NJ Shutdown — Want to Punish the Legislature? Here’s How, Assemblyman Says
TRENTON — An Assemblyman thinks he has a way to pressure his peers to end the budget standoff at the Statehouse.
The state Senate has approved a budget, but two efforts to pass the budget have sputtered in the Assembly. Many Democrats are refusing to vote for the budget unless separate legislation, strongly backed by Gov. Chris Christie, impacting Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield is considered as well — a move Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto says he won't entertain.
"We should vote today on (a) bill that fines legislators $250 a day for not passing a budget. That would get legislators to talk to each other," Republican Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick tweeted.
The board is still open in the Assembly for members to change their votes and support the bill, and has been since around 7:20 p.m. Friday. However, with government shut down the chamber is empty and nobody’s really around.
Prieto refuses to introduce the bill, which Christie insists get a vote. Some members are reluctant to vote on the budget, over worries that Christie will follow through on his threat to line-item veto many education spending items if the Horizon bill fails.
"I've learned in life if you have no skin in the game you're not as committed as people who do have skin in the game. If you have to pay $250 penalty a day for closing down the government personally, I bet you'd come to the table and talk as opposed to everybody not liking each other and have a reason not to talk," Bramnick told New Jersey 101.5
The Union County Assemblyman said just like state employees, legislators should lose something financially during the shutdown — just as other state employees won't be paid until the government starts back up.
"I think it should be a bigger loss than the average state employee," Bramnick said.
"I think I'm going to amend it and make it $500 a day and the third week $1,000 a day. I would say 'Get your rear ends in Trenton, everybody. And everyone in a room until you solve the problem. No hiding, no going to the beach, no riding your bicycle. You're in Trenton. Figure it out or get fined. There's always middle ground."
The rules of the Assembly state that all members "shall promptly attend meetings of the General Assembly" but there is no penalty for not attending.
"Can you imagine a business operating like this? It's ridiculous," Bramnick said.
The Senate legislation requires Horizon to publish financial information and elect public board members. It gives the state insurance commissioner the ability to set a range for the company's surplus, which the company must use to benefit policy holders and the public if the limit is exceeded. That final change would not take effect until after Christie leaves office.
The legislation is a change from what Christie initially sought, which was to tap into the insurer's $2.4 billion surplus to finance opioid addiction treatment.
Michael Symons and the Associated Press contributed to this report