TRENTON Gov. Christie is relying on the state-owned helicopter fleet more than ever, with 106 trips last year at a cost of $2,500 an hour.
Flight logs for Christie were released to Bloomberg News as a result of a New Jersey Open Public Records Act request. The stepped-up helicopter travel comes as Christie imposes municipal budget constraints and insists that public workers must pay higher costs for pensions and benefits.
The flights last year compare with 23 in 2010, his first year in office; 66 in 2012; and 70 in 2011, records show.
Christie, who took office promising to "tear up the state's credit card," was criticized in 2011 after he arrived at his son's high school baseball game on a state police helicopter, then reboarded for a political meeting at the governor's mansion in Princeton. He and the Republican Party, some of whose fund-raisers were courting Christie to run for president in 2012, reimbursed the state for the trips.
The chopper trips last year in the fifth-smallest and most densely populated U.S. state were for purposes including updates on Hurricane Sandy relief, town-hall meetings, and other official duties on his public schedule, the records show.
On Aug. 25, the governor and a friend, the best-selling novelist Harlan Coben, were inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence in South Williamsport, Pa. The governor flew to Williamsport Regional Airport aboard a $12.5 million State Police-owned AgustaWestland AW139. The flight log included eight unnamed passengers, and the aircraft was engaged for eight hours, with almost three hours of flight time.
The governor and his family - and not Coben - were aboard, Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, said by e-mail.
"The costs of the flight were reimbursed by the governor's reelection campaign," he said.
From the time Christie took office in January 2010 through February 2013, the most recent period Bloomberg examined before the latest records release, the flights for the governor and his lieutenant, Kim Guadagno, cost at least $390,200. The itineraries included media interviews and news briefings, the funeral of Democratic Rep. Donald Payne, and an announcement that WrestleMania, World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.'s biggest annual event, would take place in East Rutherford.
Drewniak last year told Bloomberg that the state receives reimbursement for Christie's personal and political use of the aircraft. Taxpayers bear no expense for transporting governors because the crews fly training or security missions daily, according to a 2012 statement from the New Jersey State Police. The police aviation unit has estimated the helicopters cost $2,500 an hour to operate.
Christie has said he uses the helicopter to balance his duties as governor, husband, and father.
"I am not going to be, with four children, driving around this state at 90 miles an hour trying to make stuff, and put my life at risk and put the life of other people at risk," Christie told reporters in Bridgewater on April 12, 2012. "When it's appropriate to use the helicopter, I will."