New Jersey’s government shutdown may soon fade into a distant memory, but one image from it has taken on a life of its own: a photo of Gov. Christie and his entourage lounging on a state beach closed to the commoners who fund it.
He might as well have been raising a pointed digit of his hand at state residents who had planned to hit the beaches for some Fourth of July fun. More deeply, Christie’s insensitivity reflected the crude power games the governor was playing to get his way with the state budget.
Failing to get the Legislature to tap an unusual source of funds before the June 30 budget deadline, he closed state beaches and non-essential offices. But in the end his gambit failed. He won nothing.
Christie’s bill would have raided Horizon Blue Cross’ reserves for $300 million to ostensibly fund opioid addiction treatment and whatever else the state wanted to use the money for.
Showing compassion for those lost to addiction would have been a fine legacy. But Christie’s inability to control his apparent need to push people and institutions around hurt his chances. Instead, he lost plenty.
A Star-Ledger photo of the governor sitting in a sand chair with his wife, family, and friends on an otherwise empty beach has become a popular internet meme.
One of the funnier images on Twitter has him in his chair superimposed near the cast of the old “Jersey Shore” TV show. Another has him sitting near the toppled torso of the Statue of Liberty in the final scene of the movie “Planet of the Apes.
Before Christie’s Blue Cross tantrum, the Republican governor and Democratic-controlled Legislature seemed to be in synch. They had agreed to use state lottery funds to help shore up the state’s sagging pension fund. The proposed budget didn’t raise taxes. Democrats got more funds for schools.
The hard work to clean up other financial issues would be left for the next governor’s arrival in January. That person must end a years-long stalemate over what spending cuts and revenue measures should be taken to meet the state’s needs.
Rather than making that heavy lift, Christie raided various funds to balance his budgets. When that didn’t work, he overestimated revenue projections. When those funds were depleted, he went after Horizon’s reserves.
In the end, all sides emerged from this past week’s drama to say they had a deal that made everyone winners. That’s simply not true.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) looked like a winner because he had the good grace to water down an outrageous bill that would have eventually raised rates on Horizon’s 3.8 million subscribers. That clinched the deal.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson) looked like a winner because he broke the Statehouse’s habit of caving in to Christie and protected state residents who need health insurance.
Christie boasted that he, too, was a winner. But that was a fib, just like the fib that he didn’t get any sun when there’s the photo splashed across social media and news sites of him chilling on the beach.
There was no dignity in Christie’s actions. He lost the game he tried to play. That makes him a loser.