BUDD LAKE, N.J. — Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday brushed aside calls from Democrats to apologize to President Barack Obama for his remarks about why his state lost out on $400 million in federal education funds.
"It's good summer entertainment, but it's not much more than that," Christie said of calls by Democratic state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Majority Leader Barbara Buono to take back his words regarding the state's failed Race to the Top education grant application.
New Jersey lost five points on one section in which officials were asked to show that the state gives a consistent percentage of its revenue to education. The application called for using data from 2008 and 2009 to make the case; New Jersey used figures from the 2010 and 2011 state budgets.
Christie accepted responsibility for the mistake, which he called a "clerical error" on one page of a 1,000-page document. But he also blamed the Obama administration for docking the application because of it.
Christie said state education Commissioner Bret Schundler was told about the error at a meeting in Washington, D.C., this month and provided the correct information during the meeting, but that turned out to be untrue.
"When President Obama comes back to New Jersey, he's going to have to explain to the people of New Jersey why he's depriving them of $400 million that this application earned them because one of his bureaucrats in Washington couldn't pick up the phone and ask a question, couldn't go on the Internet and find information or wouldn't accept verbal representation from Commissioner Schundler when they were down there," Christie said on Aug. 24.
Sweeney and Buono say Christie's attack on federal education officials was a "shameless attempt to rationalize a careless error by your administration that cost New Jersey taxpayers $400 million in federal funding."
Schundler was fired Friday after the U.S. Department of Education released a video of the panel interview showing that he never gave the corrected data during the interview. Schundler also was responsible for inserting the error in the application.
Christie said on Wednesday that he fired Schundler for misleading him about his testimony to the panel, not for making the mistake.
Schundler acknowledges making the mistake. But he denies misleading Christie about the information he provided to the panel and points out that even if he did give the corrected data, application rules prohibit edits after the application is submitted so the state would not have been able to get the points back.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak declined to comment about whether the governor understood that the points could not be earned back under the rules when he spoke to the press.
On Tuesday, Christie said he still finds the application process too bureaucratic and inflexible.
"That's what the whole funny part of this was," he said. "That doesn't really change."