Christie: Printing Public Notices in Newspapers is an ‘Unfunded Mandate’
TRENTON - Gov. Chris Christie on Sunday made his case for a bill that would eliminate the requirement to publish legal notices in newspapers following a Twitter tirade on Friday night. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill Monday.
In what Christie called an editorial that was refused publication by the state's newspapers, he called the requirement an "unfunded mandate" that costs taxpayers $80 million a year in support of an "archaic practice" that is no longer affordable and which technology renders unnecessary.
If the bill passes, New Jersey would be the first state to end the requirement that legal notices be published in a newspaper.
Christie did not name the newspapers that he claims refused to publish his opinions piece, but said it makes his point that most people don't read newspapers and that nearly 90 percent of New Jersey households and 100 percent of the state's libraries have internet connections, while only 22 percent of New Jerseyans buy a newspaper.
"I was therefore left with no choice but to disseminate this opinion myself, which will no doubt be read by a vast majority of the population online," he wrote.
The New Jersey Press Association has disputed Christie's $80 million figure saying the cost of legal notices is $8 million annually for taxpayers and $12 million for businesses, according to a report in The Record.
And critics of the governor have pointed out that Christie's administration has handed out billions in corporate tax breaks.
The legislation to end the practice of printed legal notices is part of a package of bills being fast-tracked through the Legislature, including one to grant raises to nearly 700 public officials, including judges, county constitutional officers and state department heads — at an estimated cost of $10 million a year — and another that would change the state's ethics law to allow Christie to profit from a book deal while in office.
On Sunday, Christie focused on the requirement for foreclosures to be published, calling it "unconscionable" and saying those ads cost an average of $910 each.
"As a result, required legal notices earned newspapers approximately $14 million for the 12-month period ending in October 2016," he wrote. "And these costs were borne by the 15,764 financially distressed people who had just suffered a foreclosure of their home in that time period. This is simply unacceptable."
He wrote that newspapers have had a monopoly on publishing a vast array of legal notices, "Monopolies are always bad for our economy and, in this case, awfully expensive for our citizens."
But newspaper advocates have argued that legal ads hold government accountable and that information posted online can be altered without the public knowing.
"Public notices appear in newspapers for a reason: they inform the public about what developers and governments are doing and place that information in the 'public square.' By allowing municipalities to confine these notices to their own websites makes it more difficult for citizens to find out what is going on in their neighboring communities, thus reducing government transparency," the New Jersey Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists said in a statement.
The NJ-SJP also added that some municipalities do not have the online infrastructure to post notices and the requirement to do so could strain those with limited staff.
Christie disputed the claim that shifting public notices to government websites would be detrimental to the public.
"These are merely scare tactics by their paid Trenton lobbyists designed to protect the interests of newspaper companies who argue for a free press, but are really arguing for a taxpayer funded subsidy in disguise. This bill, and their fight over it, unmasks their greed," Christie wrote.
In his Friday night series of 10 tweets, Christie called out Democratic Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Sen. Robert Gordon and Assemblyman Jon Wisniewski for supporting a similar measure in 2004, but opposing it now.
"They have the chutzpah to turn their backs on the taxpayers they serve in order to further their misguided political agenda," Christie wrote.