New Jersey Government Enters Third Day of Shutdown on Budget Impasse

  • Photos of Christie at closed, state-run beach touch a nerve
  • Legislature divided on bill to tap Medicaid insurer’s surplus

New Jersey’s government shutdown entered a third day as lawmakers failed to approve a budget for fiscal 2018 and social media lambasted Governor Chris Christie and his family for lounging on a state-run beach closed to the public.

As many as 35,000 state workers were furloughed and Christie has said they will not be paid for time off once the stalemate ends. Motor-vehicle offices, courts and parks were closed, while services deemed essential -- including state police, New Jersey Transit bus and rail and welfare services -- were operating. Under the state constitution, the government closes if a spending plan isn’t in place by July 1.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, told reporters in Trenton that he didn’t expect budget votes in either house Monday.

The impasse was linked to the refusal by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Democrat from Secaucus, to post a bill compelling Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey to give the state $300 million annually from its surplus account. Horizon, which administers the state’s Medicaid contract, has said the company’s $2.5 billion cushion is a safety net while Christie has said it’s excessive for a private not-for-profit health insurer that grew on taxpayer funding.

The governor has vowed not to sign a budget unless the Horizon bill also comes to his desk. Prieto says the bill is being rushed.

As Christie ordered special legislative sessions over the weekend, and again today, he and his family were photographed yesterday from an aircraft by the news site NJ.com as they relaxed at Island Beach State Park outside a vacation home owned by the state for the governor’s use. The photos ignited social media, with Twitter users saying it was unfair to block access to a public park while the state’s highest elected official could continue to enjoy it, particularly during the weekend lead-up to the Independence Day holiday on July 4.

"It’s beyond words,” Republican Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno said on Twitter. She’s running for governor. “If I were gov, sure wouldn’t be sitting on beach if taxpayers didn’t have access to state beaches."

Christie, who last week told reporters that he would head to the retreat while lawmakers negotiated, told Fox News this morning that the media had “caught a politician keeping his word.” Disappointed park visitors, he said, could visit municipal-run beaches elsewhere on the coast.

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