Mr. Corzine’s Folly: Gutting the “Jersey Fresh” Golden Goose
What would you do if you had a venture that was netting you $54.49 for every dollar you invested in it? Apparently, veteran financial wizard, Governor Jon S. Corzine’s idea is to withdraw the investment dollar, let the profits crumble, then proudly wave the uninvested Washington about, declaring it a marvelous budgetary savings. Such seems the Governor’s rather puzzling logic in cutting $250,000 from the Agriculture Department’s “Jersey Fresh” program.
Founded 25 years ago, The Jersey Fresh program specifically identifies and advertises all New Jersey grown produce - from blueberries to seafood - as a proud yield of the Garden State. Since then the familiar red and green “Jersey Fresh” sign has proved literally a golden goose, boosting the state’s agriculture to a billion dollar industry. According to a Rutgers University Food Policy Institute study, every dollar spent on the Jersey Fresh promotional program has yielded $54.49 worth of increased economic output in the state. Last year, the $1.16 million the administration budgeted for Jersey Fresh, directly raised farm produce sales by $36 million, and delivered $2.2 million into the state’s needy coffers.
In short, Jersey Fresh is a cash cow. Further, it instills no end of justifiable pride in New Jerseyians who seem to be forever defending their state against snide snipings from their neighbors. So why would Mr. Corzine, or any economic advisor, ever seek to gut such an obvious, popular money maker?
* Rush to Folly. No one can state that Governor Corzine and his administration are not striving hard and fast to enhance the state, and see us through perilous times. It was this administration, after all that brought us New Jersey’s unequaled Clean Energy Program, with the strongest and most sensible alternative incentives seen anywhere. It has largely been the Corzine crew's efforts that have placed New Jersey as a leader in stem cell and other biotech research.
The problem has been that one of the hallmarks of all this striving is that it has been fast - sometimes thoughtlessly fast. When the state needed a quick cash fix two years back, Mr. Corzine delivered a doubling of the New Jersey Turnpike tolls as a knee jerk response. When it seemed that the state hierarchy was too costly, Mr. Corzine made the abrupt announcement that he was doing away with the Commerce Commission and the entire Agriculture Department.
In his first attack on New Jersey farmers, Mr. Corzine pointed to the department’s $345 million budget and 254-person staff as worthy of slashing. Unfortunately, the Governor failed to study the books closely enough to realize that $328.4 million of the Agriculture Department’s budget went for federally mandated programs.
* Feeding the Homeless. However, no government is going to give haste as its primary rationale for gutting a moneymaker such as Jersey Fresh. Instead, the official reason given by the Governor is “Because there is a growing homeless population and a growing shortage of food in our food shelters, we had to increase the money we are putting there.” That sounds plausible if you, again, swallow the concept fast without thinking too hard. Certainly, our homeless numbers and their food requirements are on the rise. But the only connection Jersey Fresh has with that need is they both involve food. You don’t burn your paycheck to heat your family’s hearth - you cash it and buy fuel. Similarly, if the Governor were to boost or at least leave Jersey Fresh’s funding intact, he would most likely find his solution to the homeless problems in its $2.2 million annual tax revenue profits.
Many critics have already commented that Governor Corzine’s slashing of Jersey Fresh comes as a surprisingly shortsighted move from such a long-experienced master of business. Yet the truth is, Mr. Corzine is not really a business man. Rather, he was an investment brokerage firm CEO. And therein lies a vast difference in horizon. It was the investment firms, such as Corzine’s Goldman Sachs, that cheer led corporation efforts to fire great numbers of workers and middle management in an attempt to boost quarterly profits and make stocks attractive to shareholders. Such moves brought quick fixes - with very little thought to longer term consequences.
Once in the Governor’s office, Mr. Corzine has shown this exact kind of swift-fix mentality. Everyone likes a fast-acting government. We applauded the Governor’s Main Street Business Assistance Program. But when it came time to deliver the $50 million to local banks, the cash was somehow not to be found distributed. Perhaps an administration that operates more on planning and less on impulse would serve us all better. It might also prevent the Governor from making sheepish back downs such as with the Turnpike tolls and Agriculture Department closing issues.
Yet beyond the actual loss of profits, tax revenues, and eroded trust in state government, the destruction of the Jersey Fresh robs us Garden Staters of pride. We all know that New Jersey tomatoes just plain taste better. Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers grudgingly agree. Our produce is absolutely scrumptious. No one wants to sacrifice that distinction.
No one wants to replace the sign “Jersey Fresh Tomatoes” with “Hot House Reds from Somewhere.” We don’t want to be commingled with California, Florida, or Chilean fruit, because our stuff is better. We want people to know that our state - New Jersey - makes the freshest and best.
To once again prevent the pride and profit produced by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and its Jersey Fresh program from being eliminated, you may contact your legislators at www.njleg.state.nj.us.
You may contact Governor Jon S. Corzine’s office directly via: www.state.nj.us/governor/about/contact/. Biz4