Lawmakers’ bill would improve online budget information of commissions, authorities

TRENTON – Three 14th District Democratic lawmakers are sponsoring a bill to combat what they see as a lack of basic online information about budgets of local commissions and authorities.

Sen. Linda Greenstein and Assemblymen Wayne DeAngelo  and Daniel Benson are sponsoring legislation, A3908.

The bill would implement changes recommended by the Office of the State Comptroller in its report titled, “An Analysis of the On-Line Transparency of New Jersey’s Local Authorities and Commissions.” 

“We need to do better,” said Greenstein in a release. “It’s quite simply unacceptable that of 587 local agencies, only 15 have posted a comprehensive financial audit report on their web site. Taxpayers deserve better than that paltry disclosure.”

DeAngelo said,  “Democracy relies on open and transparent government that hides nothing, and unfortunately, New Jersey taxpayers aren’t getting that in many cases.”

“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,” said Benson.

The comptroller’s report identified 587 local agencies with independent fiscal authority responsibility for the expenditure of public funds. 

The agencies subject to the state comptroller’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. 

According to the report, 377 local agencies have established a web presence.  Of these agencies, only 15 posted a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or other similar information on their website. 

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.   

The sponsors said  their bill requires all local authorities and commissions to maintain an Internet website for the purpose of providing increased public access to each entity’s operations and activities.

The following information must be posted on each website: A description of the entity’s mission and responsibilities;  The adopted budget for the current fiscal year and three preceding fiscal years;       The most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or other similar financial information; The annual audit for the most recent fiscal year and three preceding fiscal years; The entity’s rules, regulations, resolutions, and official policy statements; Notice, posted at least five business days prior to a meeting of the entity’s governing body or any of its committees, setting forth the time, date, location, and agenda of the meeting; The approved minutes of each meeting of the governing body and its committees; and The name and phone number of a principal executive officer having overall responsibility for the operations of the entity.

Along with the report issued by the Comptroller in February, the office announced the creation of a “transparency portal” that it said offers one-stop access to the available websites of more than 1,900 government entities operating in the state, including the 587 local authorities and commissions, 604 school districts and 566 municipalities.

The portal can be viewed at OSC’s website, www.state.nj.us/comptroller.

Lawmakers’ bill would improve online budget information of commissions, authorities