Christie Quietly Borrows $375 Million for Capitol Renovation

  • Private-placement deal made on day project won panel approval
  • Lawmakers say governor acted secretively as lawsuits pending

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie quietly sold $375 million in debt last week for a statehouse renovation in a deal that came to light only when lawmakers suing to stop the project got an update on their lawsuit’s status.

The state’sEconomic Development Authority on May 11 agreed to a limited offering at a variable-interest rate with RBC Capital Markets LLC, documents show. The bonds were sold hours after the authority approved a $75 million lease arrangement that was a condition of the borrowing, plus $300 million for the capitol overhaul itself.

The bond sale was disclosed during a scheduling Superior Court meeting on Wednesday to discuss a lawsuit filed in Mercer County on May 12 by Senators Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat running for governor, and Republicans Michael Doherty and Kip Bateman, according to a joint statement. A second lawsuit was filed on May 15 by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat running for governor.

The four lawmakers agree that the state capitol in Trenton, parts of which date to 1790, is in need of repair, though they say the scale and cost should be publicly vetted. The deal was structured in such a way to duck the state constitution’s limit on borrowing without legislative and voter approval, the lawmakers say in their complaints.

“The revelations in court today demonstrate a clear effort by the Administration to stifle any opportunity to dissent the governor’s State House renovation plan that could cost taxpayers as much as $750 million,” Bateman said in the statement. “While the Administration’s defense suggests our lawsuit is moot since the bonds have already been sold, we’re going to continue our efforts on behalf of New Jersey taxpayers to fight this outrageous project.”

Willem Rijksen, a spokesman for the state treasury, said in an email that the bond issuance was “legal and appropriate.”

Christie, in remarks during an appearance in Newark, said those who oppose the project are either “running for governor or are trying to score political points,” according to a transcript provided by his office. The remarks provided didn’t include a reference to the May 11 borrowing.

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