Gov. Chris Christie fired back Wednesday after Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto criticized him for redirecting unspent funds that had been budgeted for Tuition Aid Grants and preschool expansion to instead pay for opioid programs.

Prieto, D-Hudson, called the lapses “further proof that Gov. Christie cannot be trusted.” Christie was asked by a reporter about the criticism at an environmental event in Toms River.

“Let me make clear, first of all, that Speaker Prieto is a liar,” Christie said. “So let’s just start off with that. And he has been for most of his time as the speaker, which is why he’s not going to be the speaker anymore.”

Democrats dissatisfied with Prieto as speaker are organizing their support behind Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, to become speaker in the term that begins in January. That presumes Democrats maintain the majority, which is widely expected.

“His own people have rejected him as an untrustworthy, unreliable, ineffective leader,” Christie said.

Christie said Prieto is still angry that he directed posters to be hung in state buildings and parks in July, blaming the speaker for the partial government shutdown when a budget wasn’t passed by the June 30 deadline. He said Prieto hasn’t returned multiple phone calls since then to discuss various topics.

In an emailed statement, Prieto said Christie broke a promise on the budget so is “reverting to unhinged insults.”

“And by the way, we know what photos people remember from the shutdown – and needless to say they aren’t photos of me,” said Prieto, an allusion to the photos New Jersey Advance Media took from an airplane of Christie, his family and friends on the beach at closed Island Beach State Park.

Christie's term ends in 104 days, and Prieto might not return as speaker, so their apparently fractured relationship would not have lingering effects on state leadership. However, it could impact the wheeling-and-dealing often associated with the post-election lame-duck legislative session.

Christie said there is $5.6 million lapsing from the $25 million that Democrats added to the budget for preschool expansion because only around 36 of the 190 eligible school districts applied for a share of the money. All were funded, he said.

Similarly, he said none of the $6.5 million added for Tuition Aid Grants was needed after all applicants were funded.

“So I’m not going to leave that money sitting there when we have an epidemic where daily we’re losing people to the opioid epidemic,” Christie said.

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