July 3, 2017 / 4:18 PM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 5-New Jersey lawmakers reach deal to end budget standoff

(Recasts throughout after Governor Christie says he will sign bill, end partial government shutdown)

By Elinor Comlay

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., July 3 (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said late on Monday he will sign a budget bill to end a partial government shutdown that became a black eye for him after he was seen lounging on a beach that had been closed to the public over the holiday weekend.

State lawmakers were finalizing the bill and legislators and the governor said they would stay as long as it took on Monday night and into Tuesday morning to craft and sign it.

Christie said all state parks and beaches would be open on Tuesday for the Fourth of July holiday and state offices would be open as usual on Wednesday.

He said he was happy a resolution had been reached on the budget impasse, but saddened it came three days late.

New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney told a news conference: "None of this was easy."

"I think this is a good day because everything will be open," Sweeney said.

Christie became the subject of widespread mockery and derision after a New Jersey newspaper captured photos of the Republican governor and his family sunbathing on a beach that had been closed to the public over the holiday weekend due to the budget standoff.

The saga, dubbed "beachgate" by some media outlets, threw a spotlight on stalled budget negotiations that caused partial government shutdowns in New Jersey and in Maine, and led to the suspension of many non-essential services.

New Jersey's state parks closed on Saturday, forcing many to alter their holiday weekend plans. More than 30,000 state workers were on furlough on Monday.

In Maine, the state police, parks and offices responsible for collecting revenue all planned to work through the shutdown, the state's first since 1991. But the majority of its 12,000 state employees will be furloughed.

Members of Maine's State Employees Association rallied outside the State House to demand a budget deal from lawmakers and Republican Governor Paul LePage.

"Governor LePage won't answer his door - we want to work!" organizers posted on Twitter, with photos and videos of dozens of the association's members holding placards and chanting.

About 10 U.S. states still do not have budgets for the fiscal year that began on July 1, including Illinois, which is in its third year without an enacted budget.

While states have mostly recovered since the 2007-2009 recession, their revenue growth has not always kept pace with the national economy. In some states without full budgets, including Connecticut and Pennsylvania, lower-than-anticipated income tax collections exacerbated budget gaps and led to disputes over how to close them.

'I'LL GO BACK TO BEACH'

On Monday, Christie noted that 119 miles (190 km) of the state's 130 miles (210 km) of beaches were open, and that it was "another beautiful day" at the Jersey shore. "Come and enjoy them - but use sunscreen and hydrate!" he wrote on Twitter.

A spokesman for Christie, a former Republican presidential candidate who is in the last year of his final term, said Christie had been on the beach in front of the governor's residence for only 45 minutes.

Christie had said he would not sign the state's budget unless it included a reshaping of the state's largest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, which covers 3.8 million people in the state.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said the agreement to end the partial government shutdown was reached after long talks in "crisis" mode on Monday with Horizon and state legislators.

Christie also promised not to remove from the budget any of the $150 million in school funding and other items from the budget that he threatened to veto last weekend if the legislature did not pass a bill to reform Horizon.

He seemed unfazed by the controversy over his time at the beach at the weekend.

"Whenever I get done tonight, I'll go back to the beach," Christie told reporters on Monday night. "That's where my family is." (Reporting by Elinor Comlay; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus and Hilary Russ in New York, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Peter Cooney and Paul Tait)

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