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New Jersey Dems Divided and Christie Declares Victory as Budget Deal Done

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, uses the beach with his family and friends at the governor's summer house at Island Beach State Park in New Jersey on July 2, 2017, while beaches were closed to the public during a government shutdown. (Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media via AP)

Chris Christie’s family can invite some friends to the beach now that their patriarch who happens to be the Republican governor of New Jersey has signed a state budget deal.

But still up for debate is who won the spending plan showdown highlighted by Christie closing the beaches of New Jersey faster than that Steven Spielberg’s sharks shut down the beaches of Amity Island.

Christie signed the multi-billion budget deal early Tuesday morning. As a result, New Jersey parks and beaches, which were shut down July 1-3, were able to open for the Fourth of July holiday.

Budget negotiations between the state Assembly and the state Senate deadlocked as June ended over the issue of state control of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield and the demand that $300 million of Horizon’s reserves be used to pay for opioid addiction therapy.

Christie refused to sign the budget without a separate Horizon bill. He also pulled the plug on all non-essential state services, parks and beaches.

Many in New Jersey were as outraged as was Mayor Larry Vaughn when Chief Brody closed the beaches of Amity for the Fourth of July and vandals damaged the Amity Island sign.

The Senate agreed to Christie’s demand. But the Assembly refused.

“It is all about who has the biggest muscles, or who has the biggest you-know-what,” Sen. Loretta Weinberg told the Star-Ledger.

But size of the waves aside, a compromise was reached, and the 2018 budget was signed.

The New York Times reported Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield maintained its autonomy and will provide no money for opioid programs.

So Christie and his ally, Sen. Steve Sweeney, lost, right?

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D), who refused to do put the onus of opioid addiction treatment on the back of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, won that battle. And he had the opportunity to issue a statement the day after Christie signed the budget in which Prieto criticized the governor’s line-item vetoes.

“Eliminating language requiring the preschool expansion money be spent on districts with high concentrations of at-risk children is yet another glimpse at Gov. Christie’s bad character – and why he should have never been trusted,” Prieto said.

“Anyone who contends Gov. Christie is an honest man has spent too much time sitting in the sun with him or in traffic on the George Washington Bridge,” Prieto added.

Brian Murray, Christie’s press secretary, issued a statement in which he accused Prieto of lying.

“The governor never agreed to sign an unbalanced budget by preserving every additional spending request sneakily tucked into the budget and not paid for by revenue. Speaker Prieto’s statement is false and all the honest parties to our agreement know it,” Murray said.

However, Prieto wasn’t the only New Jersey resident upset with Christie because of the deadlocked budget. Christie’s decision to close state parks and beaches hit New Jersey right where it vacationed.

Whether Senate President Sweeney (D) or Assembly Speaker Prieto was responsible for the Horizon issue that roadblocked the budget, much of New Jersey’s anger was directed for a couple of days at Christie and his family as they parked beach chairs, coolers, and themselves onto one of the closed state beaches.

“’Gov. Christie, get the h—- off the beach!’ read the banner headline over the Asbury Park Press story on the New Jersey First Family’s day at the shore.

That led to Christie’s let-them-eat-cake moment when he responded to New Jersey’s outrage at pictures of his family on the beach by telling the Good Day Philadelphia Fox TV show, “I’m sorry they’re not the governor.”

But once the budget was signed and everyone could go to the beach, Christie declared victory.

He celebrated with a tweet in which he announced the $34.7 billion spending plan gave him “2 full terms of unprecedented pension stability, fiscal responsibility & tax relief.”

Sweeney described the 2018 budget as “the best in the last 10 years” in a Star-Ledger op-ed.

“The last two weeks were punctuated by political posturing, misleading TV ads and a frustrating and completely unnecessary state government shutdown,” Sweeney wrote. “But what really counts is the budget we passed, and what it means to the lives of the 8.7 million residents of our state.”

Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran advised his readers to blame the usual culprit for dysfunction in Trenton: Testosterone poisoning.

“This is about boys and their egos. There is no grand principle at stake. The key combatants could easily resolve their differences by cutting the loaf in half,” Moran wrote three days before the 2018 budget was finally signed. “But testosterone hates compromise, and loves a clean victory.”