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Lottery outsourcing bid, looming unemployment surcharge top legislative agenda

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While the state Treasury reviews the lone bid to take over the sales and marketing functions of the New Jersey Lottery, an Assembly committee today released a package of bills that attempt to give more transparency to the procurement process through legislative oversight.

At today's hearing, Assembly Budget Chair Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) said "it's getting a little frustrating" that state Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff and New Jersey Lottery Executive Director Carole Hedinger declined an invitation to appear before the committee, which ultimately advanced one bill that would require legislative approval of any lottery management bids and another bill that would urge Gov. Chris Christie to seek legal advice from the U.S. Department of Justice prior to the contract's procurement.

"It's concerning that we're not being included as part of the dialogue, and I think we're an equal branch of government and should be part of the concerns," Prieto said at the hearing.

In a letter sent to Prieto on Dec. 4, Hedinger said she could not attend the committee's original Dec. 5 hearing because "based on best practices for state contracting and well-established policies underlying state bidding and procurement laws, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on a pending RFP."

Since that proposal period ended Dec. 27 — with the Treasury receiving a single bid from Northstar New Jersey, a joint venture that includes Lottomatica subsidiary GTECH Corp., Scientific Games Corp. and an affiliate of one of the largest pension funds in Canada — Assemblymen Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex) said the state Assembly should consider issuing a subpoena to Sidamon-Eristoff and Hedinger when it takes up the proposed legislation.

"I realize there are things that can't be said, but there are always things that can be said in a public forum," Diegnan said at the hearing. "The idea of privatization may, in the end, be a very good thing, but we have not heard from the people quarterbacking the deal to know for sure."

A Treasury spokesman said the department did not send a letter to a committee member prior to today's hearing, though he said "we continue to believe it would be inappropriate to testify while the bidding process is still ongoing."

Prieto believes that process ended Dec. 27, but the spokesman said "until a contract is awarded, it's still ongoing."

Elsewhere in the statehouse, a Senate Labor committee today released a bill supported by several state business groups — including the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey and the New Jersey chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses — to forestall a planned 10 percent unemployment insurance surcharge that would cost businesses in the state an estimated $293 million after it takes effect in July.

The committee also advanced legislation that would establish a program in the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to provide tax credits to private-sector employers who increase their workforce by hiring unemployed workers.

Other business-related legislative agendas today include the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities committee's hearing on methods to improve the reliability of the power grid during severe weather and the Assembly Tourism and Arts committee's hearing on the effects of Hurricane Sandy, the rebuilding process and 2013 tourism season marketing efforts, set to begin at 2 p.m.

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