TRENTON -- Gov. Chris Christie on Friday ratcheted up his fight to repeal a state law requiring legal notices to be printed in newspapers, pointing out that the New Jersey Press Association is a month late in releasing an analysis of how much the ads cost Garden State taxpayers last year.
In a blistering statement against the newspaper industry, the Republican governor said his office's review of legal ads that appeared in The Star-Ledger ($16.6 million), the Asbury Park Press ($2 million), and the Courier Post ($1.9 million) last year amounted to $20.7 million.
"With 13 newspapers and dozens of weekly papers left to tabulate," Christie said his latest analysis proves the press association's claim that the overall tab is $20 million "is an outright falsehood."
Christie renews case to cut legal ads from N.J. newspapers
Christie has insisted the true cost is $80 million and amounts to an unnecessary subsidy of the newspaper industry.
George White, executive director of the New Jersey Press Association, said the governor's figures are still wrong. White also reiterated the $20 million figure was based on a 2010 review of legal ads from the last time a similar bill was proposed.
"We knew we would have to undertake a new survey," White said.
He added that an updated analysis will take into account "the bubble in foreclosures," a fact that will push the total "higher than $20 million."
"But the governor is still way off-the-mark,'' White said.
White acknowledged that he had previously estimated the analysis would be ready by the end of January. Gathering the legal ad information from each daily and weekly newspaper "took a great deal of time and effort, but the work is nearly done."
The information will be given to state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) next week and released to the public, White said.
Christie needs the New Jersey Legislature to vote to scrap the law requiring governments, businesses, and individuals to publish legal notices in New Jersey's printed newspapers, allowing the ads to be published only on county and municipal websites.
The bill's opponents have named it the newspaper "revenge bill" because they say it is driven by a governor who resents the critical coverage he has received, particularly involving the Bridgegate scandal, trial, and conviction of two former allies.
The press association has called the bill a "politically motivated plan to reduce government transparency and punish newspapers."
State Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), one of the bill's prime sponsors, said Friday that he and Sweeney (D-Gloucester) had worked out a deal with the press association in which the cost of legal ads for county and municipal governments would be reduced by 50 percent.
"That is significant savings and it was very interesting to me," Whelan said, noting that conversations with the press association are ongoing. "I think that type of compromise is what I would favor at this point. I don't see this going to a model where we take it away completely, as the original bill would have."
Whelan added that he does not know Christie's stance on the compromise.
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said she was miffed that Christie brought the issue up again.
"For him to get fixated on this, I believe he's hanging around Donald Trump too much," the veteran senator added in reference to Christie's friendship with the American president.
Weinberg stressed that she does not expect the bill to resurface in the Senate any time soon.
"Not if I can help it, it won't," she said.
The Senate and Assembly pulled the bill from consideration in December. Prieto, the speaker and a co-sponsor of the measure, said he would resume negotiations on it in the new year.
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