TRENTON - Amid continued concern about government corruption in New Jersey, a North Jersey Democratic state senator is pushing for an elected government watchdog with power to investigate all public contracts.
Sen. Barbara Buono said the appointed comptroller created earlier this year by the Legislature was too weak. Buono initially sponsored the bill to create that post, but withdrew support after it was revised and the still-unfilled position lost authority to review all land deals.
After the revisions, Buono (D., Middlesex) claimed the bill had been "emasculated" and created "a paper tiger."
She wants to remake the job amid continued questions about state corruption.
"We need to give the office of the state comptroller more power to go after even the smallest cases of waste and fraud," Buono said. "In doing that, we must also make it an elected position so that he or she is only accountable to the voters."
The comptroller created by the Legislature as part of property-tax reform efforts will be appointed by the governor with Senate confirmation.
Gov. Corzine demanded a comptroller be created. He initially wanted an elected comptroller, but agreed to make it appointed amid legislative opposition to creating a new statewide elected office.
Fourteen states have elected comptrollers and 31 have appointed ones, according to the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers.
Buono said she would propose making the position an elected office and giving the office statewide auditing power, authority to preapprove all contracts at all government levels, and power to collect all debts owed the state.
"There are thousands of contracts being executed by government entities in New Jersey each year all with the potential for abuse and fraud," Buono said. "Even if the amount wasted in each contract is small, the sheer volume of contracts means that taxpayers could be losing millions of dollars each year."
Corzine doesn't seem ready to rework the post.
"We ended up with a very independent state comptroller," the Democratic governor said last week when discussing his ethics reform efforts. "It is a state comptroller, when combined with the inspector general's office, that has every power of any comptroller that you could ever imagine."
Corzine also said an elected comptroller can bring problems, noting questions about the New York comptroller's office, where Democrat Alan Hevesi resigned in December after pleading guilty to a felony for using state employees as drivers and companions for his wife.
"There's a lot of criticism of elected comptrollers that we now see going on in New York state," Corzine said.
Corzine hasn't nominated a comptroller, but Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R., Bergen) said the governor has told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he intends to nominate Matthew Boxer, who has headed the unit overseeing state authorities.
Cardinale wants the committee to delay action on Corzine's nomination until a special prosecutor is named to investigate how Corzine gave $10,000 and Corzine's personal attorney gave $5,000 to the brother-in-law of a state union leader Corzine once dated.