Wisniewski describes shutdown impact and how to resolve it, lays blame

Reporter: So first and foremost, your thoughts on this situation

Wisniewski: Well it’s needless. We could have had a budget. This board behind me has been open since Friday, when the Speaker asked for a vote on the budget for FY 2018. And if you look up there, there are 27 yes votes. There are 21 abstentions from the Democratic side. We don’t even need all of those 21 abstentions to vote yes. Many of those abstentions have said that they, basically, support this budget. But this is being held up, and we heard the governor’s press conference yesterday, this is being held up by an ill-advised, potentially illegal, piece of legislation that would give the state of New Jersey control to dig into an insurance company, to raise rates for rate payers. A bill that hasn’t been vetted, hasn’t been discussed in this chamber. And the speaker of the Assembly has said look, if that bill is important we can take that up after we get the budget done. But we have a constitutional obligation. The members here, when they took their oath, took an oath to support that constitution, the governor took an oath to support that constitution, and that constitution doesn’t say try to bargain for what you can before you fulfill your duty. It says you have to support the constitution, uphold the constitution. By allowing this to remain unresolved we’re not only violating that obligation, we’re hurting ordinary people in New Jersey who have nothing to do with the drama unfolding here. There are families who planned their family vacation for Fourth of July week that can’t go on that vacation because the state park that they were going to camp in or go to has been closed. There are people who have been incarcerated, who are waiting for a bail hearing, they can’t get it because the court house is closed. And the list goes on, so this isn’t about negotiating in Trenton. This is about affecting real people’s lives and it has to stop. The process of holding the state budget hostage for partisan political gain has to stop.

Hill: What about the politics behind this push to go after this lump sum of money with Horizon, what’s driving this?

Wisniewski: Well, the governor, you heard yesterday, said that the surplus or the reserve that Horizon has is large. It’s too large the governor has argued. He’s said that they don’t really have 3.8 million policy holders, they only really have two million. But even at that, think about it, do the math, two million policy holders with a $2 billion reserve means the reserve, the money that they have to pay claims, is $1,000 per subscriber. Now, we all know the size of medical bills. An insurance company that only has $1,000 in reserves for each of their subscribers is an insurance company that doesn’t have a lot to pay out if everybody has to submit claims. And so what the governor is suggesting is absolutely nothing short of reckless.

Hill: How do you see this being resolved?

Wisniewski: I think this is going to be resolved because as we see, the tally in favor of the budget has gone up by 1 vote, it’s now 27. Asm. Kennedy came and switched his vote from an abstention to a yes. We all know that Asm. Schaer was not able to be with us in observance of the Sabbath and now that that is over I’m sure he will be down, and others likewise. And so I think over the next couple of days you’ll see these numbers go up. But the Assembly is still in session, this board is still open. Members can come down at any time. But for all of the members who are playing politics and trying to leverage a bill that the governor wants, a governor who clearly has his own personal agenda at heart, not unlike the George Washington Bridge scandal. This is the governor using the state as a bargaining chip to get what he wants. The members who are supporting that move have to ask themselves, is it worth hurting all of theses families? Is it worth inconveniencing all these people? If your drivers license is set to expire tomorrow you can’t drive because the motor vehicle offices will be closed. Think about the consequences that these members who are abstaining are causing these people of the state of New Jersey, it’s unconscionable.

Reporter: Do you see this being resolved before July 4th?

Wisniewski: I don’t know. I’m not going to be so bold as to make a prediction about when this gets resolved, but clearly I believe it will be resolved.

Hill: What’s going on, describe for us, what’s going on behind the scenes with the public that we in the media don’t see to resolve this crisis?

Wisniewski: Well I think you’ve seen, I think you’ve seen it play out in the last 24 hours. The governor has made it clear that he’s holding the budget hostage so that he can get legislation that would not only enable him to dig into the reserve of Horizon but also allow additional members to be put on the board. We have to ask the question, what is the governor trying to accomplish by changing the governing structure of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield? What is the governor trying to accomplish by not only taking money out of that organization but also changing its fundamental mission? These are questions that raise serious implications if there is impropriety on the part of the governor. Whose bidding is he actually doing? Because he’s not explaining it.

Hill: That’s my question, whose bidding is he doing? The politics of going after the Horizon money.

Wisniewski: Well I think that’s something that really should be looked into by this Legislature. We’ve seen in the past that the governor is hardly a transparent character. We’ve seen in the past that this governor uses his enormous power as governor to accomplish things that aren’t necessarily in the job description and clearly are not necessarily in the best interest of the people of the state of New Jersey. Think about this, the governor said yesterday that he was worried about ordinary people and that’s why he was looking at taking the money from Horizon. Well today he’s affecting ordinary people. And his threat, if he doesn’t get his money from Horizon, he wants to hurt further ordinary people because he wants to say to school children, whose money is in this budget, that you don’t get the money. He’s willing to say to say to women who are looking for Planned Parenthood, women’s health care, to be funded that you don’t get your money. And so this is a governor who’s really gone off the rails, and he’s threatening people to get his way. This is not the kind of leadership New Jersey needs.