Adler Proposes Fiscal Accountability For Bridge Panels

TRENTON – In the wake of financial scandals at the Burlington County Bridge Commission, Senator John H. Adler today proposed reform legislation requiring county bridge panels to give a comprehensive, annual accounting of their spending practices to the Governor and Legislature.

“It’s obvious from the recent scandals in Burlington County that spending reforms at bridge commissions are long overdue,” said Senator Adler, D-Cherry Hill. “Public corruption takes a heavy toll on taxpayers.”

Robert Stears, a Trenton lobbyist, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in federal court to submitting false invoices and collecting more than $2.5 million in payments from the Burlington County Bridge panel over a seven year period.

“The need for reform is clear when millions of dollars can be paid out over a prolonged period for work that was never done,” Senator Adler said.

A State investigation also is probing the Burlington County bridge panel’s payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars for dubious consulting work on its Palmyra Nature Cove project where expenditures have exceeded $8 million – more than eight times its initial projected cost, according to published reports.

The reform proposal drafted by Senator Adler would add the State Treasurer and State Transportation Commissioner, or their designees, to the three-member panels currently appointed by county boards of freeholders.

“The public will be better served when county bridge commissions have State officials at the table where decisions on spending are made,” Senator Adler said.

In addition, the Adler proposal would require county bridge panels to submit annual reports to the Governor and to the Legislature disclosing “revenues, expenditures, receipts, disbursements, debts and liabilities,” and “shall detail the nature and amount of every contract exceeding $50,000 that the commission has entered into that year.”

The first reports to the Legislature and to the Governor would be due six months after the bill becomes law.

Currently, Burlington County and Cape May County have bridge commissions, but the bill would apply to any county that finds the need for such a panel in the future.

Senator Adler said he planned to introduce the bill when the Senate reconvenes here on Monday, March 12th.