One of the biggest challenges in New Jersey lately is how to lower taxes and the cost of government in a weak economy.
Bloated and corrupt government in Trenton is an easy target. But about two-thirds of taxes collected in the Garden State are spent on local government.
That’s where the real opportunity for savings is, says Harry Pozycki, head of the nonprofit Citizens Campaign.
To work toward that goal, the good-government group is recruiting 1,000 volunteers for posts ranging from township party committee to local planning board to state legislator. The campaign kickoff is Feb. 5 at Richard Stockton College.
Pozycki, the Inquirer’s 2008 Citizen of the Year, has led the Citizens Campaign to develop a how-to course for people who want to improve government in New Jersey.
The Campaign doesn’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican or independent. It offers mentors, and an online platform to help recruits develop ideas for cutting government waste and corruption, at www.jointhecampaign.com. There are also free online classes on how to seek an appointed office or even to become a “citizen journalist.”
One of the most timely ideas is lowering the cost of local government. State aid to municipalities is dwindling as Trenton grapples with large deficits, putting more pressure on local elected leaders to raise property taxes.
The Campaign shows its volunteers how to present cost-cutting proposals to their local government. For example, eliminating benefits for part-time elected officials can save as much as $12,000 per person, lowering costs in even small towns by as much as $100,000.
Former Gov. Jon S. Corzine failed to persuade local governments and school districts to merge to save money.
But Pozycki said municipalities still can cut costs by sharing services such as emergency dispatching. Many local governments already are participating in these efficiencies, but more of them should explore these options.
“If we’re going to maintain the quality of life while still absorbing the budget cuts, we need to become more service-oriented,” Pozycki said. “We’re going to try to create a culture of savings.”
The Campaign is promoting other commonsense ideas, such as conducting energy audits of government buildings and posting municipal budgets online (including the top five salaries for each department). To register for the summit, contact Renee Koubiadis at (609) 499-1860<NO1>cq<NO> or firstname.lastname@example.org.