In what could turn out to be the first proxy fight of the 2009 race for governor, Democratic State Chairman Joe Cryan chastised State Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Middletown) for his claim that public corruption prosecutions by U.S.Attorney Chris Christie helped end “Christmas Tree” budget items.
"Mr. Kyrillos should get his facts straight and get the story right,” said Cryan. “It was Governor Corzine who did away with Christmas Tree spending and it's Governor Corzine who has reformed other aspects of the budget process, effectively changing spending practices by both political parties for years, if not decades.”
“Christmas tree items” referred to legislative pork, often in the form of last minute expenditures added to the budget for legislators’ pet projects. Corzine vowed to end them for the 2009 budget, while they drew scrutiny and subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney’s office during previous years.
Christie is said to be considering a gubernatorial bid next year. Kyrillos, a friend of Christie’s, is considered a potential candidate for the newly created office of Lieutenant Governor on Christie’s ticket.
On Tuesday, Kyrillos told PolitickerNJ that “Democrats in New Jersey gave special projects a bad name, and it's frankly in large measure because of the work of the U.S. Attorney that there were no Christmas tree items in the budget this year.”
Cryan said that it's clear who deserves credit for ending the practice.
"The criticism can be made of both parties but the credit goes to the Governor,” he said. “The legitimacy of Christmas Tree spending can be debated, but there is no debate over who put an end to it. All past Governors possessed the red pen, but it was Governor Corzine who used it. Senator Kyrillos may have a hard time giving the Governor the credit he deserves, but he can't rewrite history."
Kyrillos called Cryan's response "laughable."
"Everybody knows the Trenton Democrats didn’t just insert Christmas trees in the budget, but whole forests," he said. "They significantly abused the time-honored tradition of serious legislators and it took the U.S. Attorney to shine the spotlight on the whole mess.”