Christie, Sweeney dig in heels over tuition equality bill

TRENTON – The governor and the Senate president squared off today over the tuition equality bill working its way through the Legislature.

Gov. Chris Christie said Monday he would not sign the bill as currently drafted; Senate President Steve Sweeney said the bill Christie will get is the same one that was considered five months ago.

Christie today reiterated three objections to the bill that would give undocumented students access to the lower, in-state tuition rates: It would provide access to Tuition Aid Grants, it does not limit eligibility to students in the country by 2012, and it would allow access to out-of-state non-citizens.

“Each one of those things makes us an outlier,” Christie said.  “It will make us a magnet for folks to come here to get these additional benefits.”

But Sweeney said the bill’s details should not be a surprise to Christie because they have not changed; what’s changed, according to Sweeney, is that Christie will be running for president.

“It’s really hard to get things done when out of left field you’re getting hit with snowballs,’’ Sweeney said. He said the first time he knew there were objections to the bill was after it cleared the Budget Committee recently.

“He’s not going to make these kids second-class citizens,’’ Sweeney said.

Christie said during his first post-re-election Statehouse press conference today that what he said during his gubernatorial campaign to the Latino Leadership Alliance was that tuition equality legislation should move in lame-duck, but that he did not support any particular piece of legislation.

“I don’t support Tuition Aid Grants (for undocumented students). I never said that I did and I don’t as we stand here today,’’ Christie said today.

He added he can’t support giving out-of-state undocumented students access to something for which out-of-state citizens are not eligible.

Sweeney countered later with one word: “Bull.’’

“He said he supported it,’’ Sweeney said. “There was no wiggle room. That bill’s been sitting there.”

When asked how he would react to a conditionally vetoed bill, if that should occur, Sweeney said, “I don’t see how I could possibly concur with that. That’s a complete bait and switch.’’

Christie, Sweeney dig in heels over tuition equality bill