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Will Governor’s Expenses Go Up, Now That Christie’s Out of Presidential Race?

Much of his state expense account – the one he has used to pick up tabs at MetLife Stadium -- was untouched as he campaigned out-of-state

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As a presidential candidate, Gov. Chris Christie could bank on campaign funds to pay for his meals, travel and entertainment on his many travels.

Out of the race, he is likely to spend more of the $95,000-a-year state expense account he receives in addition to his $175,000 annual salary. In the state budget, it is listed as “an allowance of funds not otherwise appropriated and used for official receptions on behalf of the state, the operation of an official residence, for other expenses.”

Last year, the governor used just $13,191 of that allowance and returned $81,809 to the state, according to Treasury records. The big reason: Christie was traveling outside the state on all or part of 261 days in 2015 – and when he was gone, it was usually funded by his campaign committee or other political entities.

In contrast, he spent $92,284 from the allowance during 2010. And during his first five-plus years as governor, Christie charged nearly $300,000 to the state for food and alcohol purchases.

It’s the same expense account Christie tapped to pay for food and drink concessions at MetLife Stadium.

On 82 occasions, Christie used a debit card in 2010 and 2011 to pay a total of $82,594 to Delaware North Sportservice, which operates the concessions at the home field for the Giants and Jets. The governor’s office did not provide any receipts, business reasons or names of individuals entertained, but defended the expense.

“The official nature and business purpose of the event remains the case regardless of whether the event is at the State House, Drumthwacket or a sporting venue,” said Christie’s press secretary Kevin Roberts last year in a prepared statement.

To avoid a scandal that could have embarrassed its then-rising political star, the Republican State Committee quietly reimbursed the Treasury in March 2012 for Christie’s purchases from “DNS Sports.”

The governor’s expense allowance did not attract much attention until the spending sprees at MetLife. In the mid-1970s, it was created to fund the governor’s mansion, now at Drumthwacket in Princeton Township, and to hold official events there.

Times have changed. Christie and other recent New Jersey governors have chosen not to reside at Drumthwacket, a 20-room Greek revival mansion on a 9-acre estate. The cost of operating the property is now primarily funded by a nonprofit foundation.

On another front, taxpayers may get good news now that former candidate Christie is less likely to take out-of-state trips that require State Police protection details to travel with him.

Since Christie took office in 2010, travel expenses for the Executive Protection Unit have totaled $1.57 million. Of that amount, $1.33 million was charged to American Express cards for unspecified expenses.

In 2014 alone, costs totaled $494,420 as the governor traveled outside New Jersey for more than 100 days. That sum is 22 times more than the $21,704 spent in 2009, former Gov. Jon Corzine’s last year in office.

EPU travel expenses totaled $419,771 during the first nine months of 2015. Cost data for the fourth quarter of the year has not been released.

The EPU travel costs do not include any overtime paid to the state troopers. That information is kept confidential under state regulations.

Mark Lagerkvist is a veteran investigative reporter who previously worked for CNBC, News 12, Asbury Park Press, New Jersey Watchdog, and other news outlets. His work has won more than 60 journalism awards, including honors from the National Press Club, the Scripps Howard Foundation, and Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). He can be reached at Mark@Lagerkvist.net

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