NJ panel OKs $300M Statehouse renovation, but candidates fighting it
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie's $300 million plan to renovate the state's crumbling capitol got a key authorization Tuesday, but candidates running in this year's election to succeed him are vowing to stop the project.
The State Capitol Joint Management Commission voted 7-0 on Tuesday, with one abstention, to approve a resolution endorsing the project. The resolution authorizes the state's Economic Development Authority to issue bonds to pay for the project.
Christie's proposed four-year project has resulted in sticker-shock for some Democrats and Republicans vying in competitive primary contests to succeed the unpopular, term-limited governor, and the administration has been slow to release more details about how exactly the project would be financed.
Christie maintains the building, parts of which date to the 18th century, is a "fire trap" that hasn't been significantly updated in six decades.
During part of a presentation by the architectural and planning firms Nelson and PDP on Tuesday, the commission heard that one of the building's skylights was held together by yards' worth of tape.
"This is the most ingenious use of duct tape I've ever seen in my life," said PDP partner George Skarmeas.
The loudest critics of the project have been Christie's lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, who is running to succeed the governor, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Ray Lesniak.
Guadagno has said the state can't afford the project and it should raise private-sector funds if the renovations are truly needed.
"I've worked in the State House for 8 years and I'm still standing in one piece with no bruises. If elected, I will scrap this project," she said in a statement.
Lesniak said he plans to file a lawsuit to stop the renovations, which he says deserve closer public scrutiny.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Joseph "Rudy" Rullo also said he opposes the project and that if maintenance is needed voters should approve it.
"The statehouse project is air conditioning for bureaucrats as far as I'm concerned," he said.
Christie had announced plans last fall for the major renovations to the deteriorating building, which in part dates to 1792.
Workers have begun boarding up windows with plywood, and a new fire escape has been installed in part of the building after officials learned the previous one was in danger of falling out of the wall, Skarmeas said.
Treasurer Ford Scudder said in February the governor's office and state department employees who work in the statehouse would be moving to a state building down the street in the capital.
The commission was established in 1992 and given legal responsibility to maintain and preserve the statehouse. Its members include Democratic and Republican legislative staffers and aides to the governor.
Only Mary Alice Messenger voiced any opposition, saying she didn't think the panel of "staffers" should be voting on such a large expenditure, though she abstained.
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