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Gov. Phil Murphy Signs Bill Allowing Local Governments to Borrow to Cover COVID-19 Losses

Municipalities and counties in New Jersey are now authorized to borrow funds to cover revenue shortfalls and expenditures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, by issuing bonds and notes. 

The final legislation included improvements recommended by Gov. Phil Murphy in his prior conditional veto issued on July 30.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis has left no corner of our state untouched,” said Murphy in a press statement. “In the absence of much-needed federal assistance, this legislation will provide an important tool to New Jersey’s municipalities and counties, allowing them to have access to the funds needed to continue serving residents.”

Borrowing Rules

In his conditional veto, the governor recommended that borrowing would be best accomplished through existing and well-established local budgetary and debt structures instead of a new, additional funding mechanism. By amending local borrowing laws, the final legislation allows counties and towns to issue five-year special emergency notes for a broad swath of COVID-19 related costs. 

The final legislation expands the special emergency mechanism to address certified COVID-19 related deficits in operations.

Michael F. Cerra, Executive Director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities noted municipalities have significant fixed statutory expenses and provide essential services, which have increased as a result of the pandemic.

Revenue Shortfalls

“Local governments are experiencing significant declines in revenue during this pandemic and for the foreseeable future, most of which will not be recaptured,” said Cerra. “This new law will provide needed flexibility to maintain essential services, control property taxes and address this unprecedented financial distress.”

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, one of the primary sponsors of the bill,  said bonding is just a part of a plan to access all available resources in order to financially recover and prevent local budgets from being balanced with higher taxes.

“Municipalities and counties are experiencing revenue shortfalls and expense overruns due to battling COVID-19,” said Coughlin (D-19). “All available options, including the ability to borrow funds, must be on the table if we expect our local economies to recoup losses and strengthen post-pandemic.”

Economic Emergency

State Sen. Troy Singleton pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has become a full blown economic emergency besides being a health emergency. 

“The pandemic has left governments across the state in financial desperation and has led the country into a severe and painful recession,” said Singleton (D-7). “With the signing of this bill into law, we are taking steps to ensure county and local governments can borrow money responsibly with fiscal restraints to relieve the budgetary pressure of lost revenues and emergency spending over the past six months.” 

Daily Data

As of Sept. 1, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 192,290 with 365 new cases and seven new deaths, bringing that total to 14,170. The state probable death count remained at 1,780, bringing the overall total to 15,950.

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,885, followed by Bergen at 1,793, Hudson with 1,348, Passaic at 1,103, Morris at 685, Sussex at 161 and Warren with 158.

In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 242, Essex has 229, Hudson has 160, Morris at 144, Passaic at 142, Sussex has 36 and Warren has 13.

State Testing 

As for the rate of transmission, it increased to 0.92 from 0.90 the day before. Officials have continually cited transmission rate and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.

The daily rate of infections from those tested as of Aug. 27 was 1.4%. The state is no longer using serology tests as health officials explained those results show a past presence of the disease as well as a current one. By region, the north tested at 1.2%, the central at 1.1% and the south 2.5%. 

Officials reported 463 patients are hospitalized, with the northern tier having 207 patients hospitalized, the central 128 and the south 128.

Of those hospitalized, 84 are in intensive care units and 33 on ventilators, while 49 patients were discharged. 

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen has the most cumulative cases in the state with 21,600, followed by Essex at 20,324, Hudson at 20,144, Middlesex at 18,456, Passaic at 18,351, Union at 17,103, Ocean at 11,181, Monmouth at 10,734, Camden at 9,157, Mercer at 8,333, Morris at 7,491, Burlington at 6,395, Somerset at 5,420, Atlantic at 3,752, Gloucester at 3,685, Cumberland at 3,573, Sussex at 1,399, Warren at 1,395, Hunterdon at 1,213, Salem at 981 and Cape May at 905.

Another 368 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

Demographic Breakdown

The racial breakdown of the record deaths was 54% White, 20% Hispanic, 18% Black, 6% Asian and 2% another race. Murphy has noted the rates in the black and Hispanic communities are running about 50% more than their population in the state. 

In regards to the underlying disease of those who have passed, 56% had cardiovascular disease, 45% diabetes, 31% other chronic diseases, 18% neurological conditions, 17% lung diseases, 15% chronic renal disease, 10% cancer and 14% other. Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli has stated most cases have multiple underlying conditions which would push the percentage of 100%.

A census of ages for confirmed deaths shows 48% of deaths are of those 80 year old and up, 31% in the range of 65-80, 16% between 50-65 and 5% under the age of 49. 

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 163 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 10,279 of the cases, broken down between 6,435 residents and 3,844 staff. 

Cumulatively, 654 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 24,917 residents and 13,316 staff, for a total of 38,233 cases. 

The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,085 on Aug. 31. The facilities are reporting to the state 6,752 residents deaths and 121 staff deaths. 

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