Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Administration Defends Ending Housing Panel

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Administration Defends Ending Housing Panel

Article excerpt

The Christie administration told the state Supreme Court on Monday that the law gives the governor the right to unilaterally abolish the state's affordable housing agency as part of a pledge to relax New Jersey's tough affordable housing regulations.

Several justices, however, expressed concerns the governor was seeking broad-ranging powers that would allow him to seize control of dozens of independent agencies -- including boards that uphold campaign finance and state ethics laws.

Assistant Attorney General Robert T. Lougy argued that Christie's 2011 order abolishing the Council on Affordable Housing, which oversees housing regulations, was permitted under "the plain language" of a state law. That law, the Reorganization Act, gives the authority to radically restructure state government to make it more efficient, Lougy said.

A long line of governors has utilized the 1969 statute to alter other independent agencies -- including the Board of Public Utilities, Lougy argued. But several justices appeared troubled by Lougy's assertion that the law gives Christie authority to bypass the legislative process and restructure agencies that are meant to be insulated from politics.

"We're going to the question of control," said Justice Jaynee LaVecchia.

In this case, Christie seeks to replace a 12-member, bipartisan board with his commissioner of community affairs, a political appointee.

Justice Barry T. Albin raised the specter of Christie using his powers to take over the non-partisan Election Law Enforcement Commission and asked Lougy whether he could "completely blow up every one of the independent councils and have all of that authority completely exercised by a Cabinet member?"

"The plain language of the statute allows no other conclusion," Lougy replied, though he later said the governor wouldn't have the power to unilaterally reconstitute agencies, like the Turnpike Authority, that can issue bonds. …

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