Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jon Corzine yesterday announced he would, if elected, make the state's independent authorities less political and more accountable to the public.
During a Statehouse news conference, Corzine released a report from his Task Force on Independent Authorities and endorsed the panel's proposals, which include: reducing political patronage; establishing stricter auditing rules and minimum criteria for nominations to the boards, and more stringent rules to eliminate conflicts of interest among those in charge.
"I plan on bringing real change," Corzine said. "We need to have more discipline in state authorities."
If elected, Corzine said he would conduct a review of the independent state authorities -- which oversee everything from the Atlantic City International Airport to the state's mass transit system to the Meadowlands -- to determine whether some could be merged or closed.
He also promised he would craft executive orders and legislation to make the agencies more "accountable" to the public. He said recent examples of hundreds of millions of dollars misspent at the state Schools Construction Corp. and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority prove the "invisible government" of authorities has caused its share of "car crashes" for state residents.
Sherry Sylvester, spokeswoman for Republican candidate Doug Forrester, called Corzine's plan "laughable." She questioned whether Corzine would be an agent of reform considering his former girlfriend, who is the president of the largest state workers union, is a member of the Public Employment Relations Commission.
"If he were serious," Sylvester said, "he would say he would remove a union boss -- Carla Katz -- with myriad conflicts of interest from the Public Employment Relations Commission."
Corzine spokesman Tom Shea responded: "I don't think Jon Corzine has been elected yet. We'll make that decision once we're elected."
The task force, which spent three months studying the issue, said the state has benefitted from the authorities because of the transportation and public works projects they've built. But their "independence -- this distance from thorough oversight and restraint -- has sometimes caused difficulties in regulating the operation of authorities and has inhibited the government's ability to hold authorities and their members and officers fully accountable to the public for their actions."