Earlier this month, the City of Camden laid off 335 workers, including half the city's police force and one-third of its firefighters. Camden is one of the poorest cities in the country and was forced to lay off its public safety employees because of cuts in state aid - cuts made necessary by Governor Christie's decision to take $1 billion out of the state's revenue stream, by ending a surtax on the incomes of millionaires which affected the top-earning 1,700 families in the state.
City officials claim that the loss of the 166 police will not affect safety in the city. They say they will be able to do more with less by deploying resources more efficiently without compromising public safety. But I bet you that in the end, less police on the street will make this city which has the second-highest crime rate in the country behind East Saint Louis a more dangerous place.
The Trentonian commented on layoffs of firemen in Trenton back in December which were made necessary by the same aid cuts. It said that the layoffs were necessary because Trenton's "welfare check" got cut. I live here and pay $3,500 in property taxes a year and resent this condescending remark. We are not beggars and are not looking for a welfare handout. We have a substantial part of our city taken up by state office buildings and the city is expected to provide security for the thousands of public office workers which work here every day, without collecting any property taxes on these buildings. In Trenton's case, the state aid is not "welfare". It is simply compensation in lieu of taxes for expenses the city incurs as host to the state government.
In Camden, the situation is somewhat different, but it still does not excuse the aid cut and the resulting layoffs. Camden simply does not have enough taxable properties to support itself. While you may characterize this state aid as "welfare", it is still necessary in order to provide a necessary level of city services to insure the safety and well being of the people who live and work there.
If you are reading this from the comfort of your home in a suburb, don't feel so smug. Crime problems in the cities have a way of spilling over into the suburbs. Criminals left on the street often have access to cars and those that don't probably can reach your community by bus. Less police means more criminals moving about and they are all on the prowl looking for opportunities to make illegal money by robbery, burglary, drug dealing, prostitution, and what have you.
So, I'm playing up the crime threat to garner sympathy for higher taxes on the state's top earners. May I ask you then, where are all those jobs the governor promised will be created if we stop taxing these families so harshly? Have you recently landed one of them (ha ha, there ain't any.).
Well then, you work for a living, live in the suburbs and are not a millionaire. You haven't noticed any more crime lately. Then how have you been affected by the aid cuts. Just look at what happened after the blizzard what took place this past December. While in the office, the person in the cubicle next to mine keeps Jersey 101.5 on all the time. People were calling in all day saying their streets weren't plowed and the station was accusing public employees of pulling a work slowdown across the state so the snow would remain on the streets longer.
The reality was different. Towns across the state had to lay off public works employees (translation: trash collection and road crew personnel). These are the workers that get to ride the plow trucks around after snowstorms. Fewer public works personnel meant slower snow cleanup, which was particularly noticeable after a big snowstorm. Fact is you can't have your cake and eat it too. The millionaire tax was needed to support the level of state aid that nearly all municipalities in the state got before the Christie cuts. Without the surtax, layoffs were needed. Makes me wonder what is going to happen with the Proposition 13-style two percent property tax limit if the state does not make up the shortfall what will develop over time with more state aid.
If I was the governor, I'd be looking to restore the millionaire tax. After all my job requires me to hang out in Camden several times a month. He is putting my life at risk.