‘How about them apples?’ — Christie closer to using Horizon’s reserve for opioid programs
Early in the show, Christie had been noncommittal about the bill — calling it a "pretty good start" but refusing to explicitly say he'd sign it. With news the bill had advanced, Christie lambasted Horizon for its intense activism and lobbying.
On Monday, dozens of Horizon supporters lined up outside the statehouse to protest Christie's proposal and the plan before the Senate, and a video billboard by the Latino Consumer Alliance as part a public relations campaign against the measures played a video clip on loop outside the state building where legislative hearings were taking place. Horizon public affairs manager Kevin McArdle, a former New Jersey 101.5 employee, estimated about 300 employees were on hand. He said attendance wasn't required.
"What it shows is that people are going to look at the substance of an issue — and not just at the carnival," Christie told Scott.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, who opposes the plan, has said his caucus would not vote for legislation affecting Horizon as part of the under-negotiation state budget.
Horizon is a nonprofit, private health service corporation, with four board members appointed by the governor. It's the state's largest health insurer, with nearly 4 million members.
The bill that advanced through the Senate budget committee on Monday includes adding subscriber-elected members to Horizon's board, in line with Christie's proposal. The bill also would set up a range for Horizon's reserve, with excess being required to come up with a plan to spend down the cash to benefit policyholders.
"That's a lot of money they spent down there today, with video screens and 300 of their employees," Christie said on "Ask The Governor" Monday.
He continued: "They're so concerned about the cost that they pass on to their policy holders — that's what this is all about. Yet they were spending money out their today like they're Goldman Sachs, not a non-profit charitable insurer."
Businessman and publisher Steve Forbes, who has been a vocal opponent of Christie's plan, attacked it during a conference call with reporters on Monday, calling it "political extortion."
"This is a raid by Trenton politicians," Forbes said.
Christie's comments came as the Assembly (by a 9-4 vote) and Senate (by a 9-0 vote) budget committees introduced a roughly $34.7 billion spending plan that must be in place by Friday.
If a balanced budget is not signed before July 1, nonessential state functions would close down. But Lawmakers have expressed reluctance to shut down government.
Christie said Monday he's "not shutting down" the state government and is ready to sign a budget by Friday's deadline. But the governor declined to commit to specifics on the Horizon plan or on other sticking points — he told Scott he wasn't going to negotiate the budget in public.
"I don't believe there is any reason for there to be a government shutdown and if there is I'm not shutting it down," Christie said.
The Senate also approved Christie's legislation to transfer the lottery to the public pension as an asset, which Christie also sought as part of budget negotiations. Prieto says the Assembly would consider the idea.
In return, Prieto has said Christie agreed to Prieto and Sweeney's school funding overhaul, which would provide nearly $200 million, but with unspecified "tweaks" proposed by the governor.
Christie on Friday signed an executive order requiring state agencies to publish opinions and decisions online, a move apparently aimed at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, which was fined $15.5 million for Medicaid contract violations.
Christie spotlighted the citations against the insurer last week over its Medicaid contract compliance with the state, which the governor said predates his effort to use Horizon's surplus.
Christie didn't share the citations, and an attempt to obtain the documents through an Open Public Records Act request resulted in a response that said contractual obligations prevented the release of the documents but that the administration was reaching out to Horizon to try to release them.
Friday's executive order was retroactive.
This is Christie's final budget. The term-limited, two-term governor will leave office January after the Nov. 7 election.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has not weighed in on the budget, but Democratic nominee Phil Murphy has called Christie's Horizon proposal a "raid" and added that Democrats need more time to vet the proposal.
— Associated Press reports and additional reporting by Louis C. Hochman