By Elinor Comlay
(Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was caught on camera taking time out from dealing with a government shutdown to sunbathe on a state beach that had been closed to the public during the July Fourth holiday weekend.
A New Jersey newspaper captured photos of the governor and his family enjoying the empty beach on Sunday, just hours before he donned a suit and tie and boarded a helicopter to fly to Trenton, the state capital, to discuss stalled shutdown negotiations with reporters.
Budget impasses have caused partial government shutdowns in New Jersey and in Maine, leading to the suspension of many nonessential 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.
Maine's state police, parks and offices responsible for collecting revenue all planned to work through the shutdown there. But the majority of its 12,000 state employees will be furloughed.
Christie, already the least popular governor in modern New Jersey history before the photos were published, defended his beach time in a phone call to a morning TV show on Monday. When the host said he could understand why people were upset he was on a beach closed to the public, Christie responded, "Well, I'm sorry, they're not the governor."
Christie, a former Republican presidential candidate who is in the last year of his second and final term running the state, was staying with his family at a governor's residence at Island Beach State Park.
He is fighting New Jersey lawmakers over a controversial bill that he says must be passed alongside the state's budget.
The budget itself has been passed by committees in both houses, but Christie says he will strike out hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for schools and other key services if the Democrat-led Assembly does not vote on a separate bill to restructure the state's largest health insurer.
That threat was enough to prevent Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto from getting enough votes to pass the budget on Friday, triggering the shutdown. All 80 members of New Jersey's Assembly are up for re-election in November.
Prieto left the vote open over the weekend, and one vote switched from "abstain" to "yes", but the Assembly is still 13 short of the votes needed to pass the budget.
Christie said at a news conference on Sunday that he was open to hearing other proposals from Democrats but he expected the shutdown would likely continue through the July Fourth holiday.
At that same news conference, before the photos were published, Christie said he did not get any sun this weekend. His spokesman later clarified that was because the governor was wearing a baseball hat.
(Reporting by Elinor Comlay; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis)