New Jersey is embroiled in a budget crisis that has closed state parks and most state agencies.
The state doesn't have a budget, largely because Democrats can't agree on spending priorities and the legislation that would enable the state to move beyond the impasse.
State Senate President Steven Sweeney (a Democrat) agrees with Governor Chris Christie that the state should tap the reserves of Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield to help pay for medical care for the state's neediest and for drug rehab treatment programs. And a companion bill would allow the state to use state lottery funds to pay for state employee pensions. But Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (also a Democrat) opposes this solution, particularly the use of Horizon funds, even though Horizon is a non-profit which was created by state statute and is regulated by the state.
The Christie-Sweeney approach has won the day in the Senate and also has half the Democrats in the Assembly behind it. But that's not enough to budge Prieto who won't let the Assembly bills move forward.
Prieto and Sweeney (remember, they're both Democrats, one from North Jersey and one from South Jersey) have never really seen eye-to-eye. And, Prieto's leadership is being challenged in his own party -- so much so that his survival as Speaker beyond 2017 is considered unlikely.
Sweeney looks like the iron workers union leader that he is. He sports a thinning hairline and distinctive suspenders that frame his ample torso.
Prieto looks like the construction code official that he is. We keep thinking that somewhere along the line his mane and mustache have been subjected to a bad dye job.
And Governor Christie? Well, he's his usual brash self.
Lately, the Governor has been at the center of some very bad optics. And people keep asking us: Amidst all this, why would the Governor be sitting on the beach with his family, using a state beachfront residence in the middle of a "closed to the public" state park? And why would he be using a state police helicopter to shuttle back and forth to Trenton?
Officially, Governor Christie's explanation goes something like this: I'm ready to sign a budget once the Democrats agree on one so long as it meets the criteria I've outlined and I'm open to discussion. I'm ready and I'm available on a moment's notice. Until then, as Governor, I can avail myself of the perks of the office as other governors have done. I'm here in New Jersey with my family and I'm still on the job.
But of course the media are having a field day with photos of the Gov and his family on a "closed" state beach. This, despite the fact that Island Beach (part of a state park) is the only beach that is closed. More than 120 miles of public beaches are still open and being enjoyed by the public all weekend.
So, what's going on here?
First, the media (state and national) are still sour on Christie. Second, if we are to believe the polls (not always reliable, folks) Christie's approval rating has totally tanked. Third, Christie is a lame duck. Both Democrats and Republicans know this. And, there's nothing more frustrating in politics than being a lame duck and watching the time drift away as you try to remain relevant.
Governor Christie understands all this.
He knows how to tell time and he knows how to count.
Despite his best efforts not to be shadowed by the GW Bridge imbroglio, he wound up being stalked by the scandal. His campaign for president proved unsuccessful. He was never tapped by President Trump for whatever cabinet post he may or may not have been eyeing. And now, the clock is ticking on his tenure in New Jersey.
You've got to imagine that Governor Christie has about had it with the liberal Democrat circus in Trenton and its revolving parade of ringmasters. And, after many significant accomplishments (including a cap on local property tax hikes, historic pension reform and a cut in the state sales tax) maybe Christie even feels like he's received little or no credit or gratitude for his yeoman's work.
Think about it: You fight Big Battles for causes you perceive to be in the public interest and you do all this against the odds, with a Democrat legislature and you [mostly] win. And you wind up being depicted as the object of disdain and the butt of jokes. Damn!
Yes, right now, Christie's getting it from all sides. Just enough Dems are willing to thwart his best efforts. The media have made him their favorite target. The public would just as soon blame him. And even some state Republicans have abandoned him.
Hey, we're not asking for you to feel sorry for the Governor no more than he would ask the same. He'd be the first to remind us that he's all grown up and he can handle it.
He understands that's it's a tough job and a rough 'n tumble business that he's in.
But he also has his priorities in order. And who can blame him if he wants to spend some time alone with his family, enjoying himself and his wife and children while he can?
Not us. Not now. No way!
Because if and when the Dems are ready to make a deal, the Gov will be there. And we're confident he'll do the right thing -- again!