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As Name Suggests, Red Tape Review Commission Tries to Ease Doing Business in NJ

Panel has streamlined some requirements and eliminated others, but critics contend it’s too lenient on businesses in the name of economic growth

Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno
Credit: Governor's Office
Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno heads up the Red Tape Review Commission.

Anyone who has ever run a school or church raffle in New Jersey knows what a hassle the state’s license requirement and strict fundraising limits can be. It’s as if the state was worried about the local elementary school running a casino.

But that problem is a thing of the past, since Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno signed a law last month eliminating those requirements. (Gov. Chris Christie was on an out-of-state campaign trip.)

The measure is just the most recent to come out of the Red Tape Review Commission a panel that studies bureaucracy and conflicting regulations in state government and has been led by Guadagno for more than five years.

Though often overlooked, the bipartisan commission has inspired several measures like the nonprofit raffle bill that have rewritten state laws since it was created by executive order in 2010. Other bills have changed state incorporation rules, modernized the issuing of liquor licenses, and eliminated executive branch boards and commissions.

And its work is continuing. The commission will hold its latest meeting this Thursday in Trenton, with a number of concerns raised by the healthcare community likely to appear on the panel’s agenda.

To its supporters, the commission plays an important oversight role by constantly reviewing state laws and regulations to see where changes can be made to improve efficiency. In addition to rewriting laws, the commission’s work has also helped slash thousands of pages from the New Jersey Register, the state’s annual official rulebook.

But the panel also has its critics, including those who believe that in many cases it has been used to roll back hard-fought protections like environmental regulations. They say its work has afforded big corporations and other businesses that don’t always put the best interests of taxpayers ahead of their own profits too much leniency in the name of economic growth.

The commission, meanwhile, has also provided a valuable platform for Guadagno, who has chaired the panel as New Jersey’s secretary of state, a post she assumed after her election as the state’s first lieutenant governor on a Republican ticket with Christie in 2009. Other commission members include lawmakers from both political parties, municipal officials, and representatives of the business community. And the relationships she’s forged could come in handy if Guadagno decides to run for governor herself in 2017 when Christie’s second term will be nearing an end.

In a statement provided to NJ Spotlight, she stressed the goal of the commission is to make New Jersey “a wonderful place to live and to do business.”

“And they are not mutually exclusive,” Guadagno said. “After all, you can't have one without the other.”

Michele Siekerka, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said the idea for creating a panel with the mission of reviewing red tape and bureaucracy goes back to the late 2009 transition period after Christie defeated then-incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.

Siekerka served at the time -- when New Jersey was mired in a deep recession -- as a member of a group that studied the red-tape issue for Christie’s transition team.

She later spent more than four years as a member of Christie’s administration in the Department of Environmental Protection, including as a DEP point-person for addressing red tape.

In its early years, she said the red-tape review panel took on obvious problems, what she called “the low-hanging fruit.” Now, it’s working on tougher and more complicated issues.

“I would suggest the work of the red-tape commission over the last five to six years has been tremendous,” she said.

Siekerka also said cutting regulation shouldn’t be seen simply as government giving away too much of its oversight responsibilities in the name of economic growth.

“You always have to have your filter in place,” she said. “You have to know when something crosses the line.”

But others say the commission’s work has at times gone too far, particularly in the area of environmental protections. Among other policy revisions, the commission has changed how contested cases involving the Department of Environmental Protection are resolved. It has also recommended that previously approved but stalled development permits be extended.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey’s Sierra Club, said other states have figured out ways to streamline regulations without compromising standards. He held up New York and California as examples.

But New Jersey’s efforts have largely been about “taking care of polluters and certain corporations more than about helping move businesses forward,” Tittel said.

He also warned that weakening too many tough regulations could end up hurting the state’s economy over the long-term because New Jersey is a state that relies heavily on industries like tourism that need clean water.

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