When the state or local government wants to save money, they often do it by shutting offices.
That’s what the state did in late 2010 to MVC offices in Elizabeth, Wyckoff and Bridgeton, projecting to save more than $1 million.
But a trio of lawmakers are crying foul about closing the Elizabeth office, citing lack of savings and inconveniencing residents. As a result, State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (all D-Union) said they will introduce budget resolutions to reopen the Elizabeth office, which is in their district. The three legislators are all up for re-election this year and faced primary challenges June 7.
"The Governor's decision to close the Elizabeth MVC was clearly a political one," Cryan said in a May 14 news release. "It saved no money and created unnecessary inconvenience for our residents."
PolitiFact New Jersey decided to check whether it saved no money.
A letter dated Jan. 24 to Assembly State Government Committee Chairwoman Linda Stender from MVC Legislative Liaison Jonathan Pushman, and copied to the Assembly Democratic and Republican offices, states that closing the three agencies "will indeed enable the State to achieve significant cost savings. The elimination of the agency positions will allow the MVC to realize nearly $1 million in budgetary savings. With respect to the Elizabeth agency specifically, the MVC will save an additional $288,000 by closing that office."
MVC Chairman Ray Martinez testified May 23 before Stender’s committee and said the Elizabeth closure saved $288,552 in four areas, according to Elyse Coffey, deputy director of communications for the MVC: rent, $70,000; parking, $13,260; security, $112,000; and overhead, $75,676 (office equipment and supplies, janitorial services, maintenance and repairs, snow removal, etc.)
"These are tangible, annual savings," Coffey said.
Cryan disputed the savings even before Martinez appeared before Stender’s committee.
"I disagree with the 288K ($288,000) in savings that the MVC has projected from closing the location," Cryan said in a statement emailed May 20 to PolitiFact New Jersey. "According to the MVC, the rent per annum for the location was 80K ($80,000). No additional savings have been highlighted. This projected amount will surely be offset by the increased volume and demand now placed upon the Rahway and Springfield locations. Not to mention the countless inconveniences being met by the residents of Union County as a result of this decision."
Prior to Martinez’s testimony, the MVC could not provide a specific breakdown of savings for the Elizabeth office since its closure on Dec. 31 and referred PolitiFact New Jersey to the Pushman letter.
Looking for an independent source to confirm the MVC’s numbers, we then checked with the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services.
Frank W. Haines III, assistant Legislative Budget and Finance officer, referred us to the office’s analysis of Christie’s Fiscal Year 2011-2012 budget. While the analysis didn’t break down specific savings from each of the closed MVC offices, it identified savings -- provided by the MVC -- from the combined closure of the offices in Elizabeth, Bridgeton and Wyckoff.
In a March analysis report that includes a list of budget questions to agencies including the MVC, the Office of Legislative Services asked the MVC: "Have these closings resulted in any cost saving so far, and if so are these savings in line with expectations?"
The MVC responded: "MVC has realized cost savings in FY11 (Fiscal Year 2011) from the closure of five leased agencies Wyckoff, Bridgeton Elizabeth, Randolph and Morristown. Morristown and Randolph were leased properties MVC terminated in December, 2010 when the new facility was completed in Randolph on State-owned property. This resulted in a savings of $402,000. Wyckoff was a leased property in which MVC were served an eviction notice. Our Oakland office was expanded and those expenditures were taken into consideration when estimating a savings. The closings of Wyckoff along with Elizabeth and Bridgeton produced an overall savings of $1.6M. ($1.6 million) These savings came from a reduction of 43 FTEs, (full-time employees) rent and security."
PolitiFact New Jersey caught the discrepancy in estimated savings -- $1.6 million reported to the Office of Legislative Services, $1.3 million cited to us in a May 18 email -- and asked Coffey about it.
"Many of the numbers that are being tossed around are from various budget documents and budget figures often change, either up or down, as time progresses," she said in an email May 24.
Despite three PolitiFact New Jersey requests to the MVC and Office of Legislative Services for the actual amount saved from when the Elizabeth office closed to present, no one has been able to provide that figure. In fact, Haines, of the Office of Legislative Services, said the number would have to come from the MVC, and the answer the MVC provided in the budget analysis "is the closest" we’re likely to get.
Cryan, Lesniak and Quijano aren’t just challenging the true bottom line, however.
"Since the closure of the Elizabeth MVC office, thousands of residents have been forced to travel to Springfield and Rahway and wait many hours to acquire MVC services," Lesniak said in the news release. "Elizabeth is the fourth largest city in New Jersey. It's unconscionable that it has been stripped of its only MVC office and its residents denied basic services."
The release also states that forcing residents to go to the Springfield and Rahway MVC offices "has led to three- to four-hour waiting times with residents often having to go back numerous times to get their paperwork processed."
Returning to Cryan’s comment about a lack of savings, let’s review.
Cryan said "no money" has been saved. While there is some question about the actual amount, the correspondence indicates there's no question that there have been substantial savings from the reductions in rent and the elimination of 43 jobs. We rate the statement False.
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