A spokesman for Mr. Christie, a Republican who has had a fraught relationship with the New Jersey news media, denied the governor was pushing the bill to punish the press.
The measure could sap revenue from newspapers by allowing municipalities to bypass the publications and post the legal notices online themselves. Publishers warn of hundreds of layoffs across the state if the requirement to run legal notices in newspapers is lifted.
Newark spent about $200,000 on legal notices last year, while Jersey City spends between $85,000 and $100,000 a year, according to their mayors’ offices. An email survey earlier this year by the New Jersey League of Municipalities elicited responses from 146 municipalities, many of them small towns. They reported spending $1 million in total on legal notices last year, or about $7,200 on average.
In an op-ed published Sunday on medium.com, Mr. Christie called requirements for newspaper publication of legal notices “a taxpayer funded subsidy in disguise.”
“The taxpayers and citizens of New Jersey can no longer afford this arrangement and thanks to technology, they don’t have to,” the governor wrote.
In March, the governor described his past re-election endorsement from one of the state’s largest newspapers, the Star-Ledger, as being “left-handed.”
“The Star-Ledger editorial page has been out after me since I ran for governor in 2009,” Mr. Christie said. “They haven’t stopped since.”
Mr. Christie has described the media’s coverage of the George Washington Bridge lane-closure investigation as being unfair and excessive.
State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who was co-chairman of a legislative committee that investigated the lane closures, said Mr. Christie is “absolutely” seeking to punish the press. “It’s an attempt by the governor to silence his critics,” said Mr. Wisniewski, a Democrat from Middlesex County who is seeking his party’s gubernatorial nomination in next year’s election.
A spokesman for Mr. Christie called Mr. Wisniewski a “tax and spend” liberal who doesn’t care about saving residents money.
The Star-Ledger derives 7% of its annual revenue from legal notices, said its editor and publisher, Rich Vezza. Of that amount, 20% to 30% comes from public entities and the rest from such private advertisers as banks, law firms and residents.
Mr. Vezza argued that it could cost towns and cities more money to publish the notices online themselves rather than through the local newspaper. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Democrat from Hudson County, said the legislation gives municipalities the option to publish the information themselves but allows them to continue paying newspapers for the service if they prefer.
The legislation was scheduled for final votes in the state Assembly and Senate on Monday, one week after it was introduced.
Lawmakers from both political parties say the proposed legislation has merit, regardless of Mr. Christie’s relationship with the press. Supporters said publishing legal notices online would make them more publicly accessible and save money.
“We are in the 21st century,” Mr. Prieto said. “Most people get their news online.”
New Jersey lawmakers have debated the issue several times, most recently in 2011. An earlier version of the proposal passed the state Assembly in 2004, with Mr. Wisniewski voting in favor of it, but it stalled in the Senate. Mr. Wisniewski said he later learned that the government wouldn’t save as much money as he had thought when he voted for the bill.
Mr. Vezza of the Star-Ledger said many people still read the news in print. The paper, which has an average annual subscription rate of $360 for daily delivery, has a weekly print circulation of 180,000 and Sunday circulation of 225,000.
In addition, the New Jersey Press Association publishes every legal notice online in a searchable database than can be translated into different languages, Mr. Vezza said. The association proposed cutting its rate for municipal legal notices in half in exchange for an increase in private notice fees. But a spokesman for Mr. Christie’s administration rejected the offer as “unacceptable.”
Mr. Christie’s spokesman said state taxpayers and businesses pay more than $80 million annually to publish legal notices, but Mr. Vezza and other publishers said the governor hasn’t explained how he got to that number. And they claim the bill is being rushed through the legislative process without proper vetting.
“Public notices let residents know what’s going on with their local government,” Mr. Vezza said. “That’s going to diminish, there’s no question. There’s going to be a diminishment of local news.”
Stephen Parker, co-publisher for New Jersey Hills Media Group, said the loss of legal-notice advertising would devastate his group of 14 paid weekly newspapers, which reach a circulation of 40,000. Most of the papers charge on average $25 for an annual subscription, and 15% of total revenue comes from legal notices.
“If we lose 15% of our revenue, we go from a modest profit to a pretty sizable deficit,” Mr. Parker said, adding that he would have to close several papers.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer, a Democrat from Passaic County, said he didn’t think news organizations should be economically dependent on the government. “Is it appropriate for that vibrant press to inherently be dependent upon government for its salvation?” he said.
Write to Kate King at Kate.King@wsj.com