TRENTON, NJ - Sen. Kip Bateman (R-16) and Sen. Michael Doherty (R-23) joined with Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) to file a lawsuit May 15 to stop a New Jersey State House renovation project that was initiated without legislative or voter approval.
The civil complaint filed in New Jersey Superior Court alleges that actions undertaken by the State Capitol Joint Management Commission, Treasury Department, and New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) related to the renovation plan violate the Debt Limitation, Appropriations and Separation of Powers clauses of the New Jersey Constitution.
“While the law is clear that the plan to borrow $300 million to fund the State House renovation must be approved by both voters and the Legislature, the governor’s convoluted and unconstitutional financing arrangement takes that choice away from both taxpayers and their elected representatives,” said Doherty. “Our lawsuit seeks to hold the governor accountable and halt this boondoggle of a project. We’re fighting to ensure that New Jersey taxpayers have both transparency and choice as to how their money is spent.”
Doherty and Bateman are sponsors of the “Lance Amendment,” a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2008 requiring voter approval of bonds that are to be issued by any State agency or independent authority backed by a pledge of an annual appropriation to pay the principal and interest on the bonds.
To circumvent this constitutional “bonds on the ballot” requirement, a complex lease-sublease arrangement has been orchestrated that would have the NJEDA borrow the $300 million needed for the renovation, with lease payments made by the State passing through the NJEDA to cover the debt service on the bonds, according to the senators.
New Jersey State Treasurer Ford Scudder recently testified that the ultimate cost to taxpayers to “rent” the State House from the NJEDA could reach $500 million to $750 million over 20 to 30 years, the amount needed to cover the principal and interest on the bonds.
“Taxpayers were just hit by a billion dollar gas tax increase, and now there’s an attempt to force another $750 million onto their shoulders,” added Bateman. “That’s just wrong. The governor knows the public would never support this project, which is why everything was done to limit transparency and public participation in the approval process. While portions of the renovation may be necessary, we have a legal and moral obligation to examine and approve the project the right way.”