from finding a way to fix it," Christie said. "I don't think you will find private sector employees anywhere enjoying the luxury of an 11 percent raise next year. It was a promise that the state cannot afford and should never have been made in the first place."
The contract deferred for 18 months a 3.5 percent raise workers were due last July 1 and ordered a no-layoff pledge through next December.
"Delivering programs and services to our citizens is government's primary job, but I have asked the task force to look for places where we can do this in a more efficient, cost-effective way by having the private sector do it," Christie said. "This full review will allow the Lt. Governor and me to make carefully informed decisions on where and how to do this as we continue to responsibly manage state government. It will also make recommendations for how privatization could improve operations and reduce costs for municipalities, school districts and counties."
The other members of the task force are: Todd Caliguire, Kathleen Davis, John Galandak, and P. Kelly Hatfield.
In the past, the state government has had problems with private contractors, including Gov. Christie Whitman's contracting with the Parsons Corp. to run motor vehicle inspections in the 1990s. The move was a debacle, costly to the state and ridden with politics.
"This is a new day and a different administration,'' Christie said.
"The track record fro privatization is very bad for New Jersey and elsewhere,'' Bob Master, spokesman for the Communications Workers of New Jersey, the state's largest public employee union. "You get a real deterioration of services and you don't save any money.''
Christie's order also grabbed the attention of the Sierra Club of New Jersey, and leaders expressed concern the task force is part of a plan to weaken environmental protections and enforcement in New Jersey.
"We're troubled that the executive order will be used to eliminate employees in the DEP and other agencies,'' Director Jeff Tittel said. "The task force is stacked with lobbyists and industry representatives with clients who would be affected by privatization. We're concerned privatization will allow firms with relationships to polluters and developers to write their own permits, resulting in an overall weakening of environmental protections and creating conflicts of interest. The concern we have is that we'll be turning the henhouse over to the fox to be guarded.''
Tittel said outsourcing government functions would make decisions less transparent and limit the ability of citizens to get access to permits and other environment reviews.
Zimmer, of Delaware Township, is an attorney who represented the 12th District in Congress. He is currently president of Zimmer Strategies, Inc., an independent lobbying firm. From 2001 until 2009, he was of counsel with the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
Caliguire, of Ridgewood, is a lawyer and co-president of ANW/Crestwood Inc., a paper distribution firm, where he is responsible for the company's finances and operations. In 1982, he was appointed as assistant legal counsel to Gov. Tom Kean, and later became counselor to the governor, serving as Kean's senior policy advisor..
Davis, of West Deptford, is vice president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey. She is responsible for directing public policy.
Galandak, of Sussex County, is president of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, a statewide business advocacy organization with offices in Paramus and Trenton.
Hatfield is an environmentalist, and a former Summit mayor and councilwoman, and college professor.