Chris Christie Feels the Heat for Beach Weekend as Budget Shutdown Continues

By Kate King Features Dow Jones Newswires

With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie under escalating criticism for his state's three-day government shutdown, Democratic lawmakers struggled Monday to work out a deal to end the impasse.

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The Republican governor shut down state government after lawmakers missed Friday's deadline to pass a balanced budget. The move closed state parks and beaches over the Fourth of July weekend and furloughed more than 30,000 state workers. State courts and many administrative state agencies were closed but essential workers, including the state police, remained on duty.

Democratic lawmakers offered varying degrees of optimism Monday afternoon about progress on a deal to end a dispute with Mr. Christie over a bill that would give the state more control over New Jersey's largest insurer. That is the main sticking point.

"We're making progress," Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said.

But another legislator involved in the meetings, Democratic Sen. Joe Vitale, said, "I wouldn't say that we're any closer. I'd say that we're not farther apart."

Meanwhile, Mr. Christie drew national attention and much criticism after the Star-Ledger, one of New Jersey's largest daily newspapers, photographed him on Sunday sitting with family and friends on an otherwise empty beach at Island Beach State Park. The park, which houses a state-owned residence used by the governor, was closed to the public during the shutdown.

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Mr. Christie's top deputy, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, delivered her harshest criticism to date of her boss, saying in a Facebook post Monday that the photos were "beyond words" and calling for an end to the shutdown.

"If I were governor, I sure wouldn't be sitting on the beach if taxpayers didn't have access to state beaches," said Ms. Guadagno, who is running as the Republican nominee to succeed Mr. Christie.

The governor, who previously had told reporters he planned to spend the weekend at the closed park, pushed back against the criticism on Monday in morning television interviews.

"They actually caught a politician being where he was going to be with the people he said he was going to be with," Mr. Christie said in an interview with Fox 5 New York.

The shutdown stems from a dispute between Mr. Christie and Democratic lawmakers over legislation that would give the state broader oversight and more financial control of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state's largest insurer.

Mr. Prieto, a Democrat, has refused to put the legislation up for a vote in his chamber. Without it, Mr. Christie said, he would use his line-item veto power to slash much of the more than $300 million in additional spending, for schools and social services, that Democrats have added to his original budget proposal.

On Wednesday, Horizon Chief Executive Robert Marino met privately with lawmakers in Trenton. "Horizon didn't ask to be in the middle of this situation but I do appreciate the opportunity to have met with them and expressed my concerns with the bill," he said afterward.

The not-for-profit insurer has strongly opposed the proposed legislative intervention, which executives said would make it less competitive and possibly force them to raise premiums.

Write to Kate King at Kate.King@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 03, 2017 18:36 ET (22:36 GMT)