Chris Christie was a little late in coming to the table, but this week he joined the ranks of Jim McGreevey, Christie Whitman and other New Jersey governors whose use of state helicopters have generated controversy. In just a few days, the circumstances surrounding the current controversy have become topics for state and national news stories and fodder for the Governor’s political opponents.
As has been reported in multiple news outlets, Governor Christie used a state helicopter to travel to his son’s high school baseball game in Montvale. The trip touched off controversy for several reasons. It was an expensive way to travel — at taxpayer expense — to a non-governmental event, especially for a Governor who has been vocal about the need for New Jersey to control spending. In addition, the primary functions of the state’s helicopter fleet are homeland security and emergency medical transportation. A trip to a high school baseball game fits into neither category.
In the span of a few days, we’ve had Democrats calling for hearings and investigations, the State Police defending the trip, and the Governor first refusing to reimburse the state, and then pulling an about-face and writing a check to cover the costs of traveling to not one, but two of his son’s baseball games.
Although the circumstances may differ from what occurred during previous administrations, the result was the same. Once again, a New Jersey Governor’s use of a state helicopter has been the source of controversy. But it doesn’t have to be that way; we just have to take a different approach to the issue. Instead of holding hearings, reviewing flight logs, and demanding reimbursement, New Jersey might want to consider providing its Governor with a state helicopter for his or her exclusive use (with clear provisions requiring that the state be reimbursed for non-governmental travel).
On the surface, such a move runs counter to the current fiscal climate in which spending cuts and smaller government are the mantra. But think of it this way: The price tag of the helicopter Christie used was $12.5 million. It’s a big number that becomes smaller when you place it in the context of a $30 billion state budget. And we’re not going to be buying a new chopper every year. Granted, at about $2,500 an hour, the cost of flying by helicopter could add up quickly, but it still would be a small portion of the overall budget.
From an efficiency standpoint, it makes sense too. As taxpayers, don’t we want to get our money’s worth out of our governors? Wouldn’t we rather have them get to more places to do their job instead of spending time in a car?
In addition, giving governors their own helicopters would eliminate the inevitable controversies that occur when they use choppers that are responsible for homeland security and emergency medical transports. Governors serve as the chief executive of the state and have critical responsibilities and duties. They shouldn’t have to hitch rides to do their job.
New Jersey already provides our governors with more power than their counterparts throughout the nation. Under terms of the state constitution, New Jersey governors have the power of line-item veto; they appoint judges and other state officials, and until recently the governor was the only statewide elected office.
The world was much different when the current state constitution was drafted in 1947, giving New Jersey governors the broad powers at their discretion today. The idea of providing governors with a state helicopter would have been far-fetched at that time. But it’s a different era today, and perhaps now is the time to give the idea serious consideration.
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