Senate President Steve Sweeney’s non-plan plan to merge 191 of New Jersey’s smallest municipalities could have some unintended political consequences:
1. Legislative Redistricting: Small towns are integral to creating districts that are equal in size – the state Constitution requires each of the forty districts need to be nearly equal in population — within 5% of the ideal number. Small towns are necessary to make that work. Without these 191 smaller municipalities, it would be almost mathematically impossible to draw equally sized, compact districts without forcing some towns (beyond Newark and Jersey City) to be split into different legislative districts.
2. Municipal Chairs: More than 1/3 of the Democratic and Republican municipal chairs in New Jersey would lose their jobs under the Sweeney plan. The transfer of county committee members from one town to another could imperil the political power of the host community’s incumbent chair. Example: Town A is merged with large Town B. Town B municipal chairman rules with a tenuous majority and new votes from Town A is enough to oust the Town B boss.
3. Personal Financial Gain: How many legislators, county chairs, major contributors and other political insiders have jobs or contracts with the 191 towns Sweeney might seek to eliminate? Lots of municipal attorney, prosecutor, public defender, labor counsel, bond counsel jobs at stake, and most – maybe all — of the 191 towns have an insurance contract.
4. Political Control of Local Government: Absorbing an entire town could change party control in the next election. Example: let’s say Essex Democrats finally take control of Roseland in 2018, but then Essex Fells gets merged into Roseland. Essex Fells isn’t that big, but enough Republicans would be exported to Roseland to make it likely that the GOP would take the town back in the next election.
5. County Boundaries: What if a small town in one county wants to join with a bordering town in a different county, like Peapack-Gladstone in Somerset County deciding it wants to join Mendham Township in Morris County? If the Legislature starts allowing towns to secede from one county to join another, watch the floodgates open up.