Jon Corzine’s Compassionate Conservatism

Here in New Jersey, the Garden State, we have a governor who has just proposed to make $ 500 million in permanent spending cuts, refinance state debt, reduce municipal aid, eliminate two cabinet departments, and introduce tougher standards in math and science education.

These are proposals that you might expect from a Republican, but Jon Corzine is a fiscally conservative, moderate to liberal social issues Democrat. Corzine, a former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, one of the oldest white-shoe Wall Street investment firms, governs New Jersey as if he doesn’t need the job. He’s taken his budget on the road to the voters; for the most part the media has shown that they have a tough time swallowing the bitter pill, but they are willing to listen. New Jersey does not have the best reputation for honest politics; two journalists just came out with a book calling Jersey the Sopranos State, but Corzine may be just the man to turn that image around.

There is a difference between Jon Corzine and the so-called compassionate conservatives who try to sell tax and spending cuts, as well as standards, and hope things all work out before the next election.

The debate in New Jersey is not over what government should give up, but on what it should do well. Garden Staters north and south place a premium on environmental protection, toll roads and public transportation, given New Jersey is sandwiched between New York City and Philadelphia. We’re also a state with over 570 municipal governments and over 600 school districts; local control is sacrament in education more than any other public service.

Corzine is not trying to force-feed draconian cuts or impose values on others; he’s raised a debate to tell the legislature and the voters that the state can’t afford to be business as usual. His own proposals are a challenge to Democrats — who control the legislature – and Republicans to put up or shut up and come up with a plan. There are services that every state government must perform for its citizens: law enforcement and public safety, judiciary, Medicaid disbursement, K-12 and higher education, maintain state highways, negotiating compacts with other states on transportation and environmental issues, being examples. Then there’s the rest of the budget.

For instance, on the surface, Corzine’s proposals to eliminate the departments of Agriculture and Personnel make more sense than other cuts. Agriculture is but one sector of our state’s economy; it makes no sense to give a cabinet level position to a single industry. We don’t have a secretary of technology or pharmacy. Agriculture is but one plank on an economic development platform in any state government. There’s no need for a state department of personnel when each and every state agency has their own human resource professionals who can align their work, jobs and wages to their agency’s mission. There’s no need for another set of bureaucratic hoops.

When this was proposed I had to wonder: why didn’t a previous governor think of it before? This makes perfect sense.

It’s the kind of creative thinking we need in our state.

(Originally published at Educated Quest blog and reprinted with permission of the author, Stuart Nachbar).

Contact Stuart Nachbar at Educated Quest, a blog on education politics, policy and technology or read about his first book, The Sex Ed Chronicle, a novel on education and politics in 1980 New Jersey, at Sex Ed Chronicles.

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