Municipal consolidation is one of New Jersey's most thoroughly studied issues. If studies and recommendations brought about results, the state would be down to about a dozen towns.
But the number of municipalities in the nation's fourth-smallest state remains stubbornly high, at 566. New Jersey has more incorporated cities and towns than California, which is four times more populous and 18 times bigger. No state can match New Jersey's accumulation of governments per square inch.
New Jersey's school districts, meanwhile, are even more numerous and expensive to property-taxpayers.
The studies, however, persist. The latest look is by the Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization, and Consolidation Commission (apparently not named by a marketing wizard).
Last week, the commission began considering the possibilities of merging 40 small South Jersey towns with bigger partners.
Among the possible pairings are Medford Lakes and Medford Township; Riverton and Palmyra; Bordentown Township and Bordentown City; Pennsauken and Merchantville; and Hi-Nella and Stratford. Many of the couples, like the Medfords, consist of tiny boroughs surrounded by larger townships.
In the end, though, the commission will leave the decisions to town officials. That's the problem: This consolidation attempt, like previous efforts, relies on local politicians and bureaucrats to put themselves out of business. No surprise that nothing gets done.
Gov. Corzine is the latest in a long line of governors to propose municipal consolidation to no avail. But he deserves credit for being more forceful than his predecessors. He has cut state aid to the smallest towns and tried to make some pay for their "free" state police protection. So far, though, this has generated more uproar than efficiency.
Corzine's opponent in this fall's election, Chris Christie, has also voiced support for consolidation. Some of Christie's cases as the state's top federal prosecutor made a compelling argument for it, showing how fragmented governance multiplies the opportunities for corruption. But Christie's proposals for encouraging consolidation, so far, also lack the requisite force.
Even in cases crying out for municipal dissolution, at least one side invariably finds a reason to refuse. The mayor of Cape May County's Upper Township, for instance, has said he worries about the cost of schooling the children of neighboring Corbin City - population 500. Meanwhile, some Medford Lakes residents relish a police force that sent two squad cars to look into a case of Christmas-light tampering.
With such an excess of government and some of the nation's most burdensome property taxes, it's no wonder New Jersey politicians keep suggesting municipal consolidation. But until the entrenched local interests are taken on, it will remain merely a suggestion.