Anyone who tried visiting New Jersey's Washington Crossing State Park the weekend before the Fourth of July would have found the gates locked and the doors closed on historical sites.
In anticipation of the July Fourth holiday marking American independence, the park would typically be open to local residents and out-of-state visitors eager to soak in some history. But not this year! The site where the Revolutionary War reached a critical turning point was inaccessible for the entire weekend thanks to a three-day state government shutdown that ended on July 3.
So, what gives?
For the past several months, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., has been pressuring Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey to pony up and pay for his opioid reform program. The non-profit, private entity, which services more than 900,000 Medicaid members, is the state's largest health insurer. As part of his 2018 budget proposal, Christie called for legislation that would provide the governor with the authority to pull about $300 million a year from the insurance company's reserve fund to cover state expenses for public health initiatives.
In March, President Trump selected Christie to serve as the chairman of a White House task force on combatting opioid addiction. There's a genuine need here. New Jersey's rate of heroin overdose is three times the national rate, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But raiding a private company and stacking its board with politicians from Trenton, which is exactly what Christie proposed, is not the answer. If he were to prevail, what kind of message would this send to private companies that could potentially locate in the Garden State?
In the compromise Christie reached with state lawmakers, an upper limit would be placed on Horizon's reserve fund, and in the event reserves exceeded this amount, "Horizon would use that money for the benefit of its subscribers," according to the new legislation. There will also be two additional seats added to Horizon's 15-member board that state lawmakers can fill with their own appointees.
While this arrangement is not as far reaching as what Christie proposed, it is still highly problematic from a free-market perspective.
Steve Forbes, CEO of Forbes Media, described Christie's plan as a "pure political vendetta" and "political extortion" against a reputable company that has provided quality insurance services. He spoke during a recent conference call with Hands Off Healthcare New Jersey, "a public affairs campaign sponsored by a diverse coalition of organizations and leaders working to protect the essential health reserve funds at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield."
The "raid by Trenton politicians" against Horizon "sends a terrible message not only to the people of New Jersey but to any business that wants to start in New Jersey," Forbes told listeners. "It says you to could be subject to a political raid, [and] a political vendetta that could destroy you. This has got to be stopped."
In exchange for getting at least some of what he wanted with Horizon, Christie agreed to sign off on a bill that provides Democrats with millions of dollars in additional funding for public school aid.
That's the part that should be of the most concern to overburdened taxpayers.
Even as they celebrate their state's role in the Revolutionary War, the sad reality is today's New Jersey residents no longer live under a system of self-government. Beginning in 1985, the state Supreme Court issued a series of rulings known as Abbott v. Burke that ordered state spending on poor districts to be brought up to an equal level with the wealthiest school districts. These court rulings are what are ultimately responsible for soaring property taxes and perpetual budgetary challenges.
While the media has fixated on the bad optics of Christie vacationing on Island Beach State Park with his family while the beach remained closed the public during the shutdown, the answers to the state's discombobulated finances lie within its own revolutionary history. That's why the temporary closing of Washington Crossing Park tells a richer, deeper story than what went down at the Jersey Shore.
Visitors who step inside the Johnson Ferry House, located near where George Washington and his Continental Army struck ground after crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776, will walk in the footsteps not just of Washington, but of other notable figures such as James Monroe and Alexander Hamilton. This is where they would have talked strategy before the march to Trenton.
In their written correspondence and public remarks, the Founding Fathers would say there were fighting to "preserve their rights as Englishmen." There is also the famous battle cry of "no taxation without representation."
The problem in New Jersey is with an activist Supreme Court that has gained leverage over public education funding that should properly fall within the purview of the state legislature. If unelected judges are ordering tax increases, doesn't that amount to "no taxation without representation"? In his early days as governor, Christie took on the judiciary and worked to put it back inside of a constitutional box.
Unfortunately, his very admirable, initial efforts to reform the judiciary fell victim to his presidential campaign and he didn't follow through with quality picks to the bench. That's the real tragedy lurking behind the latest budgetary mess.
Kevin Mooney (@KevinMooneyDC) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an investigative reporter in Washington, D.C. who writes for several national publications.
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