Budget impasse ends in N.J.
Ready to sign, Christie says; beaches to open for Fourth
TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie said late Monday he’ll sign a budget deal and end a government shutdown that had closed state parks and beaches to the public.
The Republican governor said he was saddened the budget deal had come three days late but he’d sign it right away.
He said he had ordered all closed state parks to reopen for the Fourth of July. And he said state government will open on Wednesday and that state workers will get a paid holiday today at his request.
The budget deal was announced late Monday by New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, both Democrats. The two unveiled the budget at a joint news conference on Monday at the statehouse.
The deal calls for a $34.7 billion budget that includes more than $300 million in Democratic spending priorities and is part of an agreement to overhaul Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurer. The new law calls for annual audits of the nonprofit’s reserve level, sets a range for its reserves and requires its excess funds to be spent on policyholders.
The budget stalemate had centered on Christie’s desire for legislation that included the changes at Horizon.
Prieto and Sweeney were seen earlier Monday with Horizon Chief Executive Officer Bob Marino to negotiate the deal.
“We got some good concepts,” Prieto said at the time.
Officials working for Christie had attempted to make Prieto the face of the shutdown, placing signs on closed parks with Prieto’s picture and the words “This facility is closed because of this man.” Christie’s official Twitter account on Sunday linked to a YouTube video that showed Christie blaming the shutdown on Prieto, with the caption, “I’m not the person who has drawn a line [in] the sand here.”
That choice of words was questioned Monday after Christie spent time with his family on a beach to which he had blocked public access.
Christie defended his visit to the shore, saying he had announced for weeks his plans to vacation at the state-owned governor’s beach house with his family and that the media had simply “caught a politician keeping his word.”
“That’s the way it goes,” Christie said Saturday about his family’s use of the beach house. “Run for governor, and you can have the residence.”
Christie’s picture was snapped from a plane Sunday by NJ.com at Island Beach State Park, where he and his family had the sun and sand to themselves. The governor later flew back to Trenton to try to resolve the budget stalemate.
“I didn’t get any sun today,” Christie told reporters at a news conference Sunday in Trenton.
When he learned of the photos, Christie’s spokesman told NJ.com that the governor was telling the truth.
“He did not get any sun,” Brian Murray said. “He had a baseball hat on.”
After learning he was photographed during his 45 minutes on the beach, Christie sarcastically called it a “great bit of journalism.”
But the photos drew criticism even from members of his own party.
“It’s beyond words,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is running to replace the term-limited governor. “If I were governor, I sure wouldn’t be sitting on the beach if taxpayers didn’t have access to state beaches.”
Hetty Rosenstein, the New Jersey director of the Communications Workers of America, the largest union of state government workers, said roughly 35,000 workers have been “locked out” since the shutdown began.
While most of the government employees affected by the furloughs were only off on Monday, many parks, motor vehicle commission staff members and others who work weekends have been off the job since early Saturday.
Rosenstein said it’s unclear whether furloughed workers will get back pay in addition to the paid holiday but “we certainly feel we’re entitled to that.”
Thomas Walker of Hamilton Township had planned to do some research at the state library in Trenton on Monday but was instead greeted by signs on the door stating it was closed.
“It’s not a big deal that I can’t do what I wanted to, but I hope these folks realize how much folks are inconvenienced by this mess,” he said.
Business continued as usual for the state’s casinos, though Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, an Atlantic City-area Democrat, introduced a bill Monday that he said would ensure the state’s casinos could stay open throughout a state government shutdown.
Prisons, state police, state hospitals and New Jersey’s bus and commuter rail system were also unaffected. The vast majority of beaches remained open as well, since most are controlled not by the state but by towns up and down New Jersey’s 130 miles of coastline.
“Come and enjoy them,” the governor tweeted Monday morning, “but use sunscreen and hydrate.”
Information for this article was contributed by Michael Catalini, Bruce Shipkowski and Wayne Parry of The Associated Press; by Amy B. Wang of The Washington Post; and by Nick Corasaniti of The New York Times.
New Jersey Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (center) is accompanied by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey Chairman and CEO Bob Marino (right) at the Statehouse on Monday, in Trenton, N.J.