State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has filed a suit against Governor Chris Christie and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to stop the Statehouse renovation from going forward.
Wisniewski filed the lawsuit on Friday. On Monday, a bipartisan trio of state senators filed a separate lawsuit to stop the project from moving forward. Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Democrat running for governor, filed the lawsuit along with Kip Bateman (R-Somerset) and Michael Doherty (R-Warren).
Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor who has been a critic of the state house renovation plan, also expects to join the lawsuit in his capacity as a state legislator.
Christie proposed the $300 million renovation for the executive wing of the state house, which has become dilapidated on the outside and is a safety hazard inside for some employees and visitors. To finance the renovation, the state Economic Development Authority approved $300 million in bonds last week, covering a period of up to 30 years. The borrowing costs could run from $20 million to $25 million a year during the lifespan of the bonds.
Wisniewski says the project is a waste of taxpayer money and claims it is being funded through a series of shell games designed to circumvent the state constitution. The estimated costs for the renovation were once $38 million, and have now ballooned to $300 million before the restoration begins. New projections are that the price tag for the project may exceed $750 million.
The State Capitol Joint Management Commission is leasing the Statehouse for just $1 to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. The Economic Development Authority will then lease the Statehouse back to the State Capitol Joint Management Commission. Wisniewski claims the purpose of the runaround is to enable the management commission to disguise debt payments as rent payments.
“The idea that the Statehouse is being rented out to circumvent the constitution is the kind of entrenched big boss backroom shenanigans that we are fighting to put an end to,” Wisniewski said. “The people’s house is the statehouse and the taxpayers should not be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars without their consent. I will do everything in my power to stop this, filing this suit is just the first step.”
The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services wrote in a memo last week that, in its opinion, the Economic Development Authority has the authority to bond the $300 million for the state house renovation without obtaining voter approval.
But Wisniewski says the deal doesn’t pass the smell test, and argues it doesn’t adhere to the laws of New Jersey.
“Nothing exemplifies what’s wrong with New Jersey more than Chris Christie renting the people’s house out for a buck.” Wisniewski said. “I am fighting to stop this ridiculous project that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The people of New Jersey are fed up with cigar-filled backroom deals that only make money for Trenton insiders.”