Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Casagrande on Waste and Property Taxes
Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande delivered the following remarks at a press conference this morning:
Good morning and thank you for joining us here today to talk about the number one issue on most people’s minds in New Jersey – property taxes.
I say “most” of the residents of New Jersey, because it’s obvious that while property taxes may be the number one issue for people whose doors I’ve knocked on in the 12th District, it’s not nearly as important to Governor Corzine and the Democrats who have controlled Trenton for the last 8 years.
I am here this morning to talk about the incredible amount of taxpayer money which is spent irresponsibly by this state government.
But first I want to take a moment to address a fable which has been repeated often enough this campaign season that it has assumed the mantle of truth.
If you listen to Governor Corzine, you’d think that New Jersey’s financial health was just fine, thank you, until this pesky recession came along and knocked us temporarily off stride.
Simply put, this is a bald faced lie.
In 2006, when Governor Corzine took office, the warning lights were already flashing brightly for anyone who wanted to see them.
The Democrats who controlled Trenton had spent the previous four years on a taxing, spending and borrowing spree the likes of which had never been seen in this state.
Governor Codey had already uttered his famous line “we’re pretty much broke”.
Did Governor Corzine make the difficult decisions that might have put New Jersey in a position to weather the coming storm?
Did he stop the spending, borrowing and taxing which had already put the state’s finances in a precarious position?
Did he ask state agencies to do more with less?
The Governor increased spending 10 percent that year, with massive tax increases to pay for it.
Then the following year, with the national financial meltdown on our doorstep, he again proposed a nearly 9 percent increase in spending.
In the face of a recession, he raised taxes, raised tolls, and placed new unfunded mandates on businesses.
"Yet somehow, the problems we face in New Jersey are not his fault?"
No Governor. They’re you’re fault.
In his first budget address, Governor Corzine said "If you don't like what I've proposed, then give me an alternative that is as far-reaching and as fair. If you don't like the taxes, give me more cuts.”
Republicans in the Legislature took the Governor’s challenge seriously.
Over the course of the last 4 years we’ve identified billions of dollars in spending cuts which could have reduced our bloated budget and freed up more money for the tax relief which is so desperately needed.
Sadly, they were almost universally ignored.
My constituents often ask me what we do with their money in Trenton.
They don’t understand why their taxes are always going up- whether it’s their property taxes, income taxes, the state sales tax or some other toll, fee, charge or surcharge.
The answer is simple – far too much of it is wasted or abused by various state departments and government agencies.
To some cynics, “Waste, Fraud and Abuse” has become a vague, catch-all phrase used by politicians to describe some imaginary cost savings in our budget.
But I am here to tell you it is REAL, it is SIGNIFICANT, and it is taking place at every level of government.
State employees know this better than anyone.
After being approached by so many of them with tales of misspent taxpayer money, I launched a website, www.stopgovernmentwastenj.com, so they could anonymously report their stories.
To date, the site has received more than 200 e-mails from whistleblowers.
You’d be amazed at some of the things I found out.
For example, I found that the state had 10,170 passenger vehicles at the end of 2008, and 1,747 were individually assigned to a state employee. The state should no longer afford to provide these cars to individual employees to commute to and from work.
I found that the state has issued 18,639 cell phones, Blackberries and other PDAs to state employees.
Of the 2,400 Motor Vehicle Commission employees, more than 1 in 5 has a state-issued cell phone despite the fact that virtually all of them work at a place where land line phones are available.
105 of the 240 full time employees at the Department of Agriculture have a state owned cell phone. Do 44% of Department of Agriculture employees really need a state cell phone?
I found out that a state contractor for parolee supervision offers parolees gift cards for good behavior. Apparently the prospect of staying out of jail is not enough for parolees, we now have to bribe them with taxpayer funded goodies.
The evidence of waste and abuse is everywhere. When Governor Corzine sought to increase tolls on the Parkway and Turnpike by 800%, I asked to see the Turnpike Authority budget. What I found was unbelievable.
The Authority pays administrative assistants $85,142 a year, nearly $35,000 more than the average salary for executive secretaries and administrative assistants in the state.
The Authority employs a Government Relations Specialist- essentially a lobbyist- for $78,881. I’m not quite sure why a government authority needs a lobbyist, but I know that over $78,000 for the position is too much.
The Authority pays a New Business Development Coordinator nearly $98,449. I suggested to them that they could save the 98 grand and develop some new business by lowering the tolls so more people could afford to drive on their roads.. They didn’t think that was funny.
It seems like not a day goes by without a report of bus drivers paid overtime to charge their cell phones, or some unknown authority holding a lavish dinner for its highly paid, part time commissioners.
In the best of financial times, this is offensive and wrong. With the state facing an $8 billion dollar budget deficit, and with people and businesses moving out of New Jersey at an alarming rate it simply cannot be allowed to go on any longer.
I have proposed that we allow independent auditors to review the state’s books and pay them on a contingency fee of what they can recover for the state. The State Comptroller’s office cannot possibly oversee nearly 75,000 employees has 56 employees. If we are ever going to rein in the massive waste of taxpayer dollars in this state, we are going to have to think outside the box for ways to do it.
What we cannot do however, is continue down the same path that we have traveled for the last 8 years.
We cannot allow the same party which has controlled Trenton for the last eight years- with the same people and the same political machines- to tax, spend, and borrow us into bankruptcy.
Governor Corzine has made it clear he will continue his failed policies of the past. He has no plan to reduce the tax burden in New Jersey.
Rather than look for ways to cut real spending and root out the kinds of waste I’ve just detailed, he’s going reduce aid to local school districts which, in turn, will increase property taxes.
He’ll under fund the state’s pension system again and despite his promise that the recent income tax hike would be temporary, he says he’ll extend it.
For the last several years, Republicans in the Legislature have put forth a rational, viable common sense plan to reform government.
It includes specific spending cuts, restructuring government in an effort to offer more property tax relief, and an economic development plan to create jobs and make New Jersey a business friendly state once again.
In three weeks, we expect to finally have a partner in the Governors office who understands that New Jersey taxpayers are in need of relief, and that it’s time for Trenton to get serious about creating a smaller, leaner, more efficient government.
We expect to have a few more Republicans in the Assembly too.
It’s obvious Governor Corzine and Democrats have clearly forgotten for whom they work and are accountable to – the New Jersey taxpayer.
Republicans have not. We will continue to fight to make New Jersey affordable for everyone.