Monday, May 10, 2010

Swinging a Budget Axe Doesn't Go Far Enough

Here's your morning fiscal insanity watch. New Jersey's fiscal situation is perilous at best, and the unions are busy screeching that Gov. Christie threatens to destroy the state's education system.

Funny, but they're silent on the fact that school administrators throughout the state are making more money than the governor.
Governor Christie receives $175,000 while the average annual salary for superintendents in Bergen and Passaic counties topped $180,000 in the 2008-09 school year.

And the overwhelming majority of schools chiefs in the two counties make more than Education Commissioner Bret Schundler — as do almost half the assistant superintendents and business administrators. One in four principals in the region also makes more than Schundler.

Most of the districts operate no more than four schools. Schundler, who sets state policy and oversees more than 600 school districts, is paid $141,000.

The Christie administration has been calling for all school staff to take salary freezes this year as local districts grapple with steep declines in state aid. But while the governor has focused heavily on keeping teacher salaries from rising, he has been less vocal about administrative salaries, which are generally twice as much.
They're ignoring the fact that Atlantic City has more city workers per capita than all but 30 municipalities out of 1,400 examined with a population of 20,000 or more. Atlantic City has more city workers than cities with three times the population.
The city’s work force is a fluid number that changes depending on the season: higher in the summer, lower in the winter. According to city payroll records, the work force was as high as 1,847 employees during the summer of 2008 under Mayor Scott Evans. At the end of last year, Atlantic City employed 1,513 government workers and spent $92 million on salary and wages.

Biloxi, Miss., another city with casino gambling, has a population of about 45,670 residents, about 6,000 more people than Atlantic City. But Biloxi’s municipal government employed 773 fewer employees last year and spent $62 million less, 2009 payroll records for both cities show.

Comparisons made by The Press with some other payrolls at cities that provide the same level of services as Atlantic City include:

Wilmington, N.C., a popular college town with more than 100,000 residents, employed 408 fewer workers than Atlantic City last year and spent about $43 million in salaries and wages — half as much as Atlantic City.

Green Bay, Wis., where the population exceeds 101,000, pays 526 fewer employees than Atlantic City and spends almost $50 million less on its salaries and wages.

“Atlantic City is significantly overstaffed,” concluded a December 2002 study of the city’s payroll commissioned by the Casino Association of New Jersey. And by the measure of payroll to population, the city’s municipal labor force has grown.
All this adds up to create a crushing tax burden that is collapsing on itself. For Atlantic City, it means that patronage and corruption leads to higher taxes, poor services, and a declining tax base because the city is spending tens of millions of dollars more than it should in any given year. That adds up. Consider that if Atlantic City had a workforce the size of Green Bay (which is three times the size), the government could save $50 million a year. That's $500 million over 10 years, more than enough to provide a better education system, and yet this is money squandered.

Christie has been calling for a cap on salary increases at 2.5% and called for increased worker contributions to benefits, and that's met by bitter shrieking by the usual suspects.

Leave it to NJ Democrats to once again call for the resuscitation of the temporary "millionaire's tax" that hit people with incomes well below $1 million to fund what they're calling property tax relief. That's using one tax to pay for a program to mitigate the effects of other taxes, rather than getting to the source of the problem - the high taxes and their causes. The high property taxes are directly related to the high costs of governance in the state, and that includes benefits that are unsustainable and a workforce that is far larger than those of comparable municipalities.

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