Transcript of the Governor’s Opening Remarks at the July 18, 2011 Press Conference on the Need to Restore Proper Accountability and Oversight in the Transitional Aid Program.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:
Good morning. We’ll talk this morning about Transitional Aid to cities. First, we have been working extraordinarily hard in the Administration to change what had been basically a giveaway to cities that many of which were fraught with fraud, waste, and abuse, to change that program into a program that was a transition for cities to become self-sufficient without state aid being necessary for them to sustain their operations. And so the things that we’ve been doing over the course of the last eighteen months have been to set and enforce conditions for receipt of the aid though memoranda of understanding to have significant oversight from DCA that was regular and meaningful, and to also put a rigorous application process in place to make sure that the money that was being awarded was absolutely needed because given the fiscal condition of this state every dollar that we expend on behalf of the taxpayers needs to be justified and once that money is allocated we need to make sure that there is sufficient oversight in place to make sure that the money is being spent in the manner in which it was intended to be spent.
These are not groundbreaking management theories. These are things that just need to be done and should be done but candidly haven’t been done in the main before we got here. So when I received the budget in a hurried way two Wednesdays ago after the Legislature passed it our review became clear that the Legislature for whatever reason had taken away the funding and language for us to provide oversight to these municipalities who were receiving municipal aid.
Now for those of you who have been following the budget for some time you know that I had limited options available to me once that document was given to me to correct this particular problem, really three, one of which wouldn’t correct the problem, that would be just to sign the budget as it was, allocate the $149M to Transitional Aid and now have no funding and authorization for the appropriate oversight that we just laid out. Second would be to conditionally veto the budget, rewrite in the language and money for oversight, and third would be to line item veto out the money for transitional aid and then look to move forward to try to get restored the funding and the language for oversight.
I determined not to take the first course because that would be ridiculous just to sign the budget the way it was. The second course would have precipitated a potential crisis in closing down the government. I didn’t think that this rose to that level to take the risk of closing the government down over this issue when I had the third option available to me which was to line item veto out all the funding except for that funding which had already been allocated and oversight had been given for the funding that we were providing and then to come back later on to make very clear to the Legislature that we’re not going to be providing aid to cities that have histories of management problems, fraud, and waste and abuse, without the funding and authorization for appropriate oversight.
And so today we’re sending a bill down to the Legislature which contains statutory authorization for both the funding and for the language to have oversight over these municipalities who receive Transitional Aid. Also, a supplemental spending bill to restore the full amount of Transitional Aid that was in my original Budget Message.
Let’s be clear: I always wanted to give this money to the cities that need it. That’s why I put it in my budget in the first place. But I am not going to give this money away without the appropriate funding and oversight mechanisms to make sure that it’s spent in a way that is in conformance with the program and is respectful of the money the taxpayers want to spend. So we’re sending this bill down to the Legislature today. Whenever the Legislature wants to come back and pass this bill they have my commitment that I will sign it as long as we have the appropriate oversight that is included in this bill. I will also sign the supplemental to restore the funding to the level that it was at in my budget as proposed in March.
We made this very clear to the Legislature in the immediate aftermath of their passing of the budget. We’ve made it clear through the press statements that we’ve made to all of you in the aftermath as well that we’re not going to give away money without appropriate oversight. In fact when I announced the line item vetoes one of the things that I talked about that day was the elimination of funding for this oversight capability and that’s why I want it in statute so they don’t play these games any more in the budget. Because as you know through the line item veto I can’t add language and so it put me in the position I was in. If it’s statutory and they put other language in there that goes against the statute I can line item veto that language out to the statute which would provide for oversight, aggressive oversight. I did what the people of the state of New Jersey expect. If we’re going to help cities through struggling times like the ones we’re in but we’re going to do it in a way that’s responsible and that’s going to expend money in a way where there is real oversight from the governmental entity that supplies the money and in this instance that’s the state of New Jersey.
And so the bill is going to be submitted today. Whenever the Legislature wants to come back and pass this legislation they have my assurance that I’ll sign it and then the money will be available for those cities that need it. In the meantime, we’re going to go through the application process as we’ve planned to go through before so this work can be done so we’re not playing catch up on that in anticipation that given how strongly some members of the Legislature feel about this I can’t imagine that they would not provide for appropriate oversight for this type of money. We’re talking about nearly $150M; I think everybody would agree that having both the funding and the legal authority for that type of oversight is not only a reasonable thing to ask for but necessary. That’s why I line item vetoed money out in the first place. It was the only way I could get it done without closing down the government and we submit this legislation now in order to provide for the opportunity for the Legislature to do what it is they say they want to do which is to make sure cities have this funding and if they pass it along with the appropriate authorization, money and authorization for oversight by DCA over these municipalities then they have my assurance that I will sign both those pieces of legislation, both the supplemental and the statutory changes that will prevent us from having to be put in this position again because of the absence of statutory language before.
So that’s what we intend to do on Transitional Aid and I look forward to the Legislature whenever they decide to come back to consider this bill and to pass it. It sounds to me like it’s a matter of urgency to them so I trust they’ll be back to do some other stuff over the course of the summer, they’ll come back and do something that’s important to the cities of our state. I’ll close with one thing. I want to make really clear--- I would not have proposed this Transitional Aid in my budget in the first place if I didn’t want to provide it. But I am not going to go back to the old Trenton ways of doing things. And giving away money as we did in Camden, hundreds of millions of dollars in Camden, without any oversight and any results, that’s the old way of doing things. We’re not going to do it that way anymore. If we have the appropriate oversight, we have the ability to enter into these agreements, we’ll do it, if we don’t then that’s up to the Legislature to decide if they want to give away the people’s money in this state without oversight. It’s not going to happen on my watch.