The beaches are back in business for the Fourth of July.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and lawmakers cut a deal overnight to end the state’s first government shutdown in more than a decade. Early Tuesday morning, Christie signed the budget deal that he crafted with the Democratic legislature.
The Republican governor, who had been roundly criticized for his beach outing Sunday, said he was pleased that General Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, both Democrats, had reached an agreement that would result in “the legislature fulfilling their obligation to deliver a budget to the governor.”
“I’m saddened that it’s three days late, but I’ll sign the budget tonight,” Christie said at a press conference late Monday night.
Christie took pride in the budget’s steps toward pension stability and reforming the state’s largest health insurer. “While not all that I sought when I laid out my concerns in my February budget speech are there, that’s the nature of compromise,” he said.
He also ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to open all state parks Tuesday morning at their normal time. The closing of state parks and beaches for three days drew unwanted attention to Christie, who had been photographed lounging on a shuttered beach with his family near the governor’s summer house at Island Beach State Park.
Christie dismissed the controversy over his beach outing and said he will always choose his family over “political optics.” He said a month ago that his son invited friends from London, California and Washington, D.C., to visit their family in New Jersey for the Fourth of July weekend.
“I simply wasn’t going to cancel that because Vinnie Prieto couldn’t get 41 votes for a budget,” Christie said. “Let’s be really clear: That’s our residence, and we have a right to be there whenever we want to be there.”
After going to the beach, the governor told the press that he “didn’t get any sun today.” After NJ.com published pictures of the outing, his spokesman Brian Murray defended this statement, arguing that he hadn’t gotten any sun because “he had a baseball hat on.”
At the press conference, Christie said, “I don’t count going out on the beach after I’ve been working all morning to sit and talk with my wife and our guests for 40 minutes before I had to leave to come back to work as ‘getting sun.’ That wasn’t what I was out there to get.”
Christie said he does not apologize for his trip to the beach and pointed to his poll numbers as evidence that he does not care about political optics.
Even before he hit the beach, Christie’s poll numbers were at historic lows. A Quinnipiac University poll from last month shows that 81 percent of New Jerseyans disapprove of his performance — the worst approval rating for any governor in any state in more than 20 years.
“What I care about is doing what’s right and wrong. And what was right for my family was for my family to be together and for me to be with them and to do what we were doing,” he said.
Christie said the photojournalist who snapped the controversial pictures would’ve had a bombshell report had he caught Christie with a 25-year-old blond woman.
“I wasn’t sitting next to a 25-year-old blond. I was sitting next to my wife of 31 years, surrounded by my children and some of their best friends. If that’s a scandal, that’s a scandal I’m guilty of every day of my life, being committed to my wife and to my children first.”
Christie said the only thing that bothered him about the controversy was the implication that he had not given his all for the people of New Jersey.
“When this job ends, I’m going to be going home to the very same people I’m going home to tonight: Mary Pat, Andrew, Patrick, Sarah and Bridget. And when you guys are just a memory to me, they’ll be my life,” he told the media. “And so I don’t get concerned about this stuff.”
Christie rejected any rumors that the scandal affected his negotiating ability, insisting that he got “exactly what he wanted” with the new budget. He blamed the Democratic-controlled legislature for the government shutdown.
“I’ll say to everybody in the state that I wish that the legislature would’ve chosen one of those two paths that they chose tonight on June 30. If they had, we wouldn’t have had to close down government” on July 1, 2 and 3. “But that’s what the Constitution requires,” he said.
In a statement, the governor’s office touted the $34.7 billion, 2018 fiscal year budget for its investments in public schools, transportation infrastructure and pension payment, as well as tax relief and the absence of new taxes. Christie said New Jersey is unquestionably better than it was eight years ago — just before he took office.
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