State commission aims to cut red tape


C ivil service regulations and interlocal agreements were some concerns voiced during the second of three public hearings about simplifying state government at Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, on March 9.

The Red Tape Review Commission, a bipartisan effort led by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, listened to testimony from state and municipal officials about unfunded state mandates, which are rules or regulations imposed on boards of education, counties and municipalities but not funded by the state.

Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos (R-Monmouth and Middlesex), a member of Gov. Chris Christie’s transition team, welcomed the audience of approximately 75 people.

“Every time we create a new rule or regulation, we don’t dissolve or eliminate the old rule or regulation,” Kyrillos said. “I think we have 25,000 pages now, and part of the problem is unfunded mandates. I think we have our work cut out for us.”

Guadagno stressed that the commission has members of both parties.

“What you have up here is a bipartisan committee, so as we hear specific complaints about regulations and rules, we have immediate reactions from both sides of the house, Republicans and Democrats,” Guadagno said in an interview.

“That’s how New Jersey is going to have to react, because we are not going to be able to keep funding projects the way we’ve been able to fund them.

“What we are also going to do is give these towns and the people the tools to manage their businesses, manage their towns and manage their municipalities in a way that is cost-effective for them so they can suffer the cuts and make it easier in this environment,” Guadagno said. “The idea is if we can’t increase taxes to close the revenue gap, we’re going to make jobs easier to get in New Jersey by making businesses able to do business here.”

In January, Christie issued an executive order, banning unfunded state mandates, part of a plan to deal with the state’s multi- billion-dollar budget gap.

The order says that New Jersey’s state government has imposed an increasing number of legal requirements on local governments without regard to municipal budget costs.

The order also cites the New Jersey Council on Local Mandates, which is independent of other branches of state government, saying it “lacks the legal authority to review and take action on regulations that have not yet taken effect.”

By holding a series of public hearings, Guadagno explained the individual concerns of municipalities would be taken into consideration when legislative decisions are made.

The Red Tape Commission has six other members: Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), acting Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin; Assemblyman Scott Rumana (RBergen, Passaic, Essex), Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem), Sen. Steven Oroho (RSussex) and acting Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Lori Grifa.

Of the towns that testified before the commission, several local officials said municipalities should have the option of opting out of the state civil service system. Others suggested that public documents should be placed on municipal websites to cut down on Open Public Records Act costs and reduce the burden on municipal clerks.

Two Bayshore representatives, Middletown Mayor Gerard P. Scharfenberger and Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante, addressed the commission.

Mercantante explained the township received a letter in January from the state Civil Service Commission about an employee who filed an appeal about his or her title in 2006. The township handled the matter internally, but the Civil Service Commission was reviewing it for years.

Mercantante said this was an example of the state “micromanaging” personnel decisions at the local level, noting that the system could use improvements.

“Ironically the letter had one sentence in it that said, ‘Initially please accept our apology for the delay in this response,’ ” he said. “I think four years is a little bit more than a delay.”

Mercantante outlined areas including interlocal shared-service agreements without using outside consultants.

“Middletown has had shared-service agreements for many, many years,” he said. “We’ve had many successful ones and ones that haven’t really worked out, but we learned. We’ve had shared services for construction, animal control and for planning and affordable housing administration. Professionals in the municipalities really know what’s going on.

Others called for better communication between state organizations like the DEP, DCA and the Department of Transportation (DOT).

In response to these concerns, Guadagno said in an interview that the civil service opt-out provision may be working itself through both houses in Trenton. She also said having a bipartisan consensus was necessary going forward, given the state’s fiscal crisis.

“You can’t cut $11 billion out of the budget and give people on the local level the tools not to make up that budget gap,” she said.”