Increasing Transparency is Essential to Instilling Trust
First printed in the Burlington County Times on November 16, 2014.
Voters of all political persuasions who went to the polls on Election Day consistently noted one fundamental flaw in government — they feel they cannot trust their elected officials.
But can we blame them?
It’s utterly impossible to overemphasize the importance of trust — and consequently, transparency — in our political landscape. Increasing transparency in government is essential to instilling the trust and accountability of elected officials to our bosses, the residents of New Jersey. In order to reduce the cynicism residents feel about government, its citizens must be truly included in the mechanics of government. We can do this only through the free flow of information, which cannot be obstructed or diminished in the interest of political expediency.
Earlier this year, I was the sponsor of a bipartisan proposal requiring New Jersey to include a debt affordability analysis in the state’s debt report. This is the kind of comprehensive data that would allow elected officials to develop a genuine long-term fiscal road map, putting an end to our yearly budget shortfall debacle and safeguarding our credit rating. Members of both parties agreed that it was a move toward increased transparency and a stronger fiscal future in New Jersey. In fact, it easily received unanimous approval from the Assembly and Senate.
When it got to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk, however, this common-sense legislation became yet another victim of the veto pen. To make matters worse, when the Assembly attempted to override that veto, my Republican colleagues — who only months before had given it full support — inexplicably rejected an opportunity to make New Jersey’s government more transparent.
Now, why would an administration that took office promising “a new era of accountability and transparency” deliberately limit access to unadulterated information about the state’s finances? Perhaps, facing the reality that New Jersey is in an abysmal economic state under his leadership, a governor increasingly under the spotlight has decided that the promise he made years ago simply isn’t worth keeping. The sad truth is that a lack of accountability and transparency seems to be the norm under the Christie administration. When the press publicized the failure of his infamous 2 percent cap on property taxes — highlighting that net property taxes actually had increased nearly 20 percent during his first term — the administration deleted the property tax data it had published online.
Although his actions clearly have failed to live up to his words, I agree wholeheartedly with the governor’s notion that the people ought to be able to keep elected officials accountable. That’s why, in addition to reintroducing the aforementioned measure to require a debt affordability analysis (A-3827), I am proud to sponsor three other bills that capture the sense of transparency that has been absent from New Jersey for too long.
The first measure (A-3223) would require the Department of Community Affairs to publish information that would allow taxpayers to better understand how their property tax bills are calculated.
The second (A-939) would require the state to provide detailed reports confirming whether corporate tax benefits intended to create jobs and encourage investments actually accomplish these goals.
The third measure (A-103) would require the creation of a state public finance website providing easy public access to data and details about state revenues, expenditures and total bonded indebtedness.
When these bills make it to the governor’s desk, the “accountability and transparency” ball once again will be in his court. Hopefully, for the sake of New Jersey’s future, he makes good on his promise this time around.