Senator Says Drastic Oversight, Potential Recovery of Misspent Funds Needed
TRENTON – Senator Ellen Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer, a leader in ethics reform in the State Legislature, issued the following statement on reports today that massive administrative failures in four of the State’s Abbott school districts led to “reprehensible waste of taxpayer dollars”:
“The news today that administrative failures have run up costs in four of the State-subsidized Abbott school districts is a shocking example of taxpayer dollars going to waste. At a time when legislators in Trenton are trying to trim the size of government and maximize efficiencies in State and local services, we need to crack down, hard, on those Abbott officials who, whether through incompetence or intentional fraud, have cost taxpayers across the State thousands, if not millions.
“This failure by local officials to account for money spent should also serve to trigger a much-higher level of scrutiny, across the board, of Abbott spending, to assure State taxpayers that their money is going to efficient education for our poorest students. The Abbott decision was borne out of the inequalities in education, and I know we have an obligation to provide quality education for every student. But when taxpayer funds are wasted and abused to this degree, drastic measures are necessary.
“I’m calling on the State Inspector General to conduct a full-scale audit on every Abbott district in the State, so that we can reveal all of the dirty laundry and cooked books. Going ahead, I would like to see annual or bi-annual audits, to ensure full compliance with the mandate of efficient, effective education set forth in the Abbott decision.
“In the State Senate, a package of bills I’ve sponsored dealing with the cost of corruption on taxpayers has already received preliminary approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee. These bills include S-1192, which would criminalize the corruption of public resources, including tax dollars, and S-1318, the “Public Corruption Profiteering Penalty Act,” which would allow the Attorney General to charge civil penalties to corrupt public officials to recover misspent funds.
“These audits should serve as stark reminders of the cost of corruption on everyday taxpayers, and I will be working to move these bills through the legislative process as quickly as possible. Should additional legislative remedies be necessary, I will be introducing those measures as soon as I can.
“And finally, I will be pushing for the State to use every tool already at its disposal in order to recover money that was misspent, either intentionally or in error. In instances where public corruption or malfeasance may have occurred, I’m asking the Attorney General to pursue the harshest penalties at his disposal.
“As New Jerseyans struggle with some of the highest property tax bills in the nation, officials at every level of government must be held to the highest degree of accountability when it comes to wasted funds. I have fought my entire career in public service to ensure that the taxpayers I represent are not victimized by corruption and waste. I will do everything in my power to ensure that abuse, waste and fraud in our Abbott districts will not be tolerated, and that those responsible will be subject to the strictest penalties under the law.”