Republican county officials are now joining with their Democratic counterparts to question the cost of New Jersey's special U.S. Senate election.
The Boards of Chosen Freeholders in Bergen County and Monmouth County on Wednesday publicly questioned how they will be able to pay for the costs of the Aug. 13 special primary election and Oct. 16 special election without the state giving counties the money upfront.
Gov. Chris Christie (R) has pledged that the state will pay the $24 million bill, but by reimbursing local officials who will pay the initial costs -- a process that could take as long as seven months. Last week, the Union County freeholder board passed a resolution objecting to the cost of the October election.
The Union County freeholder board is all Democratic, while the Monmouth County board is all Republican. Democrats hold the majority on the Bergen County board, but the resolution passed unanimously with GOP support.
“With the special elections, the state is throwing the burden on the county, and I believe the county should be paid before them,” Monmouth County Freeholder John Curley (R-Red Bank) told NJ.com. “We’re struggling as a coastal county with all the problems from Sandy, now we’re left with towns that are devastated and the tax base is deficient.”
Christie called the special election earlier this month following the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D). Conflicting sections of state law led to questions over whether the special election would be in November of this year or next year, but gave Christie the right to call an election on another date. The Oct. 16 date, 20 days before the regular November election for governor, has been objected to by Democrats, who cite the cost and the potential for voter confusion. The state Supreme Court on Thursday declined to hear an appeal from Democrats to have the Senate election moved to November of this year.
The Oct. 16 date also prevents the possibility of Democratic Senate candidate Cory Booker, the popular Newark mayor, from appearing on the same ballot as Christie and state legislative candidates. Christie is facing off in November against Democrat Barbara Buono, who he currently leads by over 30 points in the polls.
A spokesman for the state Division of Elections, which would handle the reimbursements, did not return request for comment.
The objections to the spending on the election could move to more counties. Essex County Freeholder Leonard Luciano (D-West Caldwell) told HuffPost that he has reservations about the procedure of the county paying for the costs before knowing when the state would reimburse. He said that with county budgets currently set, he does not know where the county would be able to find the money to pay for the special election, and that unless the state fronts the cash, county officials will be forced to make cuts to other programs in order to pay for it. In New Jersey, county governments cover many social service functions, along with maintaining all bridges, county roads and parks.
"We are not talking tens of thousands of dollars," Luciano said. "We are talking in upwards of millions of dollars statewide."
In Monmouth County, the all-Republican board's decision is being praised by county Democratic Party Chairman Vin Gopal. Gopal pointed to the state's ongoing budget crisis and said that the costs of the election could "skyrocket" past the $24 million projection. He was citing a report by the Star-Ledger that state election officials are considering renting additional voting machines and hiring temporary workers to be able to run two elections 20 days apart.
“Either they have to increase taxes to residents or cut programs," Gopal said of how counties would pay for the election. "The whole thing is ridiculous."
Union County Freeholder Vice Chairman Christopher Hudak (D-Linden), the co-author of his county's objection, said he is pleased that the idea is taking off with other counties and has gotten bipartisan support. He noted that he could see more of the state's 21 counties joining in.
"No one likes to take money and just burn it," Hudak said. "There is no good reason for it. There is no good justification other than I can have it because I want it.”