TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by state Senators Shirley K. Turner and Linda R. Greenstein that would require greater transparency in the awarding of government contracts cleared the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee today.
The bill, S1517, would require that contracts for professional and technical services that are awarded by a state agency, including independent authorities, or by counties, municipalities, and school districts, be awarded by a competitive negotiating process. Turner first introduced the bill in 2005 to address concerns over political corruption and the impact that no-bid contracts have on the cost of government services.
“The current system that allows for no-bid awards has contributed to the culture of corruption that is so prevalent in New Jersey politics,” said Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “By requiring a public bidding process, we are making the process by which contracts are awarded more open and transparent. Ending the current system of favoritism will help to lessen the cost of government for taxpayers, but it will also provide more opportunities for businesses that may not have the influential connections or financial resources to curry favor with political players.”
Under current law, professional and technical services may be negotiated and awarded without publicly advertising for bid. Oftentimes, the contract for such services is awarded to individuals and businesses that are politically aligned with the administration in office at the time. The system has led to abuse and corruption and a number of criminal convictions against elected officials.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, in an interview with The Trenton Times editorial board, highlighted the dangers of no bid-contracts. Fishman’s office recently worked to convict Hamilton’s former mayor John Bencivengo for receiving $12,400 in bribes from a school district insurance broker in exchange for steering no-bid contracts toward the company. Fishman indicated that no-bid contracts are a “temptation” and suggested that municipalities need to revise the process by which contracts are awarded.
“The recent case in Hamilton is a textbook example of why we can no longer allow for two separate sets of rules when it comes to public contracting,” said Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer). “These loopholes must be closed, not only in the best interests of taxpayers but in the best interest of transparent, honest government. If a vendor can’t win a contract openly and honestly, then they shouldn’t be awarded a contract, period.”
“We need this bill to create a more open and honest government and help restore the public’s faith in government and our political system,” said Turner. “We must get rid of no-bid contracts and end the political cronyism that has added to New Jersey’s longstanding reputation as a corrupt state.”
The sponsors are working on amendments to the bill to include institutions of higher education in the new requirements for competitive negotiations. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.
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