In recent days, a fast-tracked bill to end government-paid public notices in newspapers has advanced through the Assembly in Trenton. The stated aim of this proposed legislation is to save taxpayers and municipalities money by posting notices online instead of through traditional print media. I believe that the actual savings to New Jersey’s taxpayers will be negligible and the potential mischief of such a bill would be too great a threat to transparency in government.
When this bill comes to the floor of the Assembly, I will be voting “NO.”
Indeed, this legislation’s true purpose seems to be a punitive campaign by Governor Chris Christie to punish newspapers for having the temerity to question his administration’s handing of its many scandals and outright mismanagement. The upshot of all of this is that good Jobs—not obsolete or outdated positions—will be lost, the ability of an independent media to act as a needed check and watchdog will be dramatically lessened, and the likelihood is that New Jersey taxpayers will have to pay the tab down the line. Again.
Proponents of this bill claim that this is simply a cost-cutting measure in keeping with the changing technology of the twenty-first century. But this view overlooks or outright dismisses the thousands of people in our state, many of them elderly or without internet access, who rely on print media for their information. This bill cynically bypasses these citizens.
Don’t get me wrong; I am all in favor of relieving taxpayers of extra burdens. I will give a fair hearing to any serious plan designed to limit redundancy or to end waste in Trenton. But punishing a free press seemingly out of a petty desire for vengeance is not the proper means to accomplish this. Has Governor Christie not already learned his lesson with this? We have serious and significant issues facing our state. We in Trenton ought not to be frittering our time and energies with bills such as these, especially since it does not address any issue of immediate importance to the average working New Jerseyan.
How can we, as your elected representatives in Trenton, countenance such a bill, particularly on the heels of the recent gas tax hike? We ought to be working on real efforts at relieving taxpayers, such as bi-partisan efforts to reduce the spiraling and burdensome property tax which leads so many individuals and business to flee our state. We ought to be discussing ways to fix our crumbling roads and infrastructure—before there is a tragic catastrophe. We should be grappling with efforts to address our state’s geometrically escalating opioid and heroin crisis. We need to hammer out agreements to fairly fund our schools. And much, much more besides.
These are the stakes before us. These should be our priorities. Where, then, does bullying the press, potentially killing hundreds of jobs, leaving thousands of our fellow citizens in the dark and taking a swipe at the First Amendment fit into what should be an otherwise busy legislative agenda?
Now, more than ever, our democracy needs an objective, professional media to act as a check on our officials in government. If it is true that a public office is a public trust, then it is also true that trust requires verification. For nearly 230 years, this republic has relied on an independent free press to keep our officials honest. Well, relatively. In an age of Fake News and alternate sources of “information,” we cannot afford legislation such as this that will curb the ability of legitimate media outlets to perform this vital service to our democracy.
Assemblywoman Joann Downey