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Bill Seeks to Shine Light On Shadow Governments [AUDIO]

Flickr User Ted Kerwin

Very few of New Jersey’s almost 600 commissions, authorities and boards let you know how they’re spending your tax dollars. Governor Chris Christie has been a very harsh critic of many of these agencies calling them “shadow governments” that spend taxpayer money with little to no accountability. A bill that has passed both houses of the legislature aims to change that.

The bill would implement changes following the Office of the State Comptroller in its report entitled, “An Analysis of the On-Line Transparency of New Jersey’s Local Authorities and Commissions.” It requires state, regional, and local authorities, boards, and commissions to establish an Internet website and post information related to each entity’s mission, finances, meetings and employees.

“Democracy relies on open and transparent government that hides nothing, and unfortunately, New Jersey taxpayers aren’t getting that in many cases,” says Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, one of the measure’s prime sponsors. “Failing to post fiscal information is bad enough, but it’s horrendous that only 8 percent of these agencies post their schedule, agendas and minutes of public meetings.”

Assemblyman Paul Moriarty co-sponsors the legislation. He explains, “The comptroller’s report identified 587 local agencies with independent fiscal authority responsibility for the expenditure of public funds, but only 8 percent of these agencies post the schedule, agendas, and minutes of their public meetings, 53 percent make one of those three documents available and the remaining 40 percent do not post any meeting information. They need to do better.”

The agencies subject to state comptroller Matt Boxer’s review were local authorities and commissions, fire districts, housing authorities, joint insurance funds, workforce investment boards, soil conservation districts, Urban Enterprise Zone development corporations, regional health commissions and county parks commissions. The report found that even when local agencies establish websites, the websites often lack basic and significant information about the operations and fiscal affairs of local commissions and authorities.

“It’s just flat out wrong that only seven of the 587 local authorities and commissions satisfied all the transparency measures tested as part of the comptroller’s analysis,” says Assemblyman Dan Benson who also co-sponsors the measure. “Taxpayers deserve better.”

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