Here come the lawyers.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has hired a law firm to challenge a $271 million tab the federal government says the state owes for the canceled ARC rail tunnel. Christie says he's approved the selection of the high-powered Washington, D.C. firm of Patton Boggs.
New Jersey Transit, which oversaw the trans-Hudson tunnel project that Christie killed in October, could ratify a contract with the firm at its meeting a week from Thursday.
Christie's office said yesterday the state would challenge the federal bill for money already spent on the project, known as Access to the Region's Core, or ARC.
The November 24 bill seeks payment within 30 days.
A Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak defended the hire, saying "We're much better off using a firm like this than using our own in-house attorneys or attorneys general. Not to knock their expertise, but let's face it, that's what these attorneys [at Patton Boggs] do for a living."
Stuart Pape, managing partner at Patton Boggs, said he would not discuss strategy. But he did say, "There are lots of different ways to solve problems in Washington. You look at them all." He did not rule out the possibility of a negotiated settlement before heading to court.
Drewniak said the firm would be charging $485 an hour. He wasn’t sure where the money to pay that rate would come from -- only that it would be found. “There are always contingencies for every agency of government for conducting legal affairs,” he said. “Everybody has to budget money.”
Patton Boggs is listed by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit group that tracks influence in Washington, as the nation's top lobbyist over the last twelve years, with about $400 million in billings since 1998. Its clients include Walmart, several health-care related companies and local governments.
In April, New Jersey Transit voted to raise most train and bus fares by 25 percent to help plug a $300 million budget hole that began on July 1. Off-peak fares rose by almost 50 percent and off-peak discounts were eliminated. The agency also cut 35 trains and 16 bus routes.
Olivia Alair, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Transportation says the agency has the law on its side because New Jersey Transit signed a work agreement that "requires it to pay back the money if ARC was cancelled."
But the governor’s office says the FTA has not charged other cities for work done on halted projects, and that “the FTA is demanding money that New Jersey would have received…regardless of the ARC tunnel project.”