Commentary

Trenton, New Jersey Nearly Wiped Out by Fiscal Woes

Earlier this week Alex Zdan of The Times of Trenton reported that in Trenton, New Jersey toilet paper and paper towel stocks dwindled as the city council butted heads with Mayor Tony Mack over the city’s paper products supply contract. The council voted twice to reject a $42,000 contract for paper products. They were able to reach a compromise however, Dave Warner of Reuters reports:

The great toilet paper crisis in New Jersey’s capital city is over.

Police, firefighters and other Trenton city workers down to their last sheets as the result of a City Council budget battle were rescued late Tuesday by animal rights advocates who offered six months of free rolls printed with a message about filthy slaughterhouses and the resulting fecal matter found in meat.

New rolls of paper were expected to begin arriving in city offices and facilities on Wednesday, thanks to the donation from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and an emergency appropriation of $16,000 by the City Council.

All city facilities would have run out of toilet paper by week’s end without the stop-gap measure, said city spokeswoman Lauren Ira.

Already, the men’s rooms at police headquarters were bare and fire stations, senior centers, recreation facilities and City Hall itself were down to almost nothing after spending for new toilet paper was stalled in debate three times since it came up for a vote in November.

PETA’s offer of a free six-month supply came with the condition that each sheet would read, “Slaughterhouses are so filthy that more than half of all meat is contaminated with fecal bacteria.”

Mayor Tony Mack was happy with the offer, calling the toilet paper crisis a “fundamental issue in our community.”

Stories like this read as if they’re on the front page of The Onion (a satirical newspaper); but all jokes aside, this flash crisis reflects how close some U.S. municipalities are to passing a fiscal tipping point. Trenton was recently featured in an episode of This American Life entitled “459: What Kind of Country” that focuses on how state and local governments across the country are struggling to pay their bills. The episode highlights that Trenton’s budget woes ultimately led policymakers to lay off one third of the city’s police force.

Trenton is not alone. Several nearby state capital cities (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Providence, Rhode Island) are suffering similar budget woes. All these cities demonstrate that irresponsible governance has serious consequences. For a chilling vision of what it looks like when policymakers can no longer kick the can down the road, see “Is Harrisburg’s Nightmare America’s Future?” (below) by reason.tv producer Jim Epstein:

Harris Kenny is a state and local government policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Harris has worked alongside policymakers in Colorado, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon and elsewhere to implement public policy solutions. Harris is currently serving as a member of the Local Authority Working Group of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's Amendment 64 Task Force, which is providing guidance on implementing recreational marijuana legalization. He conducts research on public finance, public-private partnerships, privatization, public safety, criminal justice and regulatory policy issues.

Harris has appeared on various television and radio outlets, such as National Public Radio, HuffPost Live, Al Jazeera, Voice of Russia and Colorado Public Television. His writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The Denver Post, The Sacramento Bee, The Orange County Register, Real Clear Markets, reason.com, and other print and online outlets. He also serves as co-editor of Reason Foundation's Annual Privatization Report (reason.org/apr) and Innovators in Action (reason.org/innovators) publications.

Prior to joining Reason Foundation, Harris worked at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. He earned a BA in Economics from Pepperdine University, where he worked as a research assistant to Dr. Luisa Blanco at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy.


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