Will Christie let government shut down (and how will that affect your weekend)?

A pleased Gov. Christie answers a question after signing legislation raising payments for health and pension benefits on Tuesday. At left is Republican State Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr.; right, Democratic State Senate President Stephen Sweeney.

Everybody in Trenton is trying to read the governor's mind right now. The governor's office has the budget, and all legislative sessions for the day have been cancelled.

The Democrats sent him a budget last night for the fiscal year that begins at midnight. The budget is $1 billion more than Gov. Christie has said he wants to spend, and it comes attached to a tax on millionaires that the gov has repeatedly vowed to veto.

So what will Christie do with the budget? The options:

  • A line-item veto: With his extraordinary powers sitting in the most powerful governor's seat in the country, Christie can simply cancel out the things he doesn't want -- like increased funding for some schools, Medicaid for the poor, family planning centers, tax breaks for seniors -- and be done with it. The budget would be final unless Democratic Legislators decide to try to meet again to override that veto. Meanwhile, conservatives would rejoice, and state parks will be there for your BBQing pleasure on the July 4th weekend.
  • A conditional veto: I can't find anyone who ever remembers this happening before, but one of the other extraordinary powers of the governor is a conditional veto -- we call it a CV here in the Statehouse -- that would send the budget back to Legislature. Christie would use the CV to recommend changes, like addressing the fact that the Democratic legislators think there are hundreds of millions of dollars more available to the state than Christie does. A CV, though, would leave the state without a budget for the new fiscal year, which starts tomorrow, and potentially shut down parts of state government.
  • Absolute veto: This, of course, also leave the state without a budget, and would also lead to a possible government shutdown as the Legislature figures out how to either override that veto or come up with another spending plan. Gov. Jim Florio did this in 1992, the Republicans in the Legislature overrode it and Florio only served one term.

What happens in if there's a government shut down?

Essential governmental functions, like state police, would still pull you over for speeding. So no worries there. And thanks to a law signed by Gov. Corzine, casinos will remain open.

But your weekend plans could nonetheless be messed up.

Campgrounds and picnic areas and beaches on state parks could close. Like Island Beach State Park down the Shore. Or Liberty State Park, the most used state park in the country. On July 4th weekend, no less. Such a move would be politically risky, obvi, but might appeal to conservatives sick and tired of excessive government spending.

This happened for six days in 2006. As we reported at the time: 

It furloughed more than half the state government 's workforce, cost New Jersey millions in revenue, disrupted horse racing, and kicked vacationers off state beaches and campgrounds.

And it ripped apart Trenton's ruling Democratic Party, whose leaders battled over whether to raise the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent.

Elsewhere today, Minnesota might be moving toward a similar shut down after budget talks there stalled. Of the 46 states with fiscal years beginning tomorrow, 38 have budgets so far, if you're keeping track at home.