TRENTON – The chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee expressed his frustration Monday at the administration’s refusal to participate in hearings on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposal to privatize portions of the New Jersey State Lottery.
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, (D-32), Secaucus, said “it’s getting a little frustrating” that repeated calls by lawmakers to hear from the administration over the proposed privatization have gone unanswered. The Democrat-controlled committee had again called on the state Treasurer and executive director of the state lottery to appear before the committee.
Neither official showed up during Monday’s hearing.
“This is the second time that they have not come,” said Prieto, who criticized the administration for not treating the Legislature as an equal branch of government.
“We’re not being made part of the dialogue,” he said. “We should know what’s going on.”
Only one company – GTECH – has submitted a bid proposal for taking the reins of the state’s lottery system.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, (D-3), Paulsboro, echoed his colleague’s comments and went so far as to ask the chairman to consider issuing subpoenas to the state Treasurer and lottery officials to compel them to testify before the committee.
“I don’t know what we have to do to be taken seriously,” Burzichelli said.
Lawmakers on the other side of the aisle argued it would be inappropriate for officials to weigh in on the subject as the request for proposal process is still under way.
“To make it as if it’s a problem … is disingenuous,” said Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, (R-25), Boonton. “It would be inappropriate for them to be here today.”
Other Republican lawmakers criticized Democrats for not calling for a private session with the state Treasurer to discuss the proposal, arguing they would have called for such a meeting if they were truly concerned about the proposal.
Prieto is an outspoken critic of the proposed plans and is the prime sponsor of legislation, A3614, that would require a contract for lottery privatization to be subject to approval by the Legislature.
“We’ve been left out in the dark,” he said, adding the lottery brings billions of dollars to the state’s coffers.
Prieto’s proposed legislation was also on Monday’s committee hearing agenda.
The bill cleared the committee along party lines.
A representative of the state chapter of the Communications Workers of America spoke in favor of the proposal, claiming “scandal follows” GTECH everywhere it goes, saying the company has a “history of fraud and abuse.”
The CWA says about 60 jobs will be lost if the administration follows through with plans to privatize the lottery.
The Assembly Budget Committee also approved a resolution, AR130, that urges the governor to seek legal advice from the U.S. Department of Justice prior to contracting with a private-sector manager to operate the state lottery.
The resolution’s sponsor, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, (D-18), South Plainfield, referred to the privatization proposal as “a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
The resolution also cleared the committee along party lines.