New Jersey lawmaker calls for more transparency following rushed budget process

(The Center Square) – A New Jersey lawmaker says the state needs more transparency in its budget process, deriding this year’s approach as harried, completed in the shadows and lacking the opportunity for substantiative public input.

“We don’t want to see this again,” Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield, R-Westampton, said in an interview with The Center Square. “They were so cut out of this process this time, and it’s just not fair. You’re taking people’s money, and you’re not giving them a voice.”

Last month, lawmakers approved a $46.4 billion state budget that increases spending by more than 15% over last year; Murphy signed the measure five days later. However, several lawmakers criticized the process, saying they only had 11 minutes to review the roughly 280-page budget before casting a vote, and protesters gathered to rally outside the capital as lawmakers voted.

“I’ve spoken with so many people who are very disturbed by the fact that these things are happening behind closed doors,” Stanfield said. “You have three men making all these decisions under cover of darkness, and then the next day, people are expected to jump on board with it. People want a chance to have input.

“We see that in our office all the time,” Stanfield added. “People are always reaching out with their opinions, and they deserve to be heard and considered. With turnaround times of 11 minutes or less, you’re not going to have that opportunity.”

Stanfield said she agrees with Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli’s position that any bill or resolution must be publicly available for one week before voting “so that there’s an opportunity for some input from the public,” the lawmaker said.

However, during a June 23 COVID-19 media briefing, Murphy defended New Jersey’s budget process.

“I think as a general matter, New Jersey’s got a good process, so for instance, I’ll tell you from our side, presented our budget in February, countless hearings – I think 19 before the Assembly Budget Committee, 17 before the Senate – of our cabinet members, regular revenue updates, particularly as of late when revenues began to spike meaningfully higher than expectation,” Murphy said, according to a transcript.

“Would I be open-minded to a window between posting and voting? Yeah, that’s something that I would welcome the opportunity to talk to the legislative leadership about it,” the governor added. “In fact, we have talked about it. I think that would be a potentially good step. I’ll leave it at that.”

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