TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie said he flew on a state helicopter and plans to fly back again Sunday to a shuttered state park where his family is staying at the state-owned governor’s residence there amid a government shutdown that showed little sign of ending.
Christie said Sunday at a news conference in Trenton where he worked without result to end the shutdown that he flew on a state chopper to the residence at Island Beach State Park on Saturday and plans to fly back there on Sunday.
“That’s where my family is sleeping so that’s where I’ll sleep,” he said. “When I have a choice between sleeping with my family or sleeping alone, I generally like to sleep where my family is.”
Christie defended his use of the state property during the shutdown that affected the public, which is being kept out of state parks with signs blaming Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, on Saturday, saying: “That’s the way it goes. Run for governor and you can have the residence.”
Christie also said Sunday that he’s “frustrated” by the shutdown and is open to making a deal to re-open government.
Few lawmakers were around the statehouse Sunday, and Christie said that unless he sent state police to retrieve them he could not force them to be there.
Christie, for the second time, referred to himself as “Mr. Reasonable” and said he would consider either the Democratic budget along with legislation to overhaul the state’s biggest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. Or without the Horizon legislation he has called for, he would line-item veto about $350 million of the Democratic priorities.
“It should end today. Send me a budget,” he said. “I’m ready to work but I can’t work if I don’t have any money. These guys have to get their act together.”
Also on Sunday, Democratic Senate President Steve, who’s allied with Christie, called for a meeting with lawmakers and Horizon’s CEO to try to hash out a way forward.
Horizon said in a statement that CEO Bob Marino would attend. Horizon opposes Christie and Sweeney’s proposal.
Christie also said he would order the Legislature to return Monday after ordering it to do so Saturday and Sunday as well.
Democrats are splintered over the impasse, with Prieto opposed to the plan and Sweeney in favor.
The term-limited, unpopular governor blames the shutdown on Prieto, who continues to hold open a vote on the Assembly floor on the $34.7 billion budget that remains deadlocked with 27 yes votes, shy of the 41 needed to succeed.
Democrats who are abstaining say they worry about Christie line-item vetoing education funding from the budget.
Christie ordered the shutdown of nonessential state services, like parks and motor vehicle offices, on Friday after he and lawmakers failed to agree on terms.
Christie had demanded that lawmakers pass Senate-approved legislation to make over Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, but on Sunday said he’d re-open the government under either scenario.
Over the weekend, the public began feeling the effects of the shutdown.
Among those affected were a group of Cub Scouts forced to leave a state park campsite and people trying to obtain or renew documents from the state motor vehicle commission.
Remaining open under the shutdown are New Jersey Transit, state prisons, the state police, state hospitals and treatment centers as well as casinos, race tracks and the lottery.
Liberty State Park was closed, forcing the suspension of ticket sales and ferry service from the site to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. But the latter two sites remain open.
The Senate legislation that Christie backs requires the company to publish financial information and elect public board members. It gives the state insurance commissioner the ability to set a range for the company’s surplus, which the company must use to benefit policy holders and the public if the limit is exceeded. That final change would not take effect until after Christie leaves office.
The legislation is a change from what Christie initially sought, which was to tap into the insurer’s $2.4 billion surplus to finance opioid addiction treatment.
But Prieto says he’s concerned about tweaking the state’s biggest insurer, which is a nonprofit that has four board members appointed by the governor, at a time when congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump are contemplating overhauling the Affordable Care Act.
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