TRENTON, N.J. — The New Jersey Assembly Monday passed a measure that would force Gov. Chris Christie to seek the Legislature's approval for his plan to privatize parts of the state lottery, which Democratic lawmakers said is being pushed through "under the radar" without oversight.
The bill (A3614), approved 45-29, largely along party lines, would give the Legislature the power to reject or accept the 15-year, $120 million contract the Christie administration is reviewing. Current law does not require Christie to seek approval from lawmakers.
The Assembly also moved a resolution (AR130) by a vote of 45-30 that encourages the governor to ask the U.S. Department of Justice for guidance before the contract is awarded.
Spokesmen for the governor did respond to an e-mail seeking comment, but the bill is unlikely to become law given Christie has the final say. An identical measure is pending in the Senate.
Republicans called the legislation a political tactic.
"I trust the administration," said Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon (R-Monmouth), a member of the Assembly Budget Committee. "And they feel that having outside help ... from folks who are experts is a good idea. That sounds like a reasonable contention to me."
Democrats say the governor has only himself to blame for the threat to his power — they asked to hear from Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff on the proposed contract, but he never came to testify.
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), chair of the Budget Committee, said he twice asked the treasurer and lottery officials to appear before the panel but received no response. He said the governor's plan has been "flying under the radar" and that lawmakers "don't know much about it."
"If this was a good thing, I figure it this way: I would have heard some type of press conference or some type of press release (saying) that this was a great thing," said Prieto, the prime sponsor of the Assembly bill. "You always get that from the administration. You're not getting that now."
Under Christie's plan to privatize the lottery, which brings in about $1 billion a year to fund scholarships and programs for military veterans and the disabled, the state would continue to own the lottery, Treasury officials have said.
A private vendor would manage sales and marketing in exchange for a share of revenues, the Treasury said. If the arrangement fails to boost sales for two years, Christie could cancel the contact.
The state only received one bid proposal, from a joint venture called Northstar New Jersey. Its members are GTECH, an Italian-owned company; Scientific Games, based in Georgia; and OMERS, a Canadian pension fund for public workers.
The treasury said it is still evaluating the bid, but the governor could simply sign the contract if he chooses to do so. Nothing currently requires him to hold public negotiations, explain the deal to the Legislature or take public input.