Christie's $300 Million Statehouse Repair Challenged in Lawsuit

(Bloomberg) -- A lawsuit to stop New Jersey’s borrowing of $300 million may halt or delay Governor Chris Christie’s capitol renovation even as administration employees move out of the crumbling building.

Three senators claim that the entities that approved the lease arrangement to secure financing for the Trenton statehouse, part of which dates to 1790, violated the state constitution’s limit on debt not approved by voters. Final costs of the project over the 20 to 30 years of lease payments could be as much as $750 million, according to the complaint.

Christie, a Republican who leaves office in January, announced in November a four-year renovation to repair and update dangerously deteriorated areas of the capitol’s exterior plus the interior executive wing. He should have first sought voter and legislative approval, according to the lawsuit, whose lead plaintiff is Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat from Elizabeth who is running for governor. He was joined by two Republican senators, Kip Bateman from Branchburg and Michael Doherty from Washington in Warren County.

The project made use of the lease arrangement “for the sole purpose of circumventing the need” for public examination, the lawsuit states. Its seeks an injunction on the bond sale and a stop to any construction work, which is expected to start in July.

“The governor knows the public would never support this project, which is why everything was done to limit transparency and public participation in the approval process,” Bateman said in a statement.

Lesniak said in an email that he filed the complaint Monday in Superior Court in Mercer County. The court said it wasn’t yet assigned a docket number.

Meanwhile, administration employees continue to pack desks for what is scheduled to be four years in temporary quarters in other state-owned space. At least a dozen double-hung windows, loose in their frames, are boarded as they await rebuilding, and areas of the building are draped in netting to catch crumbling stucco and architectural elements in danger of tumbling.

The lawsuit names as defendants the state treasury’s property management division in addition to the State Capitol Joint Management Commission and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

Representatives for Christie, the attorney general’s office and the development authority didn’t immediately return emails seeking comment on the complaint. Willem Rijksen, a treasury spokesman, referred questions to the attorney general’s office.