- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey’s Democrat-controlled Legislature is scheduled to move forward with voting on Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s final budget on Thursday, but a stalemate over one of the governor’s key priorities lingers.

The Assembly and Senate have votes scheduled on a $34.7 billion fiscal year 2018 budget that proposes more than $100 million for school aid and $25 million apiece for prekindergarten and special education programs.

It also funds Democratic priorities, such as a program that gives financial assistance to lower-income students and additional funding for security at nonpublic schools.

The sticking point, though, is legislation initially proposed by Christie to overhaul the state’s largest health insurer’s board, enact transparency legislation and tap into its surplus. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto oppose such efforts.

The Senate has drafted its own version of a bill on Horizon.

The key differences include that the Senate bill does not directly grant the state access to Horizon’s surplus. Instead the legislation requires that Horizon maintain a range for its surplus and if that’s exceeded the nonprofit must use the excess for the public and ratepayers’ good.

Christie had initially sought to use the surplus to fund in-patient and out-patient drug addiction treatment.

The legislation is not must-pass in the same way lawmakers and Christie have to enact a balanced budget by July 1.

But Christie has conditioned his signing of the budget, including the Democratic priorities and additional school funding, on the passage of the Horizon legislation. Christie has not publicly embraced the Senate bill.

He did not dispute on Tuesday a reporter who suggested that the Horizon legislation was a part of the budget talks, but instead said there were many issues being discussed.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said on Wednesday that the budget talks looked stalemated.

“I am convinced this is all about who can claim a win,” she said.

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This story has been corrected to show the budget is $34.7 billion, not $34.7 million.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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