Friday, March 04, 2011

Weird New Jersey government practices

I was just reading about Governor Scott Walker's budget plans, and it brought me back to the good old days when I coped with a library budget in dear old New Jersey. 

In the alternative universe that is New Jersey, the fiscal year starts on January 1 for most municipalities.  However, the town budget for that year has to be submitted to the State Department of Approving Municipal Budgets--that's not what it's called, but it's what it is--by March 30.  So you are already one quarter into your budget before it's even submitted.  The the Department goes over this budget at its leisure and sends it back, approved or disapproved, by April 30 on a very good year.  Most years it's more like May 30, and I have been present when it was approved on July 4, which means you really don't have much time left to make spending cuts, even if you don't have enough money to operate the way you did the past year. In the library, this usually involves cutting the materials budget, because what else can you cut?  You can also cut or eliminate the hours of part-time staffers, but they don't make anything anyway.  So management fires minimum wage-earning pages and has the books put away by a Senior Reference Librarian who makes $80,000 a year.

Ours was a civil service library.  In practice, that means anyone with a permanent appointment has a job for life.  There are also arcane rules, no doubt created by Franz Kafka,  for laying off people.  They go something like this:  first, everyone working in that job classification has to be informed that layoffs are contemplated 60 days, or 90 days, I forget which, before the layoffs will take place.  Then staffers are laid off in order of seniority, with 60 or 90 days notice.  By the time this has happened, 180 days have passed, which is half a year.  There are plenty more rules where these come from, but you get the idea.

Then they cut the hours.  The library, which used to be open 9 a m to 9 p m except for weekends, but had Saturday and Sunday hours as well, is closed Monday, opens at 12:30 Tuesday and closes at 5:15; has abbreviated hours Wednesday-Friday, closes at noon on Saturday and opens from 1-2 on Sunday, or whatever will cause maximum inconvenience to the public.  They stop buying multiple copies of bestsellers, in the belief that the peasants who pay taxes don't deserve to read that junk anyway.  Let them go to Barnes & Noble!

You can't blame unions for this stuff, either.  I know it's popular to dump on teachers unions,  but teachers actually teach children.  What do the administrators, Board secretaries, assistant Board secretaries, principals, assistant principals, and junior assistant principals do?  How about the County Boards of Education, who never see anyone under the age of 30--what do they do?  They have offices, employees, telephones, janitors, etc, but why are they there?

School budgets are generally submitted to the voters and often voted down.  Then the school board appeals to the State Department of Approving School Budgets, and sometimes wins and sometimes loses.  Whether they win or lose, the municipality has to pay their own lawyers and the education board lawyers, etc.  A good time is had by all, and a politically connected attorney never has to wonder where his next meal  is coming from.

If a town is lucky they have a volunteer fire department, but the police make up for any savings in public safety.  There are like 5,000 towns in New Jersey and they all have their own police departments, with arcane working rules, tough unions,  and Rottweilers for lawyers.

I just hope the State stays in business until I die, so I can continue to collect my pension.

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