Illinois, Maine, Connecticut: the end of the old fiscal year and the failure of numerous states to enter the new one with a budget, means that some of America’s most populous states have seen their local governments grind to a halt overnight until some spending agreement is reached. Now we can also add New Jersey to this list.
On Saturday morning, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency in the state, and announced a partial state government shutdown as New Jersey become the latest state to enter the new fiscal year without an approved budget after the Republican governor and the Democrat-led Legislature failed to reach an agreement by the deadline at midnight Friday, CBS New York reports.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 1, 2017
In a news conference Saturday morning, Christie blamed Democratic State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto for causing the shutdown. And, just like Illinois and Connecticut, Christie and the Democrat-led Legislature are returning to work in hopes of resolving the state’s first government shutdown since 2006 and the first under Christie, before NJ is downgraded further by the rating agencies.
“If there’s not a resolution to this today, everyone will be back tomorrow,” Christie said, calling the shutdown “embarrassing and pointless.” He also repeatedly referred to the government closure as “the speaker’s shutdown.” Christie later announced that he would address the full legislature later at the statehouse on Saturday.
Prieto remained steadfast in his opposition, reiterating that he won’t consider the plan as part of the budget process but would consider it once a budget is signed. Referring to the shutdown as “Gov. Christie’s Hostage Crisis Day One,” Prieto said he has made compromises that led to the budget now before the Legislature.
“I am also ready to consider reasonable alternatives that protect ratepayers, but others must come to the table ready to be equally reasonable,” Prieto said. “Gov. Christie and the legislators who won’t vote ‘yes’ on the budget are responsible for this unacceptable shutdown. I compromised. I put up a budget bill for a vote. Others now must now do their part and fulfill their responsibilities.”
Politics aside, the diplomaitc failure has immediate consequences for Jersey residents: Christie ordered nonessential services to close beginning Saturday. New Jerseyans were feeling the impact as the shutdown took effect, shuttering state parks and disrupting ferry service to Liberty and Ellis islands. Among those affected were a group of Cub Scouts forced to leave a state park campsite and people trying to obtain or renew documents from the state motor vehicle commission, among the agencies closed by the shutdown.
As funds run out elsewhere, it will only get worse. Police were turning away vehicles and bicyclists at Island Beach state park in Ocean County.
— Brian Thompson (@brian4NY) July 1, 2017
A sign posted at the park entrance featured a photo of Prieto and the phone number of his district office in Secaucus, along with the caption: “This facility is CLOSED because of this man.”
When asked about the sign, Christie spokesman Jeremy Rosen said the governor wanted to make sure people knew why the site was shuttered. “Speaker Prieto singlehandedly closed state government,” Rosen said, adding that the governor wanted to make sure families “knew that the facilities were closed and who is responsible.”
Not all things will be affected: remaining open under the shutdown will be New Jersey Transit, state prisons, the state police, state hospitals and treatment centers as well as casinos, race tracks and the lottery.
A major point of disagreement is the ongoing stalemate between Christie and lawmakers over whether to include legislation affecting the state’s largest health insurer into the state budget.
Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney agree on legislation to make over Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, including allowing the state insurance commissioner to determine a range for the company’s surplus that if exceeded must be put to use benefiting the public and policyholders. But Prieto opposes the plan, saying that the legislation could lead to rate hikes on the insurer’s 3.8 million subscribers and that the legislation is separate from the budget. Prieto has said he will leave open a vote on the $34.7 billion budget that remains deadlocked 26-25, with 24 abstentions, until those 24 abstentions change their mind.
Real-time view of NJ government shutdown. Green/red indicates votes either way on budget. Yellow lights the culprits, says Assembly speaker pic.twitter.com/lRpzAPGcyH
— Bob Jordan (@bobjordanAPP) July 1, 2017
Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, of Northfield, was among those abstaining. He reasoned that if the governor did not get the Horizon bill, then nearly $150 million in school funding — $9.6 million of which would go to his district — would be line-item vetoed out of the budget. And indeed, Christie said Friday during a news conference that he would slash the Democratic spending priorities if he did not get the Horizon bill as part of a package deal on the budget. “You want me to wave a magic wand to get a budget?” Christie said. “I can’t get a budget to my desk. Only the Senate and Assembly can get the budget to my desk.”
But where things may get nasty quick, is that Christie said public workers should not expect any back pay. “Yeah, don’t count on it.” Christie said of furlough pay. “That was Jon ‘I’ll Fight For a Good Contract For You’ Corzine. I ain’t him.”
Christie says no furlough pay now: “Yeah, don’t count on it. That was Jon ‘I’ll Fight For a Good Contract For You’ Corzine. I ain’t him.”
— Michael Symons (@MichaelSymons_) July 1, 2017
Meanwhile, the fingerpointing has begun, including Democrats pointing at other Democrats.
“It seems like he’s just being stubborn,” Mazzeo said of Prieto. “With all due respect to the speaker, then there should be some type of negotiations.” But Prieto said it’s lawmakers – fellow Democrats – like Mazzeo who are to blame for the shutdown. He said he is willing to discuss the Horizon legislation but after the budget is resolved.
Christie has balked at the proposal because he says lawmakers plan to leave town to campaign for re-election and he will be a lame duck. According to CBS, all 120 lawmakers face voters this year.
Finally, putting the sheer chaos of it all in context, Christie who is term-limited and is expected to be out of office by January, has his family staying for the holiday weekend in a state-owned house at Island Beach State Park. The park is closed because of the shutdown.