NJ Government Shutdown: Local Lawmakers Critical of Christie

The Governor's oceanfront getaway at Island Beach State Park.

TRENTON, NJ - Day Two of the shutdown of New Jersey's government continued Sunday after legislators failed to find a compromise on the 2018 state budget during an emergency meeting at the Statehouse Saturday.

Members of the state Assembly and Senate are not expected to meet again until Monday afternoon, ensuring the shutdown of New Jersey's state beaches, parks and other non-essential services will continue into a third day during the July 4th holiday weekend.

Christie and his family are spending the holiday weekend at the governor's oceanfront retreat at Island Beach State Park, which has been closed to the public as part of the shutdown.

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State Sen. Christoher "Kip" Bateman, R-16th, and state Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-16th are critical of the governor's actions.

Christie issued an executive order effective at midnight Saturday to shut down the New Jersey's government after he and the legislators hit an impasse.

The Governor took to Twitter claiming :

"The Legislature’s inability to approve an FY18 State Budget by the June 30th deadline has forced the closure of state government."

He also claims Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto  D-Hudson, "unneccessarily stalled the budget process, inconveniencing everyone living in our state."

Prieto has refused to consider the Horizon proposal in budget negotiations.

Bateman, R-16th, criticized both Christie and Prieto.

"I feel terrible for the people," Bateman said after leaving Trenton on Saturday. "They should be sitting down in a room together to work this out, but no one wants to give an inch. They're both backed into a corner and have no wiggle room."

Christie contends that Horizon is compelled to "give back" as part of its non-profit status and an obligation to embrace charitable needs. 

The impasse centers around Christie's insistence that Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield turn over $300 million of its surplus to New Jersey to fund programs for drug treatment for the state's indigent population and those on Medicaid. Lawmakers would have to agree to include that proposal in the 2018 state budget; The state Senate on Thursday voted to approve a budget plan including the Horizon component; some members pushed back on the proposal, including Bateman, who voted no.

“This is further confirmation that the Governor’s proposal amounts to a state takeover of Horizon that would amount to a government takeover that puts politicians in charge of the insurance that protects the health of 3.8 million New Jerseyans,”  said Kevin McArdle, Horizon spokesman.  “This isn’t about transparency, this is about giving politicians and political bosses a new piggybank and patronage pit.  It is an unprecedented power grab that will hurt the very consumers Horizon has worked to serve for 85 years."

"I just think it's a money grab. The whole proposal is wrong," Bateman said.

"Correct me if I’m wrong, but health insurance is expensive enough as it is already. If a policy holder has overpaid in premiums, that money should go back into their pocket – not into a slush fund for the government," Bateman said.

"To raid Horizon’s reserves is completely irresponsible. There is no justification for forcing a stable insurance agency to become unstable, especially given everything that is going on in Washington," Bateman added.

State  Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-16th is also critical of Christie's executive order to shut down the government and his insistence that the Horizon surplus be incorporated in the state budget.

He issued the following statement on Sunday:

"Disagreements in politics are inevitable, but the disagreements over this budget were not good faith disputes over funding priorities. Instead, the Governor threatened to eliminate school aid increases and other important programs if we do not meet his demands, and he has now shut down our state government to make good on those threats.

"This is no way to lead, and the people of New Jersey deserve better.

"The controversial proposal on Horizon, which I cannot support in its current form, remains at the center of this harmful impasse and government shutdown.  With the attacks on the Affordable Care Act in Washington, D.C., the future of healthcare is uncertain, and tens of millions of Americans in New Jersey and around the country are at risk of losing their health insurance.  Lives are literally at stake. While we absolutely must ensure that Horizon is acting in a responsible, accountable way, we should do so through our usual legislative process.  Tying the Horizon proposal to the State’s budget is arbitrary and unnecessary.  

On Thursday I did not vote on the proposed budget to allow more time for the Legislature and the Governor to strike a compromise that would ensure his signature on the budget as it is, which includes critically important funds for property tax relief, healthcare, infrastructure and school aid.  In my legislative district alone, school districts in Manville, Somerville Borough and Montgomery would receive much-needed boosts in funding, to the benefit of thousands of children. 

While the budget is not perfect, particularly because of a flawed lottery-pension scheme it incorporates, on Friday I voted yes to ensure that we did not shut down the government," Zwicker said.



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