February 2018: State Budget and Public Leadership

2018 Perspectives from the Field, Part I
Throughout the 2018 seminar year, the LNJ staff will ask class members to reflect on their experiences following the monthly two-day seminars. The perspectives will change each month to include a wide spectrum of view points and expertise.

For more information visit our website at http://www.leadnj.org/

2018-02-08 15.45.10
(LNJ 2018 in the State House)

Lead NJ Seminar on the State Budget and Public Leadership
February 8-9, 2018
Trenton, NJ
By: Diane Walsh

We survived SIMSOC. We bonded over trust falls. And we put our heads together writing jingles for a fictitious airline.

Then, we finally got down to why we came – to learn about leadership. I was ready for the seminar on the state budget and public leadership to be our first substantive session.

Like Mark Murphy says, the budget is an administration’s blueprint. It tells you their priorities. As a former reporter, I’ve poured over many municipal and county budgets.  I confess that I find them fascinating. There are great stories hidden inside the columns of revenues and appropriations.

Sen. Bob Gordon and Assemblyman Dan Benson gave us a good look at what goes on under the hood in the budget process. Dr. Henry Coleman from Rutgers University and pollster Patrick Murray were extraordinary. Since I now head communications for a business group, Commerce and Industry Association of NJ, I wholeheartedly applauded the tag-team presentation from Tom Bracken of the state Chamber of Commerce and Michele Siekerka from NJBIA.

But I was bowled over by Dr. George Pruitt, the president of Thomas Edison State University. I could have listened to this grandfatherly man from the south side of Chicago for hours. His style of candor is rare. He brought 30 years of experience to the podium and you know everyone appreciated it the way hands shot up to ask him questions.

There were so many take-aways starting with: “Leadership is not the passion to make a difference but the capacity to make a difference.” He told us: “We want to make a difference in your lives, so you can make a difference in other people’s lives.”

The room snickered when he said the brochure that outlines the steps on how a bill becomes law is a “beautiful piece of fiction.” You know Dr. Pruitt was in the room when deals were cut. He could write a book, but he said he won’t betray the confidences he kept.

Instead, he shared his insights with LeadNJ and we soaked it up. In Dr. Pruitt’s estimation when the federal government “did away with earmarks it was the beginning of the end of effective negotiations.” He’s probably right because without some skin in the game, you are reluctant to fight.

His most thought-provoking observation was that the elections of Barak Obama and Donald Trump “were flip sides of the same coin.” Dr. Pruitt clearly sees the unrest in our nation.

“The community has to demand the change,” he said, while emphasizing that politicians can’t do it. “If the country is going to get saved, people need to do it.”

I think that’s why we’re here.


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