What a shame that the state Legislature has repeatedly ruled out seeing if it would be good to consolidate some of the work of the four state agencies that oversee casino gaming in New Jersey. That legislators don’t even want to know what’s possible and might be gained by reorganization is a sign of government bias for a status quo that isn’t financially sustainable.
For the third time, a bill to study and recommend ways to consolidate the Casino Control Commission, the Division of Gaming Enforcement, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the Casino Revenue Fund Advisory Board has gone nowhere.
Its sponsor, then-Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Bergen and Passaic, said he introduced it to find ways to reduce spending and increase efficiency for the agencies, which may have redundant responsibilities. Since Eustace left office last year, the bill is essentially dead in the new Legislature starting next week.
Several years ago, as the Atlantic City casino industry withered from competition in other states, there was some streamlining in casino regulation, particularly at the Casino Control Commission. The effort was led by the late Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, who said at the time, “Our regulatory model was dated and expensive. This is a way to bring it up to where we need it to be and save some money.”
CCC oversight of day-to-day casino operations was given to a bulked up DGE, commission staffing was cut from 260 workers to 64, and its operating budget at the time was reduced from $24 million to $9 million. The five casino commissioners were reduced to three, which alone saved what was then $340,000 a year in salary and benefits.
A study of possible overlap and redundant staffing at the four agencies — especially in the executive ranks — would be in the spirit of the cost-saving recommendations of Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s bipartisan task force.
That New Jersey Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup in August urged an historic consolidation in education, cutting the number of school districts in half by regionalizing about 300 K-6 and K-8 districts into K-12 ones. The workgroup also recommended greater efforts to convince municipalities to enter shared services agreements to reduce costs while maintaining quality and responsive government.
The state’s commendable interest in shrinking local school and government systems to a size that works better and costs less would be more believable if it did the same with its own agencies and departments.
Past savings at a couple of the agencies make the case stronger for widening the scope of possible consolidation and saving more. Industry tax revenues freed up by reducing the cost of casino oversight could be redirected to help Atlantic City in its period of greatest need, as it works on its rebirth while digging out of its near-bankruptcy.
Government officials at all levels need to embrace the practice of constantly seeking to become more efficient. In the private sector, businesses frequently reorganize to reduce waste and lower costs — because unlike governments, they can’t just order consumers to give them more money. Officials risk strengthening voter opposition to tax increases by ignoring easy ways to help reduce spending to reasonably efficient levels.