What to Know
- New Jersey has secured about $38 million in contracts, so far, a year into a $300 million debt-financed renovation of time-worn statehouse
- The 4-year project was briefly at the center of last year's campaign to succeed Chris Christie, who argued that the renovation was necessary
- Parts of the building date to the 18th century and Christie has described it as a "fire trap"
New Jersey has secured about $38 million in contracts, so far, a year into a $300 million debt-financed renovation of the hazardous and time-worn statehouse that critics argued should have been put to the voters.
The figure is based on documents obtained by The Associated Press through the Open Public Records Act and confirmed by the Treasury showing the value of contracts totaling about $38 million, with $11.7 million being been paid out so far.
The four-year project was briefly at the center of last year's campaign to succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who argued that the renovation was necessary since parts of the building were being held together by duct tape, posed fire risks and did not comply with security and other laws.
The issue, raised by Democrats and Republicans alike, was that the debt Christie incurred should have been approved by voters, as required by the state constitution. Christie argued the project was needed and that he showed political courage by taking the flak for pushing it through.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy questioned whether the project was worth such an expenditure but stopped short during last year's campaign of saying he would scrap it, as other candidates did, including Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
As governor, Murphy has been moved down the block to a state office building where Christie finished out his second term, a far cry from the wood-encased, historic office just off the rotunda that he and previous governors occupied.
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Murphy seems to be keeping some distance between himself and the project, but nonetheless is keeping it going.
"We are making every effort to ensure that the project we inherited is completed under budget," said Treasury spokeswoman Jennifer Sciortino. She added that the project is on budget so far.
Former Democratic Assemblyman and failed gubernatorial candidate John Wisniewski sued to try to stop it, in part over Christie's failure to get voter approval for the debt to cover it.
"No matter how good the cause is it's never good enough to violate the constitution," he said.
The invoices show contracts with about a half-dozen different architecture, demolition and hazardous materials firms, with billing beginning as soon as a few weeks after Christie's administration greenlighted the project.
For instance, East Coast Hazmat submitted a bill for about $400,000 in November for asbestos abatement. Philadelphia-based Nelco Architecture has a nearly $24 million contract with the state covering demolition and renovation.
New Jersey's Constitution requires voter approval, but Christie's administration financed the deal through the Economic Development Authority and skirted the requirement.
Courts ruled the question is moot since bonds have been sold, but Wisniewski said in an interview that the state could use its surplus to settle contracts and still put the question before voters.
Christie cast himself as courageous for being willing to take the blame over the costs.
"Nobody has the political guts to say to people we have to spend the money on this building," he said last year.
Parts of the building date to the 18th century and Christie has described it as a "fire trap." Paint is flaking off the exterior walls, some windows have been boarded over and duct tape holds in skylights.