Gov. Chris Christie may have another ‘bridge’ problem
NEW JEWSERY (CNN) – Chris Christie’s office argued Tuesday there’s nothing new about a report suggesting the New Jersey governor may have another bridge problem.
The New York Times reported Monday that Christie’s administration was warned against directing funds from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey about three years ago to pay for repairs to the crumbling Pulaski Skyway.
While the Port Authority oversees bridges that connect New York and New Jersey, the Pulaski Skyway is entirely owned by New Jersey and generally a liability for the state, not the Port Authority. But Christie’s office worked to get the funds anyway and says they were legal.
Investigators from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the Securities and Exchange Commission have been making inquiries about the deal, and questions about Christie’s handling of the situation have been public for months. The New York Times report reveals further insight into the investigations.
The SEC and the Manhattan DA are looking into whether bond holders were misled when the Port Authority, at the direction of Christie’s office, called the Pulaski Skyway a Lincoln Tunnel access road, when in fact, it’s over seven miles away from the underwater crossing. The question is whether that fits a legal definition of fraud.
(The Pulaski Skyway was featured in the opening credits of the popular HBO program “The Sopranos”)
The latest controversy comes as Christie’s administration has been embroiled for several months now in investigations over the George Washington Bridge traffic controversy.
A New Jersey legislative committee and federal prosecutors in Newark are looking into suggestions top aid orchestrated traffic tie-ups at the foot of the bridge in Fort Lee last year to punish that town’s mayor for not backing Christie for reelection.
In the case of the Pulaski Skyway, Christie secured Port Authority funds that were supposed to be used for a major rail tunnel project underneath the Hudson River.
The widely-anticipated project had bipartisan support and preliminary work was already underway when Christie made a controversial move to cancel New Jersey’s participation in the project in 2011, saying it was too expensive.
While the decision gained him notoriety among fiscal conservatives, a Government Accountability Office report found that Christie grossly exaggerated the cost of the Hudson River project, as well as his state’s share of the costs.
Investigators are now looking into whether his office’s maneuvering to get the Port Authority funds for the Pulaski Skyway was a criminal act.
Christie’s office has long pushed back at such claims. His office reminded reporters Tuesday that spokesman Kevin Roberts gave a statement about the Pulaski funds in March, and that Christie spoke about it earlier this year.
“Dozens and dozens of lawyers from both sides of the river reviewed that financing plan and approved it,” Christie said at a press conference in his office in April. “As did the commissioners of the Port Authority.”
In March, Roberts stressed that the Port Authority funds were legal as they helped repair infrastructure.
“These investments in Port District roads and bridges in New Jersey were finalized in a formal agreement between the State of New Jersey and the Port Authority with the full legal review and approval of both the New Jersey attorney general and Port Authority counsel,” Roberts said.
From the beginning, Christie made it clear that he intended to redirect funds from the canceled interstate rail tunnel toward a New Jersey road project. In January of 2011, he said, “I make no apologies, especially with the Port Authority, for money that was earmarked for New Jersey projects to make that money stay in New Jersey to improve our infrastructure.”
Also in April, the governor said he directed his people to find a way to appropriate the money for infrastructure projects in New Jersey. “They came back and said this was an appropriate way to do it and the Port Authority approved it.”
In a written statement, the New Jersey attorney general’s office said they “took responsibility for reviewing and negotiating the agreement with the Port Authority, on behalf of the Department of Transportation, for the $1.8 billion in infrastructure improvements that included the Pulaski Skyway.”
The Port Authority of New York and New also released a statement saying, “The Pulaski Skyway agreement was analyzed and negotiated by lawyers on all sides. Separately, the law firm of Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe has served as standing underwriters’ counsel on Port Authority bond issues for more than 25 years, reviews all Port Authority bond disclosures and other matters, and has provided appropriate opinions to the underwriters on those bonds.”