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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Big Change in New Jersey Coming

New Jersey is about to see if its fears hopes for cataclysmic change will come true when new Governor Chris Christie is sworn into office on Tuesday, January 19th.

Christie ran as a Republican promising serious change to a New Jersey which had become a national punchline (thanks to its proximity to New York City and "Saturday Night Live" writers) for corruption.   Indeed, Christie adopted the mantra of fighting a "culture of corruption" both as United States Attorney and as gubernatorial candidate.  

The promise of cultural change has thus far missed -- other than on this blog -- the need for a functioning independent press in New Jersey.   Most of the corruption problem in New Jersey may be traced, in one way or another, to an arrogance borne of a small-town, "everybody-knows-us" attitude which breeds a sense of insularity and "special treatment."   The "don't you know who I am" tantrum thrown by former Attorney General-for-a-few-months Zulima Farber in 2005 may have led to her resignation (at the behest of then Governor Jon Corzine), but had this occurred in New York, Farber would have been suspended within days and getting vilified daily by the tabloid press.    It is this killer-instinct press which New Jersey lacks, and which allows its more daring public officials to believe they can operate with a fair amount of impunity and without serious scrutiny.

The major reason for New Jersey's culture of corruption is, in my opinion at least, the myriad of small towns, interlocking boards and authorities and the spiderweb of bureaucracies which offer opportunities for "part-time" salaries, pensions, perks, rolodex-building and other activities.   Again, this does not happen to the same degree in New York City (whose population is roughly equal to that of all of New Jersey), because of the second reason:  the press there is simply far more active than it has been in New Jersey.

New Jersey's major press outlets (the Star-Ledger, the Record of Hackensack, and the Asbury Park Press) have all been suffering and cut back their reporting corps.   The Star-Ledger and Record now share much of their content.   The result is that there are very few intrepid writers on the beat to entertain, track down and reveal instances of gross misconduct.  New Jersey residents have seen the result.   Now, enough residents got fed up with the corruption to throw out of office a non-machine Democratic Governor and elect a Republican with no apparent platform other than corruption-fighter.

If all Christie does is fight public corruption, that alone may improve the quality of life in New Jersey.   However, the corruption is cultural, systematic, and endemic.   It touches all corners of public life.   This will be a tough task, as tough as it is necessary.   Without at least diminishing the corrosive nature of corruption in New Jersey, it will be difficult to reduce the strangehold of the public sector managers upon the decisionmaking at all levels of government.   Until the highly-paid, multi-job-holding managers get their responsibilities and powers reduced, state spending will not be controlled, budget deficits will continue to grow with little hope of being controlled and the real tax burden upon the rest of New Jersey will continue to increase.  If these trends continue, state residents and businesses which have the ability to move will become more inclined to do so.   Some of this movement may even occur back to New York City, reversing a decades-long trend.   Hence, the next few months and years under the new Governor will be critical.

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