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Governor’s Reform Agenda Just The Starting Point

From the Bergen Record

Earlier this month, Governor Christie announced a broad policy reform agenda touching on areas of economic recovery, pension and benefit overhaul, changes to the state’s education system and ethics reform.

While some cynical political observers might question the timing of such an announcement – coming on the heels of his administration’s various missteps and mistakes in failing to qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal education aid – the governor’s proposals at least offer a starting point for necessary reform discussions, particularly in the area of ethics.

As someone who’s fought for comprehensive ethics reform under both Republican and Democratic governors, I recognize that we have to take our shots wherever and whenever we can get them. We need this opportunity to enact real reforms that will re-focus public service away from personal gain, and rid the electoral process of some of the poisoning influence of unchecked campaign contributions.

To truly be successful, we’re going to have to challenge some of the political convictions held by members of both parties. We can’t set policy by press release and we can’t legislate through sound byte.

I hope the governor will remember two important “C’s” of getting legislation passed: Compromise and Coalition building. We have to build bipartisan consensus and stand up against the entrenched party bosses on both sides of the political divide.

Common ground

Looking at the governor’s reform proposals, I believe there’s a lot of room for common ground among public officials of good faith who wish to clean up government in the Garden State. Whether it’s tighter restrictions on pay to play, greater oversight and public scrutiny over spending, greater disclosure of income for policymakers or more public reporting of campaign spending, these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the necessary ethics reforms that will drastically change this state’s culture of corruption.

However, some of the governor’s proposals need to be examined and fleshed out, and we have to work carefully to make sure that the reform goals are met without the unintended consequence of limiting public discourse. In particular, the proposed prohibition on multiple jobs is problematic, though I think dual-office holding is not in the best interest of our residents. I agree with the governor that there are some public officials in New Jersey who treat public service like a big payday.

However, a blanket prohibition on multiple-job holders serves only to disqualify honest people from public service.

Good, hard-working teachers, police officers and firefighters shouldn’t be denied participation in their government simply based on who their employer is.

For the last few political sessions, I’ve sponsored legislation to create a commission to examine the issue of a full-time Legislature for New Jersey. The idea isn’t the most politically popular, but could potentially cut down on conflicts of interest and empower the Legislature to tackle some of the tough problems facing New Jersey that demand more than just part-time solutions.

Tougher pay-to-play laws

We need tougher anti-pay-to-play legislation that once and for all bans the practice of wheeling – the unchecked flow of campaign cash between state and county party committees and candidate committees. Not only does it make a mockery of the electoral process when one party can flood a district with campaign cash, but it defies the will of the donors, who were expecting their donations to benefit the party or candidate they donated money to.

We need greater transparency and an easier avenue for taxpayers to view public records and spending documents. The greatest disinfectant to corruption is an informed electorate. We are working on an update of the state’s Open Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act which is not only warranted, but necessary to evolve government openness into the 21st century.

Finally, if the governor is serious about reform, he should turn the reform lens on his administration. Open up the books to Reform Jersey Now, and provide a complete list of campaign donations the governor is soliciting for conservative Republican candidates around the nation.

If it’s good enough for every other policymaker in New Jersey, it should be good enough for our chief executive.

The road to reform is a difficult one. We cannot allow the challenge to deter us.

At the end of the day, taxpayers depend on us to be good stewards of the public trust. We cannot let them down.