Gannett’s New Jersey newspapers published the following regarding Gov. Christie’s veto of the Assembly Democratic bill to increase public transparency and oversight of Sandy relief funding:
“Gov. Chris Christie last week vetoed a bill unanimously approved by the Legislature that would have created another layer of transparency in monitoring the spending of superstorm Sandy relief aid. The proposal would have, among other things, required quarterly revenue reports as well as detailed public information on Sandy-related contracts and grants.
Christie, however, said the bill was largely redundant and that the state already had enough measures in place to assure proper oversight of the spending. Democrats complained that the bill would have turned the oversight requirements into law, rather than relying primarily on Christie’s vows and directives.
So the choice is between assuring the public scrutiny, or hoping Christie means what he says about the monitoring — and will continue to mean it.
We’ll go with the assurances, as legislators did. Christie should have accepted that as well.
For all of the governor’s bravado and bluster, he has shown a disturbing hesitancy to keep the public fully informed on how the Sandy money is being distributed. For instance, his first instinct on a proposal to establish a website providing detailed spending information was to question its value. He expressed concern that personnel would be taken away from more important duties to instead waste their time punching keyboards. That he later relented and ordered the website’s creation doesn’t erase his original caution.
Now we have another transparency proposal that the governor rejects as unnecessary, despite the bipartisan backing. Christie said he’s comfortable with the existing measures, but that’s because he effectively controls them. That’s not enough, especially since the governor has already raised questions about his own decision-making in defending approval of a no-bid debris-removal contract with the politically connected AshBritt company.
In the end, more transparency never hurts the public, even if some of it is duplicative. If Christie is genuinely worried about the costs of maintaining the additional oversight, then tell us what those costs would be and what would be sacrificed to accommodate them.
By legally requiring steps that the governor has only directed to be done, the new measures would also have the effect of making more of the collected information public. That’s a vital part of government being truly accountable, but Christie seems intent on maintaining some escape hatches if he wants to protect certain pieces of potentially embarrassing information.
Public scrutiny of the Sandy spending is paramount, because New Jersey government has a long and bitter history of pouring tax money down black holes. For example, the state infamously wasted billions in school construction money through mismanagement and corruption within the past decade. New Jersey can’t afford such ineptitude again. Any money unnecessarily spent on one aspect of the Sandy recovery means less available for other needs.
Our elected officials have not earned our trust in their spending habits — and that includes Christie and all of our present leaders. The governor may feel like the new measures are redundant, but that shouldn’t matter. Better to err on the side of too much transparency than not enough.”