The Governor’s Failing Grade on Transparency
I used to love Sesame Street when I was a kid. I could watch it for hours sitting in amazement at that show. One of my favorite parts was learning what letter or word the show was brought to the viewers by. Taking a page from that childhood classic, today's post is brought to you by the word "transparent".
The dictionary defines "transparent" by using the following words: "easily understood....obvious...open... easily recognized or detected". I must admit that I find myself troubled as to how this seemingly clear definition is turned upside down in Trenton these days.
I’m referring to the issue of "transparency" in government.
Allow me to be completely "transparent" about how strongly I feel about this issue. Increasing "transparency" in government is essential to instilling the trust and accountability of elected officials to our bosses, the residents of New Jersey. I have worked to turn that into concrete action and not just mere rhetoric.
In order to reduce the cynicism New Jerseyans feel about government, 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.
At the risk of oversimplifying, the most fundamental currency for all our citizens, if they are to make informed and thoughtful decision about politics and their lives in general, rests on unencumbered access to the facts. Information is the seeding which allows this process. This is where New Jersey has recently witnessed a failing.
Recently, I sponsored a bi-partisan proposal requiring the state to provide a debt affordability analysis to be included in the State Debt Report. Fiscal responsibility cannot be achieved in a vacuum. We need a comprehensive and precise forecast on what we can and cannot afford in order to create more sound fiscal policies for the future.
The General Assembly approved the bill 77 to 0. The Senate approved the bill, 40 to 0. This was not a controversial bill, as one writer observed.
However, Governor Christie vetoed the bill outright. One stated component of the rationale used by the Governor to support his action was that it was too complicated, and the public would not understand it.
I have a simple fix to that concern Governor, Let the public decide if it’s too complicated!
Furthermore, the governor postulated that passing the bill could also lead to a “speculative report” that could affect the states bond prices and involve the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Some experts from the public finance community have been quoted as calling that rationale nonsense. Noting specifically, that there is no SEC involvement unless there was intent to publish erroneous information.
Political observers say the veto is an attempt to stifle the knowledge and criticism of the administration for being in much worse shape financially than many would believe. The Governor is eyeing a run for the presidency, and it would be a smear on his record if the state is portrayed in worse fiscal shape than he projects. Although, New Jersey's record eighth credit downgrade under his administration definitely sends a signal that something is amiss.
The added bucket of cold water on this veto is that the Assembly tried to overturn it.....and it failed. My Republican colleagues, who six months earlier had been in unanimous support of this measure, walked away from this opportunity to promote greater fiscal transparency. The final override vote was 45 in favor, 5 against and 23 abstentions. 7 members were also absent that day. Only three Republican members voted to override the veto.
I was disappointed in this failure to override the Governor's veto. As the conservative organization, Americans for Prosperity argued in support of the override, "Rare is the time in Trenton when members of both parties agree in unanimous fashion on common sense legislation." When folks of every political ideology in government can agree on a proposal we should take the ball and run with it in my opinion.
The dictionary also states that "transparent" means, "allowing light to pass through so that objects can be distinctly seen". Hmm....sounds like exactly what we need in Trenton.