Jersey’s Fresh Opportunity

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Matt Fretz writes Blog the Fifth, which covers New Jersey’s 5th district and Representative Scott Garrett.  Matt has been a vocal supporter of transparency efforts around the state and in Congress; as well as doing his part to keep Rep. Garrett accountable.  With the contested race for governor over and Chris Christie the winner, Matt shares what transparency measures New Jersey needs to take to battle the culture of corruption that has over taken the state.

By Matt Fretz Blog the Fifth

People have different reasons to be passionate about transparency; mine is accountability to the taxpayer. To me when elected officials let us know what they are spending our money on then we can keep them accountable and government becomes better. Regardless of whether one is pleased or disgusted with the outcome, the Governor’s race here in New Jersey highlighted just how far transparency has to go.

Chris Christie’s win is rooted in the 130 corruption convictions he rode to victory, which were products of a closed government that encouraged no bid contracts, no show jobs, grants for favors, as well as every form of patronage you can imagine and some you wouldn’t believe were true. Books have been written about our culture of corruption, and the core of it all is the overall lack of transparency. Politicians and decision makers have largely been able to operate out of the public and press’s purview for longer than anyone can remember.

Then Christie showed up and started arresting people.

It’s a sad statement on our state’s government that a subpoena was the only way taxpayers could find out what was going on. Despite assertions it was largely a partisan exercise to bolster his own career; it was not as though Christie didn’t get a conviction on every person he charged, Democrat and Republican.

In his acceptance speech, Christie said he is open to new ways to fix our broken state, here’s mine: Open it up.

Already paying the most in taxes, and unlikely to support more, the people of New Jersey are going to have to see cuts and reorganization on a massive scale in order to close a projected deficit equal to roughly 25% of the State budget. It has been proven that governments can find savings when they open the suggestion box to the employees. Residents of New Jersey should also have a chance to look at how our money is spent and voice their suggestions on cuts.

In the effort to include residents in a meaningful way, New Jersey’s Web sites are in desperate need of an upgrade. The sites most needed to track expenses, campaign donations, and legislation almost seem purposely counter intuitive at times, or at the very least cumbersome. Some basic intuition would go a long way, and would provide a golden opportunity for Christie to win some support from the 51% of the population who didn’t vote for him.

Another step would be to eliminate the loophole allowing for pretty much every contract to be awarded in a no bid fashion, or at the very least institute a waiting period between announcement of intention to award the contract and actually awarding it. This would give journalists and citizens a chance to see if there’s any funny business going on. Too often it’s only after the contract is awarded that people realize how much money the the contract winner has contributed, whether directly or indirectly.

Granted, Christie had some questionable actions of his own during his tenure, but never before has a Governor come in with such a strong track record that voters actually expect him to clean up the state. At the very least, one has to be optimistic he may actually get there. The best way for him to start the process is with a little sunshine.

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