ANGELA DELLI SANTI,The Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. – The Republican candidate for New Jersey governor, who regularly overspent the government rate when traveling as the state’s top prosecutor, said if he’s elected that his top advisers would be allowed to travel with fewer travel restrictions than under the current administration , at taxpayers’ expense.
Chris Christie, the former U.S. attorney who has campaigned on a platform of ethical integrity and cutting government waste, said members of his Cabinet could bill taxpayers for overnight stays in expensive hotels if cheaper accommodations aren’t available.
State employees are currently required to stay within the government rate and are barred from most overnight trips, according to a review of the Corzine administration’s travel policy guidelines.
A review of Christie’s travel history through documents provided in a public records request showed he regularly exceeded the government lodging allowance while traveling as U.S. attorney, frequently staying at luxury hotels in New Jersey, across the United States and abroad. He said the trips were always justified and he always sought out the government rate before booking more expensive accommodations. He does not appear to have curtailed his travel due to the economic recession. “I would want my Cabinet to follow the same rules I followed as U.S. attorney,” Christie said Thursday at a diner stop in the blue-collar community of West Deptford. “If they were traveling and they could find the government rate, they should use the government rate. If they couldn’t, they shouldn’t sleep on a park bench. They should find the best rate they could.”
Christie said he logged more than 160,000 miles while serving as U.S. attorney for seven years during President George W. Bush’s two terms. During that time, he stayed in some of the country’s most luxurious and trendiest hotels, including the Mandarin in Washington, the NineZero in Boston and the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando. Sometimes the tab fell within the government allowance.
However, his hotel bills occasionally exceeded $400 per night and the tab was higher than the government ceiling on 14 of 16 business trips Christie took in 2008. Five nights in London were $401 a night per room for him and his top deputy, Michele Brown.
Gov. Jon Corzine issued a memo early in his first term saying he would continue to enforce business travel restrictions for state employees that his predecessor, Gov. Richard Codey, had instituted. Those guidelines require anybody making travel arrangements for state employees to search a Web site specializing in government-rate rooms. All travel must be preapproved at least two weeks in advance to allow greater possibility for savings.
Reimbursement costs for official travel must not exceed the federal per diem rates, according to the guidelines.
Corzine said his opponent’s travel records are evidence that Christie has a different set of rules for himself than everyone else, a line the Corzine campaign has consistently used.
Christie has come under scrutiny for railing against Democrats’ excessive spending while billing taxpayers for high-end business travel. The candidate disavowed any hypocrisy, saying his travel was necessary and exceeding the rate permissible.
“It wasn’t waste,” he said. “I had to go someplace for part of my job. We tried to get the government rate. We couldn’t. So my only alternative would have been to not go.”
Christie or Brown often signed a required waiver approving additional expenses; his reimbursement vouchers were certified by a third party.
Christie said his secretary was instructed to look first for accommodations within the government rate when she booked his travel. He said he sometimes needed to stay at a specific hotel because he was giving a speech there early the next morning.
His stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando in January 2008 cost taxpayers $287 plus taxes and fees, more than twice the government’s allowance of $121. The Orlando area has about 450 hotels.
Christie also billed taxpayers for in-state overnight stays , in Atlantic City and Cape May, for example. Such trips are barred by Corzine’s administration.
Corzine, who became a multimillionaire on Wall Street and is the former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, pays all his own travel expenses.