Under the Statehouse Hood: Fixer Vitale has a Delicate Role to Play in the Crisis

Statehouse

Angry at Horizon Blue Cross Shield, Governor Chris Christie by all appearances won’t budge on his plan to raid the insurance giant’s reserve fund to close on a school funding for budget deal with Democrats, while Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) looks stubbornly dug in on the opposing side in defense of the funding accord he struck with Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32).

The trouble between Christie and Horizon started back before his budget speech when he asked Horizon for $300 million and they offered $135 million – and to get rid of a premium tax and other amenities that, in the words of one frustrated source, would amount to taxpayers footing about $135 million. But few seem eager to dive into Christie’s tango with Horizon. When Prieto broached Christie’s scheme today in caucus to solve the standoff, members not only voiced their opposition, but, in the words of one member, resisted “stridently.”

In the midst of the mess and with an end of the month budget deadline bearing down on the statehouse, Sweeney turned to state Senator Joe Vitale (D-19) to hammer out a compromise. The chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee will need to craft something that breaks the death roll that right now wraps Horizon, Christie, and South Jersey Democratic pooh-bah George Norcross III. As Prieto rides caucus opposition to a 15%-hampered Republican governor, he jeopardizes the speaker candidacy of his rival, Assemblyman Craig Coughlin  (D-19), Vitale’s slate mate.

So in seeking a compromise bill that gives a little something to Christie, Horizon and the Dems, Vitale won’t just  be trying to prevent the derailment of state government but of the deal between Middlesex and South Jersey that aims to offload Prieto out of the speaker’s chair and supplant him with Coughlin.

Whatever they end up doing will not affect rates, one source told InsiderNJ this evening as Vitale undertook work on the bill with an eye to getting something in print and in front of eyeballs and out of committee on Monday. The senator spoke to Prieto this morning and assured him he’s trying to get something everyone can live with and even like, and a source said the conversation was amicable.

But Prieto must be listening carefully, and on guard, because he knows Vitale’s success could equate to Coughlin getting the cover he needs to oust him, while at the same time, if Prieto resists a genuine compromise bill to save the state, even if it comes out of Coughlin’s own Middlesex County, he can flip from being anti-Christie crusader to human impediment.

He must proceed with caution.

Just like Vitale.

If the senator’s plan backfires, Coughlin will lack a legitimate compromise bill and could get stuck in no man’s land on this particular issue among those functionaries of Norcross world who back the unpopular Christie out of common disregard for Horizon.

 

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