Remember back in August 2010 when the state decided to do away with the highly unpopular safety inspections of automobiles?

We cheered. Everyone cheered. You would still have to get your car's emissions checked every two years - but no more waiting in long lines to have inspectors find an almost-invisible crack in a windshield and flunk you. And even better, Motor Vehicle Commission officials said the move would save the state almost $12 million.

How could you not love that? MVC officials said the savings were based on the fact that the $21.60 that Parsons Environment & Infrastructure Group was paid for each inspection would be cut $3.24 because it no longer had to do the safety inspections. The 6 percent failure rate just didn't justify the expense, the MVC officials said.

Well ... guess what never happened?

The payment-per-inspection ended up being cut by only 67 cents, and the MVC never saved that $12 million, according to an audit released this week by the Office of the State Auditor, a division of the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

"This equates to blatant thievery," said Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, D-Union. And he's right.

At the time the safety inspections were eliminated, Parsons was in the midst of a five-year, $286 million contract it signed in 2008. But it turns out the contract was quietly amended in March 2011. The new contract included a very sweet clause, which basically says that even if the state decreases the cost of the contractor's services, it still has to pay an "equitable adjustment."

But equitable to whom? Certainly not to New Jersey taxpayers, who were basically duped here. And to add insult to the injury, Ray Martinez, who was and is head of the MVC for all this, is now more or less saying, "What? You thought we were going to save $12 million?"

Actually, what Martinez said in a response to the audit is this: "The fact that safety inspections were eliminated and therefore removed from the scope of the contract does not in and of itself translate into a reduction in the contract price."

No? Well, Martinez - and the entire Christie administration - certainly led New Jersey taxpayers to believe they would save that money.

At the time the safety inspections were dropped, Parsons - which has been a major campaign contributor in New Jersey for more than a decade - indicated that it wouldn't fight the change. Now we know why. Even though it no longer had to do the safety inspections, even though this and other changes allowed Parsons to cut 121 lane-technician positions, the company knew it wasn't about to lose $12 million.

After all, Parsons knew where it was - in New Jersey.

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