By Mark Lagerkvist|New Jersey Watchdog
It’s no longer a secret that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s free rides to Dallas Cowboys football games are paid by team owner Jerry Jones. The real mystery is how much more the governor’s gridiron follies cost New Jersey taxpayers.
In the aftermath of the nationally televised appearance at Sunday’s NFL playoff game in Dallas against the Detroit Lions, the governor’s staff acknowledged Jones paid for the tickets and a private charter jet for Christie, his wife and four children — and footed the bill for at least two other gubernatorial outings at Cowboys games this season.
“Gov. Christie attended the game last night as a guest of Jerry Jones, who provided both the ticket and the transportation at no expense to New Jersey taxpayers,” spokesman Kevin Roberts said Monday.
But what about the travel bills and overtime pay for the New Jersey State Police troopers assigned to follow and protect Christie wherever he goes? And how much do the governor’s travels — official and unofficial, business and pleasure — really cost taxpayers?
Believe it or not, Christie’s staff and the state police say they don’t keep track of the Executive Protection Unit’s expenses. Therefore, they say they have no detailed records to release.
“EPU-related expenses are not broken down by trip,” stated NJSP’s Capt. Sherri Schuster in a certification filed during a recent public records lawsuit. “EPU-related expenses are not broken down by categories such as transportation, lodging, meals or entertainment.”
The state police also assert it does not have records of where their EPU troopers are assigned while they are on the state time-clock. With overtime, each officer in the unit can earn $140,000 a year or more — and the number of EPU troopers is classified.
“Wages and overtime are paid without reference to the type or location of work being conducted,” Schuster said in the certification. “Specifically, the payment of wages and salary will not distinguish between work conducted within New Jersey and work conducted outside of New Jersey.”
Thanks to such bureaucratic smokescreens, there is little accountability. Under Christie’s reign, it’s not the public’s business to know how taxpayers’ money is spent as the governor travels across the country to watch his favorite football team, campaign with a higher office in mind or simply rack up a bill he doesn’t have to pay from his own pocket.
The lack of disclosures contradicts promises Christie made when he first took office.
“Today, a new era of accountability and transparency is here,” said Christie in his 2010 inauguration speech. “Today, change has arrived.”
Five years later, the odds are Christie will be in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Sunday to watch the Cowboys play in second round of the playoffs. If he’s there, as expected, it’s anyone’s bet how much it will cost New Jersey taxpayers.