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Democrats blast Christie over private use of state helicopter

By Nina Golgowski, CNN
  • NEW: The trip cost is estimated at $2,500, police said
  • Christie is under fire over his personal use of a state police helicopter
  • His office will "continue to be judicious in limiting its use," a spokesman said
  • Democrat assemblywoman called it an "outright abuse of taxpayer dollars"

(CNN) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is under fire from opposition lawmakers over his use of a state police helicopter to travel with his wife to his son's high school baseball game.

The self-styled Republican budget hawk touched down near a New Jersey ball field Tuesday, landing him in hot water with legislators critical of his personal use of the vehicle, according to a spokesman for the governor.

"To use these vehicles to shuttle between both a personal and a political activity is an outright abuse of taxpayer dollars," said Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, a Democrat.

Christie has maintained that the helicopter "is a means of transportation that is occasionally used as the schedule demands," according to his press secretary Michael Drewniak.

"This has historically been the case in prior administrations as well, and we continue to be judicious in limiting its use," he said.

The trip cost is an estimated $2,500, police said, and has some opposition lawmakers calling on the governor to reimburse the state coffers.

The former federal prosecutor who earned a reputation for battling corruption was elected governor in 2009, defeating Democrat incumbent Jon Corzine on a platform of fiscal discipline and eliminating government waste and abuse.

During his first year in office, Christie helped to pass a $29 billion budget, narrowing an $11 billion deficit with cuts in public-sector spending, including employee pensions and benefits.

The governor has since called for some $200 million in tax cuts, focusing spending reductions on public unions -- particularly the state's powerful teachers' unions -- who often have said the governor has used them as an excuse for the state's broader financial troubles.

Christie on Tuesday had no public schedule planned, but had a meeting at the governor's mansion with a group of influential Iowa GOP donors later that evening in an apparent sign that some Republicans aren't satisfied with their current crop of presidential candidates.

The former prosecutor, who has repeatedly said that he will not run for president, accepted an invitation from Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a fellow Republican, to speak at an education summit in Des Moines.

CNN's Mary Snow contributed to this report