Assembly votes — Keep governors out of Island Beach State Park during shutdowns
A trio of bills written in response to the recent partial state government shutdown, including one restricting future governors from using the state’s Island Beach State Park beach house during a budget impasse, sailed through the Assembly Monday.
The Assembly scheduled its session largely so it could pass a bill granting back pay to an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 state workers who were furloughed during the shutdown.
While it was in town, it also voted to pass 16 other bills and resolutions – including one that would keep state parks open for a week if there’s another shutdown, as well as the one about keeping governors out of Island Beach State Park if it’s off limits to the general public.
Christie, in what turned out to be the enduring image from the shutdown, and his family used the beach house during the shutdown. Though it had been long planned and publicly announced, the decision triggered widespread criticism, even from Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
“You would think that a governor of this state would know better than to utilize the very facilities that this state government’s inability to come up with an appropriations act closed down,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, the bill’s sponsor.
“If we can’t agree here in Trenton on an appropriations act, then the governor can stay in Drumthwacket. If he has his own private residence, he can stay there,” Wisniewski said. “But he can’t rub salt in the wounds of the people of the state of New Jersey by going to what I would consider a needless excess, the state beach house.”
The bill passed 64-2 with 2 abstentions. Twenty-one of Christie’s fellow Republicans voted for it, with only Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce, R-Morris, and Assemblyman Kevin Rooney, R-Bergen, voting against it.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, voted to abstain, as did Assemblyman Joe Howarth, R-Burlington.
“My feeling was it’s pure politics. I understand that the appearance of someone using the beach house while the beach is closed is obviously not good public relations,” said Bramnick, who said the Legislature should focus on issues such as limiting court-imposed affordable housing.
“We’re here, we’re the highest taxed state in the country, and we’re concentrating on politics. We’ve got to get back to policy,” Bramnick said. “But I understand the perception is bad.”
When the Legislature was unable to approve a budget by June 30, largely because of Christie’s push for an unrelated measure changing how Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield is regulated, the state entered fiscal 2018 without a spending plan, and Christie shut the government for three days.
Some 35,000 state workers lost a day’s pay, and in some cases more than that, during the partial shutdown. Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio, D-Mercer, said workers didn’t cause the shutdown.
“I’m going to take the governor at his word that he will sign this bill into law as soon as possible,” Muoio said.
Another bill that passed unanimously would keep state parks, beaches and historical sites open for a week if there’s another shutdown, as has already been done for casinos since the first shutdown in 2006.
Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex, said that would avoid spoiling residents’ July 4th weekend plans.
“The timing could never be worse. It goes right into the biggest holiday weekend, July 4th, when the parks are the fullest, and it just isn’t equitable,” McKeon said.
“The people left in the wake are those who avail themselves of our state parks, our state beaches,” he said. “And in most instances, those are the folks that can least afford other alternative types of vacations. So I just think that’s unfair that they’re held hostage.”
“This is all about the families that save all year for that vacation in Stokes Forest and have to send the Winnebago back because they don’t have a place to park it. It’s about that carload of kids that for $20 can go to Island Beach State Park and cool down, and see the fireworks at Liberty State Park,” McKeon said. “It’s all about that. It’s about the citizens of the state who deserve better.”
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