Saturday, March 08, 2008

I would like to say Bean is wrong, but can't

In his Coda column this week, GM News Executive Editor Greg Bean says that since the governor's toll hike plan was not accepted by the public (in any way at all), near-term cutbacks are likely to target programs that are most needed by the public (rather than cutting the waste that could actually help streamline government).

The way he put, I go the idea that Mr. Bean thought some of these cutbacks may even be mean-spirited as a result of the non-acceptance of the toll hike plan (which was a travesty that many New Jerseyans could agree upon). His column is cynical, in my opinion. That interpretation may just be me reading into the piece.

Nevertheless, I would really like to disagree with Mr. Bean, and say something optimistic about the intentions of our state lawmakers. But I can't. I think he is right. I would say that it was not one party alone that sunk this state, nor will it be one party alone that revives it. What needs to change is the way government is approached in this state, and how much rope New Jersey's residents give to entrenched politicians.

Often the public argues the merits of various parties, and yet there are vivid examples on both sides of the aisle where party politics has failed the electorate. Only be limiting the scope of arbitrary power institutionally in government, or in some cases spending discretion, can this state begin to heal economically, in my opinion.

The toll hike plan was a bust. Yet, much energy was put into selling it by the administration, and opposing it by detractors (meaning most people that live in Jersey). Suppose the only way that plan could have been implemented was through the passage of a referendum by a 2/3rds majority of voters. Much of the meance behind this plan would have been removed, since it was ridiculous to start. The plan would not have been discussed, because it could never have been expected to be adopted.

What if departments in state government could only be created through referendum, and state budgets that are not adopted by a 2/rds majority in the Legislature decided at the polls -- by the folks that foot the bill. Suddenly, powerful politicians (a dangerous thing) are not so powerful. The public becomes more influential, not to mention more aware of what is being done with its money. And if a spending plan failed, then it would be a failure the entire public thought was reasonable enough to try at the outset.

Politics have failed New Jersey, so no answer that will work is going to be a political one, to my view. I will bet that public oversight and accountability will do the trick where show-stopping, explosive political battles have failed, though. Most of the bad things that happen in governemnt occur in secret. "Executive privilege" is an oft-cited convention for elected people not wanting the public to know what is happening with that public's money; and often there are 'shenanigans' where secrecy becomes an overriding element of governmental decision-making.

Democracy is not the most efficient form of government, but it does tend to author some bright ideas when notions of power are checked where it involves elected personalities (especially in the executive branch). Government that governs least governs best.

Click on the headline to go to Coda at GM News.

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