Gov. Phil Murphy is standing firm on his administration’s decisions to borrow $4.4 billion to avoid budget cuts last year due to the coronavirus.
“I haven’t heard so much Monday morning quarterbacking since Howard Cosell retired….we make the decisions at the time we make them based on the best information we have,” said Murphy at a press briefing April 7. “With all due respect, we did what we thought we had to do and will continue to do just that every single day we come to work.”
Murphy reminded critics of the political chaos last Fall when the bonds were sold and the words coming from Republican leaders such as then President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
“You had an avowed leader in the Republican caucus, Mitch McConnell, saying there was no way there would be any state and local aid,” said Murphy. “I noticed somebody said that to say that we overreacted or something—(that) was the epic understatement of the year.”
The governor continued, “Tell that we overstated the impact of the pandemic to any of the 2 million people who lost their jobs, several hundred thousands of whom have lost more than one job in the past 13 months. Tell that we overreacted to a small business owner, 30% of which have failed, or a restaurant owner, or a working mom trying to make both ends meet as it relates to childcare or families that are in arrears on utilities, rent, mortgage payments.”
The retort comes as state lawmakers have begun to conduct hearings on the budget to be passed this Summer. Republican members of the State Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee recently attacked the Murphy Administration for what they see as false revenue projections during the coronavirus pandemic.
Revenue Higher than Forecast
GOP State Senators’ arguments were augmented by a fiscal analyst from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services (OLS) on April 6 that estimated tax collections through March are coming in nearly $3.7 billion higher than Gov. Murphy’s projected when the current budget was approved in September.
“The Murphy Administration peddled outrageous claims about the state’s finances over the past year that have proven to be completely false,” said State Sen. Steve Oroho (R-24), the Republican Budget Officer. “Going back to last July, we had clear signs the state’s financial picture was better than expected despite the Murphy Administration’s measures that needlessly destroyed so many businesses.”
The governor dismissed the argument that the state faces falling off a financial cliff in the coming years as one he has heard since being elected and is based on prior precautions that he characterized as “a habit of awful behavior.”
What Fiscal Cliff?
“That’s a question since literally I had my hand on the Bible. Since day one, there’s always this discussion,” he commented. “I think that’s probably a rightful narrative based on the way things used to be done in this state which is plug in a lot of holes with Band-Aids and barely make it to June 30 at midnight and then have to wake up the next day on July 1st and figure out what other rabbits can we pull out of our hat.”
Murphy noted the state’s workforce is smaller than it was when he was elected in office in 2017 as the department heads to downsize.
“We want to be responsible about this. We do not want to blow it all like drunken sailors and then have to wake up in any year, fiscal ’23 or otherwise, and say oh, my God, now what do we do?” he stated. “That’s just not who we are, and that’s not who we’re going to become.”
Grow the Economy
While previously noting the damage to residents and businesses in the last year, Murphy believes the pandemic has accelerated economic growth with the influx of people moving into New Jersey sooner in their lives.
“We need to grow the economy…that’s another habit from the old days (when) we accepted the fact that we were not growing, that our revenues were stale, and that you had a fixed box that you had to fit everything into,” said Murphy. “Well, the reality is there’s no reason why we can’t grow at a significant clip in the years ahead, and that’s the best thing we can do to give us flexibility on continuing to provide services and property tax relief.”