BY TOM HESTER SR.
A task force created to recommend ways to privatize New Jersey's state government operations has offered Gov. Chris Christie eight major proposals, including entering into long-term concession agreements for the operation and management of all state parks, contracting for highway maintenance work, and outsourcing worker's compensation claims and all pension, payroll and benefit payments systems.
The report identifies more than $200 million in potential cost savings from across state agencies.
The New Jersey Privatization Task Force has also recommended outsourcing housing and uniform construction code inspections, exploring opportunities to privatize health care and food services with the state prison system, and privatizing manual toll collections on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Two other recommendations call for the outsourcing of boiler and pressure vessel inspections and the full decentralization of passenger vehicle inspections.
Christie Friday welcomed the report, calling it a path to a more efficient, cost-effective government.
"In March, I asked the Privatization Task Force to develop a strategy that would reduce the size, scope and cost of state government," the governor said. "What they have provided is a path for change that will benefit New Jersey's taxpayers through improvements in the quality of public service programs and services delivered to our citizens without placing further burdens upon the state budget. I look forward to further reviewing these recommendations."
If Christie decides to move on the recommendations, at least some would need the approval of the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) and Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) said the recommendations represent what they described as more Republican tax and fee hikes on working class New Jerseyans.
"Well, there he goes again," Greenwald said. "It's becoming clear this governor hasn't met a fee hike on average New Jerseyans that he couldn't embrace, and fee is just another three-letter word for tax."
Oliver and Greenwald charge that the recommendations would have motorists pay for their own emissions tests. They said the plan also gives new life to the failed 1990s plans to privatize inspections.
Oliver said she expects to call a Budget Committee hearing to look into the plan.
"This plan and its tax hikes on average New Jerseyans will require a hard analysis," Oliver said. "It was bad enough Governor Christie's budget included more than $1 billion in tax increases on average New Jerseyans. Now he wants to sting residents with even more fees for services such as car inspections. Where does it stop?"
Christie maintains that overall, privatization has been used effectively by the federal government, other states and by some New Jersey state departments and municipalities, resulting in efficiencies and cost savings for labor and technology, competitive procurement improvements, enhanced timeliness and increased access to outside expertise and innovation for these organizations.
Gathering input from an array of privatization experts, so-called stakeholders and the public, the five-member task force held hearings in Trenton, Summit and Voorhees to help formulate its recommendations to privatize some operations of state government.
According to the report, to establish privatization as an effective policy, an appropriate management structure should be in place, suitable policies should be adopted and best practices should be followed.
"Our Task Force learned that major privatization initiatives succeed only when they are undertaken by a leader with the political will to overcome bureaucratic inertia and confront entrenched interests," said former Congressman Dick Zimmer, who chaired the task force.
Christie signed Executive Order 17 creating the task force on March 11 to examine areas where government services and functions could be provided by the private sector.
Besides Zimmer, the task force members included Todd Caliguire, president of ANW/Crestwood Inc.; Kathleen Davis, vice president and COO of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey; John Galandak, president of the Commerce & Industry Association of New Jersey, and Dr. P. Kelly Hatfield.