TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called for a special session of the state Legislature on Monday as a government shutdown dragged on without resolution.
The defiant Republican governor is in a stalemate with an unmoving Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, as the state has begun to feel the sting of shuttered services.
The special session of both houses of the Legislature is set for 10 a.m. Monday.
Earlier Sunday, Christie ordered the Democrat-led Legislature to return to consider a path around the budget impasse, which centers on Christie’s proposal to overhaul the state’s largest health insurer. Democrats are splintered, with Prieto opposed to the plan, but Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney behind it.
Christie ordered the shutdown of nonessential state services, like parks and motor vehicle offices, on Friday after he and lawmakers failed to agree on terms to enact a $34.7 billion budget. Christie is demanding that lawmakers pass Senate-approved legislation to make over Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield.
“I want everybody to understand and I’ve said this today to all the leaders of the Legislature, the Legislature is making a choice here. This government is not open because I can’t constitutionally let it be open. I don’t have any money, and so as of July 1, I had no money,” Christie said. “Now, I told them that I will sign a budget if they send it to me.”
Christie noted Saturday that Horizon covers 55 percent of the market in New Jersey and has “no independent management, no transparency, (and) continues to raise rate.”
Christie said Sunday that if legislators send him a budget with Horizon, he will sign the budget as passed by legislative committees. He said if they send a budget without Horizon, he will sign it and exercise his constitutional authority to reduce the size of the budget.
“But either way if they sent me a budget today the shutdown would be over. It is the Legislature that’s choosing not to send me either budget and so in the end this is going to be up to all of them,” Christie said. “I’m here, I’m working, I’m ready to sign a budget if they send me one. I’m ready to meet with them if they want have anything to discuss.”
As WCBS 880’s Kelly Waldron reported, other lawmakers held dueling news conferences Sunday. Prieto said he would like to work on a compromise bill to the governor’s proposal to overhaul Horizon.
“I’m open to doing things after we get the budget done and I’m still holding to that, because I don’t link one to another,” he said.
But Christie does not trust that Prieto will get it done.
“They are not coming back here in an election year, in the middle of the summer, to hold hearings and vote on a bill,” he said.
Meanwhile, Senate President Stephen Sweeney wants everyone just to come to the table.
“This is nonsense that we can’t get a meeting to try to start to have a conversation,” he said.
The shutdown is affecting millions of residents and visitors hoping to enjoy the state’s 40 state parks and beaches this Fourth of July holiday.
As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, drivers in New Jersey had it spelled out for them with electronic highway signs announcing all state parks are closed. With the shutdown in place, it has been a Saturday and Sunday full of confusion.
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.
Andrew Spears, a leader with Cub Scout Pack 124 in Tinton Falls, said his group was told to leave Cheesequake State Park in Old Bridge. His group of roughly 45 — including about 25 children — had planned to camp all weekend.
“We knew this was probably coming, but it’s still a shame we have to head out,” Spears said Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, one unhappy dog will not be getting his usual walk in Cheesequake, and Mario Perez will have to move his family softball game someplace else.
“That’s no good,” said Perez, of Old Bridge.
With the park closed until further notice, car after car went in and then back out again.
“Maybe go to the beach,” said Tyisha Wright of Maplewood.
But visitors were out of luck at New Jersey state-run beaches too. Also closed are many state offices, including Motor Vehicles.
Deeply disappointed was Vinny Fierro, who runs a food concession here at Cheesequake. The shutdown is costing him money.
“It’s going to cause financial hardship for myself and all the other concessioners that work at state parks in New Jersey,” Fierro said. “It’s the biggest weekend. We count on it a lot and really they should get to the table and end it and let us salvage what we can.”
Jennifer Bate almost got a ticket for trespassing at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. Like many others who showed up Saturday, she had no idea it was closed.
“It’s a holiday weekend,” she told CBS2’s Jessica Borg. “What about all the kids that have birthday parties. People who paid to rent, to have a barbecue here. It’s not fair.”
“It makes you think that the whole system is a joke,” one man told CBS2.
Also closed was Island Beach State Park, where the state owns a residence that the governor can use.
Christie said earlier this week that he and his family were planning to be there for the Fourth of July holiday. He amended that Friday to say he would stay in Trenton this weekend if government remained shut down, but his family would still go.
Asked Saturday if it was fair for his family to be able to use the park while others couldn’t, Christie was defiant.
“The governor has a residence at Island Beach,” he said. “Others don’t. That’s the way it goes. Run for governor and you can have the residence.”
Christie spokesman Brian Murray said Saturday that the governor planned to spend the night at the governor’s residence at the park.
Remaining open under the shutdown are NJ 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, which are part of New York City, remain open.
A man named Gilbert spoke to 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria as he vacationed in New Jersey from San Antonio, Texas. He spent about $60 to come see the Statue of Liberty, but he was turned away when he arrived at Liberty State Park to catch the ferry.
The same thing happened to one Brazilian tourist.
“We bought the tickets to see the statue, which was bought like one week ago, and now they told us that we cannot go inside because there’s a government shutdown,” he said. “That’s pretty frustrating.”
The government shutdown also means there will be no fireworks at Liberty State Park on July 4. But Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said his city will not be held hostage by Trenton.
“We’re going to make do without the help of the state, and we’ll move it to Exchange Place on the waterfront, and you know we’re going to adapt and overcome,” he said.
He said he hopes to see 100,000 spectators.
But until the nearly $35 billion budget is passed, state parks in the Garden State will stay closed, along with the state’s popular beaches.
Prieto is refusing to support Christie’s Horizon bill, and his chamber remains deadlocked over the budget because some Democrats say they worry that Christie would line-item veto education spending in the budget if he doesn’t get the Horizon legislation. Christie has said as much.
The term-limited, unpopular governor delivered a roughly half-hour speech to a joint session on a rare Saturday session, blaming the shutdown on Prieto, whose photo the administration has placed at the closed entrances of state parks.
“In his refusal to post the Horizon bill for a vote by his fellow elected Assembly members, he has impacted the state of New Jersey and it’s residents unnecessarily,” Christie said Saturday.
But Prieto tweeted that Christie is holding the budget hostage, and calls the bill on Horizon an unnecessary tax and not part of the budget process.
Christie dedicated most of his Saturday speech to casting Horizon as greedy and opaque.
The Senate legislation requires the company to publish financial information and elect public board members. It gives the state insurance commissioner the ability to set a range for the company’s surplus, which the company must use to benefit policy holders and the public if the limit is exceeded. That final change would not take effect until after Christie leaves office.
The legislation is a change from what Christie initially sought, which was to tap into the insurer’s $2.4 billion surplus to finance opioid addiction treatment.
But Prieto says he’s concerned about tweaking the state’s biggest insurer, which is a nonprofit that has four board members appointed by the governor, at a time when congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump are contemplating overhauling the Affordable Care Act.
Horizon opposes the proposed changes.
Christie says while the shutdown is happening, the state will do what it has to to function, either through federal funding or by running up a tab.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)