The foundation of any good democracy is a healthy system of checks and balances.
In 1968, members from both sides of the legislature came together to create what would become one of the soundest investments of taxpayer dollars and resources that this state has ever seen. The State Commission of Investigation (SCI) was designed as an independent fact-finding agency charged with investigating organized crime and rooting out corruption, waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers’ dollars.
For over four decades now, the SCI has consistently lived up to its mission, providing a healthy system of checks and balances that has saved taxpayers more money than it has spent.
Central to the SCI’s independence is the fact that it is funded through the legislature and independent from the executive branch. However, under Governor Christie’s proposed plan for consolidation, the SCI would see more than 75 percent of its $4.5 million budget eliminated and what little is left of its remaining operations folded into the Comptroller’s Office, which is part of the executive branch.
The framers of the SCI’s enabling statute felt, rightfully so, that it was vital for this agency to function at arm’s length from the “routine partisan and bureaucratic fray of state government.” To eliminate an independent watchdog that operates on a shoe-string budget as a valuable set of eyes and ears for taxpayers simply doesn’t make sense.
The SCI prides itself on pursuing these investigations beyond the sphere of political influence or favoritism. To eliminate even the appearance of political influence, no more than two of the commission’s four members may be of the same political party and members and staff are subject to a strict code of ethics that includes a unique ban on participation in all non-federal political activity in New Jersey.
Known to “pay its own way,” the SCI has conducted more than 120 investigations since its inception, saving the state untold millions of dollars while the per capita cost for its annual budget is only 52 cents.
There are a number of prime examples of the SCI’s value, including the financial boondoggles it uncovered during the initial rollout of the Division of Motor Vehicles’ emission testing system and the state E-Z Pass system. These investigations ultimately led to a transformation of these systems into a model for efficiency, saving significant taxpayer dollars.
Just last December the commission issued a report on excessive local government employee benefits that identified nearly $40 million in wasteful spending and spurred reforms that are now helping to recoup some of these costs. And in one of its signature investigations, the SCI exposed organized crime’s manipulation of the motor fuel industry, which resulted in a savings of more than $20 million a year, each year since the investigation was conducted.
The savings the SCI has produced are documented and tangible. It defies common sense to allow Governor Christie to steal our eyes and ears right out from under us and undermine the separation of powers by consolidating every watchdog agency under the Comptroller, who, afterall, is appointed by the Governor. Abolishing the SCI would give the executive branch a free pass to escape scrutiny. Why would we want to cede an independent model for government effectiveness into an untested morass vulnerable to political whims?