NJ Taxpayers Have A Right To Know How Their Tax Dollars Are Being Spent, Says Lawmaker [AUDIO]
New Jersey already has a law on the book that requires government officials to send public contracts to the state for online posting, but many simply don't do it.
One state legislator believes this is because there really isn't a penalty for failing to disclose the information.
"Localities across the state have violated this 44-year-old law by failing to file for public disclosure all employment contracts with the state Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC)," says State Senator Jennifer Beck. "Some entities haven't submitted public employment contracts to PERC in decades, primarily because there is no penalty provision."
Beck is sponsoring a bill that establishes that public employers in New Jersey, including counties, municipalities and school districts file all negotiated public employment agreements with PERC within 15 days of execution. Custodians of contracts who fail to file contracts in time will be liable for a fine up to $1,000 (an amount consistent with New Jersey's Open Public Records Act). This legislation also mandates that all contracts be posted on PERC's website.
"I think if there is a penalty, any penalty, it's going to draw public attention and scrutiny," explains Beck. "There's got to be some transparency here. We're funding it. I mean this is coming out of taxpayers' pockets."
The State Commission of Investigation (SCI) recently released a report detailing $30 million in tax dollars in a five-year period wasted on salaries, medical benefits, transportation and equipment for public-sector labor representatives on paid release to conduct union business. Other typical fringe benefits that are uncommon in the private-sector but typically found in public union contracts here include tuition reimbursement, uniform payments, longevity pay increases, cash for health benefit opt-out and sick-time banks.
The SCI reported that Camden taxpayers paid police and fire officials a combined $2.3 million in salaries and medical benefits over a five-year period to conduct full-time union business, as provided within agreements. Elizabeth taxpayers paid $540,000 in a five-year period to a school district employee on full-time union leave, along with a $1,000 annual attendance bonus for lack of absence between 2008 and 2011.
"Officials try to get away with hiding lavish contract benefits they have afforded to public employee unions or they simply don't pay attention to the law, because it bears no consequences," says Beck. "Either way, governments have an obligation to show taxpayers know how their money is being spent…What's also troubling is the SCI's account of how taxpayers are so in the dark about the true scope of paid union leave, including some cases where agreements are authorized by shady contract sidebars. This bill covers sidebars among any negotiated agreement, contract and interest arbitration award."