By Julie Daurio
It was a day of dueling press conferences in Trenton today as the governor and legislators stated their cases on how to end the government shutdown. The sticking point is a bill Gov. Christie has staunchly supported to restructure Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state’s largest health care provider. The plan includes tapping into the company’s reserve funds to pay for health programs like addiction treatment.
Hanging in the balance is a list of 72 Democratic budget priorities, which Gov. Christie has said he will line item veto if the Legislature does not deliver him a budget that includes the Horizon oversight bill.
While the Senate passed the Horizon bill on Friday, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto has refused to post it for a vote, and the budget he posted on Friday without the Horizon bill fell far short of a majority. On Friday at midnight, the budget impasse pushed the government into the second shutdown in state history, furloughing nonessential government employees and closing state parks and other services.
At a State House press conference today, speaker Prieto said the governor was “holding the budget hostage” over the Horizon issue. “It’s outside the budget, it has nothing to do with it,” he said.
At his own press conference, when asked whether the governor was being stubborn, Senate President Steve Sweeney defended him. “He was willing to compromise,” Sweeney said. “The speaker is not willing to compromise at all.”
Later in the afternoon, Christie addressed a joint session of the Legislature from the Senate chambers. While he said he would typically make his remarks from the Assembly chambers, Christie told the Legislature he was barred by Prieto.
“The person who closed down government on the people of New Jersey closed down the Assembly chamber to me,” Christie said.
Christie spent much of the address outlining his criticisms of Horizon, citing its lack of “transparency and accountability.” He reiterated that he had compromised on the bill that ultimately passed in the Senate and that he was willing to sign a budget with the 72 Democratic priorities intact if the Assembly Speaker delivered the Horizon bill.
“Work with me and end the shut down. Let’s do it together and go home,” he concluded.
By 4 p.m., both chambers of the Legislature had cleared out. The voting board remained open in the Assembly, reflecting the same vote counts as Friday at midnight.