The budget stalemate between Republican Gov. Chris Christie and the Democrat-controlled Legislature smoldered on Monday with the state government shut down and state parks closed to the public – but not to Christie and his family – as the Fourth of July approaches.
Christie, who spent part of Sunday lounging with his family at a beach in a state park he had ordered closed, said he would sign any budget lawmakers sent to him and blamed the shutdown of nonessential services, including motor vehicle offices, on Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
“I’m a little frustrated, quite frankly, at this point that no one will send me any budget,” Christie said.
Christie said he would consider the Democratic budget along with legislation to overhaul the state’s biggest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. Or, without the Horizon legislation he has called for, he would line-item veto about $350 million of the Democratic priorities.
Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, who’s allied with Christie, called for a meeting with lawmakers and Horizon’s CEO to try to hash out a way forward. Horizon said CEO Bob Marino would attend. Horizon opposes Christie and Sweeney’s proposal.
Christie, who ordered the Legislature to return Monday after calling it in on Saturday and Sunday, flew on a state helicopter to Island Beach State Park, where his family was staying at a state-owned governor’s residence over the weekend. He defended his use of a state property during a shutdown that affected the public.
The governor was photographed by NJ.com sitting with his family on a beach chair in sandals and a T-shirt before flying to talk to reporters in Trenton, where he worked without result to end the shutdown.
During the news conference, Christie was asked if he had gotten any sun that day, to which he said he didn’t, NJ.com reported.
When told later of Christie’s denial, his spokesman said Christie didn’t get any sun that day because he was wearing a baseball hat.
Democrats are divided in this stalemate, with Prieto opposed to the plan and Sweeney in favor.
The term-limited, unpopular governor blames the shutdown on Prieto, who is holding 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.
Democratic Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt said she is abstaining because the Democratic priorities are important to keep intact for her district. Others who abstained gave similar reasons.
Christie ordered the shutdown of nonessential state services on Friday after he and lawmakers failed to agree on terms. He had demanded lawmakers pass Senate-approved legislation to make over Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, but on Sunday he said he’d reopen the government under either scenario.
Over the weekend, the public began feeling the effects of the shutdown.
Among those affected were Cub Scouts forced to leave a state park campsite and people trying to obtain or renew documents from the state motor vehicle commission.
Remaining open under the shutdown are New Jersey Transit, state prisons, the state police, state hospitals and treatment centers as well as casinos, race tracks and the lottery.
Liberty State Park was closed, forcing the suspension of ticket sales and ferry service from the site to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. But the latter two sites remain open.