Move Comes After Lack of Cooperation from Christie Administration
(TRENTON) — Following the Christie administration’s repeated failure to appear at the Assembly Budget Committee’s request, the committee on Wednesday advanced legislation Assembly Democrats Vincent Prieto, John Burzichelli and Bonnie Watson Coleman sponsored giving the panel subpoena power to investigate state revenue collections, budget contingency plans, the state Lottery privatization plans, Hurricane Sandy relief funding and other finance matters.
The bill was released 6-4 by the Assembly Budget Committee, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposed.
The resolution (AR-151), which still requires Assembly approval, authorizes the committee to use subpoenas for compelling testimony and the production of documents from employees of the state, any state agency or any political subdivision of the state.
“This committee — and thus the elected representatives of the people — has been denied the testimony of executive branch officials on issues with significant state budget impacts no less than four times since September,” said Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen), the budget committee chairman. “Invoking subpoena power is not a step we would take lightly, but the failure of the Christie administration to respond to important and relevant inquiries makes it necessary.”
Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, for instance, has declined requests to speak to the committee to discuss the state revenue shortfall, plans to privatize the state Lottery and Hurricane Sandy relief funding.
“The treasurer may be appointed by the governor, but he’s the treasurer for everybody in the state of New Jersey,” said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “He’s not just the treasurer for the governor. For us to make the right decisions, we need information, and this treasurer has failed to cooperate.”
“Collecting information from the executive branch is a critical component of the General Assembly and Assembly Budget Committee’s duties in constructing and overseeing the state budget,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “We have asked for testimony on substantive issues that have a significant and lasting impact on state finances and require oversight, but a lack of cooperation from the Christie administration unfortunately makes this necessary.”
Under the resolution, the Assembly Budget Committee is constituted as a special committee of the General Assembly. The membership of the Assembly Budget Committee as previously constituted is reconstituted and continued in the special committee.
The special committee shall have the authority to investigate all matters related to the state budget and state finances including, but not limited to, revenue collections, state budget contingency plans, private management services for the state Lottery, federal relief funding in response to Hurricane Sandy and any facts it deems relevant in determining whether the circumstances associated with the state budget and state finances necessitate further legislative action.
For the purposes of carrying out investigations pursuant to this resolution, the special committee shall have powers including, but not limited to, the power to issue subpoenas to compel attendance and testimony of persons and the production of books, papers, correspondence and other documents.
This resolution shall take effect immediately upon Assembly approval and the committee’s powers would expire at noon on Tuesday, January 14, 2014, which is the end of the current legislative session.