Few signs of progress as second day of government shutdown comes to a close

Day two in Trenton during the government shutdown progressed much the same way as day one.

Day two in Trenton during the government shutdown progressed much the same way as day one, with a lot of words but very little action. The most notable development came early in the day when Asm. James Kennedy switched his vote on the budget from an ‘abstain’ to a ‘yes’, giving Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto 27 of the 41 votes that he needs with Assemblyman Gary Schaer expected to be the 28th ‘yes’ vote at some point Sunday night or early Monday.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, who has proposed a bill that would fine legislators $250 a day for every day that the budget isn’t passed, told NJTV News this morning he believes that the only way to settle this is for everyone to get together and talk it out.

“My opinion is the governor, Speaker Prieto, [Senate] President Sweeney, Tom Kean and myself should be in one room … nobody leaves. You have to talk to each other … This separate news conferences and press conferences where everybody complains about everybody else, I think it’s childish,” he said.

But the minority leader would not get his wish, as his comments were followed by a full day of separate press conferences. Each of the three men at the center of this imbroglio spoke to the media at separate times throughout the day to state their case.

Senate President Steve Sweeney was the first to call a conference, telling reporters “enough is enough”. The Senate president demanded a meeting take place tomorrow between himself, the Assembly Speaker, and Bob Marino, the President and CEO of Horizon (and NJTV Trustee) to see if a compromise bill could be worked out.

“Horizon’s CEO Bob Marino will absolutely attend the meeting,” said Horizon Spokesman Kevin McCardle, “and looks forward to hearing how our concerns and the concerns voiced by New Jersey’s business, labor, and reform communities can be addressed … “.

The Speaker accepted the Senate President’s invitation as well and the meeting is set for 1 p.m. on Monday at the State House.

The governor was the next to stand behind a podium and address the beleaguered State House press corps. He gave a quick update on the status of the shutdown and then immediately began to make his case as to why the shutdown falls squarely on the shoulders of the Assembly speaker.

“I want everybody to understand, and I said this today to all of the leaders of the Legislature, the Legislature is making a choice here,” said the governor, “This government is not open because I can’t constitutionally let it be open. I don’t have any money … I told them that I will sign a budget if they send it to me. If they send it to me with Horizon, I’ll sign the budget as passed by the budget committees. If they send it to me without Horizon, I will sign the budget and exercise my constitutional authority to reduce the size of the budget to be much more like the budget I proposed and sent to them in February of 2017. But either way, if they sent me a budget today, the shutdown would be over. It is the legislature that is choosing not to send me either budget.”

The governor went on to reiterate his openness to a new deal but also discussed his hesitations with a compromise that the speaker has proposed, which would see the Assembly take up the Horizon bill after the budget has been passed.

Speaker Prieto was the last to call a press conference to correct what he said were “alternative facts” pushed by the governor in his press conference. The speaker reiterated his position, which has not wavered, that the Horizon legislation would not be taken up until after the budget was passed and the Assembly could properly vet the bill. He also shifted blame back to Christie, claiming again that the governor was holding the budget hostage to get what he wants.

“This body, the Assembly,” said the Speaker, “is the only one trying to pass a budget, to get government going again.”

The day concluded without a deal being reached, and with neither side giving an inch. There is some optimism that a compromise may come out of the meeting between Legislators and Horizon tomorrow, but there were few at the State House who would offer any hope that a final deal was in sight. Tomorrow will see the pressure heightened as 30,000 to 35,000 state workers will be furloughed.