Corzine reins in state's agencies. GOP urges vote on ethics reforms

Corzine reins in state's agencies

GOP urges vote on ethics reforms
09/26/2006 Asbury Park Press

With ethics clouds swirling once again over New Jersey's political scene, Gov. Corzine signed an executive order Monday to reform the state's independent authorities, which he said make up an "invisible government" that spends billions of dollars each year with little oversight.

Meanwhile, Assembly Republicans reiterated their 11-point ethics reform plan and called for support from the Democratic Party majority that controls the Legislature.

Both moves came on the day Sen. Wayne Bryant, D-Camden, stepped down from the influential Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee amid accusations that he steered public money to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey after landing a job there that required little to no work. They also come a week after former Senate President John A. Lynch, D-Middlesex, pleaded guilty to corruption charges and disgraced former Gov. James E. McGreevey began his book tour.

Corzine said more reforms are on the way.

"This is a significant mile-marker on our mission to provide New Jersey citizens with the ethical and, I believe, appropriate government that our public demands and deserves," Corzine said as he signed his order on authorities. "This will not be the last milestone."

Corzine said he is still working with lawmakers to make his plans for a state comptroller part of this fall's promised property tax reform package.

50 authorities affected

Corzine's executive order requires authorities to establish transparent procedures for awarding public contracts, more frequent public reports to disclose their activities and coordination with the state Office of Economic Growth.

The order applies to more than 50 authorities, including the mammoth New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. Their independent status gives them some leeway to undertake expensive public projects but with less scrutiny than other government bodies receive.

"(In) too many instances the absence of having oversight, transparency, has led to wasteful, sometimes outright unethical and even potentially criminal practices," Corzine said.

The Republicans' ethics plan 002 ? 0030.04 includes a ban on holding dual public offices and reforms to prevent pension abuses and nepotism. Public officials would go to jail and lose their pensions for corruption convictions.

They called for a special voting session to consider these ideas.

"We need to place a knockout blow on the corruption, the fraud and the abuse of power that has been taking place in New Jersey," said Assemblyman Peter Biondi, R-Somerset.

Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-Mercer, dismissed the plan as "a warmed-over stew of existing legislative measures that were cobbled together for politically exploitative purposes six weeks before Election Day."

The Republicans said their proposals were not aimed at either party, but a news release detailing their plan cited five recent scandals involving Democrats as examples showing the need for reform.

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