The “Water Infrastructure Protection Act” just passed the State Senate and has moved to Governor Christie’s desk for signature. In a nutshell, the bill has removed the requirement of voter approval for a municipality to sell it’s public water system to a private company. You have to love the ironic names that politicians give to bills.
Historically, major decisions that have long-term, irreversible effects on the majority of residents in a community would require a referendum; a general vote by the public on a single question. In most circumstances I do believe that private corporations can run operations more efficiently than government agencies. However, in the case of our water supply, where there is usually no alternative source, I believe we should retain our right to evaluate the company that will be taking over the reins as well as the conditions of the sale.
The NJ State League of Municipalities as well as other public interest groups have opposed the bill but to no avail (see NJ.com Water privatization bill removing public vote requirement moves to Christie’s desk). For more information on the pros and cons water system privatization see NJ.com Water privatization bill amended, opponents contend it still takes away public say.
One of the most concerning aspects of the reduced scrutiny on privatization is that the bill allows the purchaser to recoup the entire purchase price, in addition to the expenses for improvements, from the ratepayers. This enables would-be purchasers to make enormous bids with no risk because the cost would be passed on to us. This begs the question, if ratepayers are ultimately going to pay to fix their water system, why sell it in the first place? It’s simple, the sale of water utilities will bring in large sums of cash to deal with shortcomings in the budgets of cash-strapped municipalities. Just more duct tape to for the hull of sinking ship.
This is not to say that the neglect of water systems in many municipalities is not a serious problem, and in many cases privatization can be a viable solution. But if privatization is the best option, it should not be difficult to convince the voting public to give their approval. Is this bill really saying that the public cannot be trusted to make the right decision?
I don’t believe that Riverdale is considering the sale of our water or sewer systems, but considering the track record of the current administration in terms of oversight, I am not comfortable with a bill that would leave the decision in their hands or anyone else’s for that matter (see WATERGATE!).
If you agree, you can voice your opinion directly to the Governor at: www.state.nj.us/governor/contact