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Weinberg Measure To Rein In Out-Of-Control Authorities Advances

Bill Would Give Governor Veto Power Over Agencies’ Minutes

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Loretta Weinberg to give the Governor the authority to approve or veto the minutes of certain regional agencies or commissions to curb out-of-control waste and abuse of taxpayer resources was approved by the Senate State Government Committee today by a vote of 5-0.

“For far too long, the agencies in question have been able to operate with lax oversight and minimal spending controls, and it’s past time that the party on the taxpayer’s dime comes to an end,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, who has been pushing for reform of the agencies since 2007. “Under this bill, the Governor would be able to go after rampant patronage, waste and abuse of the taxpayers’ trust under the guise of regional utilities commissions. By giving the Governor veto power over agencies’ minutes, we’re ultimately giving the taxpaying public a voice in how their money is being spent.”

The bill, S-359, would prohibit any resolution or other action of the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission, the South Jersey District Water Supply Commission (which was authorized by statute, but never established) and the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, unless that resolution or action has been affirmed by a vote of the full membership at a meeting in which minutes were taken. Under the bill, these commissions would be required to submit their minutes to the Governor for approval, and the Governor would have 15 days upon receipt of the minutes to take action. If the Governor does not approve or reject the minutes within the 15-day timeframe, any action taken at the meeting in which the minutes were provided would take effect.

Under current law, the Governor has veto power over the minutes of 33 different State commissions and authorities, including the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Senator Weinberg’s bill would bring the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission and the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission under the same rules and regulations that apply to other taxpayer-funded State entities.

“The North Jersey Water Supply Commission and the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission have existed as part of the shadow government of agencies and authorities which spend huge amounts of taxpayer funds with little to no transparency or cost controls,” said Senator Weinberg. “At a time when New Jersey’s government is struggling with a multi-billion dollar deficit, and New Jersey families are struggling to make ends meet with the high cost of State and local taxes, we cannot in good conscience justify such unaccountability and abuse of taxpayer resources any longer. Through this legislation, the shadow government will be dragged kicking and screaming into the bright light of public scrutiny, and wasteful spending will be rejected.”

Senator Weinberg noted that both agencies have a history of questionable spending practices. A 2009 New Jersey Comptroller report noted that both agencies spent a combined amount in excess of $640,000 in public funds in order to lobby the State Legislature in the 2006-2007 legislative session. The agencies have repeatedly come under fire for salaries and employee perks that were overly-generous, and earlier this year, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s Executive Director, Bryan Christiansen, resigned after it was revealed that he was paid an annual salary of $313,000 – more than $130,000 more than the Governor earns each year.

“Whether it’s excessive pay and benefits for political patronage jobs, holiday parties for staff paid-for out of taxpayer funds, or padded public contracts awarded to campaign donors, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and the North Jersey Water Commission have been the poster children for government waste and abuse in New Jersey,” said Senator Weinberg. “However, without the Governor having veto authority over these agencies, we’ve essentially had no mechanism to end the shenanigans that we all knew were taking place. This bill begins to correct the decades of political patronage, abuse and waste of taxpayer funds at these organizations which have been a black mark on public service in the Garden State.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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