The Weekend New Jersey Was Closed: InsiderNJ’s Play-By-Play Of The Shutdown Saga

During the budget impasse and government shutdown in early July, Insider NJ gave our best efforts to bring you real-time information, legislative maneuvering as they happened, smaller nuggets of pertinent information and deep-dive pieces, and contextualized pieces to put the events in historical context.  There was a lot to cover – and a lot to read.  Each day during the shutdown, we encapsulated the day’s events in our Morning Intelligence Briefing emails with a play-by-play accounting of events.  Here it all is, with plenty of links to the original posts for further reading.  Just in case living through it wasn’t enough for some of you die-hards and you want to take a trip down Shutdown-Memory Lane and relive the drama.  To start, here are a a few other shutdown odds-and-ends pieces you might want to peruse if you haven’t already:
Facebookin’ it From The Floor: Take a look at some of the Assembly members’ Facebook posts from the floor
NOW, THEREFORE, I, CHRIS CHRISTIE, Governor of the State of New Jersey, by virtue of the authority vested in me…: The full text of Governor Christie’s Executive Order #228 that officially shut down the state government
Shutdown ’06: The Corzine Files: A look at the first-ever government shutdown in 2006 when Governor Jon Corzine was in office
A District-By-District Geographic Depiction of the Budget VotesA map of where the budget votes stood on Friday, June 30th
Insider NJ’s Ultimate Interactive Guide To The Budget And Horizon Votes: A multi-tabbed color-coded spreadsheet breaking down the legislators’ votes on the budget and Horizon bills – and tracking the vote changes – for those Insider NJ readers who really want to drill down into the mechanics of it all
Lessons Learned: Shutdown-Era Bills Introduced: Several legislators introduced bills aimed at ameliorating the effects of future shutdowns



On June 21st, a closed-door Democratic caucus room meeting, members made it known they had no love for Governor Christie’s Horizon proposal.  At the same time, Republicans were rallying against the Sweeney-Prieto school funding proposal.  Insider NJ, at the time, explored the dynamics of how the Horizon issue could become an opening for a gallant last stand by Prieto in the face of a South Jersey-Middlesex onslaught for the Speakership.  It was volatile.  Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy indicated he was opposed to the Christie proposal, and then that Sunday before the budget committee hearing said the Governor’s proposal was tantamount to the ‘insider trading of favors‘.

That Friday, June 23rd,  Senate Health Committee Chairman Joe Vitale introduced his compromise Horizon bill.  Vitale, the long-serving veteran Senator and health policy expert, had a delicate role to play: fixer and compromise-broker, all while being Assemblyman Craig Coughlin’s (in Speaker-seeking mode) upper-chamber district mate, and now a key player in the coming imbroglio).  Senate Majority Leader Senator Loretta Weinberg, one of Christie’s biggest antagonists over the years, supported the Vitale proposal, calling it a compromise that should be acceptable to both the Governor and Prieto.
At the same time, there were rumblings of possible attempts to remove him and put a placeholder in his stead – Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, who told Insider NJ that she wasn’t entertaining that.  Pintor Marin, of course, was the Assembly sponsor of the recently-written Horizon bill and a Coughlin-backer.
When the Senate Budget Committee passed the Horizon bill on Monday, June 26th, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto made it known he wouldn’t post it in his chamber.  At the hearing, Senator Jen Beck was the lone opposition vote against the bill, which passed 11-1-1, standing firm in her opposition throughout the hearing (and during the week ahead), while Vitale held his ground on the bill (Vitale and Sweeney were subbing for Greenstein and Diegnan).  Coughlin, at one point, joined Vitale at the SBA Committee hearing to testify on another bill.  But the optics were hard to ignore.  Post-vote, sources initially thought the bill would have a hard time getting support from the full Senate (Sweeney, of course, ended up having the votes), but it still represented a perilous situation for the Speaker.
By Wednesday morning, Senate President Sweeney had the votes to pass the Horizon bill, on the board list for Thursday.  Speaker Prieto remained firm that he wouldn’t post the bill for a vote in the Assembly, and had procedure on his side if he found himself in a position to checkmate a senate version of the bill – his foes would require a super-majority to overrule and would have to feverishly work the phones to finesse people to their side – but the cost of his unwillingness to move could mean a government shutdown if lawmakers couldn’t come to an agreement before the end of the week.
On Thursday, June 29th, the morning began with Speaker Prieto saying he wouldn’t negotiate on the Horizon (or post it in the Assembly), while Senate President Steve Sweeney had the votes to pass it ahead of the Senate session, with the bill listed on the voting board list.  The Assembly Dems battled in caucus; some with vehement disagreements with the Speaker – and some prepared to jettison the budget.  Amid those previous-day rumors of a possible attempt to dethrone the Speaker, a powerful South Jersey Democrat was making calls to GOP leaders about such a possibility, according to sources.  As GOP legislators trickled into the chamber, they noted the mayhem surrounding the majority party at that very moment (‘seems the majority party is having a hard time leading‘ Assemblyman John DiMaio told Insider NJ.)  As the Democratic caucus broke, it was apparent the Horizon bill wouldn’t make it to the floor – setting in motion a contingent of budget abstentions.  As Horizon sponsor Pintor Marin and Speaker-seeking Coughlin huddled on the Chamber floor before the Speaker gaveled the house to order and called the budget vote.  
It failed –  22 yes, 24 no, with the rest abstaining (Democrats from South Jersey, Middlesex, and a handful of others, along with GOP members).  The Speaker hastily called a press conference, reiterating that he wouldn’t budge on Horizon and laying blame for any resulting gov’t shutdown (appearing more imminent with each passing hour) on the abstaining members.  Meanwhile, the Senate passed the Horizon bill (with a block of Democrats voting against, including Senator Lesniak).  Majority Leader Greenwald told Insider NJ that its Prieto’s responsibility to find a way to work out a deal with the Governor (who said Prieto was playing a ‘dangerous game‘ and faulted Prieto for being non-communicative during the process).  Greenwald also told Insider NJ that he didn’t believe Prieto needed to be removed as Speaker for a deal to be made.  The Speaker called a recess until Friday; in the late hours sources said an emissary was sent from Prieto to the Governor’s office  (the Governor pushed back on that claim the next day). Other sources wondered if a deal had already been cut as of late Thursday evening to avert a shutdown, as Governor Christie ventured north to East Rutherford for a U2 concert.  That, as we would soon find out the hard way, was not the case.
On Friday morning, June 30th, the clock began counting down towards a shutdown as neither budget nor Horizon was passed (see the vote count at that moment here.)  Only a few votes had publicly changed – DeAngelo and Benson, and Zwicker.  The session was supposed to start at 2pm – it didn’t.  Speaker Prieto held a presser with labor and various groups, decrying the impending shutdown and the Governor’s unwillingness to bend on Horizon.  Receiving a hero’s welcome, the Speaker said there’s not just a line in the sand – its ‘cement in the sand‘ as far as Horizon was concerned and expected and expected 41 votes when the board opened for voting.  
Governor Christie then held a presser of his own, where he layed the blame for any impending shutdown at the feet of the Speaker (check out some of the Christie presser quotes here).  The Assembly began trickling into the chamber around 5:30pm.  A source told Insider NJ that were several alternative options to Horizon being considered, but no deal was to be found and a shutdown was at hand.  Governor Christie told the GOP caucus to let the Democrats tear each other apart and stick together.  As the vote neared, Senator Rice entered the Assembly chamber to urge the black legislative caucus to support the budget, and the CWA hit the phones urging their members to put the pressure on the legislators.  
Then it happened – the budget failed on third reading, with not much changed since the previous day (see how the members voted). Senate President Sweeney entered the chamber and huddled up with Majority Leader Greenwald, while Speaker Prieto sat on the rostrum in apparent defeat.  AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech, in the gallery, said he was very disappointed‘ and laced into LD11 legislators Downey and Houghtaling for their abstentions.  Minority Leader Bramnick said ‘no’ when asked if a deal was at hand, as the clock neared midnight and the chamber turned into a dead zone as Dem caucus members retreated to assess the situation and have some late-night pizza, while Speaker Prieto hung on the rostrum.  Sweeney entered again, this time with Senator Codey, and spoke to Prieto.  At around 11pm, Prieto decided to leave the board list open overnight, the votes frozen but not resolved.  Majority Leader Greenwald held an impromptu press conference, slapping at Prieto.  After midnight,  Speaker Prieto held his own presser, exhorting members to ‘do the right thing’ upon returning to the Statehouse in the morning – at point, just a few hours away.  Here’s where things stood heading into Saturday morning; the Legislature would head to Trenton once again to try to resolve the budget impasse and end the shutdown.
As the morning hours of Saturday, July 1st crept up on the Statehouse – with the board list left open overnight by Speaker Prieto – the Governor signed Executive Order No. 228 and day one of the shutdown began.  Both gubernatorial candidates had things to say about who bears responsibility, while the blame game started in Trenton early on, with anti-Prieto flyers popping up on government buildings.  Prieto held a presser in the afternoon taking a stand against the Governor and calling the shutdown ‘day one of the Christie hostage crisis.’  The Governor announced he would address the Legislature in a joint session at 2:30pm and the front office sent out a press release hitting the Speaker.  Shortly before the address, Senate President Sweeney and allies held their own presser, pleading for budget passage and smacking Prieto soundly.  Assemblyman John Wisniewski blasted the Governor for the anti-Prieto flyers in the Statehouse and alluding to Bridgegate, as legislators filed into the Senate chamber for the Governor’s address.  
The Governor began his address by hitting Prieto, saying ‘this is a new experience; first I’m usually in the Assembly chamber, but the person who closed down the government on the people of New Jersey closed down the Assembly chamber to me.’ (Watch the video and see the transcript of the Governor’s full address to the Legislature here.)  He spent the majority of his 30+ minute address discussing Horizon, with little mention of the budget or the shutdown and approached it with a defiant tone against the health insurer – and against shutdown-nemesis Prieto.  Afterwards, legislators left the Senate chamber and left Trenton – likely to return on Monday, or even Sunday, as the government remained shut and gridlock continued to grapple Trenton.
On Sunday, July 2nd, legislators trickled into Trenton (on two hour call), as Governor Christie called for another special session, and the board list still remained open – and had been since Friday. Assemblyman James Kennedy switched his vote from ‘abstain’ to ‘yes’, bringing the current tally to 27-25-23 from Friday’s 26-25-24.  Assemblyman Reed Gusciora released a statement that he wouldn’t attend Sunday’s special session, as he wasn’t allowed in the chamber on Saturday for the Governor’s address since he didn’t have his credentials on him, and blasted the Governor for holding the budget hostage.  At a press conference in the afternoon, the Governor said, “I can’t wave a magic wand and get a budget on my desk.  I don’t know how he [Prieto] expects to resolve it if he doesn’t have the vote.  He doesn’t have the votes.”  The Speaker told the media that “there’s no way” the Assembly would vote on Horizon without proper vetting and a committee hearing – which he’d only do after the budget has been passed and sent to the Governor.  The Governor doubled down, saying he didn’t believe the Legislature would come back during the summer.  “I’m for good public policy, and I will not be bullied,” said the Speaker.  “There’s no urgency of getting this [Horizon] done tomorrow.  What there’s urgency – signing a budget, because this Chris Christie shutdown is atrocious.”  On Monday, they would return.
Meanwhile, Governor Christie would soon be taking heat for photographs of him on the beach at IslandState Beach Park, prompting one Republican Senate candidate to exorciate the Governor with ‘Get the hell off the beach’ remark, and Guadagno released a statement blasting the Governor for his beach day. The Governor defended himself on Fox 5 on the beach issue while calling for Democrats to send him a budget.

On Monday, July 3rd, day three of the government shutdown began with legislators (and everyone else, too) anxiously awaiting the outcome of scheduled meetings with Horizon took place in the afternoon, and legislative leaders sounded a note of cautious optimism.  Meanwhile, the NJEA had filed a complaint in Superior Court against the Governor over the Prieto-shutdown flyers; a judge issued a temporary restraining order against the posting of further signs.  Rushing to mid-afternoon meeting with Horizon CEO Bob Marino, Speaker Prieto said he was willing to compromise.  As Marino finished with Prieto one-on-one, they both headed cross-chamber to the Senate

Marino by Carina Pizarro.

side to meet with Sweeney – and Horizon bill sponsor Vitale.  Prieto’s Assembly allies began to head into his office while they awaited the outcome; Paterson’s Benjie Wimberly told Insider NJ ‘I wouldn’t have driven all the way down here if I wasn’t hopeful‘ when asked if he thought a deal could be reached.  As the meeting ended, the principals remained tight-lipped: Marino said it was a ‘good meeting‘ while Senator Vitale said he was hopeful of ‘some progress‘.  Marino then told the media he was optimistic, and had expressed his concerns to legislative leadership.  

After emerging from his office, Prieto said that a new compromise Horizon bill was being drafted – and the still-open board list gained another ‘aye’ vote with Assemblyman Schaer.  Legislative staff began drafting the new bill as members were notified to return to Trenton for a Monday night budget vote.  Acknowledging that an agreement was close at-hand, Sweeney told Insider NJ that a vote would be held at 10pm at the earliest. 
By 9pm, it was official – the fighting in the Statehouse had stopped and a deal had been reached.  Prieto 
and Sweeney held a presser announcing the deal and plan of execution: Assembly first, then Senate on budget; switch for Horizon. Prieto called the new bill ‘sound public policy‘.  Close to midnight, a vote was imminent.  The Assembly passed the budget bill (55-21-1) and then the Senate passed it shortly after (21-14).  Just after 1am, the new Horizon bill passed both houses, and both were sent to the Governor for his signature.  And thus the shutdown finally ended and the focus on July 4th was centered on Independence Day, barbecues, parades, and fireworks instead of a shut-downed government.  But, in true New Jersey fashion, the Christie-Prieto battle still raged on.
The next day, Wednesday July 5th, after the Governor line-item vetoed several parts of the budget, Prieto released a statement saying “anyone who contends Gov. Christie in an honest man has spent too much time sitting in the sun with him or in traffic on the George Washington Bridge.”  The Governor’s office responded to Prieto, saying that Christie “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.”
Thursday, July 6th, the state DOL website had a notice directing furloughed state workers to file for unemployment benefits for missed work.  Prieto sent a letter to the Governor requesting pay for shutdown-affected state workers; Christie responded by sending his own letter calling the Speaker’s request ‘perplexing’, saying it’s ‘unlawful’ for him to exert that authority and said the Legislature had to act first and send him a bill. Prieto called the Governor’s response ‘ridiculous’ and stated he would confer with legislators and state workers unions to consider the next step.  The Senate, by that point, had legislation pending introduction to authorize funds for those shutdown-affected employees, sponsored by Senate President Sweeney and Senators Greenstein and Bateman.

The next week, Governor Christie’s office released a statement saying the Governor would sign a bill to give back-pay to government workers, and doubled-down on the Governor’s belief that Speaker Prieto is to blame for the shutdown.  Prieto responded in a statement saying the Governor ‘always blames others’ and that his ‘record on keeping his word is very poor’.  Senators Sweeney, Greenstein, and Bateman – sponsors of the back-pay bill – released statements as well with Sweeney saying he ‘welcomes the Governor’s willingness‘ and ‘responsiveness’, Greenstein saying ‘this is great news‘ for state workers, and Bateman saying he’s ‘relieved‘ the Governor is open to signing the bill.


The Senate voted 32-0 for S3244 on July 13th, and the Assembly held a quorum where Assembly members Muoio, Giblin, Mazzeo, Gusciora, and Benson introduced the bill in the lower house.

Having passed the Senate, the Assembly version of the bill is scheduled for a voting session at the end of the month, July 31st, and all indications that the Governor will sign it into law.

And so was the weekend that New Jersey was closed, the second ever government shutdown in NJ history and 11 years since the first one in 2006.  Hopefully, there won’t be a third government shutdown anywhere in the near future.  Hopefully

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