New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the lawmakers including Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto are in a stalemate over whether to include legislation affecting the state’s largest health insurer into the state budget.
He and Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney agree on legislation to make over Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, including allowing the state insurance commissioner to determine a range for the company’s surplus that if exceeded must be put to use benefiting the public and policyholders.
But Prieto opposes the plan, saying that the legislation could lead to rate hikes on the insurer’s 3.8 million subscribers and that the legislation is separate from the budget.
Christie reiterated his stance during a news conference Saturday, calling the standoff “embarrassing and pointless.” He also repeatedly referred to the government closure as “the speaker’s shutdown.”
Christie later announced that he would address the full legislature later at the statehouse on Saturday.
Prieto and state senate leaders planned to hold separate news conferences too.
Prieto said he will leave open a vote on the $34.7 billion budget that remains deadlocked 26-25, with 24 abstentions, until those 24 abstentions change their mind.
Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, of Northfield, was among those abstaining. He reasoned that if the governor did not get the Horizon bill, then nearly $150 million in school funding — $9.6 million of which would go to his district — would be line-item vetoed out of the budget.
And indeed, Christie said Friday he would slash the Democratic spending priorities if he did not get the Horizon bill as part of a package deal on the budget.
“It seems like he’s just being stubborn,” Mazzeo said of Prieto. “With all due respect to the speaker, then there should be some type of negotiations.”
But Prieto said it’s lawmakers — fellow Democrats — like Mazzeo who are to blame for the shutdown. He said he is willing to discuss the Horizon legislation but after the budget is resolved.
Christie has balked at the proposal because he says lawmakers plan to leave town to campaign for re-election and he will be a lame duck.