NEW JERSEY (FOX 5 NEWS) - TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie, by his own admission, entered lame-duck territory on Tuesday, signing his final budget after a bruising three-day state government shutdown that included a viral photo of him lounging on a state beach that was closed to the public because of a budget impasse.
The two-term Republican governor signed the $34.7 billion budget early Tuesday and sounded an unapologetic tone over the aerial photos snapped by NJ.com that showed him at the state governor's residence at Island Beach State Park.
The pictures sparked a global reaction: countless memes featuring a Photoshopped cutout of Christie in a beach chair, headlines on international news sites and a full-scale media blitz from Christie's spokesman.
"If they had flown that plane over that beach and I was sitting next to a 25-year-old blonde in that beach chair next to me that's a story," he said. "I wasn't sitting next to a 25-year-old blonde. I was sitting next to my wife of 31 years."
The photos are part of a bruising finale for the term-limited governor, who had been a regular on late-night TV and a Republican superstar after Superstorm Sandy hammered his state in 2012.
Christie's job approval in New Jersey has sunk to 15 percent, tumbling after the convictions of three former aides in a scheme to deliberately cause traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge, his failed presidential run and his backing of President Donald Trump.
He's become such a political liability in New Jersey that his top deputy, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, running to succeed him, hammered him over the beach photos: "Beyond words," she said.
People in New Jersey and beyond seized on what many saw as a let-them-eat-cake gesture by the state's chief executive.
"Taxpayers can't use the parks and other public sites they pay for, but he and his family can hang out at a beach that no one else can use?" asked Mary Jackson, a Freehold resident. "Doesn't he realize how that looks, how people will see it as a slap in the face?"
Christie acknowledged his lame-duck status on Tuesday after the budget signing but predicted that if Guadagno wins he still might have some influence with lawmakers — but less if Democrat Phil Murphy wins. The Legislature is expected to leave Trenton to campaign since all 120 seats are up this year.
Christie denied the beach photos played a role in how he negotiated with lawmakers and said it was "the pressure of a shutdown" that contributed to the budget resolution. He also has said he only worries about polls when he's running for office — and he's not.
But experts said they think the pictures all but did him in.
"The photos are likely the nails in Christie's political coffin that drive his approval ratings into the single digits," Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison said.
The deal Christie struck late Monday with Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney and Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto calls for a $34.7 billion budget that includes more than $300 million in Democratic spending priorities and is part of an agreement to overhaul the state's largest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield.
The Horizon legislation calls for annual audits of the nonprofit's reserve level, sets a range for reserves and requires excess to be spent on policyholders. The budget stalemate centered on Christie's desire for legislation to overhaul Horizon, but the deal includes none of the initial use of Horizon's surplus for opioid treatment that he set out to get in February.
Without a budget, state parks were shut down along with other nonessential state services, including state courts and the motor vehicle offices where people go to get driver's licenses. Tens of thousands of state workers were furloughed.
Christie said he requested to give state workers a paid holiday on Tuesday and would discuss back pay with lawmakers.
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Associated Press writers Bruce Shipkowski, in Trenton, and Wayne Parry, in Atlantic City, contributed to this story.
New Jersey's state government remained shut down Monday morning ahead of the Fourth of July holiday. People across the state were turned away from parks and beaches over the holiday weekend.
This is the first government shut down in New Jersey in more than a decade, and the timing couldn't be worse.
One by one, drivers were turned away by police at the entrance of Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“There is no reason why a government should ever shut down. It’s a government for the people by the people, not for them," said one driver.
Drivers were also turned away at Island Beach State Park at the Jersey Shore.
Parks and beaches were among the non-essential services that Governor Chris Christie ordered to close on midnight on Friday after New Jersey lawmakers in Trenton failed to reach an agreement on a nearly $35 billion budget. This shutdown ruined the plans of many on this big holiday weekend.
"Those politicians couldn't get there head and butts together. It’s childish behavior," said one beachgoer.
Closed signs at those parks and beaches said, "This facility is closed because of this man - Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.”
It’s a back and forth between the governor and the speaker over the state's largest health insurer--- Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Christie and democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney want horizon to be, what they consider, more transparent and accountable, but Prieto opposes the legislation because he said it could lead to higher rates.
In a statement to Fox 5, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said, “Gov. Christie and the legislators who won't vote 'yes' on the budget are responsible for this unacceptable shutdown. I compromised. I put up a budget bill for a vote. Others now must now do their part and fulfill their responsibilities. The voting board remains open."
Meanwhile, during the special session Saturday afternoon, Christie didn't hold back blaming the speaker for the shutdown.
“I come here today in good faith to work with you in a straight forward honest way. I wish I could say the same about some of the other participants,” Gov. Christie said.
The shutdown is also disrupting ferry service to Liberty and Ellis islands.
Remaining open: NJ Transit, state prisons, the state police, state hospitals and treatment centers as well as casinos, race tracks and the lottery.