By John Celock
New Jersey lawmakers have advanced bills that could prevent the shuttering of state parks and the use of the governor’s beach house in future state government shutdowns.
The state Assembly voted Monday to advance bills that would require that state parks not be closed for the first week of a government shutdown and bar the governor from using a state owned beach house during a shutdown, along with paying state employees for time lost during the shutdown. The passage comes after anger directed at Gov. Chris Christie (R) for his use of the beach house in a state park closed to the public during the shutdown earlier this month.
“We saw in the recent shutdown that one person was not affected. There were families planning to go to Island Beach State Park,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), the sponsor of the beach house bill, said. “The governor decided to rub salt in the wounds of all those families.”
The bills are the after effect of the state government shutdown from July 1 to 4 following lawmakers’ failure to pass a state budget by the July 1 deadline. The shutdown followed an impasse between legislative leaders and Christie over a bill Christie sought regarding the state’s largest insurer, Horizon Blue Cross/ Blue Shield of New Jersey.
Christie indicated that he would not cancel a family vacation at the state owned beach house at Island Beach State Park, which was closed for the shutdown. A photographer on a plane hired by the Star Ledger caught Christie and his family relaxing on the empty beach in front of the house. Christie later returned to Trenton to meet with legislative leaders.
The photographs of Christie and his family on the beach prompted widespread criticism of the term-limited governor, including Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, pledging to sell the beach house if elected governor in November. Christie has defended his use of the beach house.
Wisniewski’s bill would not prohibit governors from using Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion in Princeton, during future shutdowns. Christie does not reside in the mansion.
Other bills passed by the Assembly would provide pay for state employees for the shutdown, a practice also done during the state’s 2006 shutdown, along with delaying the shuttering of state parks. The bill would require that state parks remain open during the first week of a future shutdown. With New Jersey’s fiscal year starting July 1, shutdowns related to failure to pass a budget fall over the Fourth of July holiday.
Following the 2006 shutdown, the state declared casino inspectors “essential employees” preventing a future shutdown closing casinos in Atlantic City, which occurred in 2006.