As federal aid under the American Rescue Plan becomes available to New Jersey, GOP lawmakers want a say in deciding where the monies will be allocated.
For State Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25), the modernization of the state’s unemployment and motor vehicle computers systems must be at the front of the line.
“The people of New Jersey suffered during the pandemic because our computer systems are woefully antiquated,” said Bucco. “The technology infrastructure that processes unemployment claims and New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) transactions proved to be inflexible and overwhelmed when people needed it to work.”
$6.3 Billion in Aid
“Unfortunately, Governor Murphy refused our calls to invest in these systems when he had billions of CARES Act relief funds at his disposal. We can’t afford to let the governor repeat his mistake with new federal aid just sent to New Jersey.”
Bucco has previously explained how New Jerseyans were negatively impacted during the pandemic by the outdated technology the state continues to rely on to power critical services. With another $6.3 billion in federal relief funds recently delivered to New Jersey, Bucco called for bipartisan consensus to fund an IT modernization program.
The Morris County Republican is backing his party’s plan through the Budget & Appropriations Committee, proposing an appropriation of $500 million to modernize the State’s antiquated computer systems, including those that handle unemployment claims, Motor Vehicle Commission transactions, and 9-1-1 calls.
Modernizing State Agencies
“I was glad to hear there’s bipartisan consensus in the Budget Committee that the Legislature needs to be involved in deciding how this $6.3 billion will be spent,” added Bucco. “Everyone except for Governor Murphy seems to understand the importance of investing to modernize the State’s computer systems. Now that the money is in the bank, the clock is ticking. If the Legislature doesn’t act quickly, the governor could waste the money before we have a chance to weigh in. We can’t afford to let that happen.”
Bucco’s comments in support of State Senate Republicans, led by Joe Pennacchio (R-26), demanding that any spending of the federal money must be handled in a way that the Murphy Administration works with lawmakers in Trenton.
“When the state was spending CARES ACT money from Washington, we saw a disconcerting lack of accountability and transparency from the Murphy Administration. We don’t want to repeat that with $6 billion more,” stated Pennacchio (R-26). “The lack of accountability from the Administration makes it crystal clear that Murphy should not be entrusted with the unilateral authority to spend the disaster aid as the current budget language allows.”
Administration not Forthcoming
Pennacchio was dismayed that State Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio only informed State Senators of the receiving of the funds under questioning during her revenue update to the budget committee and not as part of her formal statement.
“In a meeting with the Senators in charge of the budget from both sides of the aisle, you’d think a $6 billion windfall would be the first thing she said to them,” said Pennacchio. “Unbelievably, it only came up under questioning. Are they hiding something?
“That demonstrates exactly why I have been demanding for over a year now the formation of a Senate Select Committee with subpoena powers to answer all questions involving the Murphy Administration’s handling of the pandemic,” continued Pennacchio. “The Administration has been anything but forthcoming with information and they need to answer some tough questions.”
Pennacchio added that he strongly supports legislation (S-3712) sponsored by Republican members of the Senate Budget Committee that would eliminate the State budget language granting the executive branch the unilateral authority to appropriate any “emergency disaster aid” and “economic stimulus” funds the state receives from the federal government during the fiscal year.
The bill would strip the language from the current FY2021 budget.
“This has been a long, brutal year for New Jersey residents and businesses, and they are suffering,” Pennacchio said. “We only have one chance to spend those taxpayer dollars. Let’s make sure we get it right. The Legislature must play a role in decisions about where and how the federal money is expended to provide the most benefit. Murphy shouldn’t be calling the shots on his own.”