Two Public Questions On November 7 Ballot: The Devils and the Details

We in New Jersey have important elections ?on Tuesday, November 7.?? We choose a new Governor, and a State Senator and both State Assembly Members in each of our 40 state legislative districts.? We elect several new freeholders in each of our 21 counties.?? We choose mayors, council members, township committee members, and school board members in most of our cities, townships, and public school districts.

We are also voting on two important state public questions.? ? We see and hear with news stories and campaign ads every day.? However, hardly anyone says a word about these important ballot questions.

Question #1 asks voters to let state government borrow another $125 million dollars.??? The second question asks us to amend our NJ State Constitution?AGAIN!

Voting ?yes? on ballot questions is usually a bad idea in New Jersey.?In other states, ordinary citizens put public questions on the ballot by petition.

In New Jersey, only a majority of 40 State Senators and 80 State Assembly Members have the power to put public questions go on the ballot. And they can only do it if two powerful politicians, the State Senate President (Steve Sweeney) and Assembly Speaker (Vince Prieto), both agree.

Back in 1993, Republican Governor Christie Todd Whitman and Republican candidates for State Senate and Assembly promised to change that when they ran for election. However, although they forgot that promise of ?initiative and referendum?? right after they won election with large Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

Because only the folks who control state government put public questions on the ballot in New Jersey, I usually vote ?no? on them.?I am ?suspicious of politicians with that much money and power who want us to vote to give them even more.

Ballot Question #1 claims state government needs to borrow $125 million, so it could then give that money to selected local governments to build or fix up local public libraries.

We all support public libraries, but there are devils in these details.? Under New Jersey?s politicized system of awarding public construction contracts, most money would be spent on union contractors, and no-bid architects, and lawyers who help politicians get elected and re-elected.

Also, thanks to Amazon, digital books, and the internet, brick and mortar physical libraries are less important than ever before. State law already requires that a generous amount of local property taxes to be spent on public libraries. ?So is the money really needed for the public? Or to pay back campaign donors?

The biggest devil is that as with credit cards, borrowed money must be paid back with interest and big Wall Street ?transaction fees?.? Every ?yes? vote to borrow money in November, is a ?yes? vote for years of tax hikes to pay back those debts.

Because of past ?yes? votes (and questionable schemes that borrowed money without public votes required by state constitution), New Jersey is already up to its eyeballs in debt. We just raised the gas 23 cents a gallon just to pay back $16 billion owed by the Transportation Trust Fund Authority.

State government shut down last summer because of squabbling over how to re-pay $225 million borrowed to expand Stockton University and other colleges in 2012.? Aren?t our property, sales, and state income taxes high enough already?

A ?yes? vote on Public Question #2 ?would AGAIN amend our New Jersey State Constitution.? It would ?require all money collected by the State from environmental lawsuits to be spent for certain environmental purposes.?? This again sounds like a good idea?until you look at these details.

First, 10% of the money would pay bureaucrats of the state?s Department of Environmental Protection for ?administrative expenses?.? As a lawyer, I have seen how abusive government agencies and officials get when they get ?bounties? from the fines and penalties they collect in the form of bigger budgets and salaries.

Second, environmental suits today are shakedowns of innocent property owners who have nothing to do with pollution done many years ago. We all want polluters to pay for the damage they create.?? However, very little pollution is taking place these days. Most pollution stopped in the 1960?s, and most environmental lawsuits are brought against unlucky owners of properties who have nothing to do with problems found there today. This will get worse if bureaucrats of State Department of Environmental Protection get bigger budgets and higher salaries by suing business and homeowners for problems caused years ago. Or invent new laws and regulations to put almost everyone in violation of something.

Third, most environment ?cleanups? these days simply spend fortunes to move pollutants from one remote place to another.

Fourth, a constitutional amendment would force money desperately needed for other purposes to be spent where it may not be needed at all.

Seth Grossman is a Somers Point attorney and executive director of It meets for breakfast 9:30 am every Saturday at the Shore Diner in Egg Harbor Township by Parkway Exit 36.? Seth Grossman can be reached at

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