N.J. State Parks Shut Down Over Holiday Weekend As Budget Battle Drags On

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the Democrat-led Legislature returned to work Saturday to try to resolve the state’s first government shutdown since 2006 and the first under Christie.

Christie called the standoff “embarrassing and pointless” at a Saturday news conference, adding he was ready to sign a budget. 

He later addressed the full legislature.

“Many of the fellow Democrats along with Republicans in both houses deserve better from the speaker than what’s nothing more than a temper tantrum,” he said. 

The Republican governor and the Democrat-led Legislature failed to reach an agreement on a new budget by the deadline at midnight Friday.

“Since the beginning of 2017, I have consistently emphasized three, and only three, main budget priorities: (1) school funding reform; (2) improving the pension system using the State lottery enterprise; and (3) improved oversight and improved charitable activity from Horizon, the state’s only non-profit charitable insurance company,” Christie told the legislature.

New Jersey Government Shuts Down After Legislators Fail To Meet Budget Deadline

The governor ordered nonessential services, including state parks and the motor vehicle commission to close beginning Saturday.

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. 

The closures have put holiday plans on hold for many across the Garden State.

For Christian Gonzales and his 9-year-old twins, there are plenty of reasons to drive the hour and a half to Island Beach State Park a few times a month.

“The family atmosphere, the fact that it’s a state park, away from the boardwalk,” the West Hampton resident told CBS2’s Jessica Layton.

He and his family were planning to spend the Fourth of July down the shore, but the fun times are on stand-by by what many call politics at its worst.

Jennifer Bate got the bad news when she went to bike ride in Liberty State Park in Jersey City. She said security told her she’d get a trespassing ticket if she stayed.

“I’m pissed off,” she told CBS2’s Jessica Borg. “I mean, we came down here to get some exercise, to enjoy the park, and everything’s barricaded.”

“It’s a holiday weekend. What about all the kids that have birthday parties, people who paid to rent to have a barbecue here? It’s not fair,” she added.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop says he’s disappointed the government shutdown has closed Liberty State Park, where 120,000 people are expected to take part in a Fourth of July festival and celebration.

“They have one objective and one responsibility which is to keep New Jersey moving forward and so far that’s a failure,” Fulop tells WCBS 880’s Kelly Waldron.

Fulop says they’ll move the party to nearby Exchange Place if the park remains closed through the holiday. 

Christie and lawmakers are in a stalemate over whether to include legislation affecting the state’s largest health insurer into the state budget. The governor and Senate President Steve Sweeney — a Democrat — 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.

“We have an insurance company in this state that covers 55 percent of the market, that has no independent management, no transparency, and has continued to raise rates,” the governor said.

Christie blames the budget crisis on Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

“His refusal to post the Horizon bill for a vote by his fellow elected assembly members, has impacted the state of New Jersey and its residents unnecessarily,” he said.

But Prieto laid the blame squarely at the governor’s feet.

“He signed the order, he’s holding the state budget hostage for #ChristieTax bill,” he tweeted.

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. He calls the bill on Horizon an unnecessary tax.

“That is cement in the sand for me,” he said. “It will be after the budget that we will look at a bill like that.”

He accused Christie of using bullying tactics to get his way.

“All he has to do is release those members that are getting scared that he’s actually going to cut things out of the budget,” he said.

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.

Sweeney weighed in Saturday, accusing the Speaker of putting his personal feelings ahead of the people.

“Egos don’t work. You don’t get things done when you have egos in the way,” he said.

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.

“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.

All 120 lawmakers face voters this year.

The Senate left Friday without passing a budget, but approved on Thursday the Horizon legislation that Christie supports.

Christie called for another special session, convening both the Houses of the legislature on Sunday at 2 p.m.

“Oh it just makes you think that the whole system is a joke,” one man said.

“It’s the government. They can do whatever they want,” another added.

The shutdown is the latest since the 2006 under Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.

Christie is term-limited and is expected to be out of office by January. Election Day is Nov. 7.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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