An estimated 30,000 state employees were furloughed today as the state entered Day 3 of a government shutdown ordered by Gov. Chris Christie after the Legislature failed to send the $34.7 billion state budget to his desk by the July 1 constitutional deadline.
On Saturday, the governor closed all state parks, including Island Beach State Park and Liberty State Park. Today, the first day of the workweek, most state offices were closed and an estimated 30,000 “nonessential” employees were told to stay home.
State troopers and corrections officers are working, but the shutdown affects most other state agencies including motor vehicle agencies, unemployment offices, state parks and travel and tourism offices. Casinos and racetracks are open for now, but a 2008 law only allows them to remain operational for seven days without a state budget, so gambling could end this weekend if the impasse is not resolved.
The budget failed to get enough support for passage in the Assembly on Friday night, garnering only 26 of the 41 “yes” votes needed for passage. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto kept the board open all weekend, and by this afternoon the tally changed only slightly to 28-25 with 24 abstentions. The board remains open.
Two dozen Assembly members are withholding their votes because of the governor’s pledge to veto more than $325 million in Democratic spending priorities contained in the budget unless the Assembly also approves legislation, unrelated to the budget, to restructure Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey to give the state some control over Horizon’s $2.4 billion reserves and create three new policyholder-elected board members. The Senate has already approved the Horizon bill (S-4), but the Assembly Speaker is refusing to move the bill until after the state budget is approved.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney said at an 11 a.m. news conference that “later never comes” and insisted the Horizon bill has to be considered now in tandem with the state budget in order to protect the 73 Democratic programs in the budget from the Governor’s line-item veto pen. Sweeney and Prieto were scheduled to meet with Horizon this afternoon.
Sweeney also said that even if a compromise were reached today, the earliest the budget impasse could be resolved would be Tuesday evening if new legislation is required.