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Report: Christie used Bayonne land deal to push financial burden off on Port Authority

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Gov. Chris Christie announced that he had vetoed minutes from a recent Delaware River and Bay Authority meeting.
Gov. Chris Christie announced that he had vetoed minutes from a recent Delaware River and Bay Authority meeting. - (Governor's Office / Tim Larsen)

According to a report Monday by The New York Times, a review of public records suggests that a $235 million Bayonne land purchase by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2010 was constructed in order to allow Gov. Chris Christie to push the state's financial concerns onto the bistate agency and at the same time keep a campaign promise to not raise taxes.

The report indicates that at the time, the state was preparing to take over Bayonne’s finances since it was essentially bankrupt and up against a $33 million budget deficit. But rather than have the state shoulder Bayonne’s fiscal dilemma and potentially run the risk of a tax increase, the Port Authority, under the direction of Christie’s then-top staff appointee Bill Baroni, stepped in to buy a 131-acre parcel of land on the city’s waterfront for $235 million, or $1.8 million per acre, and save the state from intervening.

The agency went ahead with the deal despite a late, unexplained increase of roughly $600,000 per acre and the circulation of an internal Port Authority memo that noted the purchasing price for the land was well above the appraised value.

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The Times found that just three years prior, in 2007, the Port Authority had made an offer of roughly $330,000 per acre for a portion of the tract, losing out to an automobile shipping company that purchased the land for approximately $588,000 per acre. Though the Port Authority initially made an offer of roughly $611,000 per acre for the land in 2010, it ended up spending nearly three times as much, the Times reported.

Though at the time Christie touted the land deal’s potential for job creation, the site has sat “mostly barren, and the authority has taken no steps to change that,” according to the Times story.

Baroni, who has since resigned in the wake of the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, said in a deposition last year that the high price paid for the parcel was “worth every penny.”

Though the Christie administration declined to answer questions about the story, spokesperson Kevin Roberts told the Times that Christie would not have hesitated to complete a takeover of Bayonne’s finances.

“Had Bayonne fallen into financial distress, this administration would have done what it has done for other municipalities in such circumstances over the years,” Roberts told the Times. “We would have considered whether transitional aid or other assistance was appropriate and available.”

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Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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