New Jersey cops defend Christie's chopper trip to son's school

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 01, 2011 7:23 PM
New Jersey cops defend Christie's chopper trip to son's school

By Bernd Debusmann Jr.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came under fire on Wednesday for using a state police helicopter to attend his son's baseball game, but authorities said his travel came at no extra cost to taxpayers.

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 on Tuesday.

Democratic lawmakers, enmeshed in tough budget negotiations with the Republican governor, called the trip in the $12.5 million AugustaWestland AW139 helicopter an irresponsible waste of state resources.

They called on Christie to detail his use of state police helicopters and reimburse taxpayers.

"Gov. Christie has no qualms decimating health care for women, slashing property tax relief for seniors, and raising income taxes on working families but apparently doesn't hesitate to abuse taxpayer dollars by taking taxpayer-paid helicopter jaunts," said State Assemblyman Paul Moriarty.

But State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes denied that the trip cost taxpayers anything extra.

"State Police helicopters fly daily homeland security missions and use flight time for training purposes," Fuentes said in a statement. "These are flight hours that would be logged in any event.

"Therefore, there is no additional cost to taxpayers or the State police budget, nor is there any interference with our daily mission," he said.

Fuentes added that Christie has flown in state police helicopters 35 times during his stint as governor.

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.

(Additional reporting by Edith Honan, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Peter Bohan)