A state aid program for so-called distressed cities that has come under increased scrutiny from New Jersey lawmakers in recent months was the subject of legislation introduced in both houses of the state legislature Monday.
The measure – introduced by Sen. Phil Haines, Assemblywoman Dawn Addiego, and Assemblyman Scott Rudder – would require municipalities receiving aid out of the program to complete detailed reports outlining exactly how the state aid dollars would be spent.
Towns getting the dollars would also have to stop receiving the aid after three consecutive years, unless some sort of fiscal emergency exists.
“The state needs to do a better job of tracking how this money is being spent so that we can ensure tax dollars are not being wasted,” said Sen. Haines, R-Burlington, in a statement. “This bill ensures that this program is a short-term fix for towns that truly need the aid – not an annual hand-out to just a few politically connected municipalities.”
In the 2006-2007 budget over $190 million was doled out to a list that included many of the state’s largest cities, including Camden, Paterson, Union City, Harrison, Trenton, Ewing, and Asbury Park. Gov. Jon Corzine proposes to spend $145.3 million on the distressed city aid in this year’s budget, according to administration documents.
The biggest gripe about the program has been a lack of financial accountability in the program, according to some lawmakers, who say the moneys should come with strict oversight and restricted uses.
The City of Trenton received some of the aid recently, although Mayor Douglas H. Palmer refused to recognize Trenton as a city in fiscal distress, as one might consider when reflecting on the city’s current financial situation.
One-time gimmicks like the sale of Trenton Water Works infrastructure and the sale of the city’s interest in a power generation operation have temporarily shored up the city’s finances, but more fiscal problems in the coming years loom because of a lack of comprehensive financial reform.
Like many say, Trenton’s finances could come crashing down any day now.