With all that is happening in Trenton these days, a handful of interesting stories have received very little public notice. Apparently the state’s Board of Public Utilities is planning to move it’s offices out of Newark to Trenton.
Since 1911 ( 99 years ) The BPU has been in Newark where the state’s utility companies were originally located. Because it’s a bit too much to put in a blog, I’m going to skip what happened in between and fast forward to the Christie transition report which recommended the move. The new BPU Prez Lee Solomon told staff on March 2nd that the move was imminent.
The idea here ostensibly is to save money. Or as one Republican told me The BPU has always been used by Democrats as “a great place to put people working on political campaigns without attracting the attention of the State House media.” If it moves to Trenton the Governor can “keep an eye on it.” I asked PIO Greg Reinert how much would actually be saved and he said the “savings are expected to be substantial. But Since we are currently in the planning phase, we are not prepared to release a cost analysis.”
So, here is what I was able to find out. The BPU rents two floors in Newark’s Gateway Center. Two floors – 45,000 square feet each at a price of $26 per square foot which roughs out to $2.38 million a year in rent. Some say, the Trenton space would be cheaper by a third, but much else would be lost.
For example, the 200 Newark employees who would need to relocate are overwhelmingly opposed to the move, according to union leaders. They say the refurbishing that would have to take place at the Trenton locale would wind up costing up to $12 million as the state rebuilds the 800 customer assistance lines, among other things. Plus, workers say you could wind up hurting the city of Newark. First of all, the loss of 200 people contributing to the local economy is substantial even in a large city like Newark. Plus the “collateral damage.” The 32 staff attorneys at the Div. of Rate Counsel would likely follow them down as would another 20 at the Division of Law. Finally critics warn of a domino effect where a really large employer like PSE&G decides it no longer makes sense to be in Brick City.
But here is the other thing. We have heard this song before. In 1991, then Governor Florio pushed to move the BPU to Trenton. However, Dick Codey and Sharpe James came to the rescue making the arguments about the losses to Essex County and Newark. Those same reasons exist today.
Of course, it’s a different climate now. And from what I understand the BPU has a lease through 2019, which doesn’t jibe with the fast-track approach of moving by the end of the year. We shall see.