The proposal to privatize New Jersey Turnpike toll collections was at the center of a heated Assembly committee meeting Thursday.
The Turnpike Authority is in the process of determining whether to privatize the contract, according to Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson, the authority chairman.
Turnpike collectors are paid an average of $65,000, compared with $44,000 in neighboring states, with additional benefits making them twice as expensive, Simpson said.
The chairwoman of the state government committee, Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Scotch Plains), said the authority should be using a clear process to determine whether privatization is appropriate, including a set of practices laid out last year by Gov. Chris Christie‘s privatization task force.
Stender noted studies that hidden and indirect costs to privatization can raise its price by 25 percent, and that 60 percent of government agencies that return to government-provided services after privatizing give quality service as the primary reason.
Simpson said he agreed with Stender on how the process should be conducted.
“I want to make it clear that the Christie administration is all about doing what’s best for the public,” he said, adding that there is not an ideological bent toward outsourcing “at all cost.”
Stender and Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Delran) expressed concern about the state request for the toll contract, which specified minimum pay of $12 per hour. Conaway questioned turnpike officials on whether they consider this a living wage, and they replied that it is comparable to positions requiring similar skills, and provides opportunities for living wages.
Union officials decried privatization efforts: The toll collectors’ union has sued the authority regarding its handling of privatization.
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