TRENTON – Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, (D-20), Union, plans to reintroduce a 2004 bill originally sponsored by Republicans that would ban the use of state helicopters for political or personal events.
She made her plans known following an Assembly Homeland Security Committee meeting today in which State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes testified about the use and policy regarding the state police helicopter.
The use of a state-owned chopper by a New Jersey governor came to a metaphorical headwind a few weeks ago, when Gov. Chris Christie used a $12 million State Police helicopter to attend his son’s baseball game 80 miles away in Montvale, Bergen County.
After initially refusing to reimburse the taxpayers for the personal and political use (he later used it to travel to meet with Iowa Republicans in Princeton who are trying to woo him to run for president), Christie and New Jersey Republicans collectively reimbursed more than $3,000 for the usage.
To prevent further questionable uses of the state chopper, Quijano said she plans on reintroducing bill A1375. The bill was originally introduced in 2004 by Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, (R-26), and then-Assemblyman Joe Pennachio, (R-26), both Morris-County based Republicans.
The bill states that a governor or staff member can’t use a state helicopter “as transport to attend a political or personal event that is not an emergency or directly related to carrying out the duties of the Governor.” The bill also reads that “all use… shall be documented by the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of State Police Aviation Unit.”
It describes a “political event” as “an affair intended to raise funds for the nomination, election or re-election of a candidate for office in New Jersey, the delivery of an address in support of or in opposition to the policies of a political party in this State or anywhere in the United States, or a testimonial affair.”
In addition, the bill requires quarterly reports detailing the travels that would be given to the legislative budget committees.
The bill’s statement even read: “This privilege is now being abused and State helicopters are being used to transport the Governor and staff members to political and personal events.”
Quijano said the bill’s passage would help end a recurring issue that current and past governors have been involved in “over and over again.” She said she may consider some amendments to the bill.
DeCroce, who presently serves as Assembly Leader for the Republicans, did not immediately return phone calls. However, an assistant at his district office said he would most likely have to see the proposed legislation before deciding on whether to support it.
Pennachio was also not immediately available.