New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency just after midnight on Saturday and shut down the government because legislators failed to pass a budget by the annual deadline.
Christie issued an order that closes government offices and services that are deemed non-essential. State parks, recreation areas, forests, camping areas, historic sites and state-run beaches are closed just in time for the long Independence Day holiday weekend.
The governor is battling state lawmakers regarding control of the reserve fund for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state’s largest health insurer. In recent weeks, Christie insisted that control of the non-profit insurer’s reserves be tied to a final state budget for the new fiscal year that started July 1.
Christie has also demanded a bill to transfer state lottery funds into the underfunded public worker pension system to lessen its unfunded liability.
Democratic State Senate President Stephen Sweeney agreed to vote on Christie’s proposal, and as of Thursday, had sufficient votes to pass the measure. But Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, who is facing a challenge for his speakership by an assemblyman who’s allied with lawmakers who are refusing to vote on the budget, is still opposing the Horizon bill and refusing to put it up for a vote. Christie has vowed that he will veto, line-item by line-item, $325 million in Democratic spending priorities, including school funding and social welfare programs, if the Horizon bill is not put up for a vote.
“They send me a budget with Horizon and with the Lottery then these 73 spending items will stay,” Christie said at a press conference on Friday. “If they send me a budget without lottery and without Horizon, I will still sign a budget. But then many of these 73 spending items will go.”
Christie took to Twitter to place the blame on Prieto for the government shutdown.
.@VincentPrieto unnecessarily stalled the budget process forcing this closure & inconveniencing everyone living in & visiting our state.
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) July 1, 2017
Prieto has expressed disappointment this week that some of his Democratic colleagues are willing to go along with Christie’s plan.
Horizon bill is unfair #ChristieTax on 3.8 million residents — will not negotiate as part of budget process
— Vincent Prieto (@VincentPrieto) June 29, 2017
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy took aim at both Christie and his Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno on Saturday morning, saying the shutdown was unnecessary. Murphy has been a critic of Christie’s plan to use Horizon’s reserves, which he has characterized as a raid the insurance company’s funds.
“The situation that has led to this shutdown is both disappointing and frustrating. This shutdown will be the capstone of seven and a half failed years of the Christie-Guadagno administration,” Murphy said. “Families and workers across New Jersey will needlessly suffer because Governor Christie has yet again created a phony crisis to put his personal agenda ahead of the public good. It is clear that New Jersey needs new leadership in the Governor’s Office.”
The shutdown is only the second in state history. It does not affect essential services, such as the New Jersey State Police, psychiatric hospitals, of NJ Transit operations. The first shutdown was in 2006 when Jon Corzine was governor.