TRENTON — Thursday’s Senate committee hearings saw notable advances for bills on potential local ethics boards across the state and public health benefit double-dipping as the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee voted unanimously to release six bills. The double-dipping bill, to prevent public employees from unduly collecting on health benefit waivers, was brought to the committee by Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-37).
Weinberg had noticed a $400,000 line item in the Teaneck municipal budget, where she lives. Those funds were going to public employees who had declined coverage under one plan, but continued to be covered under a separate public health plan through a quirk in the state’s family plans. Senator Sam Thompson (R-12) commended Weinberg for bringing the problem to light during Thursday’s hearing. Though Weinberg is the primary sponsor, she has not formally introduced the bill in the Senate yet.
“I think they were kind of surprised too when I brought some of those cases,” Weinberg said of the school boards she had talked to in her investigations.
That meeting also saw former state senator William Schluter of the State Ethics Commission testify in favor of a bill from Senator Tom Kean (R-21) bill to have the commission assume the responsibility of hearing ethics complaints about local officials.
Agreeing with Schluter about to the scope of the problem, Thompson gave one example in which a candidate for freeholder in Middlesex County shot a political commercial while on the clock as a county employee. Despite the challenges of having one state agency handle all complaints, Thompson argued that county boards are often unreliable.
“We did file a complaint with the county ethics board. That was 2010. We’re still waiting,” Thompson said. “Having the state in charge I would feel a lot more comfortable with.”
Senator Jim Whelan’s bill to allow public financing in elections to fill gubernatorial vacancies also passed, along with his bills to standardize overseas voting in the state and create a task force for research into new voting systems. A bill from Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-3) urging Congress to approve chapter 9 bankruptcies in Puerto Rico also passed.
Also today, Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20) formally introduced a bill to close tax loopholes for multi-state corporations alongside Senators Linda Greenstein (D-14) and Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36). The legislation aims to limit companies’ use of shell corporations, a practice that costs New Jersey $200 million a year in lost revenue when companies skimp by filing through subsidiaries in states that do not levy a corporate business tax.
The Lesniak bill would mandate detailed reporting of profits from all iterations of multi-state and multinational corporations, a step that 25 other states have taken so far.
“What’s fair is fair,” Greenstein said. “This is not a tax increase, this is tax fairness. By closing this loophole we would end unfair and what I would consider unscrupulous tax avoidance on the part of multi-state and multinational corporations.”
“The fact remains that profits are earned by companies doing business in our state, where we educate our workforce, keep our roads and bridges and other infrastructure in good repair.
“Sort of,” Greenstein added of the roads and bridges.