After 100 years, NJ still has no I&R

After 100 years, NJ still has no I&R

07/01/2007 Asbury Park Press

TRENTON — The Legislature is all for letting the people decide things when doing so is in the lawmakers' best interest, but at other times the people's will is a nuisance.

The Senate and the Assembly passed a measure headed for the November ballot that would, if approved, amend the state Constitution to mandate the remaining half of last year's sales tax hike be used for property tax relief.

That would happen without the signature of Gov. Corzine, who opposes the measure because it ties the hands of what the state can do with the money. Members of the Legislature want it because every seat in the Senate and Assembly is up in November and they need you to think they did something great. In reality, they can't think of a way to lower taxes and continue to kiss the feet of special interests.

Three questions arise: If the sales tax hike can be devoted to property tax relief, was there a need for the hike in the first place since relief wasn't the stated purpose? If there is real need for the penny hike beyond property tax relief, does that mean another increase is in the offing?

And, if the Legislature can let the people decide such matters in limited fashion, why can't it give us Initiative & Referendum. That's the process by which citizens write an initiative and if backers collect enough signatures in a specified amount of time, it goes on the ballot. If it passes, it becomes law without the Legislature or governor.

That's democracy in action, and it scares the hell of petty politicians who prefer that we think what they do requires an IQ above 40.

The Initiative & Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California (a state that has I&R and used Prop 13 to lower its property taxes) points out the I&R movement started here in the Garden State in the late 1800s. Ah, but then:

"In December 1900 the Direct Legislation Record published the gloomy prediction of Clarence T. Atkinson that the reform had "no chance of success until the evil of bribery is abolished.' By 1907, after 14 years of effort, the New Jersey Direct Legislation League had despaired of passing an amendment to give voters actual lawmaking power and instead sponsored a bill allowing voters to put non-binding, advisory initiatives on the state ballot.

"That proposal also failed again and again. In 1911 the I&R movement's journal Equity explained New Jersey's failure in terms of its being "The Trust State': the nation's biggest businesses were chartered there, and they were the major source of opposition to I&R."

Sounds like things haven't changed much in 100 years. "The evil of bribery" has a familiar ring. Attempts were made again in 1947, the mid-1970s, 1981, 1983 and 1986. Republicans told us in the early '90s if we voted them in, we could get I&R. They lied.

Them again: The Board of Public Utilities, the target of two blistering audits and a whistleblower lawsuit, is at it again. It will pay Honeywell $42 million over the next 27 months to handle parts of its Clean Energy program.

Wouldn't it make sense to fix the BPU before the outfit throws any more money away? The Attorney General's Office has been AWOL on this one. BPU president Jeanne Fox is married to Steve DiMicco, who handled Corzine's campaigns.

Honeywell is linked to disgraced former Sen. Bob Torricelli, who oversees a Honeywell cleanup project, and Eric Shuffler, New York-based lobbyist who wrote some of Corzine's speeches. Corzine named Honeywell employee Kevin Covert to the UMDNJ board of trustees.

Hello, Hal: My time in this business took me from manual typewriters to blogs on the Internet. It never stops evolving, and generally I welcomed every change. This week brought new laptops with a fancy program that reads handwriting and translates it into typed words.

I wrote my signature, which it read as "Footsore." The end may be near.

Footsore out.

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