October 25, 2022

LeadershipLimited Government

AF Local Leader Justin Musella is the Rock Standing for People Living in a Hard Place

By: Grant Van Eck

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Local taxpayers in New Jersey are on a life raft getting knocked around by the white-water rapids of property taxes. 

Taxpayers are barreling down towards a cliff in practically every town in the state, red and blue alike. There is nothing to stop the special interests from feeding the river’s current with their influence over the political class. Most towns go down the waterfall of wasteful government spending which enriches those who line their coffers with municipal dollars. 

Sometimes there is a rock right at the edge of the falls, breaking the flow and resisting the intense force of the water rushing over the cliff giving people hope to hold on to— AF member and councilman, Justin Musella, is that rock for the people who elected him.

He is jutting out by speaking out, and the residents finally have something to grab and save their raft from falling over into that never ending gushing of their money to the basin of special interest groups by their leaders who only care about their own power.

Justin has recently come under vicious attack by labor unions for being the lone opposing voice to a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) being pushed by the mayor and 4 other councilmembers in his town. 

Project Labor Agreements are a discriminatory practice that hurts union and nonunion workers to benefit those favored by self-appointed elites who engage in preferential selection on projects funded by public monies. This type of anti-free market, protectionist policy only helps the most politically connected union hiring halls and hurts most blue-collar workers who earn their living in smaller labor unions and non-union companies also known as those who can’t afford to buy politicians. A PLA destroys competition. 

Once a PLA is in force, it boxes out three quarters of the bidders by creating rules that exclude them from having a seat at the table. The other thing a PLA has done every time it has been implemented is skyrocket costs and drag out time frames associated with construction. Who takes on that additional financial load? The already overburdened NJ taxpayer. 

This type of contempt for the people who actually pay property taxes in favor of an old style network of nepotism is something hard to live under and even harder to fight against.

I interviewed Justin to learn about what it is really like to step into the breach, not compromise free-market small government principles and do what he was actually elected to do.

Grant Van Eck: How did this start and when did they first come after you?

Justin Musella: They first came after me when it became evident that I was trying to revise the ordinance to protect merit shop business in town. It started with phone calls that were very unprofessional. The callers were reminding me that this would be the end of my political career if I stood for taxpayers’ interests over theirs. They used tactics of fear and intimidation to stop me from speaking out against the PLA.

Van Eck: How did it make you feel?

Musella: I felt like I was right about my real purpose for serving in public office, because when you have people bullying you to do something to protect their special interest it is clear you are being authentic. When you have the public’s good in mind it is very rewarding emotionally. Also, from a pure policy standpoint, PLAs are flat out bad policy.

Van Eck: Why did they go after you, when they had four votes and only needed three knowing the PLA would still pass without your support?

Musella: My theory is because of the size of Parsippany (Red Town) and since it is the first town in all of Morris County (Red County) to have a PLA brought to the governing body, it sends a message to other elected officials who may want to say no when it comes up in their town next. They are looking to make a statement and by silencing me, they in turn silence other conservative and libertarian elected officials. They weren’t expecting any resistance and you can gather that these tactics must work for them in past instances with those in elected office.

Van Eck: Where did the idea for a PLA in Parsippany come from?

Musella: No one can give a straight answer on this unfortunately. They claim by the mayor (R) who pushed for the PLA is that it ensures skilled labor on projects over $5 million dollars. There was no public request for a PLA. No taxpayer I have met to date has said they would want the cost of municipal projects to increase by 20-30 percent. In fact, feedback from taxpayers in public meetings and published in editorials is the exact opposite of what the mayor has claimed. Residents are overwhelmingly against this. Clearly, it is only the entrenched special interests that push it out to the politicians they control.

Van Eck: Why was the council meeting where this was to be discussed and voted on moved?

Musella: The council meeting was moved to the following week on a Tuesday night at the local high school. This has only happened one other time in history. Over 200 union members, the majority of whom do not live in the town, were organized and were bussed over. 

Van Eck: Leading up to that meeting you were being harassed by the special interests organizing against you, how much free advertising did those forces give?

Musella: They had a truck that went all around town with my face on it, they even created a video of themselves marching into a council meeting and posted it after. 

This is so unfortunate for them, as I have never seen so much support flood in. 

It is also a shame since my only position this entire time is that the government should be neutral when handing out contracts using taxpayer funds. I am not pro or con when it comes to unions. That was not the debate at all but they aim to twist the narrative while refusing to listen. It just shows how hard special interests will fight to get the government on their side. 

I separate the union leadership from the rank and file. The members were there to support something that helps them, and I understand that. 

Sadly, it is the leadership that is only there to manipulate the system to their own benefit. By the way, privately some of these same leaders expressed to me that they were in awe that I stuck to my guns on this. They are not used to politicians doing that. They sent an army in to scare me, and it was a futile effort.

Van Eck: Beyond standing up to special interest you also stood against elected colleagues in your own party, what was it like?

Musella: It’s complicated since when you have two people in the same party on completely opposite sides of the issue, you must ask yourself which one is standing up for the policy of the party and which one is actually doing the work of the opposing party.

Van Eck: The PLA passed by a vote of 4-1, do you regret anything and what is the feedback you are getting from residents?

Musella: No matter how much pressure I was under to vote the way they needed me to, beyond innuendo, and intimidation tactics, it felt remarkably rewarding standing up and saying no. 

The feedback from tax paying residents is fantastic – all you have to do is check my Facebook post of my statement with the comments from residents.  

I also sent an email blast with the statement and have so many positive replies. People did not want the PLA, period. They felt they had a voice for a change and finally someone who would stand up for them and hold their ground against the outside pressure that has been driving up taxes. 

There is no regret, sticking to your principles is euphoric. I can’t imagine the feeling of regret that I would have if I had caved to the pressure and betrayed the people who elected me to represent them.