Dems plan Sandy hearings

TRENTON – The top state Democratic legislators plan to hold hearings next month into issues concerning Superstorm Sandy.

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver today announced the first joint legislative hearing to examine Sandy preparedness and actions taken in the aftermath of the storm, including the hiring of the Florida-based debris-removal company AshBritt.

The first hearing will be conducted jointly by the oversight committees in the Senate and the Assembly at 1 p.m., Friday, March 8, in the Statehouse.

“Questions about how and why AshBritt is doing business in New Jersey continue to remain unanswered,” said Sweeney in a release.. “Taxpayers have a right to know why a company that is charging, in some cases, nearly twice as much as other companies, is working in the state. They are also entitled to know why, despite several storms over the past few years, an emergency plan was not already in place for the kind of work AshBritt is currently doing. We believe this committee can find the answers to all these questions.”

And Oliver said, “Legitimate questions have been raised about the process under which AshBritt received its contract, and whether the way it was handled was in the best interest of New Jersey taxpayers.

“No one questions the need for a timely and ongoing clean-up and response to Sandy, but it must be done in a way that ensures taxpayer money is used as judiciously as possible. The questions about the contracting and the use of taxpayer money demand additional oversight, and public discussion is always the best approach to getting the taxpayers the answers they need and want. I look forward to everyone working together to fix any mistakes that were made so we move forward as wisely as possible.”

In addition, on Tuesday, before the governor’s fiscal year 2014 budget address, the Senate will hold a voting session that will include two Sandy oversight monitor bills. Both bills were passed unanimously in the Assembly.

Critics have questioned the AshBritt pact, as the state in a sense “piggybacked’’ on an existing Connecticut contract.

But Gov. Chris Christie said it is inaccurate to call the contract a no-bid deal

States can access contracts that were bid by other states through government cooperative agreements. In the case of Ashbritt, Connecticut bid on the contract last year.

Christie has also pointed out that municipalities were not forced to use AshBritt if they felt they get could a better, less costly deal.

Dems plan Sandy hearings