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New Jersey’s Bane: Little Box Government Budget Drain

Mike Alberti at Remapping Debate has a really good piece up about how local government consolidation is a political orphan. The people who are against it care much more about blocking it than the people who support it care about implementing it.

The news hook for the piece is that New Jersey’s governor has eliminated the funding for the state’s standing commission to study and promote local government consolidation in last year’s budget and this year’s as well. The commission cost about a million a year, and cutting it is a penny-wise but pound-foolish move. The savings are negligible compared to New Jersey’s overall $29 billion budget. And consolidation could save money by reducing duplication, enhancing efficiencies, and solving a problem that many microscopic jurisdictions face: not enough tax base to support the services residents want.

But the underlying story is that even when the consolidation commission was fully funded, New Jersey’s municipalities didn’t want to put themselves out of business. Local leaders sputter about history and “boroughness” in explaining why their 5,000 person burg should remain sovereign. Voters consistently reject efforts to merge with existing towns. The story highlights some reasons why, and suggests that it will take pretty aggressive action on the part of states--like withholding revenue sharing funds--to make consolidation attractive.

People love their local governments, but it is time to ask them to confront how much it costs them, and how else they could use that money (for schools, for lower taxes, for a different mix or services). It may not be “big government” that is the tax-eating, efficiency defeating anachronism, but extremely small government.