TRENTON — The state Assembly fell short again late Friday evening in a vote to pass a state budget by a midnight deadline.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson, started the vote on the budget bill before 7:25 p.m. The vote has been stuck at 26-25, with 24 voting to abstain, for a while now — but Prieto is keeping the board open, in Statehouse parlance, for an unusually long time. The bill would need 41 votes to pass.

"Trying to keep government open," Prieto said. "So I'm doing my duty to keep government open. We have a budget document that passed both budget committees, both in the Senate and the Assembly. We have budget members that right now are an 'abstain,' and I'm looking to make sure they change their votes. Those members that should be voting on this are holding this budget bill hostage. And that's not right."

At midnight, Prieto gave lawmakers permission to go home, but told them not to go far.

"All right, members, we've reached midnight," Prieto said to a chamber filled with more staffers than legislators. "We're staying in session. The board is staying open. I asked the troopers, and we will formally ask, to keep a watch on the chambers. Members will be allowed in at any time to change their vote. And members, be at two hours call notice to be called back here."

A day of private meetings appears to have changed few minds on the budget or a separate bill imposing changes at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, which Gov. Chris Christie wants as a condition of signing the Democrats' budget. A similar vote Thursday finished at 24-22 before Prieto canceled the vote.

One Republican — Assemblyman Chris Brown — and 25 Democrats have cast votes for the bill. Two Democrats — Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak and Assemblyman Bruce Land — joined 23 Republicans in voting against it. Twenty-two of the 24 abstentions were cast by Democrats holding out for a vote on the Horizon bill.

 

If a budget isn't enacted by midnight, Christie could order all nonessential state services to be temporarily shut down. He hasn't yet specified what that will mean, but it's likely to close state beaches and parks for at least the start of the holiday weekend.

The Ocean County Sheriff's Office announced that Island Beach State Park will be closed Saturday in a Nixle alert sent late Friday night.

Motor Vehicle Commission offices would also likely be closed.

NJ Transit services would not be affected by the vote. Casinos in Atlantic City, which shut during a 2006 shutdown, would remain open.

Friday night's impasse could last for hours. Prieto kept the board open past midnight -- and indicated it could remain so for hours, perhaps long enough to prevent Christie from convening a special session because the Assembly is already in session.

Christie spokesman Brian Murray said Christie would call a special session for 11 a.m. Saturday.

"He has not asked, either formally or informally, for the opportunity to address that session. The governor has no idea why the speaker is denying him the right to give a speech that he hasn’t even asked to give," Murray said. "The governor has called the session not to give speeches but to try to work to convince the speaker to reopen the government that the speaker has closed tonight. The governor will be here early tomorrow to continue to work for the people of New Jersey.”

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