The New Jersey government shutdown and state of emergency entered its third day, as lawmakers failed to approve a budget for fiscal 2018.
As reported on Saturday, as many as 35,000 state workers remained furloughed and governor Christie has said they will not be paid for time off once the stalemate ends. Various non-emergency services such as motor-vehicle offices, courts, parks and ferries were closed, while essential state services including state police, New Jersey Transit bus and rail and welfare services, were operating. New Jersey is one of nearly a dozen states states that is scrambling to enact a spending budget for the fiscal year end, even as the local legislature appears deadlocked over any potential compromise.
According to Bloomberg, NJ Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, told reporters in Trenton that he didn’t expect budget votes in either house Monday. As discussed previously, the impasse is due to the refusal by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, also a Democrat, to post a bill compelling Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey to give the state $300 million annually from its surplus account. Horizon, which administers the state’s Medicaid contract, has said the company’s $2.5 billion cushion is a safety net while Christie has said it’s excessive for a private not-for-profit health insurer that grew on taxpayer funding. This may be one of the rare occasions in US history in which a Democrat is defending a major corporation from being overtaxed, while a Republican is doing the opposite.
And while the NJ governor has vowed not to sign a budget unless the Horizon bill also comes to his desk, on Monday Chris Christie had bigger problems. As Christie ordered special legislative sessions over the weekend, and again today, yesterday an aircraft of the news site NJ.com photographed the governor and his family as they relaxed at Island Beach State Park outside a vacation home owned by the state for the governor’s use.
NJ Gov. Chris Christie, right, uses the beach with his family and friends at the
governor's summer house at Island Beach State Park in New Jersey.
The photos ignited social media, with Twitter users blistering and roating Christie for blocking access to a public park while the state’s highest elected official could continue to enjoy it, particularly during the weekend lead-up to the Independence Day holiday on July 4.
People mocked the governor as selfish and arrogant and cracked jokes about the sight of the heavyset Christie in a beach chair in sandals, shorts and a T-shirt. Jokesters soon inserted the photo into an Oval Office picture and scenes from "Planet of the Apes," ''From Here to Eternity" and "The Sopranos."
As the Associated Press adds, users made fun of Christie's weight. Others likened the beach closing to the 2013 scheme by Christie allies to close lanes and cause huge traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge. Some said Christie was trying to outdo President Donald Trump in low approval ratings. "SON OF A BEACH," screamed London's Daily Mail.
"I didn't get any sun today," Christie told reporters at a news conference later in the day in Trenton. Then, when told of the photos, his spokesman told NJ.com that the governor was telling the truth because he was wearing a baseball hat.
"It’s beyond words,” Republican Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno said on Twitter. She’s running for governor. “If I were gov, sure wouldn’t be sitting on beach if taxpayers didn’t have access to state beaches."
Christie, who is term-limited and is heading into his final six months in office with his approval rating at an abysmal 15% was also lambasted for what many saw as a let-them-eat-cake gesture by the state's chief executive.
"Taxpayers can't use the parks and other public sites they pay for, but he and his family can hang out at a beach that no one else can use?" asked Mary Jackson, a Freehold resident walking through a mostly empty downtown near the Capitol in Trenton. "Doesn't he realize how that looks, how people will see it as a slap in the face?"
Apparently not: "That's the way it goes," Christie said Saturday about his family's use of the beach home. "Run for governor, and you can have the residence."
Later, after he was photographed on the beach, he sarcastically called it a "great bit of journalism."
Christie's ratings have been thrown into a nosedive by the bridge scandal, his run for president and his support for Trump. Adding insult to injury, over the past year, he was passed over for vice president, demoted as Trump transition chairman, and denied a top-level administration post of his liking.
To be fair, last week Christie reporters that he would head to the retreat while lawmakers negotiated, and this morning he told Fox News that the media had "actually caught a politician being where he said he was going to be with the people he said he was going to be with, his wife and children and their friends," adding "I am sure they will get a Pulitzer for this one."
Disappointed park visitors, he said, could visit municipal-run beaches elsewhere on the coast, although that particular suggestion would hardly win him any popularity points.
"It is hard to imagine a worse optic for public relations on a hot July day. Pollsters may find out how low approval ratings can go in New Jersey," said Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor Peter Woolley. "Because the story and the photos have gone national, it makes it harder for Christie to rehabilitate his career outside of the state."
Then again, Christie regularly says that the only time popularity counts is when you're running for something — and he's not. "I don't care," he said recently when asked about the fall in his ratings, in what if nothing else was a breath of honesty in a political world gone mad.
And to provie it, Christie on Monday morning began retweeting posts by some of those towns promoting their beaches. "Come and enjoy them," the governor tweeted, "but use sunscreen and hydrate."
NJ beaches are open in 119 of our our 130 miles of coastline. Come and enjoy them--but use sunscreen and hydrate! pic.twitter.com/7LeCYcjZqm— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) July 3, 2017