Small progress in budget standstill as one NJ assemblyman changes vote
TRENTON — The board that counts votes in the Assembly chamber stayed largely as it was on Sunday from where it was when the government shutdown began with one small difference, a vote moving from the abstention list to those voting in favor of the budget.
Assemblyman James Kennedy from Rahway said that while he knows it may take longer for some of his colleagues to move on the budget he did what he believed was right, and was going back to where he originally stood on the budget.
Kennedy said after he first cast his vote he noticed the rest of the votes made what he described as a "Christmas tree."
"It was divided almost in thirds," he said. "I believe there were 27 yes votes and 25 no votes and then 22 abstentions."
After 30 minutes of seeing very little movement on the votes Kennedy said he changed his vote to abstain when he realized things were at a standstill.
"The speaker asked me why I had changed my vote, and I told him that we need to go back and negotiate some sort of settlement," he said. "The message I was sending to leadership was go back in the back room (and negotiate). It doesn't seem like we're so far away from a settlement based on what everybody is saying. There's gotta be something that makes this move."
When members of the assembly asked about the disparity in votes Kennedy said initially they were told that the divide was not related to Governor Chris Christie's plans to overhaul the funding and governance of Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield, but rather to do with "an issue of the governor looking for the newspapers or something else that had been previously talked about."
After a full day passed with little to no movement Kennedy said "It became blatantly obvious that this was about Horizon, and nothing but Horizon."
"I find it difficult to understand why you'd shut down government over an issue that's not even in this particular budget," he said. "So here we are. He's down at a state park and nobody else is and the rest is history."
After two decades as the mayor of Rahway, Kennedy is at the end of his first term in Trenton, and said he has heard the concerns of his constituents.
"Primarily we were hearing anger over the Horizon bill," he said. "There's a great number of people in New Jersey that are covered by them including myself and others."
While the Horizon bill has not yet been presented to the Assembly, Kennedy said he had heard enough talk about it among his colleagues to believe that a compromise could be reached.
"There's room for negotiation and it seems unconscionable to shut down government on Fourth of July weekend," he said.
Even as Kennedy moved to the yes column and there was talk of a second moving on Sunday as well Kennedy said he knows it could be a long process to get to a final resolution.
"I'm a realist. I think you'll see a few more, but I don't see it reaching 41 that easily," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if I saw at the end of the frustration when the public is totally disgusted with the inaction that maybe the 'R's' come over and approve the budget."
Even if the budget is approved Kennedy said he and his colleagues are aware there could be consequences if the Horizon bill is not approved as well.
"Everybody knows the results of that. It's going to be a slash and burn approach instead of realistically looking at this without punishing people whose opinion is different than others," he said. "That's the sad part of government today."
At a time when partisan politics is at a boiling point at all levels of government Kennedy, a Democrat, said he is "a team player to a point, but when it's irrational I'm not."
"There's a lot of Republicans that are like that. There's a lot of Democrats that are like that. And there needs to be some common sense here," he said. "This budget should be approved. I've talked to colleagues on both sides of the aisle that say 'hey, this is as good of a budget as we're going to carve.' They should approve it."
When the shutdown comes to an end and the government reopens Kennedy said there will still be plenty of work for the legislature to do.
"Then you go back to governing," he said. "It's last week's news and there'll be new issues to deal with. It's not like the state isn't suffering from important things to deal with."
Christie has called for a special session of both houses of the legislature for 10 a.m. on Monday morning to address the shutdown and budget standstill.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com