The state sets aside $95,000 a year for the governor to entertain in the course of his official duties. But accounting of exactly how those funds are used is not required.
Well it should be, and will be, if a bill introduced recently by Assemblymen Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, and Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, becomes law.
An Associated Press story last week reported that Gov. Chris Christie spent $85,000 in public money to entertain in luxury boxes at sports venues between 2010 and early 2012, after which state Republicans started to pay for the expenses and reimbursed the state for those already incurred.
The $95,000 a year is an "allowance to the governor of funds not otherwise appropriated, for official receptions on behalf of the state, operations of an official residence, and other expenses." The governor receives the allowance annually in checks from the State Treasury.
The allowance does not include the cost of using luxury boxes at MetLife Stadium, Prudential Arena and the Izod Center, which are provided to the state for use by the governor.
The Singleton-Mazzeo bill, A4424, would require governors to file a written report with the State Ethics Commission about use of the funds each year. The report would have to include details about the spending, copies of receipts for each item or service purchased, the name and mailing address of the person, business or organization receiving payment, and a brief description of the item or service.
Such a law would bring a further level of both transparency and accountability to Gov. Chris Christie as well as future governors.
It is astounding that the practice began in the mid-1970s, and 40 years later there is still no requirement to account for the money. "This proposal further heightens the fiscal transparency requirements that the citizens of our state demand of its public officials," Singleton said. "By mandating that the details of this allowance be part of the public record, we will enable the people of New Jersey to hold this governor and all future governors accountable."
Christie has received a total of $380,000 in allowance from 2010 to 2013. State budget documents available online show he spent $92,000 from the allowance in fiscal year 2011, his first full fiscal year in office; $85,000 in 2012 and $74,000 in 2013.
The expenses are allowed by state law and do not include the cost of using luxury boxes at MetLife Stadium, Prudential Arena and the Izod Center, which are provided to the state for use by the governor. The Christie administration decided in 2012 to stop using the account to pay for food and other expenses at the arenas.
For that, taxpayers should be grateful. But it is not a substitute for full transparency about the governor's taxpayer-funded entertainment expenditures.