TRENTON - A day after a leading Democratic lawmaker was indicted on federal corruption charges, Republicans yesterday asked the governor to call a special legislative session to pass anti-corruption bills.
But Gov. Corzine's office said progress is being made in a state plagued by corruption.
"The wheels of reform are in motion," spokesman Anthony Coley said.
Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce and Assemblyman Bill Baroni (R., Mercer) said corruption had become so pervasive that urgent action is needed. They asked Corzine to use his authority under the state constitution to quickly call a special legislative session to consider ethics bills.
"By passing comprehensive ethics reform next week, we can send a message to the public that we are as appalled as they are by these allegations of corruption," said DeCroce (R., Morris).
Senate Republicans joined the call.
"I hope that yesterday's announcement changes the Democrats' political calculus and provides the impetus for serious reform measures to be brought to the floor for a vote in both houses of the Legislature," said Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (R., Hunterdon).
The Republican request comes after the once-powerful Sen. Wayne Bryant (D., Camden) was indicted. He allegedly used his role as budget chairman to bring millions in state money to a state medical school in exchange for a no-work job, and used that and other jobs to fraudulently triple his taxpayer-funded pension.
Republicans say changes should include limiting campaign contributions from government contractors, making it illegal for officials to hold more than one elected office, suspending indicted public officials without pay, and staffing an ethics committee with private citizens.
Corzine is a Democrat, and Democrats control the Assembly by 49-31 and the Senate by 22-18. In recent months, the Legislature has passed bills requiring mandatory jail and pension forfeitures for corrupt public officials, revised pension benefits for elected officials, and implemented new rules to require legislators to be more open about budget grants they sponsor.
"Corruption is not a partisan issue and neither party can claim the high road on ethical conduct," said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. (D., Camden). "Ethics reform will be addressed and advanced in the next 90 days with consideration of proposals by members from both political parties."
Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex) said the new budget rules "will hopefully eliminate any potential conflicts and abuses in the future and go a long way towards ensuring that those in all levels of New Jersey government act in the best interests of the public."
Coley noted that Corzine had signed the bill requiring mandatory jail time and pension forfeitures and said he would soon sign others, while Democrats have vowed to take action by July 1 to make it illegal for newly elected officials to hold more than one office.
The Senate has also passed lobbying reforms and outlawed gifts to lawmakers.
The federal investigation into Bryant has grown into a larger investigation into how the state budget has been developed. U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie has subpoenaed budget documents from the governor's office, legislative leaders and staff, lawmakers, and two state departments.