While New Jersey suffered from a crippling structural deficit, politicians created a slush fund to dole out tax dollars for their own personal gain.
Last week at the corruption trial of disgraced former state Sen. Wayne Bryant, a Democratic legislative aide testified that Bryant and other legislators were given complete discretion over the allocation of millions of dollars in the state budget -- from a fund that was supposed to be distributed based on a competitive, merit-based application process. Prosecutors allege that Bryant directed some of his share to the School of Osteopathic Medicine at UMDNJ in exchange for a no-show, pension-boosting job.
The separation of powers were non-existent in 2005 when the budget's $40 million slush fund was proposed by then-acting Gov. Dick Codey and ushered through the legislature by Senate President Codey (a prior budget from then-Gov. Jim McGreevey also included such a fund). Governor Jon Corzine shut the scheme down within months of taking office after conducting an internal investigation, the results of which are still not public.
As if channeling President Bush and his tired excuse of an "ongoing investigation," Codey declined to comment on the issue, claiming his lawyers advised him not to talk about it until after the end of the corruption trial of state Senator Joe Coniglio...which isn't slated to even begin until March 2009.
What happened to the outgoing Governor Codey of 2006 who in an exit letter lamented: "The public can handle a lot more straight talk than people think"?
Codey's not giving it to us straight, and I'm calling his bluff. It's unfathomable that someone can't or won't explain how they're spending their boss' money. But here we have an elected official who can't answer basic questions about a budget he proposed, pushed through the Senate and signed into law.
It doesn't really matter what his lawyers think is best for him -- it's our money and as the person in charge of one and a half branches of government at the time, he owes us an explanation for how it was spent.
Despite the dark cloud hanging over Codey, perhaps he has some legitimate legal reason not to address the issue. Even so, for the good of the state, he should step aside as Senate President until he can provide a full explanation.
Juan Melli is Politicker.com's associate editor.
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