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Eagleton Institute of Politics
Eagleton Institute of Politics



published in print 11/14/05        NJBiz online

Programs Everyone Can Cherish

by Ingrid Reed

This column is being written on Election Eve. I am thinking about all the sobering challenges that will face the new governor. It is too late to caution the candidates with the old saying "Be careful what you wish for." But if I had a final word to offer, it would not be some clever saying but rather a straightforward statement: Remember, there really are ways that New Jersey is a remarkable state that has accomplished a great deal in both the recent Republican and Democratic administrations that should make you proud to be its governor.

Here are four programs that are worth recognition and support in the new administration.

  *  Early childhood education for 3- and 4 year-olds has progressed with speed and effectiveness since the state Supreme Court ruled it should be part of the education program in the low income Abbott districts. Many pre-school programs and school administrators had to find ways to collaborate and improvise to develop the curricula, and space to incorporate the new programs. Not only did these programs offer new opportunities for little kids and their families, but underappreciated teachers of 3- and 4-year-olds gained access to training, academic degrees and fair salaries. Non-profits, foundations, public schools and the state Department of Education all deserve credit for implementing this initiative.

  *  Acquisition of open space in the most densely populated state in the country has proceeded at a rate that could not have been predicted 10 years ago, when it became obvious that New Jersey would reach build-out in several generations. The state has played a big role with its Green Acres and Farmland Preservation program, and the more recent Garden State Preservation Trust Act, which funds the preservation of I million acres over 10 years.

The real energy for these efforts has come from the countless municipalities and counties that voted to tax themselves to set aside land, proving that raising taxes is not always political suicide. The local initiatives have raised funds to match state programs and energized local citizens to care about the threat to New Jersey's nickname, the Garden State.

   *  Redevelopment, as envisioned by the path-breaking State Development and Redevelopment Act that came out of the Kean administration and was embraced by the Florio adminstration is flourishing in the state. Private investment has found its way to many older cities and nearby suburbs. Municipal governments have given many diverse groups a voice in planning their communities to achieve a mixture of housing, shops and offices, and even parking garages. The states new Redevelopment Act provides guidance for publicprivate partnerships to create vibrant downtowns and new ratables, where stores were once vacant.

   *  New approaches to solving traffic congestion by the state Department of Transportation have led to better communities. Engineers and planners at DOT have partnered with municipalities to find ways to move traffic while respecting pedestrians and bikers. Wider, faster roads dont promote livable communities, but safe, well designed roads that carry vehicles at modest speed do. DOT Commissioner Jack Lettiere is recognized across the country as a creative and pragmatic road builder. Lettiere and his staff understand smart growth and know the difference between the New Jersey Turnpike and the many historic state highways that also serve as main streets.

All four of these efforts deserve the new governor's support and could not have been accomplished without talented and dedicated state employees. We heard a lot during the campaign about the cost of state government, escalating health insurance and unfunded pension programs, But there was no mention of one of the biggest but least-acknowledged challenges facing any administration: attracting and retaining knowledgeable, experienced and motivated administrators. These staffers will be essential to what the new governor can accomplish and take pride in during the next four years, and to the citizens who expect government to serve the interests of not just the election winners, but of the voters as well.