TRENTON – The Assembly Budget Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday morning to consider resolution (AR151), which would authorize the committee to use subpoenas in order to compel testimony and obtain relevant documents from state employees, state agencies or other political entities.
At least two members on the committee defended the resolution, saying it is necessary to get the information in order to help make decisions regarding the state budget.
“This committee – and thus the elected representatives of the people – has been denied the testimony of executive branch officials on issues with significant state budget impacts no less than four times since September,” said Budget Committee Chairman Vincent Prieto (D-32) Secaucus, in a statement.
“Invoking subpoena power is not a step we would take lightly, but the failure of the Christie administration to respond to important and relevant inquiries makes it necessary.”
Prieto pointed to several examples where Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff turned down requests to come to hearings to discuss the frequent monthly revenue shortfalls, the controversial plans to privatize the state Lottery, and Hurricane Sandy relief funds.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, (D-3), of Paulsboro, has similar feelings.
“The treasurer may be appointed by the governor, but he’s the treasurer for everybody in the state of New Jersey,” said Burzichelli. “He’s not just the treasurer for the governor. For us to make the right decisions, we need information, and this treasurer has failed to cooperate.”
But Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, (R-13), Little Silver, who also serves on the Budget Committee, said the resolution is nothing more than another case of politics intended to embarrass the administration.
“It is unquestionably a partisan issue,” he said. “Give me a break.”
He said he had received research, upon request, from the Office of Legislative Services, and found that subpoena power by any legislative committee had been used only four times the past 30 years.
AR151 states that the Budget Committee would have the authority to investigate all matters related to the state budget and state finances including, but not limited to, revenue collections, state budget contingency plans, private management services for the state Lottery, federal relief funding in response to Hurricane Sandy and any facts it deems relevant in determining whether the circumstances associated with the state budget and state finances necessitate further legislative action.
Specifically, it would enable the committee to issue subpoenas to have interested parties testify and provide relevant documents for review.
But O’Scanlon said the resolution would not be needed if the Democrats simply call the treasurer for any questions they may have.
“Subpoena power is supposed to be used when a committee is investigating a serious ethical breach,” O’Scanlon said. “It is not supposed to be used at the whim of a committee chairman being frustrated no one is paying attention to him.’
The Republican budget officer added that the resolution is “a reflection of the Democrats’ frustration that the Christie administration is doing a great job.
“Like everything else (the Democrats have tried), this won’t work.”
O’Scanlon believes the administration, especially the treasurer, did nothing wrong by not appearing before the committee when invited.
“It’s a matter of frequency and motivation. If the invitation is to prematurely talk about revenue numbers, the purpose of that is just to beat up on him.”