New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spelled out his objections to an immigrant tuition bill making its way through the state Legislature for the first time Monday, when he reiterated his refusal to sign the proposal in its current form.
At his first Statehouse news conference since winning re-election with 50 percent of the Hispanic vote, Christie said he opposes a provision in the bill that allows students in the United States illegally to have access to tuition aid grants.
Christie also wants to have language changed that would allow students from out of state to qualify for in-state tuition after graduating from a boarding school or private school in New Jersey.
Finally, he wants to limit eligibility to students who were in the United States as of last year, as President Barack Obama has done in an executive order on in-state tuition.
"Those are the major concerns I have,'' Christie said. "Each one of these things makes us an outlier, even with states that permit in-state tuition for undocumented students. And, it will make us a magnet for folks to come here to get these additional benefits.''
"If they sent me a clean tuition equality bill, I would sign it,'' he added.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat who has worked with Christie in the past, said the governor would get the bill "as is.''
He said Christie did not express concerns about the bill until after it passed out of the Senate Budget Committee in June. The bill has not changed since then, said.
"He supported it when he was running for governor. Unfortunately now that he's running for president, he doesn't support it,'' Sweeney said. Christie is often mentioned as a possible contender for a presidential run in 2016.
"We didn't do a bait and switch,'' he added. "We didn't play games with it.''
Christie thrilled the Hispanic community in October by announcing his support for in-state tuition legislation while courting minority voters for his re-election. But after winning a second term in a landslide last month, the Republican governor began expressing concerns about the bill the Senate had passed.
Minority voters support the tuition equity bill by wide margins, while conservative voters strongly oppose it. Support from Hispanics could greatly enhance Christie viability as a candidate should he seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. But, he also would need voters from conservatives in early primary states.
Christie first said he would not sign the Senate bill on a radio call-in program last week, then signaled hope that the Assembly would amend its bill during the lame-duck session to address his concerns.
Assembly sponsor Gordon Johnson said he was considering an amendment to add financial eligibility that would match the Senate bill, as well as another amendment to protect the value of tuition grants.
Students living in the United States illegally are entitled under federal law to the same K-12 education as legal residents. At least a dozen states also allow these students to pay the cheaper in-state rate for tuition at state colleges and universities.