Inching toward a deal to enact budget, end N.J. shutdown

 A sign on the door at the Motor Vehicle Commission facility in Cherry Hill lays the blame for the government shut down on Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A sign on the door at the Motor Vehicle Commission facility in Cherry Hill lays the blame for the government shut down on Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

New Jersey lawmakers who met with the top official of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield Monday afternoon are optimistic that they will resolve the differences that have shut down state government for three days.

But so far lawmakers have disagreed on legislation to tap the surplus funds of the state’s largest insurer to fund statewide anti-addiction efforts, a bill championed by Gov. Chris Christie.

The Republican refuses to sign the Democrats’ budget as is unless the Legislature passes a bill on Horizon.

Horizon chairman Robert Marino called his meeting with Sen. President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto “productive.

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“I do appreciate the opportunity to have met with them and expressed my concerns with the bill. I think it was a good conversation,” said Marino. “There were a lot of open minds in that room, and we’ll see where we go from here.”

A firm deal, however, remained elusive, said Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, late Monday afternoon.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re any closer. I’d say we’re not farther apart. We had a good conversation today,” he said. “So it’s going to continue. We’re going to be here until we can get this done.”

Vitale and Prieto, D-Hudson, said legislative staff members are working on the language of a potential bill.

Sweeney said he is hopeful the legislation will be ready for lawmakers to consider soon but acknowledged that the shutdown would likely continue for a few days.

“It couldn’t end today if we wanted it to. Because, if we could get something done, you’d have to draft a bill, you’d have to have a hearing on the bill,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “We could get moving tomorrow, but then you’d have to get emergencies in both houses in order to vote on a bill tomorrow.”

All indications are that state-owned parks and beaches, recreation areas, and historic sites will be closed for the Fourth of July holiday.

For some residents, the damage from the shutdown had already been done.

Philadelphia resident Roger Eardley-Pryor has been anticipating a camping trip near the Delaware Water Gap. But then he got an email from the state park saying the campsite was closed.

“I was a little disappointed. Frankly, I was a little pissed,” said Eardley-Pryor. “We made these big plans to have a fun Fourth of July weekend out in the woods, get out of the city, be out in nature. And this dysfunctional government just seems to be biting people in the butt.”

The shutdown also led to the closure of motor vehicle agencies and tourism centers. Residents could not get copies of birth and marriage certificates and other important documents. State workers were furloughed.

“[There are] a lot of crude ways to describe it … but it’s a farce,” said Phil McKeaney of Pennsauken. “The greater good is to open up the government, so somebody’s got to move.”

Getting the picture

Social media lit up with anger over the weekend after NJ Advance Media, which owns The Star-Ledger, published photos of Christie relaxing on a state-owned beach that was closed to the public.

He was at a Shore house on Island Beach State Park provided to him by the state, and says he announced his plans to spend the weekend with his family days earlier.

“They actually caught a politician being where he said he was going to be with the people he said he was going to be with,” said Christie on Fox 5 in New York. “I’m sure they’re going to get a Pulitzer for this one. They caught me!”

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