Opinion: Senate Agenda: Jobs, Tenure, Shared Services

Stephen Sweeney | The Record
11/29/11

 WHEN VOTERS went to the polls Nov. 8 and reelected strong Democratic majorities in the Legislature, they sent a message to Governor Christie and the Republicans that they agreed with our message of putting the need of middle-class families for good jobs before the wants of millionaires for more tax breaks.

Now, with two months remaining in the current legislative session, we will work tirelessly to turn that message into reality.

Even though this remaining period is known popularly as lame duck, it will be anything but as our focus will squarely remain on creating jobs and driving economic growth.

New Jersey’s unemployment rate fell in October, a sliver of bright news we had long been hoping for. It shows that when we work in a bipartisan way, as we did earlier this year to provide small businesses with tax cuts, we can get people back to work.

But while the news was good, we can’t rest on our laurels. The fact remains that New Jersey’s unemployment rate is still above the national average, and we must see a significant decrease in the number of people looking for jobs.

During the fall, the Senate worked on various job creation measures, including bills that would help small-, women- or minority-owned businesses obtain loans to grow their enterprises, as well as redevelop closed-down hospitals and give them new life.

We also moved to help establish a “Back to Work NJ Program” to give the unemployed the ability to get vital job training. Putting these bills on the governor’s desk will be among the very first things we do in this lame-duck session. The faster we act, the faster our friends and family get back to work.

While the economy will be our main focus through the end of the year, it will not be the only issue before us. Education reform will be examined – but unlike the governor, who seems to believe our entire educational system is on the brink of collapsing and that our teachers are to blame, Democrats come to this issue knowing full well that our system is one of the best.

New Jersey students among nation’s best

It is no accident that our students outperform their peers from across the country. It is a combination of several factors, not the least of which is that our schools are filled with exceptional teachers.

But that does not mean that we can’t find areas of improvement. Most people, educators included, agree that the way teacher tenure works now is simply not tenable.

We must devise a new method for which teachers receive tenure, but we must do so in a way that is fair, productive and that leaves politics out of it. Tenure reform will certainly be a key issue during this lame-duck session, and the Senate looks forward to working with teachers on this issue, not vilifying them.

Shared services is another issue that will be closely examined and, frankly, it is long overdue. Princeton Township and Princeton Borough are to be commended for agreeing to merge, and setting an example for many towns across the state. But clearly, more is needed from Trenton to save taxes from being wasted on services that can be done more efficiently when towns agree to share services, or, as the Princetons showed, put aside long-standing fears and dissolve boundaries that had made long-term savings impossible.

A simple premise

Since last spring, I have been working on shared-services legislation that is based on a simple premise: If two or more towns can share a service and they do not agree to do so, then those towns should lose state aid equal to the amount that could have been saved by sharing that service. There is no reason taxpayers need to foot the bill for inefficiency.

Despite all his rhetoric, I hope the governor will see fit to join us on many of these initiatives, particularly our job-creation measures.

Voters want us to avoid the partisan gridlock that is paralyzing Washington and focus on the issues that matter to them.

If we can do that over the next two months, there is no telling what we can do for New Jersey.

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