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Assembly Budget Committee votes for subpoena power

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The Assembly Budget Committee Thursday voted to give itself the power to subpoena the state treasurer, and other officials, as it investigates budgetary matters.

The resolution, which still requires a vote by the full Assembly, came about after state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff declined four invitations to appear before the committee to discuss various budget-related matters, such as revenue collection, Hurricane Sandy recovery and the privatization of the sales and marketing of the state lottery.

Committee chair Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) said the resolution isn't about politics, but about the Assembly's constitutional oversight responsibilities.

"This is an issue that is about branches of government," he said. "I think this branch of government deserves to know the facts."

Prieto said the committee deserves to hear from the treasurer directly, rather than via newspaper reports. If the Assembly passes the resolution, they'll have the power to compel such testimony going forward.

Prieto said he felt "disrespected" by the treasurer's failure to appear, though Prieto said he did have a phone conversation with Sidamon-Eristoff before Thursday's hearing. Prieto said he prefers public testimony to private phone conversations.

The vote passed 6-4, on straight party lines.

Despite the partisan split, debate over the resolution was relatively congenial. The entire hearing lasted less than 10 minutes.

Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-Randolph) said he doesn't think subpoena power is necessary, and he disagreed with Prieto's assertion that the committee had been disrespected.

"I can tell you, I've sat on this committee now for a few budgets, and I haven't seen that," he said. "You reached out to the treasurer on a number of issues and in fact in our packets on the days that we met that he wasn't there, there were letters from him explaining the reasons he couldn't be here."

Bucco said those reasons were that the information the committee was asking for wasn't available yet, or in the case of the lottery, that it would be inappropriate for the treasurer to speak while the bidding process was ongoing.

However, Prieto noted that the excuses tended to come at the last minute, when it was too late to cancel the hearings.

"Yeah, there was correspondence, but the day or and the hour before I don't think is correct," he said.

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