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New Jersey 2008 - Public Questions To Be Voted Upon

Thoughts and recommendations on the ballot initiatives in the New Jersey 2008 election (initiatives are only available in PDF online, so i apologize for any typos due to my manual keying):

#1 Voters to approve authority bonds payable from state appropriations

Do you approve the proposed amendment to the State Constitution which provides that, after this amendment becomes part of the Constitution, a law enacted thereafter that authorizes State debt created through the sale of bonds by any autonomous public corporate entity, established either as an instrumentality of the State or otherwise exercising public and essential government functions, such as an independent State authority, which debt or liability has a pledge of an annual appropriation as the ways and means to pay the interest of such debt or liability as it falls due and pay and discharge the principal of such debt, will be subject to voter approval, unless the payment of the debt is made subject to appropriations of an independent non-State source of revenue paid by third persons for the use of the object or work bonded for, or are from a source of State revenue otherwise required to be appropriated pursuant to another provision of the Constitution?

Ballot's Interpretive Statement
This amendment to the State Constitution will require voter approval of new laws that allow the State to borrow money by issuing bonds through any State agency or independent authority backed by a pledge of an annual appropriation to pay the principal and interest on the bonds. New laws to allow the issuance of these State authority bonds for State government purposes will be subject to voter approval. State courts have ruled that the State constitutional requirement tha the Legislature and Governor must seek voter approval for bonded debt does not apply to such borrowing. That requirement is followed only for proposed State bonds that contain a binding, non-repealable pledge to pay off the bonds directly with State taxes. Most State authority bonds can be issued without voter approval because the payment of the bonds is backed only by a promise of the Legislature and Governor that they will enact appropriations in the future to meet the bond payments. The courts have said this is a legal means of avoiding submitting the issuance of debt for voter approval. Laws to permit such debt that are enacted after this amendement becomes part of the Constitution will have to authorize voter referenda for approval of such debts. Exceptions to voter approval for authority bonds will be permitted if the bonds are to be paid off from 1) a source of revenue dedicated by the State Constitution, which only the voters can establish, or 2) an independent non-State governement source of payments for use of projects built or obtained with the borrowed money, such as highway tolls or user fees.

Fnord's oversimplified interpretation: Should the state legislature have to put it to a public referendum every time they want to raise money through bonds (i.e., go into debt)? This seems to be an attempt to plug up a loophole that is allowing the government to continue issuing certain types of bonds after a previous amendment (or possibly an original clause in the Constitution) to force all borrowing to be voted on by referendum.

Pros:Generally speaking, referendums are more democratic, because they allow voters to directly impact government policies. Also, this would potentially raise awareness of what the government is doing, which is good. Potentially corrects a 'loophole' in the original law.

Cons:Special elections are a costly unnecessary expense. Single issue elections like this do not have high participation and are especially vulnerable to interest groups, like Norquist's Club for Growth. This initiative would make it substantially more difficult for the government to raise funds and deficit spend. Deficit spending is especially useful during a recession. Not having that ability would reduce the government's ability to combat recessions.

Recommendation: Vote No.

#2 Provides that method of selection and appointment of certain municipal court judges be set by statute rather than by the constitution.

Shall the amendment to Article VI, Section VI, paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, agreed to by the Legislature, providing that judges of inferior courtswith jurisdiction extending into more than one municipality be appointed as provided in law rather than as provided in the Constitution which requires nomination by Governor and appointment with the advice and consent of the Senate, be approved?

Ballot's Interpretive Statement
This constitutional amendment would provide that the method of selection and appointment of certain municipal court judges would be set by statute, rather than be provided for in the Constitution. These judges may include judges of joint municipal courts and judges of central municipal courts with jurisdiction extending to the territorial boundaries of a county. This constitutional amendment does not preclude the possibility that a statute would continue to provide for nomination by the Governor with the advise and consent of the Senate, but it does permit a statute to set forth another method of selection and appointment that may not involve the Governor and the Senate.

Fnord's oversimplified interpretation: Changes the process for nominating certain types of judges, taking away the power from the Governor and giving it to the Legislature. I don't know the impetus of this initiative and i couldn't find any additional information on the web.

Pros: Presumably allows the Legislature to correct for a perceived problem with the way municipal judges are appointed when their jurisdictions extend beyond normal territorial boundaries. Maybe right now municipal judges are appointed by local governements (i.e., Mayors) unless their boundaries extend into other areas, in which case the Governor has to take over.

Cons:Takes away a traditional power away from the Governor and gives it not directly to the local governments, but to the State Legislature, who can then create laws that may or may not be any more fair than the current method. Potentially allows for a sort of 'gerrymandering' of judgeships.

Recommendation: A hesitant 'No'.

Bonus question

I have also been asked about the pros & cons of having a school board voted upon by the public vs. appointed by the mayor.

Arguments in favor of voter selection More democratic. Avoids political cronyism. Allows for a diversity of opinion. Allows for especially enthusiastic or committed individuals to campaign for the positions. Creates a low-level starting point for people wanting to get involved in politics.

Arguments in favor of appointment by mayor: Provides a buffer layer to protect school board from voters concerned about hot button issues such as evolution or teaching sex ed. Also, no one really puts the effort into researching school board member candidates anyway, so why not let the choice be made by the mayor, who is a more known factor that the public has selected?

Recommendation: In New Jersey, the risk of hot button issues becoming a factor is relatively low. I would vote in favor of the public voting directly for the board, but i don't think it's a terribly significant issue.

By fnord12 | October 31, 2008, 7:11 PM | Liberal Outrage


These were generally my point of view also. Nice that my chief of staff supports me for once!

I wish I came in here earlier...I voted NO to both this morning. I went with my gut....but I left thinking I wish I had a flow chart and a pro con list....and here it was :(