Gov. Christie at midnight ordered a state government shutdown, and with that the blame game began. It was the night of the long knives. He blamed Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto for not allowing a vote on Christie’s punitive bill against Horizon. Of course, it was Christie who unnecessarily held the budget hostage to passage of the Horizon bill. The bill had nothing to do with the new 2018 budget and should have been considered separately. There was bickering, bargaining and harsh word but the aftermath was one of sorrow, shock, and anger with collegiality giving way to dysfunction.
Christie also ordered a special legislative session for 11 a.m. today, but by then damage had been done. At that point it was a loss for the the four key participants. Christie and political boss George Norcross, who failed in their effort to needlessly punish Horizon, brought the shutdown upon us. Senate President Steve Sweeney, who sided with Christie and Norcross, had said he would allow a shutdown if the Horizon bill did not pass.
Assembly Speaker Prieto failed twice in two separate votes to pass the budget bill without bringing the Horizon bill to a vote. He ran afoul of George Norcross who disliked Prieto’s disagreements with ally Senate President Sweeney and wanted Prieto to be replaced by Democratic Assemblyman Craig Coughlin. Norcross’s control over some 12 Assembly votes doomed Prieto’s efforts to pass the budget bill. His was a principled effort to disallow Christie’s cynical transactional politics, but too few of his colleagues supported him. Prieto’s position as speaker is now in jeopardy.
Of course we as NJ residents and most state workers lost as well. State parks, state beaches, motor vehicle offices, courts, and other state facilities are closed. Most routine services and transactions including the processing of checks have come to a standstill. You can read Christie’s full shutdown order here. At the last moment our bully governor tried additional pressure by asserting that furloughed state workers would not receive retroactive pay for days not worked during the shutdown.
The last time there was a state shutdown was in 2006 when Gov. Jon Corzine and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts disagreed over sales and property taxes. Services were finally restored on July 10.
The Asbury Park Press in an editorial last Monday predicted, “The State budget showdown won’t end well with ideas being thrashed out in crisis mode, and with compromises likely to be struck in haste”. Sadly such was the case. Last night there were no compromises but some agreement will have to be struck today or in the coming days to return to a semblance. of order.