A Modest Proposal to the Governor

The below is a guest article by Stephen Slusher – Thanks to him for letting Reinvent Trenton publish it.


A Modest Proposal to the Governor For Preventing the Institutions of NJ from being a Burden the Taxpayers and for Making them Beneficial to the Public.

Governor Christie is pushing cuts in state funding for the City of Trenton, including eliminating the Capital City Aid program.  Meanwhile state budget officials and legislators are struggling to balance the budget – and everybody thinks if we can just get through this next year things have got to improve.

There is a solution that addresses both state funding for the City of Trenton and the state budget crisis.  It’s actually quite simple: just sell all the state office buildings in Trenton to the highest bidder.  The buildings can be sold subject to a long-term lease to the state, so state agencies remain in their current buildings.  Purchasers have guaranteed revenue, and if Republicans structure the deal right, also have guaranteed profits.  Private equity funds will jump at the opportunity.

I’m usually opposed to privatization of governmental functions and services.  But given that Governor Christie evidently intends to abandon historical – and completely reasonable and justifiable – obligations to the City of Trenton, then I say let’s call Christie on Republican philosophy.  Privatize the billions of dollars of state office buildings in Trenton.  It’s a win-win for everyone – and state government can continue to ignore Trenton with impunity.

The results are obvious – state government gets cash up front to spend on whatever it wants, purchasers of the buildings have guaranteed revenue streams (and profits) from the state as a tenant, and because the buildings are now privately owned, Trenton gets lots and lots of property tax payments.  With luck, the City of Trenton will get enough in consistent and recurring revenue to actually intelligently plan and budget.

Presumably the buildings are worth somewhere between about one and three billion dollars.  Sure, the state will have to pay rent.  But what’s a little rent (or even a couple hundred million dollars a year in rent) when the state both gets fair market value for the buildings and gets out from under its obligations to the City of Trenton?  And since Governor Christie evidently supports making the rich even richer, state government could sweeten the pot by providing some sort of special tax relief to purchasers of state buildings.  The only caveat – they pay property taxes at the full rate with no abatements or reductions.

It might be argued that privatization is bad government policy, and that it’s better (and cheaper) to own than to rent.  Recent imbroglios surrounding private prisons illustrate limitations to privatization of intrinsic governmental functions.  But this proposal is simply to get cash out of doubtless appreciated, but not revenue generating, real estate.  Taxation and Revenue will still operate out of its not particularly attractive building at 50 Barrack Street.  The only change is that some private equity fund will own the building.

For sentimental reasons, the state could decide to keep a few buildings, like the New Jersey State Capitol Building and the War Memorial.  Heck, maybe we could keep everything built before about 1950.  But all the state office buildings constructed in the 1970’s through the 1990’s should be sold – and given that virtually all are an aesthetic embarrassment, good riddance.

Of course, it may well be that the Governor has another plan in mind, and squeezing the City of Trenton past the fiscal breaking point somehow fits in his plan.  I say we call his bluff and find out.  Let’s sell state government to the highest bidder!

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6 Responses to “A Modest Proposal to the Governor”

  • Mr. Slusher is making a literary reference in this article that’s clever so I’d like to make sure all of our readers get it. “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift was taught in high school English classes as a classic example of political satire. It’s particularly apropos in this usage as it pertains to the notion that the Governor should essentially eat his young.

    The below is the Wikipedia entry for “A Modest Proposal” for the reader’s reference.

    A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, commonly referred to as A Modest Proposal, is a Juvenalian satirical essay written and published anonymously by Jonathan Swift in 1729. Swift appears to suggest in his essay that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. By doing this he mocks the authority of the British officials.

  • My favorite line in Mr. Slusher’s piece is “…and given that virtually all are an aesthetic embarrassment, good riddance.” Every time I go to a city with it’s historic buildings in place I shudder to think of the ones that were demo-ed in Trenton.

  • Forgive my typo in my comment above. Another point, I once read someplace that all the cities that didn’t get money from “urban renewal” (which just meant demolition of blocks, destroying more than architecture but literally uprooted communities) in better shape than those that built “aesthetic embarrassments”. The cities later restored and reused their historic buildings.

  • I’m sure that’s true. What lesson to learn from that though?

    This was one of the lessons we learned from readings in the Urban Studies group.

    I’m still not clear about what it says. We vaguely know that block clearing is bad, but old isn’t always good and I imagine that sometimes clearing is the only way to jump start a neighborhood. ON the other hand, clearing implies “eminent domain” which is bad.

    Maybe, its a matter of avoiding “dumb money”. Much of the renewal came from government money meant to fund a plan that may have been right for on instance but was devastating for the other cities to which it was applied.

  • Mike:

    “And since Governor Christie evidently supports making the rich even richer”

    This statement was written in an ignorant tone. When then rich get richer that means they create more jobs and more work to get there. They do not just print money out of thin air, or go steal it from somewhere.

    You want the rich to have more incentive to make money since it worked fabulously well during 2000-2008, but severely declined at end of 2008 due to lack of oversight on wall street. People have been saying stop driving the wealthy out of NJ for a reason, they take with them huge amounts of tax dollars, jobs and business. New Jersey has lost more in tax revenue than it has generated for taxing the rich.

  • Ladies and Gentlemen, first let me take the opportunity to thank all of you for following the issues affecting your Capital City. Information is power and the beginning of the residents of our great City becoming engaged in the political and election process. I like many of you feel that the current City Budget process should have begun to be addressed many months ago. Review of the administration’s proposed Budget is one of City Councils most essential duties. The Council is our legislative branch of City Government and serves as a check and balance on the Mayor. Without throwing stones, I believe that it is clear that Council has failed to do its job when it comes to the budget process. How many budget workshops have there been this year? Was there ever a workshop where residents could offer their opinions?

    The current budget year will expire in 64 days and we, the residents of Trenton are still in a position of uncertainty regarding our actual tax bills. When the people entrust an elected official by casting a vote for him or her, they expect us to do our best for all of them, in good times and in bad.

    Sure the handling of the proposed sale of the Trenton Water Works outlying infrastructure should have been handled differently. I would never have waited for the Courts on this issue. My sense is that your Government should have held many, many public hearings, both in City Hall and directly in our communities to expose all of us to all of the facts and then listened to our thoughts and concerns. Then all of us would have been empowered to make an informed decision by way of casting our votes on this referendum. If this course was taken at the outset, we would have long since known the will of the people and been dealing with real numbers in the current and future budgets rather then speculation.

    Yes the Governor’s current budgetary position has placed the City in a precarious position, but it is no reason for your elected representatives to fail to act. To the contrary, this has brought us as a City to a critical moment where leadership should be stepping forth and actually proposing solutions and leading us through these troubled times.

    I stand ready to continue this conversation not only with all of you but with all of the candidates for Trenton’s elected offices, as well as Governor Christie, his Cabinet and staff, County Executive, Brian Hughes, the County Freeholders, our State Legislative bodies and representatives and yes our federal representatives in Congress and in the White House. Theses are critical times for us. I am committed to all of you, to do whatever it may take to bring the City of Trenton out of this temporary crisis and to once again lead all of us to a brighter future.

    Whoever you support in our political races, continue to remain engaged, to discuss the issues, express your thoughts and ideas, and most of all participate in our great Democratic process by voting. I will continue to talk with all of you. Feel free to contact me to discuss your thoughts and concerns at Keith@HamiltonforMayor.com. On July 1, 2010, I will begin to lead us to a brighter future. I look forward to hearing from you and listening to your thoughts and concerns. I still have hope for a brighter tomorrow. I hope you do as well. Together we can lead Trenton to a brighter future. Thank you and God bless.


    Keith V. Hamilton

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