Public Benefit Corp: The Few, the Privileged, the “Corzine Cosa Nostra”

Is there any way on this planet that this governor has credibility? NO

Is there any reason to believe that there’s no shenanigans going on here? NO

Is there any reason to think that this governor has our best interest in mind when creating this piggy bank for “the few, the privileged, the Corzine Cosa Nostra”?  Again: NO

Do you trust him? NO

Will you vote for him should he attempt to ever run for any office again? NO

Will you vote for any legislator that goes along with him? ABSOLUTELY NO

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This is in today’s App: (highlights and comments are my own)

Gov. Corzine would bar the public from examining the inner workings of the toll-road corporation that he wants to create to raise $32 billion, even though it would employ thousands and spend billions of dollars, according to his proposed bill.

Under Corzine’s draft legislation for the toll-road monetization plan, the proposed Public Benefit Corp., which would operate more than 334 miles of state roadways and could increase tolls by as much as 800 percent in the next 14 years, would not be subject to the state’s Open Public Records Act. By failing to put the PBC under the open records law, it would omit from public scrutiny broad swaths of records from an organization that would have an initial toll revenue of about $900 million.

Not opening the PBC up to full public inspection would be “unconscionable,” said state Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, who opposes the monetization plan.

“I’m stunned. This entity would be in control of a significant public asset, and controlling multiple billions of dollars, and billions of billions over the next 99 years,” Beck said. “To me, it must be subject to (the Open Public Records Act), so there is transparency for the citizens.”

Under Corzine’s plan, the state would lease its three toll roads to the nonprofit corporation for up to 75 years, with a 24-year optional extension.

In exchange, and through a complex bond deal, the state would receive $32 billion to $38 billion that would be used to help the state cut its debt and provide more money for transportation needs, according to the plan.

The plan has generated strong opposition in public opinion polls and from all Republican members of the Legislature. U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., and state Sen. John Adler, a Democrat running for Congress, also oppose the toll-hike plan.

Corzine, a Democrat, wants the Legislature, controlled by his party, to approve the plan this spring. The agency would control the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway.

The Open Public Records Act, or OPRA, was signed into law in 2001 following a campaign by Gannett New Jersey newspapers and other open government advocates to allow easy access to such routine documents as payroll lists and bills. Until the law was adopted, many agencies withheld such records from the public.

“The PBC is being formed under nonprofit law and would be treated as a conventional nonprofit, none of whom are subject to OPRA,” Tom Vincz, spokesman for the state Department of Treasury, said in an e-mail response to questions from Gannett.

He did not respond to questions about why the PBC would not be covered by OPRA, or if payrolls, bills and other items commonly accessible under the law would be available in the future.

Nonprofit organizations must provide limited public financial disclosure, such as the salaries of the top five employees and basic budget data, to the Internal Revenue Service once a year.

Under Corzine’s proposal, the PBC would have to produce reports to its oversight agency, including annual budgets, capital expansion and maintenance programs. Such documents would then be public under the public access law.

Vincz said that the PBC’s operating contract would also “create a long series of other reporting including maintenance reports and traffic data,” that would become public records once the oversight agency obtained them.

Under the bill, the PBC would be required to conduct independent audits of its financial statements, Vincz wrote.

Elizabeth Mason, president of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, said to excluded the PBC from the records law is the opposite of what the state should be doing.

“What is the rationale for the government to do this? What is the rationale for the government to hide this information from the public?” she asked.

(I keep saying it over, and over again… it’s called THE CORZINE COSA NOSTRA – that’s the reason)

Thomas J. Cafferty, general counsel for the New Jersey Press Association, a newspaper trade group, said that neither he nor the association has finished reviewing the proposed legislation.

But he said that just because the bill does not require the PBC to fall under OPRA doesn’t mean that the proposed bill can’t be changed in the Legislature. The courts could also require the PBC to disclose its records, “given the extent of the public involvement in this entity,” he said.

CARE TO COMMENT? Visit our Web site, www.app.com, and click on this story to join in the online conversation about this topic in Story Chat.

James W. Prado Roberts: (732) 643-4223; or jwr@app.com

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