Thursday, November 8, 2012

Entitled to Respect and Dignity

Several weeks ago, I asserted that Hunterdon County should not do business with Planned Parenthood.  Never once did I say I was doing this because I am Catholic or because my faith tells me too.  But that is exactly the spin on my stand by the press.  They cited my service to and attendance at St Ann’s Church as the motivation for my policy choice.  While I am proud to be Catholic you need not be conservative (see Mary Meehan), Catholic, Christian or even a theist (see Nat Hentoff) to oppose abortion, all one needs is to have passed high school biology and a normal sense of right and wrong.

Life begins at conception, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female join to form the blastocyst, zygote, a new distinct organism [Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3].  That organism has DNA, that DNA is human, that human DNA is unique and distinct from the father and the mother.  It is its own human life.  There is no moral difference from a zygote, embryo, fetus, infant, toddler, adolescent, teenager, adult, or senior citizen.  Each is entitled to respect and dignity and the government must protect each equally.

The right to abortion as embodied in Roe vs. Wade relies on the premise of a right to privacy.  The notion that a right to privacy is greater than the right to live is folly.  As the Reverend Jesse Jackson stated in his article in Right to Life News in 1977:

“If one accepts the position that life is private, and therefore you have the right to do with it as you please, one must also accept the conclusion of that logic. That was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside of your right to concerned.”

Roe is not the first grave mistake our Supreme Court has even made.  The Dred Scott decision of 1857 was overturned by the 14th Amendment following our Civil War and   Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896 was reversed in Brown vs Board of Education in 1954, 58 years later.  One day Roe too will be overturned.

The other assertion is a right to one’s own body.  True enough, you have a right to do with your body what you please up to and until the point you do harm to another.  You cannot use your body to hurl your fist at another or kick someone nor can you use your body to do harm to the unborn baby.

Some also state that an abortion ban would lead to many social problems like unwanted children, handicapped children, etc.  While these concerns are usually overstated and beside the point, the answer is not to kill children who would present problems, but solve those problems.  We don’t kill seniors because social security is insolvent, we don’t kill the poor to solve poverty, nor should we slay the unborn to avoid some social ill.

Another familiar line of attack is to dehumanize the unborn baby.  You aren’t killing a baby you are aborting a pregnancy.  This is the same tactic used to justify passed evils this country long ago overcame.  Again as Jesse Jackson wrote:

“That is why the Constitution called us three-fifths human and then whites further dehumanized us by calling us "niggers." It was part of the dehumanizing process. The first step was to distort the image of us as human beings in order to justify that which they wanted to do and not even feel like they had done anything wrong. Those advocates of taking life prior to birth do not call it killing or murder; they call it abortion. They further never talk about aborting a baby because that would imply something human. Rather they talk about aborting the fetus. Fetus sounds less than human and therefore can be justified.”

Whatever linguistic gymnastics and contortions abortion advocates use, it is inescapable that abortion is the taking of a human life, an innocent, defenseless one.  This is not a statement of religious dogma but one of science and reason, morals and ethics.

Once one concludes that life begins at conception, our policy choices become clear, although sometime painful. Our Declaration of Independence states our nation’s credo in direct unapologetic terms:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
If the right to life can be taken then how can a right to bear arms, to assemble, to exercise your religion, and on and on have any credence.   The first job of government is to preserve our rights, first among them is life.

The main criticism of my stand has been that I am imposing my religion on others.   This is false.  I am not advocating putting statues of Mary  at our county parks, I am not promoting closing county offices on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I am advocating respecting the wishes of our constituents and not have tax dollars go to an organization that provides elective abortions. 

We can still provide the health care for low income residents without subsidizing abortions.  Recently the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a state health program that excludes abortion providers from receiving government funding.  We should do the same, not because it is the teaching of the Catholic Church, but because science and ethics demonstrate that it is wrong, gravely wrong to abort babies.  Furthermore and perhaps more importantly from a governing standpoint, a majority of Hunterdon taxpayers, prolife and prochoice do not want their tax dollars spent on providers of elective abortions.

I do not mean to diminish the importance of my faith.  My faith informs and buttresses all that I do.  My faith gave me the strength to stand up for the unborn,  the perseverance to withstand the anti-Catholic condemnations, the assaults from intolerant abortion advocates for whom it is not enough to have the freedom to obtain abortions,  rather they demand that taxpayer fund their choices.  Most importantly it’s put into perspective the judgment that I will get from the residents of Hunterdon County.  While I am concerned about representing my constituents well and cognizant that I will face their judgment in 2014, I am far more concerned about passing the judgment of my Lord at the end of my days.  I believe my position will be approved by both.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Studies: When Warranted Not Wantonly

A resident last week wrote of his frustration that the county has not engaged in multiple studies on a host of issues.  He chided the Board of Chosen Freeholders for failing to reduce the cost of government.  First, we Freeholders have cut the budget and taxes four years in a row, lowering the cost of government.  Secondly, we have investigated multiple shared services avenues and taken action to move forward on a number of these items.
The issues that the writer wants studied included police, fire, EMS, schools, tax collection and tax assessment.  In reverse order, tax assessment cannot be reallocated to the county by statute.  Our Shared Services Working Group including Assemblywoman Donna Simon, investigated the pilot project in Gloucester County.  Based on their success, we determined that Hunterdon County could potentially save $1 million on our $2 million dollar county wide expenditure.  This need not be studied.  Once the State changes the law, Hunterdon can act.
Tax collection, which is similar in scope to assessment, is also by statute to be done by municipalities as they are the tax collection agency for all local governments.  Changing the tax collector to a county function would require several law changes.  Similar savings could likely be realized.  Again, no study is necessary, what is required is action in Trenton to allow us to make these changes.
Schools have been the subject of a several month long analysis that has been written about in several newspapers. Raritan Township Committeeman John King and I, along with several community members have developed a request for proposal for the county to issue to study school consolidation.   Before diving into a study, we did a lot of examination on the educational improvements and financial benefits of regionalized and/or a county wide school.  A study of this magnitude is not something to be jumped into wantonly.  We have been taking a thoughtful approach before moving forward.
EMS and fire service could serve as an example to all government agencies in cooperation and regionalization.  These services are already dispatched by the county, training is largely done by the county, and through their respective Chiefs’ Associations, they coordinate response policies on a county wide basis.  Structure fires get responses from multiple companies with several resources, thus no one company has to fund and staff the full array of equipment needed to properly fight a fire.  EMS agencies coordinate in a similar fashion.  Recent policy changes coordinated with Hunterdon County Communications resulted in a 76% improved response time to cardiac calls.  By working with these agencies the county is keeping costs in check without expensive consultants and studies.
Police merging was studied in great detail.  The rosiest scenario would save a typical Hunterdon county homeowner in one of the 13 towns that have police about $50.  Even a casual observer of the Somerset County study, the referendum in Franklin Township and even the events in West Amwell and Flemington when police mergers were suggested demonstrates that the majority of voters want their police.  The County stands ready to help towns pursue mergers if they wish the help.   
The notion that my colleagues and I have not reduced the cost of government, reduced its size and shirked our duty to the public is farcical.  Millions less in spending, a public workforce reduction of nearly 20%, actively engaged in the effort to share services, consolidate and regionalize.  We will perform studies prudently, after a thorough analysis that shows the money spent will bear fruit, to do otherwise would be, well, not doing our job.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Vision 2020

The following resolution which I authored was passed last Tuesday by the Board of Chosen Freeholders. It represents our effort to look beyond the next budget to the long term health and welfare of our county and her residents.  We are asking our Divisions to look at what services will be required, and how best to deliver them so we may budget and plan appropriately.  Fiscal conservatism should concern itself with not just today's taxpayers but future tax payers.

Whereas, Hunterdon County has rightly spent the last five years focusing weathering the economic recession without diminishing critical services cutting spending by over $10 million, reducing the amount of money raised by taxation by over $6 million and reducing its workforce, mainly through attrition, by over 20%, and
Whereas, the Board of Chosen Freeholders credits and thanks our employees for their dedication and continued commitment to the residents of the County, and
Whereas, Hunterdon County will face great burdens on infrastructure and services in the years to come, and
Whereas, to properly prepare for the future needs of our County, its residents, businesses, other public institutions, proper forecasting and preparations must be made so as to meet these future needs, and
Whereas, each and every Division of the County will play a critical role in meeting these future needs,
Now, Therefore, Be it Resolved, that every Division working in concert with their Appointing Authority, Department Managers, Advisory Board(s), Clients and Constituents, develop a scoping document spelling out the future statutory and discrectionary requirements of that Division to meet the needs of our residents in 2020 and beyond, and
Be It Further Resolved, that these Visions of Hunterdon County in 2020 and beyond be forwarded to the Board of Chosen Freeholders for our use in the proper development of future budgets, capital budgets, durable goods and infrastructure purchases and long range planning for the betterment of our County’s nearly 129,000 residents

Thursday, May 10, 2012

2012 Hunterdon County Budget

     On Tuesday, the Board of Chosen Freeholders will be introducing our 2012 budget.  The budget, when taken together with the Library budget will reduce taxes by $1.4 million and reduce spending by $1.9 million dollars.  Since peaking at $99.4 million in 2007, the 2012 County operating budget will be at $88.6 million, the lowest since 2005.  This is a remarkable achievement for which the credit belongs to our Finance team, our Administration, our Labor negotiation team, my colleagues on the Board and mostly to our 500 plus employees who bear the brunt of our choices.
     Critical areas of government are appropriately funded and vital capital needs are met.  As with any budget that cuts spending in some areas, there will critics who lament the loss in funding.  Such is the nature of make hard choices in a down economy. 
     This budget represents many difficult cuts but more importantly embodies many more responsible reforms.  Senior staff has been reorganized, departments with retiring department heads have been moved under other departments reducing upper management, and other functions have been consolidated.  We have made important improvements to how we deliver public health nursing services, how the county gets legal services and, using a shared service and better management, we are improving the delivery of health division services.
     Lower taxes, lower spending, real reforms; a responsible budget for our 130,000 hard working taxpayers and residents.  This is the budget we will introduce and hopefully pass so we can continue to meet the needs of this the best County in our Country.