Governor Chris Christie ordered a state government shutdown Saturday, closing all New Jersey beaches over the July 4 holiday weekend. Christie ordered the shutdown of nonessential state services, like parks and motor vehicle offices, on Friday after lawmakers failed to agree to his terms on legislation to overhaul the state’s biggest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Christie has summoned lawmakers to the State House, but it’s unclear now whether any progress will be made on the budget impasse, while unions and health advocates try to fight back. Many lawmakers ignored Christie’s call to come in for a special session on Sunday.
The second closing in state history came due to Christie’s inability to reach a compromise with the Democrats in the legislature over a scheme to tap into the reserves of the non-profit insurance company, which would allow politicians to take up to $300 million a year from the company’s reserve fund.
Christie wants to use the money to promote himself through a national TV advertising campaign ostensibly aimed at the addressing the opiate epidemic, to rehabilitate his historic low job approval ratings.
His administration has been ruthless in its enforcement of the shutdown, kicking out a Cub Scout Pack with 25 kids from one state park but Christie and his family soaked up the sun at Island Beach State Park, where bathing pavilions, parking lots and beaches remained empty due to a political squabble.
The Republican politician’s arrogance was enough to make international news, as the British Independent reported, “Christie spent part of Sunday lounging with his family on a beach at a state park he ordered closed to the public amid a government shutdown that showed little sign of ending.”
Christie referred to himself as “Mr. Reasonable” and defended his use of the state park, which is closed to the public, blaming Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, and saying: “That’s the way it goes. Run for governor, and you can have the residence.”
Prieto, who continues to hold open a vote on the Assembly floor on the $34.7 billion budget that remains deadlocked with 27 yes votes, shy of the 41 needed to succeed. Democrats who are abstaining are allied with the Republican governor and Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, who called for a meeting with lawmakers and Horizon’s CEO to try to hash out a way forward.
Sweeney is a minion of South Jersey political boss George Norcross, who has interests in a competing insurance company.
Horizon CEO Bob Marino said he would attend although the company opposes Christie and Sweeney’s proposal.
Andrew Mills, a photographer for NJ Advance Media, which publishes the Star-Ledger and NJ.com, snapped at least 22 images of Christie and his family enjoying the sun at the closed Island Beach State Park, where the governor has a second official residents paid for at taxpayer expense.
The health reserve cash grab plan has received widespread criticism from all corners of the political and governmental spectrum — from business groups like the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, New Jersey Business and Industry Association and Newark Regional Business Partnership, to progressive organizations like the Working Families Alliance and New Jersey Policy Perspective, to media outlets like the Star-Ledger, the Record and the Philadelphia Inquirer, to addiction and mental health advocates like Integrity House and The Arc of New Jersey.
Assemblyman Kennedy changed his vote from ‘aye’ to ‘abstain’. Assemblymen DeAngelo and Benson flipped from ‘abstain’ to ‘aye’, and Assemblyman Brown went from ‘abstain’ to ‘yes’ – the lone GOP member voting in favor.
Members of the Assembly who refused to vote for the budget, giving Christie the chance to shut down government for the holiday weekend, include:
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