Keeping ’em Honest

Maybe it’s too much to ask the press to try to keep a politician honest. But at a minimum, reporters should at least hold elected officials accountable for what they say.

Turn back the pages on the calendar by just a few weeks and almost every legislator in Trenton was bemoaning the Governor’s debt restructuring plan. Despite logging hundreds of miles up and down the Turnpike and Parkway after his State of the State address, the Governor failed to convince the public that toll hikes were the way to drive New Jersey out of its fiscal hole.

With the annual budget address approaching, the Governor did the only responsible thing that a Chief Executive swimming in a sea of red ink could do – he slashed the state budget. Not surprisingly, the proposed cuts were just as deep as his “when pigs fly” warning promised they would be – that is, absent a revenue injection.

Fast forward to Friday’s New York Times article spotlighting the impact of the cuts on small towns like Helmetta. A 55% cut in state aid is no doubt a blow to small communities across the state.

What’s really perplexing about the NYT article is why its reporters allowed State Senator Paul Sarlo to get away with a comment accusing the governor of playing “a shell game on taxpayers.”

A shell game?

Why didn’t one of the three reporters who filed the story ask: Where exactly is the Governor hiding money? Where will Sarlo find $168 million to offset the local aid cuts? Or what about Sarlo’s statement to The Record that he “will oppose any restorations of funding.”

BTW, The Press of Atlantic City didn’t hold Sarlo accountable either.

As we enter the budget season, our legislators can’t have it both ways. Raise revenues or cut the budget. For every cut squealed about over the next three months, the Jersey press corps should make a legislator tell its readers where the money will come from? After all, no one is talking about raising taxes or spiking tolls.

We’ll do our best to keep ‘em honest in a budget feature called: Talking Out of Both Sides of Their Mouth.

Keeping ’em Honest