According to a new report from the state comptroller’s office, nearly all of political offices and agencies in New Jersey significantly lack transparency. Few local agencies have websites and fewer still post their financial reports online. What’s more, of those that offer any information online, many omit financial reports, schedules, agendas or meeting minutes. All told, this means that New Jersey residents are insufficiently informed about the dealings of almost 600 offices that together spend more than $5 billion of public money each year.
The report shows that a mere 3 percent of state agencies post their financial information online despite existing public records rules. However, there are some moves in the statehouse to increase overall government transparency. Last month, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill that will require the Department of Community Affairs post the budget of any municipality or county that doesn’t have its own website. However, the extent to which it would occur to the average person to go the Department of Community Affairs website for this information remains an open question.
The report outlines the criteria for transparency which were then used to measure the state’s agencies — only 7 met all of the benchmarks.
The report calls for every local agency to create a website which houses basic information including mission, financials, agendas and meeting times as appropriate. These recommendations have led some to question the costs involved in making this information available online during a time of budget cuts. Despite those concerns, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, is pushing legislation which would require agencies to post financial information online and comply with the state’s Open Public Records and Meetings acts.
In a written statement, State Comptroller Matthew Boxer said, “too often the public never hears about these local agencies until scandals unfold. But we pay for these agencies every day – when we pay tolls, when we pay our water bills and when we pay our property taxes.”