TRENTON – As he prepared to head into a closed door meeting with Bob Marino of Horizon, Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) and other legislative leaders, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) talked to reporters and voiced optimism about striking an agreement to reopen state government.
“No one wants to see anything like that,” he said, when asked if failed talks might spark an attempt by South Jersey and others to remove Prieto from his leadership position. “I’m not promoting that. These groups [brought] me here for their funding.”
He gestured to the heads of different organizations, Legal Services and Catholic Charities among them, that stand to lose funding if lawmakers can’t reach a deal. Prieto has said consistently that he does not favor the Horizon restructuring bill authored by state Senator Joe Vitale (D-19) and backed by Governor Chris Christie and Sweeney, and sees it as opening the possibility for a money grab by a governor that does not have the public trust.
“Come on, we’re all plotting to take over Horizon – now you’re getting into conspiracy,” Sweeney countered NJTV news reporter David Cruz.
The senate president would not comment on photos of the governor taken at Island Beach State Park, but continued to sound apprehension about giving the governor the chance to line item veto portions of the budget if the assembly does not pass the Horizon restructuring bill.
“He is at 15% approval,” said Sweeney. “When we met with him he said I’m not too far from zero. In 2011, when he was getting ready to run for reelection, he made cuts. I’m a big tough ironworker. I’m not afraid of anything or anyone.”
But Sweeney said he doesn’t put it past Christie to red line critical budget items.
“Whenever we have had an agreement he has kept his word,” he said. “The issues in the budget that are so important to us. They’re people. It’s important to maintain the priorities we have fought for.”
“It has real impact on people’s lives,” the senate president added of the budget. “The governor has made it clear he’s going to sign a budget with these priorities in it. We’re going to continue to put a face on it. I don’t think they’re passing the budget in the other house either.”
He reiterated his hope that the Horizon meeting produces movement.
“They’re not the evil empire they’re part of the conversation,” Sweeney said prior to the scheduled 1 p.m. meeting.
“We need to stay in a room until we get to a compromise,” he added. “I’ll be here tomorrow, the 4th of July. At some point we have to come to some sort of agreement.” But he also admitted, “No one’s going to trust anyone at this point.”