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New Jersey Reform Efforts Can Help Virginia

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In less than three months, New Jersey’s Privatization Task Force published a final report that challenges New Jersey’s reputation as a “government/union controlled state,” and should provide many ideas for the Government Reform Commission here in Virginia and for local governments throughout our state.
Let me outline what the Privatization Task Force suggested. Of course, some of these need legislative approval and others only need administrative leadership.

The New Jersey Task Force identified at least $210 million a year in cost savings and other benefits. Len Gilroy, the Thomas Jefferson Institute’s Senior Fellow on Government Reform and an advisor to this New Jersey Task Force feels that actual savings could be much larger once fully implemented. For example, selling surplus state land was recommended and although no dollar value was assigned to this item, it’s likely that tens of millions would be realized.
A major recommendation was simply for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to make privatization a priority of state government and make that policy a central part of his reform effort. This sends an important message to state employees and to local governments throughout the state.

One thing all governments need when they pursue privatization, and something this New Jersey Task Force recommended, is to institutionalize strategies and procedures so that the state enters into privatization efforts in a smart way and avoids the mistakes other states have made in the past. To this end, a centralized privatization office was recommended. This would be similar in design to what former Governor Jeb Bush did in Florida and helped that state eventually save over $550 million in more than 130 privatization projects.

There were 40 recommendations in this New Jersey Privatization Task Force report, some of which have been discussed in the past by the Thomas Jefferson Institute and some that have not. These include:

Correctional Services Privatization: this is not just private prisons, but there are also opportunities of privatize food services, medical services, as well as inmate high school education and GED instruction.

Construction and Maintenance of Infrastructure: this includes road construction and maintenance and other areas as well. Virginia has shown savings in maintenance privatization of our 1100 miles of interstate highways but has not tried this on the 50,000 miles or more of primary and secondary roads. The New Jersey Task Force suggests privatization of maintenance because it makes sense.

State Park Management Agreements: New Jersey’s Task Force suggested that the state follow the lead of the federal park authorities and enter into a long term management agreement with a private recreation company to operate and manage all of its state parks – an interesting idea that the Jefferson Institute recently suggested. Len Gilroy has discussed this idea in previous issues of Bacon’s Rebellion.

And this New Jersey Task Force also suggested establishing a state advisory group that would recommend public private partnership projects similar to what California has with its Public Infrastructure Advisory Commission. Here in Virginia, such a move could be part of an expanded set of responsibilities for a re-activated Commonwealth Competition Council.

Here are other areas that the New Jersey Privatization Task Force recommended be considered for competitively bidding with the private sector. In Virginia some of these are local government responsibilities, but they are worth considering by all interested in reforming government: vehicle fleet management and maintenance; highway maintenance; sales of surplus government assets; emergency services on state roads; state parking lots; printing; vehicle titling and registration; higher education facility maintenance; debt collection; and housing code enforcement.

Virginia’s Governor is serious about reforming and restructuring state government. His Commission is working on this with the goal of providing initial recommendations for some areas by mid-September and more ideas will be offered by the end of the year. And Governor McDonnell will keep this group together and working over the next three years. This continued effort should allow Virginia to continue to focus on reforming government and saving the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. By keeping the Reform Commission in existence, our Governor is sending an important message. This effort isn’t just going to produce a report, hang a certificate on each Commissioner’s wall, and call it a day. This Reform Commission will remain in force and focused on truly reforming our state government. What is happening in New Jersey, as well as in other states, will be a great asset to this effort here in Virginia.

Michael Thompson is Chairman/President of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, Virginia’s premier independent public policy foundation. These views are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its Board of Directors.

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