In an explosive development, a group of Democratic lawmakers is planning to oust Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto on Thursday if he refuses to post a bill that would restructure New Jersey’s largest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, three sources told Observer.
Gov. Chris Christie for months has been calling on lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow the state to raid the insurer’s $2.4 billion reserve fund after he leaves office. Christie wants the state to take roughly $300 million a year from the not-for-profit company and devote it to drug treatment programs, a move that would provide relief for the cash-strapped state budget.
The state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved a similar bill on Monday, sponsored by Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex). The bill has been fast-tracked this week and is up for a vote in the full Senate on Thursday. Democrats say Christie has agreed to an extra $125 million they added for schools in the new $34.7 billion state budget due Saturday, so long as they give him a Horizon bill and another, non-controversial piece of legislation.
But Prieto (D-Hudson) has been adamant that he will not post any Horizon bill for a vote in the Assembly, criticizing the idea as unfair and risky amid ongoing discussions in Congress about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
That resistance could put a premature end to his speakership.
In a conference call between power brokers in Essex, Middlesex and Union counties and South Jersey, Democrats agreed to make a run at Prieto during the Assembly voting session on Thursday unless he relents and posts Vitale’s Horizon bill for an emergency vote, according to three sources with knowledge of the call.