Gov. Phil Murphy plan to spend nearly $700 million toward debt avoidance and COVID recovery was approved Nov. 30 despite soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-24) called Murphy’s proposal “grossly incomplete.”
The state Joint Budget Oversight Committee, a bipartisan panel of State lawmakers, approved Murphy’s proposal Nov. 30 despite members of both parties being critical that a representative from Murphy’s treasury was not present to ask questions about the expenditures. Oroho is one of the panel’s two Republican members who are joined by four Democrats.
Murphy said Nov. 26 he had reached an agreement with Democratic legislative leaders on how to allocate the funds—$435 million of which would come from the New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund and $262.6 million of which would come from the American Rescue Plan’s State Fiscal Recovery Fund.
“This proposal will allow us to responsibly fund capital construction and continue using federal dollars for one-time, transformative investments in our residents, communities, and infrastructure,” Murphy said in a statement. “I am grateful to my colleagues in the Legislature for their commitment to help us build a stronger, fairer, and more resilient post-pandemic New Jersey for all.”
Oroho said that Murphy’s proposal was “long overdue,” as he and other Republican lawmakers have been pressing the Murphy administration for months for a plan to use New Jersey’s $6.2 billion allocation under the American Rescue Plan Act. In August, Republican Budget Committee members sent a letter to Governor Murphy and the Democrat co-chairs of the JBOC expressing concern that just 0.005% of the $6.2 billion had been deployed.
Oroho added: “Many months ago, Republicans offered a detailed proposal that would help workers and small businesses, support tenants and landlords, invest in infrastructure improvements, fix broken computer systems at unemployment and the MVC, and prevent unnecessary tax increases on employers. Unfortunately, most of those important priorities still haven’t been addressed.”
Oroho said after passage of he spending program that the administration’s new proposal only addresses a few hundred million dollars of the billions available, and he urged Murphy to craft a more comprehensive proposal.
“During today’s JBOC meeting, it was clear that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle were unsatisfied with the lack of a comprehensive plan from the Murphy administration for spending billions in pandemic relief funds effectively,” the the Sussex County lawmaker. “I sincerely hope JBOC will not rubberstamp another inadequate spending proposal from the Murphy administration. New Jersey needs a real plan to solve big problems.”
Where the Money Would Go
Murphy said the New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund allocations would include $345 million toward “NJ Wind Port and Related Port Infrastructure” and $90 million to the Rowan University School of Veterinary Medicine/Cooper Medical School. Funds for the Wind Port and related projects will be used by the Economic Development Authority, the Department of Transportation, and the South Jersey Port Corporation.
At a Nov. 29 press briefing, Murphy promoted the plan as being good for the long-term financial health of the state.
“We think these are smart investments across the board, up and down the state,” said the governor. “Avoiding debt is something we should be proud of. The wind port, for instance, is a big chunk of money for that that otherwise would’ve been indebtedness that the state of New Jersey would have had to take on and burden taxpayers, and that’s not going to be the case. That’s a big deal.
“The investment in public health I mentioned in this case—another level one trauma—that’s a smart investments…It’s another step on the journey to wisely and unlike our past as a state where we spent like drunken sailors, we took monies like that and filled budget holes. We’re going to avoid that like the plague, and we’re going to do this the right way and the responsible way.”
Some 13 proposed projects would be supported by the $262.6 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds. Those funds include:
- $100 million to support Hackensack University Medical Center, which was verified as a Level 1 Trauma Center this Fall, “in its efforts to strengthen regional health emergency preparedness infrastructure”;
- $5 million from the ARP funds to implement a program aimed at helping tenants avoid eviction; and
- $40 million to establish a program “to fill COVID-induced funding gaps in already underwritten and in-process affordable housing and community development projects.”
The $40 million program would be run through the Department of Community Affairs and the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, the Treasury Department said in a Nov. 23 memorandum to the Joint Budget Oversight Committee.
Assembly Democrat committee members Eliana Pintor Marin (D-29) and John Burzichelli (D-3) said the plan continues to build on the important investments made in the FY 2022 budget.
“With the approval of almost $700 million in funding to make critical investments in public health, the environment, and economic development,” said the two Dems in a press release. “The JBOC process ensures that every dollar received by New Jersey under the ARP is given proper scrutiny and review. In addition to the ARP funding, the allocations approved today include $435 million from the Debt Defeasance and Prevention fund, funding that was made available as a result of responsible budgeting and dedicated to reduce the State’s reliance on debt.”
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