TRENTON – Senator Richard J. Codey last week introduced legislation which would ensure greater accountability and transparency in the use of government cars, in an effort to crack down on the use of official vehicles for non-official purposes.
“When a government employee is handed the keys to a public vehicle, it is expected that the vehicle will be used for public business and not personal use,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex. “State and municipal governments maintain professional fleets of vehicles in order to better meet the needs of the people we represent, not for joy-riding or running errands. This bill would go a long way to make sure that personal business and government business don’t mix out on our roadways.”
The bill, S-1722, would make public vehicle usage information accessible by the public to review. Under the bill, the State Treasurer would make available certain information on each vehicle assigned exclusively to a State officer or employee for more than 30 days. The information would include the name and position of the person assigned to the vehicle; the duties of the position held; the purpose for which the vehicle is used; the miles traveled; the fuel costs; the toll costs; and any other information the Treasurer deems appropriate.
Under the bill, local and county governments, independent authorities, boards or commissions would be required to abide by the same vehicle transparency standards as the State.
Senator Codey said this latest push to make vehicle information public follows along with efforts he’s made, along with Senator Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, to create a new government transparency Web portal for all State expenditures and finances. That bill is currently pending in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, and was unanimously approved by the State Government Committee last month.
“Through the ‘Transparency in Government Act,’ we’re hoping to create one of the strongest tools for transparency in government spending and finances in the entire nation,” said Senator Codey. “This bill takes that original concept a step further, recognizing that gas used for running errands has a cost to the taxpaying public. Nothing’s more upsetting to the public than to see a public employee loading groceries into a State vehicle on a Saturday, and hopefully, with greater transparency on how these vehicles are supposed to be used, such abuse will become a thing of the past.”
Senator Codey added that certain exemptions were put in the legislation for law enforcement vehicles, mostly because the reporting of police vehicles could potentially jeopardize a criminal investigation or put people’s lives in danger.
“I know firsthand that State vehicles definitely serve a public purpose,” said Senator Codey. “Whether it’s for on-site code inspections, or offering safe, reliable transportation to DYFS caseworkers, the State has an interest in continuing to operate a professional fleet of vehicles. While most public employees are following the rules for vehicle use, the problem comes in when some officials use professional vehicles for less-than-professional reasons. This bill would go a long way in cracking down on that kind of waste and abuse of the taxpayers’ resources.”
The bill is expected to be referenced to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.