Issue Position: Government Reform
New Jersey's current political and governmental system is a stacked deck in favor of special interests, with middle-class taxpayers getting the short end of the stick. It's time to change the rules of the game to restore the public's trust and ensure greater accountability for taxpayers who are paying the tab.
New Jersey citizens deserve to have a trustworthy government that merits their confidence - it is time to regain that faith.
ELIMINATE THE LEGISLATURE'S CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Change ethics laws to require strict disclosure
Under current interpretations of New Jersey's legislative ethics policy, members of the Legislature are allowed to have private sector and outside income that create conflicts of interest - apparent or justified - when they vote on or sponsor legislation that directly affects the source(s) of their income. Lawmakers who have private land developer clients, for example, are allowed to sponsor and vote on land use legislation. Legislators who are paid by organized labor unions are allowed to sponsor and vote on legislation that directly affects organized labor.
It is important to maintain a citizen-legislature, but legislative ethics policy should be strengthened to include a requirement that members either recuse themselves from actions that affect their private sector interests, or that they publicly disclose these conflicts when they occur.
The new policy will be tailored to affect those occasions when the legislator knowingly has a private sector interest that will be affected by the legislative matter at hand.
With these disclosures, the public would be able to accurately monitor whether legislators' private income is affected by their actions as members of the Legislature. The public should not have to rely solely on law enforcement agencies to uncover these ties in connection with the occasional criminal investigation. Christie will strengthen ethics laws by ensuring the transparency necessary to restore confidence in the legislative branch of government is in place.
Eliminate dual office-holding
Citizens are rightfully upset that many New Jersey politicians hold multiple elected positions that often cause conflicts of interest with one another. "Grandfathering" these conflicts for current dual office-holders in the Legislature, as was previously done, was unfortunate and wrong.
Chris Christie will eliminate dual office-holding by proposing immediate changes to state law.
Eliminate dual public employment
Chris Christie will ban the practice of one person holding a full time government job while also holding a salaried elected position. Public servants should only serve one constituency at a time; the public has a right to expect undivided loyalty and service from their representatives.
Eliminate blatant conflicts of interest on New Jersey's boards and commissions
Many of New Jersey's boards and commissions, especially the ones that spend tax money, have members that have inherent conflicts of interest. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority, Transportation Trust Fund Authority, and the State Investment Council are examples of agencies on whose boards sit private contractors or their representatives, labor union officials, and investment bankers that directly benefit from decisions of the very agencies. The members of these boards and agencies should represent taxpayers, not the special interests who benefit from the agencies' spending and decisions.
As Governor, in order to eliminate these obvious conflicts of interests, Chris Christie will adhere to this policy when making appointments to boards and commissions. Christie will not create boards and commissions where the memberships create new conflicts of interest.
In addition, statutory changes may also be needed to remove the special interests from some of the agencies.
HOLD GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ACCOUNTABLE
Require forfeiture of pension for criminal convictions
The Christie Administration will push strongly to require any elected or appointed official convicted of a crime connected to their official position to forfeit their pension benefits.
STRENGTHEN PAY TO PLAY
Eliminate the special interest labor union loophole in "pay to play."
As Governor, Christie will eliminate the special interest labor union loophole in the laws banning "pay-to-play" to ensure labor unions are treated just like other entities that have contracts with government.
Governor Corzine has refused to ban labor union political contributions, even though these unions have collective bargaining agreements with the government, are signatories to government project labor agreements, and even receive state grants for worker training and other activities.
It is time to stop playing partisan games and make stronger "pay to play" restrictions apply evenly across the board.
PUT CITIZENS BACK IN CHARGE OF THEIR GOVERNMENT
Support Voter Sovereignty
Chris Christie's victory in the election will send a clear signal to Trenton politicians that voters want real political reform. However, citizens should also have a meaningful ability to petition for action, especially when they are frustrated by the productivity (or lack there of) of their elected officials.
Christie supports giving New Jersey citizens two mechanisms by which they can propose policy changes on their own:
1. At the municipal level, many New Jersey voters already have the ability to propose and change local laws through the initiative and referendum process (I&R). The Christie Administration will give voters those same powers on a statewide basis. Specifically, Christie will amend the State Constitution to create a responsible initiative and referendum process.
By supporting this process, Trenton will put voters back in charge of their government by allowing them to place public questions on the ballot.
The petition process will contain safeguards so that qualifying petitions must demonstrate substantial support from all regions of the State. The signature threshold will also be high enough to ensure that the General Election ballot contains widely supported initiatives and referendums.
2. Chris Christie will also include in the State Constitution Amendment a provision whereby every ten years voters will be asked automatically whether (or not) they want to convene a Constitutional Convention. A vote to convene a convention would trigger a process by which convention delegates would be popularly elected.
Require Transparency Websites for State & Local Government & School Districts
Now more than ever, New Jersey needs transparency in government spending. In order to encourage accountability, Chris Christie will require transparency websites for all state and local governments and school districts. These websites will provide links to property records and taxes, government payrolls, expenditures, school performance report cards, and other information.
While New Jersey is currently one of the leaders in having its state-related data available online, it still does not have an effective searchable website. Having a database which lists budget and contract information in a .pdf file, like the 120 page .pdf document written by OMB and provided by the State Treasurer for the 2009 Budget, is neither searchable nor user friendly, and thus not truly transparent.
Having an effective searchable website will allow the general public to easily search the financial information and contracts with specific words or phrases to find, analyze and aggregate data and information in a meaningful way.
Chris Christie will provide for the establishment of a State public finance website which retains and displays data and information on the State's annual revenues, expenditures and total bonded indebtedness. This legislation would establish an accessible, user-friendly source of information to track State revenues and expenditures and to gauge its past and present levels of indebtedness, including bond debt payments. It would also include information such as contractual service purchases, including amounts paid to individual vendors, and commodity purchases.
Our websites would include salaries and wages paid to state employees, gifts and grants and payments to local governments and programs. All information would be accessible to the public no later than 45 days following the close of each fiscal year.
In addition, Christie will also require each of the municipalities, counties and school districts in New Jersey to establish individual transparent searchable websites, detailing any and all spending. This will empower taxpayers to see, track and challenge how their tax dollars are spent. The state would provide the website, tools and infrastructure for the entities to post the financial and contract information.
Cost savings would be immediately realized. The public, armed with this powerful, yet easy-to-use tool, would provide additional oversight to our budgetary process. The average citizen could question any and all state spending, as they should. Also realized would be cost savings from officials who would think twice about inappropriate spending if they knew they would be immediately held accountable by the public. The website would also encourage more competitive bidding by allowing businesses to see actual costs of previous projects bid on.