New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is pushing a bill that would hit the newspapers that hounded him over the Bridgegate scandal where it hurts — the bottom line.
The proposed legislation, which passed through the Assembly appropriations and Senate budget committees Thursday and is headed to a vote, would torpedo the state law that requires governments, businesses and people to publish legal notices in print newspapers.
Instead, government agencies and municipalities would get the green light to post the notices on their websites, thus depriving already struggling newspapers a big source of revenue.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski called it a “revenge bill.”
“This is nothing more than a politically-motivated crackdown on the press in New Jersey,” said Wisniewski, a Democrat.
State Senator Loretta Weinberg said the bill surfaced out of the blue on Monday and that if Christie was really interested in helping municipalities save money, which is the stated goal of the proposed legislation, “there are lots of other things he could have proposed.”
“Those of us who know New Jersey politics, who know how Gov. Christie works, are not shocked that the governor could be behind this,” Weinberg, who is also a Democrat, told NBC News.
Wisniewski and Weinberg both pushed for the investigation that resulted in convictions last month of two key Christie allies who conspired to cause a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to punish the Democratic mayor of a nearby town for not endorsing the Republican governor’s bid for re-election.
Christie, whose political fortunes faded as a result of the scandal, has denied knowing in advance about the scheme.
In response to a question from NBC News asking whether the bill was payback for the New Jersey newspapers' aggressive coverage of Bridgegate, Christie spokesman Brian Murray released a statement.
"Once again the team of Weinberg and Wisniewski don't let the facts get in the way of their George Washington Bridge obsession," he said. "This legal notices reform bill, which will save taxpayers and citizens going through foreclosure $80 million annually, was first proposed in 2010, not 2016. It had nothing to do with the press then and nothing to do with them now."
Michael Darcy, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said Murray is correct that this bill was first proposed six years ago. But it died a year later and Darcy said it was Christie’s office that revived it now.
“I don’t know for sure,” Darcy said, when asked why Christie decided to try and make this law again. “This is being fast-tracked.”
That said, Darcy said his group supports the legislation. He said it gives municipalities the option of posting legal notices online but also allows them to continue advertising in print newspapers if they so desire.
The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s biggest newspaper, said it's not clear the bill will save anybody money, but 200 to 300 reporters statewide would lose their jobs if this revenue source dried up.
“If you want to give state and local politicians free reign to do their dirty business in the dark, this bill is a Godsend,” the paper's board wrote in a Wednesday editorial. “If you want to hasten the decline of the press in the era of Donald Trump, this one is for you. Be ready to rely more on fake news posted on Facebook.”