New Jersey government shuts down in budget standoff; state parks & beaches closed

(CNN) — New Jersey legislators went home Saturday afternoon without passing a budget, leaving the state government shut down, the spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie told CNN.

The Republican governor shut down the state government Friday night after the Legislature failed to pass a budget. The assembly remained nominally in session in an attempt to break the deadlock.

An estimated 30,000 to 35,000 state workers were furloughed in the shutdown. The shutdown forced the closure of tourist attractions such as all 40 state parks, recreational areas, historic sites, state beaches and Liberty State Park just as the July Fourth holiday weekend got underway. Campers who stayed in parks Friday night were asked to leave Saturday morning, Christie said. Public events in parks were canceled.

Consequently, Christie and his family had the beach to themselves Saturday night at the governor’s Island Beach residence.

Christie signed a state of emergency permitting the operation of essential government services such as state police, correctional facilities, welfare services, state hospitals and treatment facilities. Also shielded from the shutdown are New Jersey Transit, the state lottery, casinos and racetracks.

According to nj.com, the conflict in the Legislature is about the finances of not-for-profit Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurer.

The state Senate passed a bill that allows the state government to control how much Horizon keeps in its surplus fund before it must contribute to a public health fund. But Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Democrat, refused to allow the bill to come to a vote in the House, nj.com said.

The governor told reporters Saturday that the state will do what it must to function, either via federal funding or by running up a tab. He cited state police as an essential service. He said Horizon is making huge profits without any control by state government, which created Horizon in the first place, and it doesn’t want additional oversight or transparency.

On Sunday, Christie blamed Prieto for the standoff and said he would sign whatever budget crosses his desk.

“If they send it to me with Horizon, I will sign it. If they send it to me without Horizon I will use my authority to make a smaller budget,” he said in an afternoon news conference.

“If they send me a budget today the shutdown would be over. The Legislature is deciding not to send me either budget.”

Prieto said discussions about changing Horizon were not part of the budget process and that Christie was trying to “extort” Horizon’s ratepayers.

“I will consider it once a budget is signed. In fact, the Assembly Judiciary Committee stands ready to hold hearings starting this month,” Prieto said.

Christie said no more services are expected to be eliminated.