(CN) – A government shutdown hit New Jersey at full speed Monday as aerial footage caught Gov. Chris Christie enjoying use of a beach he closed to the public this weekend, while his constituents scrambled to reschedule travel plans for the Fourth of July holiday.
The shutdown began Saturday night when Republican Christie and the Democratic-led Legislature failed to come to terms about reforming New Jersey’s largest insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, before the state’s budget expired.
Christie, who will leave office this year after finishing out his second term, favored a bill that would allow the state’s insurance commissioner to determine a range for Horizon’s surplus that if exceeded must be used to benefit the public and policyholders.
Though Christie wanted to use the money to fund opiate treatment centers, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto says Horizon’s 3.8 million subscribers could face rate hikes sparked by the legislation.
Prieto wanted the Horizon legislation separated from the budget, but Christie warned that, if the Horizon bill wasn’t sent to his desk along with this year’s budget, he would line veto $350 million in funding out of the state’s budget for schools, legal aid for the poor and other programs favored by Democrats.
Neither the Senate and Assembly have even voted on the budget, in reaction to the threat from Christie, whose approval rating is hovering at historic lows around 15 percent.
Though all state-run parks and beaches were closed over the stalemate Saturday night, a local news crew photographed Christie enjoying the sunshine with his family the following afternoon at his official summer house on Island Beach State Park.
Fueling public furor over the photos, Christie stunned Garden Staters in a Sunday press conference by denying that he “got any sun.” When shown the photographs contradicting that claim, a spokesman for the governor held firm: “He did not get any sun. He had a baseball hat on.”
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, running in November to succeed Christie, called the photos “beyond words.”
“I sure wouldn’t be sitting on the beach if taxpayers didn’t have access to state beaches,” Guadagno said in a statement.
Christie meanwhile defended his presence on the beach this morning on Fox5 New York.
“That’s the way it goes,” he said. “Run for governor, and you can have the residence.”
Monday was the first day courthouses and almost all state offices were closed, and 30,000 public workers have been furloughed over the budget woes. Essential services like police, NJ Transit and prisons continue to operate, as do the state’s racetracks and casinos, thanks to a 2006 law.
A Fourth of July fireworks display at Jersey City’s Liberty State Park has already been moved farther up the Hudson River to just north of the park’s entrance as a result of the shutdown.
Despite talks at the Statehouse this afternoon, State President Stephen Sweeney told the Star Ledger on Monday that the standoff will likely keep state parks closed on July 4.
Maine and Illinois have also suffered similar fates due to budget woes, forcing their governments to partially shut as well.