Christie makes first comments on school funding formula plan

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

In this final phase of the Chris Christie era, the governor appears to be trying to strike a balance between completing the people’s work – today, announcing another TTF-funded project – and remaining politically relevant – commenting on anything and everything the statehouse press corps could throw at him.

“The I-95 pavement preservation project. It’s resurfacing. It’s bridge repair. It’s safety improvements. $15 million that is slated to begin soon on I-95 north and south here in Mercer County. It will positively impact the lives of our residents, improving their commutes by making those commutes safer and easier,” he announced to a press conference in Pennington.

But, that news could’ve really been transmitted via press release. The governor did not come out here to the middle of Mercer County to just talk about pavement preservation. To wit: not one question about it. That’s not to say there weren’t a lot of questions. Like, what do you think of the recent school funding plan unveiled by Democratic leaders last week?

“I’m certainly looking at it, examining it,” he said. “There are things about it that I find encouraging. There are things about it that I find discouraging and unfair, and so, we’ll have to see what we’re going to do.”

Pressed on specifics, the governor said he will save his concerns for meetings later this week, with the Democratic leaders – Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Senate President Steve Sweeney. But he added, “If you just look at the numbers of where money is going and how it’s distributed, it raises some questions, and I want those questions answered. But the senate president has no business quoting me and I certainly will make my conversations known to him and the speaker in private as we go forward, and the Republican leaders.”

But, we all wanted to know, what about where the money’s going and what about the distribution?

“You’re presuming that what the senate president said is true,” he snapped. “And what I’m telling you in response to your question is that the senate president has no business quoting me to the press. I don’t quote him. He has no business quoting me.”

That doesn’t sound good. Add to that: the senate president saying that he will play hardball with Christie on school funding negotiations.

“I’m not just going to give him a budget, blindly, and not know what’s going to come out of it,” said Sweeney last week, “so, we don’t have any commitment from the governor, so we’ll see where it goes but first things first.”

That raised the specter of a government shutdown, remote, but whispered among some doom and gloom State House watchers, some of whom may be in the State House press corps.

“No, the Legislature has an obligation to send me a budget by June 30. I’m confident they’ll do so,” he said. “If they don’t, and they decide to close down government that’s their business. I’ll be sitting there waiting for a budget as I’ve been every year by June 30 and I have no reason to believe that it won’t happen this year.”

The governor also confirmed a report that Christopher Wray – the president’s choice for FBI director – is still technically his attorney, wrapping up work on a criminal complaint stemming from the GWB lane closure scandal. He gave advice to his lieutenant governor on who she might want as a running mate. Pick someone you like, who you think could run the state in your absence. And had a thing or two to say about his record low poll numbers.

“Poll numbers matter when you’re running for something,” he said. “When you’re not running for something they don’t matter a bit.”

The governor says he’ll report later in the week on where the school funding formula negotiations are going, caring little for what anybody – including us – thinks about how he’s comported himself on this or any other issue.