E-mails show frustration with NJ government

April 8, 2008 6:08:19 PM PDT
Robert Freschi has had enough. "Let me first state that my wife and I are both retired, and that I seriously doubt we'll be able to afford to live in New Jersey much longer," he wrote in an e-mail to the governor's office. "There is no rational reason why our state is at or near the top in so many expense categories."

But a look at hundreds of budget-cutting suggestions e-mailed by the public to Gov. Jon S. Corzine's office shows many New Jerseyans firmly believe they know the reason - way too much government and cushy benefits for government workers.

"All I hear is cuts and freezes that once again, as usual, involve us the taxpayer!" wrote John Turner. "We are not a profit center! Why don't I ever hear what REALLY needs to be cut?"

The suggestions were sent to Corzine's office through a Web site the governor's office created to hear budget-cutting suggestions. Corzine is proposing $2.7 billion in cuts as he tries to fix troubled state finances, but said he also wanted ideas from the public.

The Associated Press obtained 750 pages of e-mail copies through an open public records request. The administration redacted some information, including the hometowns of those who sent e-mails.

The e-mails indicate frustration with a state that has the nation's highest property taxes, third highest overall tax burden, a state government that spends $33 billion per year and tax bills from 21 counties, 566 municipalities, 616 school districts and 186 fire districts.

"Consolidate or regionalize school districts!" wrote Carol Moninghoff-Allen. "There are too many!!"

Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said Corzine understands the message.

Stainton noted Corzine's plan calls for eliminating three state departments, cutting 3,000 state workers, calls for no tax increases and boosts overall property tax relief. She also cited last year's state worker contract that called for health care contributions from state workers, an increased retirement age and pension reforms.

Residents had their own ideas on where the cash-strapped government should make cuts, many of them targeting state workers who many contend enjoy lush taxpayer-funded benefits.

"You're a nice guy but you absolutely MUST tell the unions to bug off and surrender givebacks on the pension and other bennies," Richard Murray wrote to Corzine. "Cut the heart out of that evil, swollen pension monster. Don't be afraid."

Leonard Hraber has had it with state cars.

"Let the state workers use their own cars like the rest of us," he wrote.

Frank Gurcsik wants an end to taxpayer-funded retirement pensions.

"If they don't like it, don't be a government employee!!!" Gurscik wrote. "This is not rocket science. Support business. Give businesses tax breaks to stay here. Lessen the size of government. Don't threaten us with less aid to municipalities & schools. It's our money. Our money!!!!!!!"

Bob Master, spokesman for the Communications Workers of America, which represents many state workers, said state workers are wrongly blamed for state fiscal problems.

He said state workers are just "trying to defend a basic middle-class standard of living" even as many private businesses cut pension and health benefits.

"It's not surprising that after several years of state worker bashing on the part of so many legislators, and all the finger pointing that has gone on in terms of the budget crisis, that there's a lot of resentment, and we think it's extremely unfortunate that legislators have played the politics of resentment," Master said.

Rich Lovas suggests getting rid of the property tax rebates sent annually by the state.

"It costs money to collect it and more money to pay it back," Lovas wrote. "Nice political move but waste of money."

Jonathan Voria wouldn't mind seeing county government eliminated.

"County government offices cost our state a great deal and provide citizens with very little," he suggested.

Some people had suggestions on how to raise money. Robert Bressmann suggested doubling highway tolls on weekends. Arthur Malovany proposed a fee on all people who leave the country via Newark Liberty Airport. Nora Sooy proposed a 10 cent tax on each plastic bag used in the state.

"There is no need for cuts if you open a casino at the Meadowlands," wrote Linda Hunter.

And some, such as Annette Bacon, had practical advice for economizing.

"I wonder how much money can be saved by just turning off a light that is not being used," she wrote.

Ron Zak thought of a way the state could have saved some extra dollars while watching Corzine's Feb. 26 budget address.

"If the State is in such a financial crunch why did the state spend taxpayer money on an excessive floral display/arrangement in front of the podium for the governor's budget speech?" he wondered.

Amidst the frustration, there was some positive comments. Atul Faldo praised Corzine.

"I highly appreciate the governor's efforts to reduce our state's debt," he wrote. "It requires bold initiatives and at least he is ready to take it. Shame on those past leaders who didn't do it."

But at a time when talks over Corzine's proposed budget are getting more heated and a July 1 deadline by which the state must have a budget approaches, Gene Szura offered a suggestion that the multimillionaire governor might be considering right now.

"If I had your money, I would not be in politics," he wrote. "Be on a tropical island instead, and when tired of that one, go to another."