Monday, May 24, 2010


Escape from New Jersey

According to this story from the Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger (motto: "Not Dead Yet!"), the New Jersey Senate has passed a bill that would require all newly-hired public employees, including faculty and staff at public colleges, to live in New Jersey as a condition of employment. Apparently, an early draft of the bill would have given existing employees a brief window during which to move, but it has since been amended to 'grandfather' current employees, as long as they don't change jobs.

Wow. Where to start?

As a rule of thumb, any law that has to be 'grandfathered' is probably a terrible idea. Were it up to me, we'd retire that word from the language, and replace it with something like "eat the young." But never mind that.

I've heard of laws like these applied to police and sometimes firefighters. They strike me as questionable there, but I suppose one could make an argument based on emergency response time. Firefighting can't be telecommuted, and you're needed when you're needed. In the case of police, it's usually a racial issue.

But college faculty? Really?

As students of geography know, New Jersey is directly across from both New York City and Philadelphia. It has long borders with both Pennsylvania and New York, and a short one with Delaware. (Nobody has a long border with Delaware.) It has the highest population density of any state, which results, predictably enough, in the highest property taxes of any state. How requiring more people to live in the state will undo the damage done by excess density isn't entirely clear.

As a practical matter, the proposal is absurd. In the age of dual-career couples, what happens to couples in which one member crosses the border to work? If, say, Pennsylvania were to respond with a similar law of its own, a dual-career couple would have to separate. Then there's the issue of housing cost. Although the Great Recession has taken the edge off somewhat, real estate in New Jersey is still indecently expensive, especially when compared to assistant-professor salaries. Some of them have managed by trekking out to Pennsylvania. Take that option away, and they'll just have to leave altogether. How that helps isn't clear. The struggling adjunct who crosses bridges and tunnels from New York is now completely out of luck, as is the prominent musician or artist who used to come out once or twice a week to teach.

Tying the peasants to the land is an abuse of power. Tying them to the land for no particular reason is a stupid abuse of power. The closest thing to an argument presented in the article was that people on the state payroll shouldn't spend that money out of state. But that confuses salary with expense accounts. Subjecting my expense accounts to public scrutiny is fair enough, but my salary shouldn't be less my own than anyone else's is. When I go home, I'm off the clock.

I'd expect to see NJ colleges start to suffer some recruitment issues. The high-salaried superstars who would like to live in New York City or Philly won't come; the low-salaried everyone else who made ends meet via long commutes will just have to find other jobs. The net gain to the state is...what, exactly?

If New Jersey is worried that its employees are taking their paychecks and spending them elsewhere, it should try to make itself more appealing so people will choose to stay. Punitive measures are not the way to go. ("You are hereby sentenced to live in New Jersey." "NOOOO!!!!!") Micromanaging employees' private lives won't solve any of the underlying problems, and will only cause unnecessary stress on the employees. And the message it sends about the state isn't exactly flattering. New state motto -- New Jersey: There Is No Escape.

I can see this being true almost a lot of places. Heck, I was so glad to be able to continue being a resident of North Dakota despite living in Minneapolis for the academic year. ND requires I spend 90 days a month in the state to be considered a resident. If I had to become a Minnesota resident, I would've had to pay something like 3 times the state income tax. And then there's the nightmare that is the DMV here. (I have to stand in line?! For how long?! And it will take them 2 weeks to get me my driver's license????)
Does that law include newly-hired adjuncts? Because expecting someone to relocate for adjunct-instructor pay is completely unreasonable.
If I'm remembering correctly, there are public library jobs in Boston that require the applicant to be a resident of the city of Boston. Not, like, Medford or Summerville or Cambridge. Boston only.
The employees could just change their 'official' residence to a mailbox store, if it came down to that.
Don't colleges already do a version this? I've been told, repeatedly, that I'm not being considered for jobs because I'm from out-of-state, and it's just easier to hire in state. Yet, I don't want to move until I have a job. Some faculty applications ask if I have that state's driver's license. Not A driver's license, but that specific state's. Colleges are already short changing themselves. NJ just has legal means for it now.
The rationale tends to be more about how paying state employees with tax dollars should require those employees to also be taxpayers in that state. (Cherish hits it, when writing that the taxes would have been much higher "(i)f I had to become a Minnesota resident..." Minnesota was "losing out" on all that tax revenue, and (at least in their minds) subsidizing the neighboring states.

Of course, this sort of thing isn't new. Many cities and towns require their fire and police forces to live in the areas they serve. That is typically sold to the force (and the citizenry) as a socializing effect--they are protecting and serving the community in which they live, therefore they will be more aware of the community and potentially more sensitive to the citizens.

Should cities/towns/states force people to live in certain locations for the privilege to work there? Maybe, maybe not. But then again, this is the road we go down when we decide that government is best to decide how we should live, rather than letting the people themselves decide.

I suppose we can pick and choose when we want to trust the government. That makes liberals and conservatives very much alike--the only difference is when and where we each draw the line.
Any law that requires a person to live in New Jersey should be considered punitive and unconstitutional (a clear violation of the 8th Amendment prohibiting "cruel and unusual punishment").
I don't suppose you know, but how does this affect adjuncts? Technically we're hired for a semester at a time. Are we now to be considered continuing employees?
Never mind, I've figured it out.

The law requires new hires to move into New Jersey within four months. But the semester ends before the four months are up. So I get my contract. It says that I must move in-state within four months. At the end of the semester I receive my final check. The next semester, the chair has the bright idea that he'll hire me to cover a couple of courses. I get a contract newly hiring me which says I have to move in-state within four months. Lather, rinse, repeat.

That's some catch, that catch S1730.
Grandfathered!!!! rofl, lol, roflmao. I LOVE the term. Eat the young, I say!
Perhaps the dual career NJ/PA couple can rent/own a houseboat on the Delaware River?

Hat tip, BTW, for achieving an "escape" title for two posts in a row. (Is "titling" a word?)

@The Professor: I live in state A and teach in state B. State B manages to get plenty in income tax based on my employment, and state A lets me deduct that tax as a credit (but only to the extent that I would pay taxes to state A on it). I would expect that NJ would have some sort of reciprocity agreement with NY and PA, but I haven't lived there and don't know.
@lab partner

Good point. Obviously your mileage will vary depending on where you live. I have been located in states where there was no reciprocity, AND they taxed your income both where you lived, and where you worked (that was New England...) In addition, there was the different yet related double whammy for those living in NH. Higher property taxes since there was no income tax, but if you worked in ME, you had to pay their income tax since you worked there. OUCH.

Being a political decision, these sorts of arrangements are often dependent on the political strength of the "cross-border workforce." Smaller states (surprisingly, like NJ), with a larger "surface area" touching other states relative to its size, may find they must consider reciprocity. On the other hand larger states where the vast majority of the population may not have even left their state on vacation, may find there exists a greater intestinal fortitude for such laws.

Perhaps what we need is less a single payer healthcare system, and instead a single payee tax system. (Wait--I don't even want that idea to enter the REALM of thoughts... LOL)
I was struck by a comment from a reader of the NJ newspaper article complaining about teachers making $85,000 per year for little work. That led me to Google and the discovery that the median teacher income in NJ is in the upper 50s, a few thousand higher than in PA. In contrast, the median household income is almost 15,000 higher in NJ than in PA. That could explain why public employees can't afford to live in NJ. Teachers are near the median in PA, but well below it in NJ.
I'm an adjunct for a local tech school. My day job is with a government that just passed a law stating all department heads must live in the City limits. The current heads are grandfathered, which is good, because only a few of them live in the City. The whole thought process behind it was that it "forces people to spend their taxpayer funded salaries here." Really frustrating.

The TC where I teach has no such policy, which makes sense since almost all the faculty commute from other areas to get there.
Delaware has a long border with Maryland, of which it should be a county.

Years ago, a student pointed out that, on all of the bridges crossing the Delaware River, the toll is paid to get out of New Jersey.
Whichever way you go you have to pay to leave New Jersey, and it's worth every penny...
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