Sandy oversight bills advance

TRENTON – The Assembly Budget Committee Thursday advanced two bills dealing with oversight of Superstorm Sandy recovery funds.

The committee unanimously cleared two bills – A60 and A61 – sponsored by Speaker Sheila Oliver regarding oversight of funding and appointing monitors as the billions of dollars in Sandy reconstruction money begins to arrive in New Jersey.

The hearing comes amid questions raised in a Star-Ledger story about a contract awarded to a debris removal company, AshBritt. Democrats claim the deal was a no-bid contract. The administration defended the move, denied it was a no-bid pact, and said it was based on a similar pact in Connecticut, and that New Jersey can access such deals through cooperative agreements.

The Star-Ledger also reported this week that the head of a lobbying firm employed by AshBritt plans to hold a fundraiser for Christie.

Kevin Walsh of Fair Share Housing Center testified in support of A60, calling for transparency amid unanswered questions about how contracts have been handled and what expertise companies actually have with affordable housing needs of lower-income residents.

Republican Declan O’Scanlon defended the administration’s actions, saying it has embraced as much transparency as is practical under the circumstances.

Earlier, Committee Chair Vincent Prieto had expressed his frustration with Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff not appearing to discuss Sandy oversight issues.

Republican Jay Webber defended the Treasurer, and said to Prieto that the Treasurer is one of the most honorable people he has met, and pointed out he has appeared before the budget committee on other occasions and will do so in the future.

“The Treasurer does not work for us,’’ Webber said. “He has been responsive.”

Prieto said Sidamon-Eristoff’s honor and integrity is not being questioned, and reiterated that the committee and the public need answers.

Sandy oversight bills advance