New Jersey residents have had a lot to worry about lately, from the ravages of Hurricane Sandy to persistent state budget woes.
But as the state heads into an important election year, voters should focus on another long-standing problem: Over the years, New Jersey has consistently been rated by many independent studies as having one of the worst-managed and least-efficient state governments in the country. If the Garden State is ever to prosper again, that will have to change.
The financial news site 24/7 Wall St. conducted the most recent study to place New Jersey among the also-rans based upon a review of states financial health and provision of government services. Not surprisingly, considering Jerseys frequent use of budget gimmicks to spend money the state doesnt have, the study rated the Garden State as the fifth-worst-managed, behind Illinois, Rhode Island, Arizona and California.
The Garden State, the study noted, has managed to amass one of the highest levels of government debt to gross domestic product of any state, hamstringing its ability to operate smoothly.
"It is the responsibility of each state to deal with the resources at its disposal," the report said. "A state should be able to raise enough revenue to ensure the safety of its citizens and minimize hardship without spending more than it can prudently afford."
Other studies using different measures have graded Trenton harshly over the years.
In 2008, for instance, Governing Magazine and the Pew Center on the States, a nonpartisan group, ranked state governments based on issues ranging from the quality of states long-term budget planning to the maintenance of their infrastructure.
Noting among other things that New Jersey spends far less than states on average training its government workers, the study awarded the state a C grade, well behind the rankings of states such as Utah, Virginia and Washington, which earned As, and Texas, with a B+.
Studies that grade specific state government departments are similarly critical. Every few years, for instance, CFO Magazine asks the finance executives of big, multistate companies to rate the performance of states finance and tax departments, because they represent among the most important bureaucracies in any state.
In its most recent survey, the executives ranked New Jerseys tax bureaucracy third-worst in the nation, a repeat of previous surveys. The executives painted the states Treasury Department as unfriendly to customers, overly aggressive and vague in its audits. The execs added that they considered New Jersey to be one of the least likely places that their companies might locate new jobs.
New Jersey has the resources to be among the best-managed states. As the 24/7 Wall St. study notes, those states tend to have one thing in common: a highly educated population. New Jersey boasts that, too, with among the largest percent of college graduates of any state.
One reason for the consistently low ratings may be that New Jersey continues to lay claim to a political culture of entrenched cronyism and corruption that is by its nature inimical to good government.
A study earlier this year by the University of Illinois Institute for Government and Public Affairs ranked New Jersey among the 10 most-corrupt states in the nation based on convictions of public officials over a 35-year period.
State and local government bureaucracies take their lead, in other words, from elected officials who too often see government chiefly as a vehicle for personal gain. No wonder, then, that our government often squanders taxpayers resources and provides poor services compared with other places.
As studies of good government often point out, this is neither a Republican nor Democratic issue. Former New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia said it best when he observed that there is no Republican or Democratic way of cleaning the streets.
Other states have been working at better government. In Washington state, Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire has led a "lean" initiative to get waste and inefficiency out of the Evergreen States government by focusing on reducing the time it takes to deliver services to taxpayers.
In Indiana, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels engineered a revamping of state government that involved sending "efficiency raiders" to uncover duplicate services and resources sitting unused. To change governments culture, Indiana started measuring many things that state government does and comparing the results over time.
Both states have consistently finished well ahead of New Jersey on past studies of well-managed places.
Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature have been consumed the past several years by a historic budget squeeze that has often challenged Trentons ability to manage itself from day to day. But if New Jersey is to join the ranks of the most prosperous states again, Trenton must do more than just careen from crisis to crisis.
There is no reason New Jersey shouldnt be among the nations best-managed states, if citizens demand it of both parties.
Original Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/12/the-real-complex-connection-between-single-parent-families-and-crime/265860/