New Jersey's 11th Legislative District

Senator Jennifer Beck

Senator Jennifer Beck

Beck Votes Against Effort to Legitimize Unconstitutional Transportation Pork Panel

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Senator Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) voted against legislation (S-3075) in the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee which would give the Governor and Legislature another year to form a political pork panel that would have the ability to manipulate billions of dollars in state transportation spending. Her refusal to help legitimize the panel follows the receipt of a legal opinion from the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services that deemed the “Capital Program Approval Committee” unconstitutional.

Sen. Jennifer Beck voted against legislation giving the Governor and Legislature another year to form a political pork panel that would have the ability to manipulate billions of dollars in state transportation spending. (Wikimedia Commons)

Under previously approved legislation, the Capital Program Approval Committee is to be a panel of four individuals, including political appointees, who would have power over the state’s Annual Transportation Capital Program. The objection of any single member of the committee would explicitly prevent the Legislature from funding any transportation projects in that year.

“We have an opinion from OLS that this panel unconstitutionally usurps the authority of the Legislature to appropriate funds,” said Beck. “A single member of this pork panel who doesn’t believe they are getting their fair share for their pet projects could effectively hold hostage all state transportation spending. I cannot support any legislation that would further legitimize this committee that clearly is designed to waste the gas taxes paid by millions of drivers for political purposes.”

The legal opinion, produced in December of 2016, states that the requirement of unanimous approval from the Committee, before the Legislature is allowed to appropriate funds from the Transportation Trust Fund, is an improper impediment on the Legislature’s constitutional lawmaking powers and therefore unenforceable. Additionally, final certification from the Committee would happen on July 1, after the constitutionally mandated conclusion of the legislative budgetary process on June 30th.

To demonstrate how transportation funding has been politicized, Beck noted that Senate President Sweeney, along with Senators Weinberg, Gordon, and Sarlo, held a press conference on October 25th, 2016 to announce that the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Project would be fully funded and brought to fruition.

This announcement from the majority party came prior to any appointment of members to or approval from the Annual Transportation Capital Program Approval Committee, proving that the Committee will be a vehicle for political manipulation.

“How can Senate Democrats claim that this panel will impartially weigh the merits of transportation projects for funding, then go and announce the approval of a billion dollar program before the panel has even been created?” asked Beck. “Their actions are further proof that this panel is a sham that politicians and insiders will use to rubber-stamp unnecessary projects that would never have been approved under the prior, legitimate project prioritization process.”

In previous years, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) employed an intense, analytic, and engineering-based process to determine which transportation projects are of the highest value to the State.

“With the limited taxpayer funding for transportation that’s available, we must employ an objective system that prioritizes projects that provide the greatest utility and enhance public safety,” said Beck. “Instead, we’re giving political insiders the unconstitutional power to waste billions on local pork projects that are designed to earn votes rather than serve the state’s commuters. That’s not how government should work.”

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