Just look at the skyrocketing property taxes and the cost of living.  A new gas tax that will go up when the government falls short on revenue collection, as they have in the past on other taxes, not to mention the dropping revenue from the original gas tax due to more efficient cars and moving habits with young people living closer to work.  Even today we reported on Speaker Vincent Prieto's brilliant idea of adding a $2 per room in Atlantic City to save the jobs of cops and firefighters. Really?

Why are the only solutions offered by politicians taking more money from you?  Not that people are flocking to AC to stay overnight, but $2 a room isn't gonna 'right the ship' even if they start coming in droves.  What we need are bold solutions to cut through the bureaucracy and push back from the special interests. I offered three today.  Given that one of the largest pieces of the NJ budget and your taxes are education spending, that's the best place to start.

It occurred to me that in towns across NJ there are feuds between charter schools and public schools about who should receive a bigger piece of the tax pie.  The way it works regarding funding is the money passes through the public administration onto the charter school at 90% of the per pupil rate for public schools.  Bottom line is charters have to service and thrive on less funding.  And they do.  Many have higher test scores and are able to service the needs of students in both cities and suburbs.  One of the reasons they are able to spend less per student and achieve the same if not better results is the teachers are not members of the NJEA.

The first thing that means is they don't have the onerous burden of union dues.  Secondly the have locally negotiated health plans that cost less than the state plans.  Although some opt into the state plan, the schools are focused on efficiency because the jobs are not arbitrarily protected regardless of performance.  Therefore the competitive market forces higher performance for job protection instead of arbitrary union negotiated tenure protection.  So we're left with the facts that charters operate at a far less expertise rate per student.  Yes, there are many factors contributing to that so it's not entirely apples to apples.  But a recent study in NYC shows that two equal schools, one charter and one public operating in the same building, showed the charter operated at $3000 less per student that the public school.

Here are my initial thoughts on three solutions that the new governor could begin the process of implementation upon taking office in 2018.  These won't happen overnight, but if the leaders and the special interests realize that the future of our middle class and the secure retirement of our state workers and teachers hang in the balance, maybe we get a consensus.

First, what percentage of NJEA dues that cost teachers in the neighborhood of $1,000 a year or more go toward the pension plan?  So that's step one.  There must be a mandated contribution from the NJEA toward their members retirement fund.  Considering that the dues are mandatory - a teacher can only opt out of the political portion of the dues - this is a no-brainer.

Second, charter school teachers are forced to participate in the state pension system by law.  That means they are adding to the roles of teachers who may be shortchanged as NJ pensions are among the lowest funded in the nation.  Let's allow for an opt-out and allow the business managers of the schools open up 401(k) plans.

Third, renegotiate the health plans offered to state workers and teachers to allow for increased competition and benefits changes that according to some could reduce the taxpayer burden by more than ONE BILLION dollars a year.  They did it in Wisconsin with Act 10 and turned a 3.6 Billion dollar deficit into a 900 million dollar surplus.  We don;t even have to go that far.  Legislate a change in the minimum standards - as they recently did in Minnesota and you will see a dramatic decrease in cost.

There are other things that we can do including the consolidation of administrative districts, a freeze on administrative hiring, reducing the size of government through natural attrition without firing anyone, and of course stopping the out-of-control tax breaks to million dollar companies, Triple Five is just the latest one, and offering tax incentive to small sized businesses to create new and sustainable local jobs.

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