By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the Republican party are refunding more than $3,000 for trips Christie took on state police helicopters to attend his son's baseball games, a party spokesman said on Thursday.
This week, ahead of a meeting with Republican donors hoping to woo him as a presidential candidate with fiscal conservative credentials, Christie and his wife Mary Pat flew by helicopter to St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale.
Democratic lawmakers, enmeshed in tough budget negotiations with the Republican governor, called the trip an irresponsible waste of state resources.
A Christie spokesman said the governor chose to refund the money although the trips do not cost taxpayers extra money.
The head of the state police said the flights were used for training purposes and the hours would have been logged regardless.
"Though the Superintendent of the State Police noted yesterday the travel does not cost taxpayers additional dollars, the Governor understands the sensitivity about this kind of thing and believes he owes it to the public to ensure that this is not a distraction," spokesman Michael Drewniak said in a statement.
He said Christie has used state police helicopters 33 times, the lieutenant governor took one trip and staff flew to back-to-back news conferences in southern and northern New Jersey.
As a refund, Christie has paid $1,232.30 to the state treasurer for Tuesday's trip to the game, while the New Jersey Republican State Committee paid $1,232.29 for the trip back to Princeton, said party spokesman Rick Gorka.
Christie also reimbursed the state $919.20 for a May 27 trip to another game of his son's, Gorka said.
This is not the first time Christie has been criticized over spending. Last year, the website Politico reported that as a federal prosecutor, Christie stayed at luxury hotels using taxpayer money.
Citing a Justice Department report, it said Christie exceeded the federal government's set lodging rates by as much as $242 per night on 15 occasions between 2007 and 2009.
Over the course of 23 trips, only eight of his stays were booked in compliance with federally allotted rates, it said.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)