NJ government shutdown continues with no end in sight
TRENTON — The partial shutdown of New Jersey state government services will continue Sunday, with no end in sight.
Because the state’s new fiscal year began Saturday without a budget in place, Gov. Chris Christie ordered all nonessential services to close until a spending plan is approved. That includes state parks, including Island Beach State Park, and Motor Vehicle Commission agencies, among other offices. (See a comprehensive list here.)
Christie called a special session Saturday at the Statehouse, but the day of news conferences and speeches didn’t budge the logjam and, in fact, reflected sharper rhetoric, including Christie and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto calling each other liars.
Christie told reporters there’s no prescribed end-date for the partial shutdown.
“It could be infinity. It could go right until I leave office,” Christie said. “No, there’s no constitutional cap on it. The cap is when the budget reaches my desk and state government can be funded constitutionally. That’s the cap.”
Christie said all the services that are going to close have already been announced. Other functions deemed essential will continue.
“Right now we can fund some of it through federal funding that we have that fund a lot of these programs, and some of them we’re going to have to run up a tab,” Christie said. “I can’t stop the State Police from operating. That’s why the constitution allows for exceptions to this rule to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state.
“I’m not going to stop testing newborn infants for potential diseases and say to their parents, ‘Sorry, Vinnie Prieto’s having a hissy fit, so your child may have a disease but I can’t tell you about it and they can’t get treated,’” Christie said. “I mean, sorry, my job is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people, so we’ll run up a tab.”
Prieto and Christie are battling over which is more to blame for the shutdown.
Two efforts to pass the budget have sputtered in the Assembly, where half of Prieto’s fellow Democrats are refusing to vote for the budget unless separate legislation impacting Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield is considered.
The bill overhauling the governance and finances of the not-for-profit health insurer isn’t part of the budget, but Christie has been calling for it since he included a different version of the plan in his budget speech in February.
Christie called the results of the impasse “the speaker’s shutdown.” Prieto called it “a Chris Christie hostage crisis.”
Prieto insists the Horizon changes can’t be rammed through now, but that he’d be willing to consider them later. He said committee hearings would start in three weeks.
“I would always be open, and I’ll make it clear now, to looking at a cap that would be sensible, but anything would then have to go back to the ratepayers that it rightfully belongs to. Outside of that, really, we would have to vet it and talk about it,” Prieto said.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who wants the Horizon bill in part because it would ensure that Christie wouldn’t use his line-item veto on the budget and delete $325 million in spending on Democratic priorities, said it does not make sense that Prieto won’t talk now about a bill he’s willing to deal with later.
“When I hear people say ‘I compromised,’ does that mean you can only compromise once because your ego gets in the way?” Sweeney said. “We want to have a compromise and put the people in front of egos. Enough now. We should not be here today. This should have not happened.”