There’s plenty of blame to go around with regard to New Jersey’s budget impasse – Christie, Sweeney, Prieto, the Democratic “leadership”, and even Phil Murphy (I’ll explain).
The unholy alliance between Chris Christie and the Norcross Democrats insists that the surplus from Horizon insurance fund be allocated to implement the constitutionally-mandated balanced budget. On the other side, Speaker Prieto contends that we have succumbed too much to Christie’s shenanigans already, and refuses to comply with another Christie raid on funds.
As both side posture and sidestep, they know they can do so with impunity. Even though every legislative seat is up for election this year, in general, their districts are safe and that the general public’s interest in the details of this fight are minimal. The real losers in this unnecessary battle are the state’s citizens and our government workers. Beaches and parks will be closed during the holiday weekend. Backlogs at the Motor Vehicle Department will be exacerbated once the budget is settled. Christie has already said he’s not leaning toward paying state workers for the time they are shut out of their jobs, even as he has stolen their pension funds. (To be fair, every governor since Christie Whitman has also stolen from the pension fund).
To say that New Jersey lacks leadership is an understatement. The state is run by competing fiefdoms who value power and influence above the good of the people. Sure, there are some great and dedicated legislators in Trenton, but for the most part, they are (necessarily) pawns in the battle of the big guys (and they’re all guys).
The sad thing is that all of this could have been avoided if we had had decent leadership. The June 30 deadline for a budget did not crop up overnight. The governor and legislature knew this deadline loomed, yet still dragged out their work and missed the deadline – for the first time since 2006.
Democrats control the legislature, but the real issue is the ongoing battle between north and south, Prieto and Sweeney (Norcross). The Horizon debacle is not really the issue. The issue is politics and power over the good of the people.
Here’s where Phil Murphy comes in. As the de facto leader of the Democratic party and almost-certain next governor, where was Murphy during this battle? He was campaigning, raising funds in Israel, and conspicuously absent during these negotiations. Negotiations? He’s a friggin’ ambassador. A diplomat. Trained in negotiating. Why didn’t Murphy take a risk, step into the fray, and broker a peace deal between Sweeney (Norcross) and Prieto? Let him show us the stuff he’s made of. He’s gong to have to battle with Sweeney and with Prieto’s replacement (I assume that due to his principled stance, Vinnie’s career is now relegated to just another chapter in JFK’s Profiles in Courage). New Jersey is in a crisis, albeit a self-inflicted one. And the one honest broker who all sides have rallied around is AWOL.