Counties Push Back on Payments for Special Elections

June 21, 2013 | Elections, Politics
County freeholder boards are passing measures to refuse to pay for the special October election that will determine who will take the Senate seat of the late Frank Lautenberg.

By David Cruz
NJ Today

When he announced the dates for the special election to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Gov. Chris Christie said: “I don’t know what the cost is and I quite frankly don’t care.”

The governor’s decision to hold a special election three weeks before the general election in November has been upheld by the courts. But local governments are now pushing back, saying the decision is ill-advised and puts a burden on their taxpayers.

“Until we get clarification and, quite frankly, some of those costs up front, we’re not going to move forward with funding anything for October until we get better information about where the money’s coming from,” said Union County Freeholder Chris Hudak whose colleagues on the Union County Freeholder Board voted this week to refuse to pay for the October election, at least $800,000. He says the state’s promise to reimburse towns sounds good, but has, in the past, gone un-kept.

“The nightmare scenario is: what happens if there’s a recount in the special primary? Now you have all the machines impounded because there’s a recount and you have to get them back out for the November election so you’re talking about a real onerous cost,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Bergen County, the freeholders there — both Democrats and Republicans — voted unanimously this week to ask the courts to force the state to pay for the elections upfront. Freeholder Steve Tanelli says the governor may not care where the money comes from but counties and the towns in them do.

“We’ll end up having to do an emergency appropriation in the 2013 budget to pay for it, which leaves us with a deficit going into 2014 and … with the municipalities as well, and it also violates the 2 percent cap that the governor put in place when he took office,” he said. “The taxpayer is going to shoulder the burden. It’s going to cost them more money.”

The governor says you can’t put a price tag on the people’s right to a speedy election, but Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo said this week that there is no budget line for the elections in the current spending plan before the legislature.

“The administration has made it clear that they will find the money from within the various departments to fund that special election, the $25 million that’s required for the special election,” Sarlo said. “I would hope that our municipalities and our school districts who are going to incur costs in August and October are also properly reimbursed.”

Monmouth County freeholders will be voting on a similar measure next week and Tanelli says he’s already hearing from other freeholder boards wanting to join their action. No comment today from the governor’s office. The courts say he can set a special election for whenever he wants, but critics hope the courts will also tell him he’s going to have to foot the bill — up front.