By 2016, state government in New Jersey faces a shortfall of up to $10.3 billion; municipalities face a shortfall of up to $2.75 billion; the counties face a shortfall of up to $1.1 billion, and school districts face a shortfall of over $1 billion. Those gaps do not include either the $94 billion underfunding of state-funded public employee pension and health benefits systems, including post-retirement medical benefits – or the additional $27 billion in unfunded liability at the municipal and county levels of government for employee pension and health benefits – which may be the single biggest fiscal challenge to New Jersey’s future.
New Jersey can no longer sustain its antiquated system for raising and spending money at all levels of government. The effect on public services – including schools, public safety, transportation and healthcare – is severe and will be felt by virtually every citizen in the state.
In response, the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers (CNJG) seeks to educate the public about these realities, and to provide an independent, objective analysis of how various government entities in New Jersey raise and spend money. The hope of their new report, Facing Our Future, is to educate the public and to foster an informed public discussion. The core questions critical to the discussion – and to the state’s future – are simple: what are our priorities; are we organized effectively and efficiently to deliver on those priorities within all levels of our government; and are we able to fund those priorities?
CNJG recognized that foundations can create the “safe space” outside of the partisan politics and annual budget battle to provide the public, policy makers, and community leaders with an understandable, independent picture of the reality New Jersey faces. Last year, CNJG convened a group of some of New Jersey’s most respected, thoughtful leaders who each bring deep knowledge of how government works and know all too well the crisis we face. This leadership group includes: former State Treasurers, a former Chief Justice, former Attorneys General, former Director of the Senate Democrats, former Commissioners of the Department of Environmental Protection, former Director of the Office of Management & Budget, former Director of the New Jersey Program for Eagleton Institute and several others also with distinguished careers in public service in the state. Several are also leaders within our philanthropic community.
The report places no blame and does not suggest specific strategies or solutions. Rather, it makes the irrefutable case that there is no one, clear fix. What will be required is a long-term commitment by all New Jerseyans to rethinking what government services are wanted and needed. What is provided are some questions that can start the conversations in a meaningful way.
The full report and much background are available on theCNJG website. Facing Our Future was directed by a Leadership Group, comprised of individuals with extensive, senior experience in state government. Research and analysis was led by two highly respected independent analysts, and shows a fiscal crisis spiraling out of control. Using objective budget data, the Facing Our Future analysis shows the complexity and intertwined nature of government programs and spending throughout all levels of New Jersey government.
Funding for Facing Our Future has been provided by William Penn Foundation and a private donor. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Community Foundation of New Jersey will be providing additional support.