New Jersey, Maine shut down amid spending disputes

New Jersey, Maine shut down amid spending disputes
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Disputes between Republican governors and Democratic-led state legislatures have forced the state governments of Maine and New Jersey into partial shut-downs over the July Fourth holiday weekend.

The failure to reach budget deals ahead of the beginning of the new fiscal year means state parks and beaches will be closed during one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year. Non-essential state workers will stay home, and most government buildings will not open until deals are reached.

In both states, legislative leaders and governors lobbed insults and pointed fingers.

In Maine, Republicans in the legislature blocked a budget deal that had been expected to clear final hurdles late Friday. Gov. Paul LePage (R) introduced his own spending plan that legislators had not seen just hours before the end of the fiscal year.

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Democrats, who control the state House, refused to go along with LePage's proposal. State House Speaker Sara Gideon (D) said the Republican governor, who has clashed repeatedly even with members of his own party, threw a "temper tantrum" when he didn't get his way.

"He walked out with the words 'Shut her down,'" Gideon said on the state House floor late Friday.

In a statement, LePage blamed Gideon for failing to work through a budget plan he had proposed in Maine. LePage said he wanted steeper tax cuts.

"The Maine people are taxed enough. I will not tax them anymore and in my budget overall taxes were decreased," LePage said. "They should not have to pay more taxes just because the Speaker of the House and the Senate President want to go home for the weekend."

"I am angered and deeply saddened by the failure of the legislature to pass a budget," Gideon said in her own statement. "Make no mistake, this shutdown was not necessary. And make no mistake, I will continue to do everything in my power to end it."

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie ordered the state government to shut down for the first time in 11 years after Christie and state Democratic legislative leaders failed to reach agreement on their own budget deal. State law requires a new budget by June 30.

Christie is feuding with state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D) over a plan to require Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield to fund a drug treatment program that Christie has spearheaded. 

The state Senate included the provision in their budget, but Prieto said his chamber would not act on that provision. Prieto called the measure "an unfair Christie tax on [Horizon's] 3.8 million policyholders."

Christie issued an executive order shutting down the government early Saturday morning.

"This order is necessary to maintain the protection, safety and well-being of the people of New Jersey while I attempt to convince the legislature to send me a fiscally responsible budget that I can sign and re-open New Jersey's government," Christie said in a statement announcing the shutdown.

"This was completely avoidable. But Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto needlessly stalled the budget process, forcing the closure of New Jersey government and inconveniencing everyone living in and visiting our state," Christie said.

Christie's office ordered that signs telling visitors that the state Capitol and other buildings are closed on Saturday showed Prieto's face and listed the Assembly Speaker's office phone number. Prieto said he would bar the governor from the state Assembly's chamber.

Legislators in both New Jersey and Maine are working through the weekend to reach a deal.

A third state, Illinois, also failed to reach a budget deal ahead of the new fiscal year, as Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and state House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) worked on a deal. Rauner and Madigan have been feuding for years, and the state has been without a budget for three years.

Republicans are pushing Democrats to cut spending and cap taxes, while Democrats are pressing Republicans to raise taxes to eliminate a budget gap. Illinois' state comptroller has told legislators the state faces $15 billion in unpaid bills.

Illinois law allows the state government to remain open even without a budget.