In this May 31, 2011 photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, exits a state helicopter to attend his son’s high school baseball game in Montvale, N.J. State police say it costs $2,500 an hour to fly a state helicopter, but that flying Christie to his son’s high school baseball game didn’t cost taxpayers anything extra. (AP Photo/PATCH.com, Christopher Costa) TRENTON, N.J. (AP)—Criticism came in like fastballs Wednesday over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s use of a state helicopter to fly him and his wife to his son’s high school baseball game. Christie, a former federal prosecutor who has been courted to run for president because of his get-tough approach to state spending, and wife Mary Pat arrived just before the game between Delbarton High School and St. Joseph’s of Montvale in Montvale on Tuesday night. The pair stepped off the helicopter and into a car waiting nearby, which drove them 100 yards to the baseball field.
(AP Photo/PATCH.com, Christopher Costa) Flanked by state police troopers, the Christies watched the game from the stands until the fifth inning. Play was stopped briefly while the helicopter took off. The governor’s oldest son, Andrew, attends Delbarton, a private Catholic prep school, where he plays catcher—a position Christie also played in high school. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said there was nothing inappropriate or illegal about the governor’s use of the helicopter, which he said is relied on only when Christie’s schedule demands it. The Republican governor has heightened his national profile by fighting runaway spending by even the smallest state agencies and by calling for shared sacrifice by all public employees. He has issued nearly two dozen vetoes of spending by state authorities—some for less than $1,000.
(AP Photo/PATCH.com, Christopher Costa) On Wednesday, state police Superintendent Rick Fuentes said it costs $2,500 an hour to fly in the helicopter, but that ferrying Christie to the game didn’t cost taxpayers anything extra, because pilots need flight time. “It is important to understand that state police helicopters fly daily homeland security missions and use flight time for training purposes, more so lately as we acclimate our pilots to the new aircraft,” Fuentes said. He added that “any flights transporting the governor would be subordinated” if the aircraft were needed for rescue or time-sensitive police work. Christie has been aboard state police helicopters 35 times since taking office, Fuentes said. He didn’t say which, if any, of the trips were personal or political in nature or whether the governor has ever reimbursed the state for a trip.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his wife Mary Pat watch from the bleachers after arriving by helicopter, as their son plays in the the St. Joseph vs. Delbarton baseball game Tuesday afternoon, in Montvale, N.J. (AP Photo/The Record, Leslie Barbaro) “Gov. Christie obviously doesn’t include himself in his hollow call for shared sacrifice,” Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Turnersville, said as he called on the governor to publicly detail his use of state police helicopters and reimburse the taxpayers for all costs associated with personal and political trips. “Gov. Christie must learn that taxpayers cannot afford his helicopter joyrides,” Moriarty said. State Democratic Party chairman John Wisniewski called it inappropriate. “The only thing I can think of is that he wanted to look presidential flying in. It’s his version of Marine One,” Wisniewski said. The governor had no public schedule Tuesday but had a dinner meeting later at the governor’s mansion in Princeton with a delegation of Iowans who tried— unsuccessfully—to persuade him to run for president. “It is a means of transportation that is occasionally used as the schedule demands,” Drewniak said, declining to give specifics. “This has historically been the case in prior administrations as well, and we continue to be judicious in limiting its use.” Drewniak declined to release the governor’s schedule for Tuesday or say where Christie was coming from when he arrived at the game. “The governor gets EPU (executive protection unit) coverage every day to and from Trenton or anywhere he travels on government or personal time, 24 hours a day,” he said. Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the state attorney general, said that as the state executive, Christie can use the helicopter “at any time for any purpose” and that it was up to the governor to determine if he should reimburse the state for personal use. Other governors have been criticized for their use of helicopters. During her successful 1993 gubernatorial campaign, Christie Whitman criticized Gov. Jim Florio’s use of a state helicopter, while Gov. James E. McGreevey was criticized for using a state helicopter to take 14 non-governmental trips. The Democratic State Committee reimbursed the state $18,200 on McGreevey’s behalf. At that time, Republicans were quick to accuse McGreevey of abusing perks. GOP Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos, a close friend of Christie’s and the chair of his campaign, called on McGreevey to make all of his travel and entertainment expenses public. “The people of New Jersey should not have to wait for another news story for the McGreevey administration to take responsibility for abusing taxpayer dollars during a state budget crisis,” Kyrillos said in 2002. After Gov. Jon Corzine nearly died in an auto accident on the Garden State Parkway, a special commission recommended governors use helicopters more often as a safety concern. But Corzine, a multimillionaire, rented private helicopters for personal use. Renting private choppers doesn’t come cheap. HeliFlite, based in Newark, charges roughly $4,650 per hour before any potential discounts are applied that could bring the price under $4,000. Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club said that it can make sense for governors to use helicopters on long haul business trips over gas-guzzling SUVs. “If you have an event in Cape May and then Princeton, it makes sense,” he said, “but I’m talking about official state business, I’m not talking about going to a baseball game.”
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