Stephen King or the creators of cable’s “Eureka!” couldn’t have scripted it better. That little area of the United States, often called fondly by its natives as “God’s Armpit” (I swear!) and better known as New Jersey, has had a banner summer. “Banner”, that is, if you consider the media coverage of that has rained down (more on that later) on the state since this past June.
Perhaps we’d best start at the beginning of the summer. The school district of Willingboro, located in Burlington County, ended the school year with not only no superintendent of schools but with a frenzied last-ditch effort to obtain State funding for its woefully inadequate (and consistently defeated by township voters) school budget. Over the past three years, Willingboro has gone though a succession of superintendents, most recently a gentleman by the name of Alonzo K. Alonzo had been fired by the Willingboro BOE quite a while back, but continued to receive a particularly cushy salary and benefits. When the Board took more formal action, Alonzo shot back with a volley of lawsuits asking for, among other things, his continuation of salary and pension – this for school district which is approximately $100 million in debt, still has no permanent superintendent, and were denied State relief for their budget.
On that sour note, the New Jersey legislate, having turned down Willingboro and other school districts and substantially cutting State aid to education even further than the previous year, continued to hack out its own State budget. In a state which has the highest percentage of property tax rates (our current annual property taxes for our home in southern New Jersey is a whopping $17,200! (again, I swear!), the Govenor decided that more revenue could be derived in a simple stroke of the pen – increase the state sales tax from 6% to 7%. Now, proponents (mostly the governor and his staff and their families) touted that this was only an additional penny on every dollar increase. Try explaining that to the owners of car dealerships, boat dealerships, and other large-ticket items; those additional pennies on the dollar can add up quickly, and what’s to prevent folks from crossing one of numerous bridges over to Pennsylvania, where a 6% sales tax still reigns?
Upping the ante even further, our trusty Governor added a sales tax to a number of previously untaxed items, including massages, tanning salons, limousine services and more. Wow! For the Jersey gal who likes to take a car service to get her tan and massage, this was a massive blow!
The legislature and Governor came to (figurative) blows when they did not have a budget in place by the federally mandated date of July lst. Working feverishly over a long and very hot Fourth of July holiday, they finally managed to hammer out an agreement – which included that pesky 7% sales tax and taxes on other ‘personal luxury’ items as well. During that four day period, the State of New Jersey not-so-quietly went out of business. Public beaches, public parks, state hospitals, and even – horror of horros! – Atlantic City casinos were slated to close up shop, over the course of several days. Casino owners and managers squawked the loudest, claiming that they were losing $10,000,000 to $30,000,000 in revenue per day. As luck would have it, the casinos – which are overseen by state regulatory agencies – were not forced to shutter their doors. But it does leave behind the nagging question – if each casino rakes in between $10,000,000 to $30,000,000 each and every day, maybe the State should take a closer look at how it can funnel some of that money into its own coffers….
The heat wave that started that Fourth of July weekend has continued on an intermittent basis ever since in the Garden State. They were also accompanied by a series of humonguous thunder storms that brought not only driving, horizontal rains but hail as well. There’s nothing quite like the sound of hail pounding on your window air conditioner to remind you that yes, it is indeed summer! And with heat waves and thunderstorms come rolling power blackouts and cable disconnects. Yes, folks, there were indeed far too many days without any air conditioning but also no reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show”, “I Love Lucy”, “Project Runway”, and “Dog: The Bounty Hunter”. These New Jersey cultural icons took a sad and sordid toll on our collective spirits – along with the fact that most of us, at various periods of time, were sweating like pigs.
To make matters even worse, those of us sweltering in the heat also opened up our morning newspapers to find out that state funding for national security measures – i.e., disaster preparation, training, number of security job positions – had been dramatically cut. The county in which our family lives, Burlington County, took a 60% plus hit in the amount of money that the State would have given us for security measures in case of a local or national emergency. Perhaps the Governor expects those of us in folksy, somewhat rural southern New Jersey to just hole up in our barns, with our candles and hand-held lanters firmly in place? The more likely scenariou would be thousands of us throwing ourselves prostrate on our front lawns, weeping as rain, hail, perhaps nuclear waste, rains down upon us?
But there have been a few bright spots, too! A 21 year old exotic dancer/stripper in northern New Jersey was discovered to be harboring several human skulls, plus a (poorly severed) human hand in a jar of Formaldehyde. This discovery was made by EMT’s responding to a 911 call regarding a suicidal male at her residence. (Said “suicidal male” has yet to be discovered or identified; perhaps they have not yet gotten around to checking her basement or attic.) As of now, the young performer – who was allegedly given the severed hand by a male medical student who was especially smitten with the dancer – has yet to show up for her court date. Perhaps she is making up for lost time at the casinos? And why FIVE skulls? Was the mystery ‘suicidal male’ a potential candidate for the Number Six spot on her mantle?
On a certainly more sombre and less colorful note, the township of Riverside, New Jersey has passed its own version of an illegal alien law. The law makes it a felony to knowingly harbor and/or employ illegale aliens. Riverside, which is not far from our own home, is somewhat of a paradox unto itself. For decades, it was a blue-class working town whose economy revolved around a watch manufacturing company in particular. When the watch company closed its doors about 15 years ago, the nature of the town itself changed dramatically. For whatever reason, Riverside is now called home by an extremely large Brazilian/Portuguese population; I have no clue as to how this came to be. What I do know is that my cleaning ladies for the past ten years have all been Brazilians. Their pretty much total lack of command of the English language, however, is offset by many qualities. These ladies are extremely hard workers, very flexible, very eager to please and do a good job. They also do the quality and kind of work that I am frankly hard-pressed to think that most ‘American’ workers could or would do.. I don’ honestly know if they were/are legal immigrants or not. All I do know is that they are wonderful workers and very pleasant, interesting women with fascinating tales about their home country of Brazil. We watched Brazil play in the World Cup together as we sat in my kitchen.
The Riverside ordinance is aimed primarily at Brazilians. According to one resident who spoke in favor of the ordinance at the recent town council meeting at which it was approved, “Riverside was built on the sweat and determination of German, Italian and Irish families…these people (Brazilians) come in as illegal aliens, they pay no taxes, yet their kids attend our schools and are served by Riverside’s government. It just isnt’t fair…” It will be interesting over the rest of this summer to see the lawsuits and lawyers rolling into little Riverside with legal challenges to this township ordinance. (Actually, one July 28th, officials of a Latino human rights organization have already petitioned the state’s Attorney General to review the ordinance on the basis of its constitutionality.) Riverside residents appear to be totally in favor of the ordinance. As one letter to the editor of the Burlington County Times stated on July 30, “I just got a new job, and I had to produce proof that I was eligible to work as a legal citizen. Why don’t these illegal aliens work? Because they can’t produce those papers for themselves. Our schools are overcrowded, our police department understaffed and overworked because of this huge increase in residents. When they have children, their children are automatically citizens, but their parents are not. This situation has caused problems with our utilities as well, with water and sewer…I am not at all opposed to immigration. We have many people who came here from Korea, Brazil, Germany, Italy and other countries all on a legal basis. I oppose the ‘illegal’ in immigration, not immigration itself…”
I hope that this woman official is not the same one who was charged last week with interfering with the arrest of her live-in boyfriend over a traffic violation. Apparently, at least according to published reports, her boyfriend of two years was stopped by the state police, at which time it was determined that he was driving with expired auto insurance and was wanted on numerous outstanding raffic violations. His lady friend drove to the site of the incident and ‘encouraged’ the police not to tow away his car and to release him. She is currently under investigation now herself as a result of allegedly numerous cases of ‘fixing’ her friend’s traffic violations and tickets over a several year period.
When I first began this article, it was in a lighthearted vein, hence I originally included it into the “Humor” category. As I continued to document what has been going on of late in New Jersey, it is no longer humorous. It is frankly a sad state of events that we New Jersey residents find ourselves in of late. It’s no small wonder, then, that a significant number of residents are fleeing the state – including ourselves – for ‘greener pastures’ than those of the Garden State…