Passage by Democrats allowing the state budget address from Gov. Phil Murphy to be delayed two week drew the ire of Republicans in both the Assembly and State Senate.
Along party line votes in both chambers and signed by the governor on Feb. 14, the deadline for fiscal year 2022-2023 gubernatorial budget message to the state lawmakers was pushed back from the fourth Tuesday in February to March 8 this year.
Republicans said the delay is politically motivated, unnecessarily delays an important process and is just the latest example of Murphy not cooperating with legislators on both sides of the aisle during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Thumbed His Nose at Us”
“He has thumbed his nose at us and has constantly run the state as a one-man band,” commenetd Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-24), the Assembly Republican budget officer. “When we asked him not to do the public health emergency, he went and instituted it anyway, which kept our kids masked up, put prisoners back on the street, and made workers’ comp claims get paid unnecessarily.”
A leading critic of Murphy, Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-25) argued that the budget address isn’t ceremonial but starts the process in a very defined timeline.
Beregn: Hold Murphy Accountable
“The last session, the majority party had the full amount of time between the budget message and the budget deadline and (Democrats) barely got it done,” said Beregn. “Every time this legislative body comes to a crossroads, where you can choose between transparency, good government, open public input, lengthy discussion and debate with the intent of getting to the best possible solution the first time, or opaqueness, backroom deals, and a rushed legislative process, you always make the wrong choice.”
“Hold the governor accountable for once. Make the governor do what he’s supposed to do.”
While Murphy asked for the delay to allow key COVID-19 health metrics to decline among other factors, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-21) disputed that reasoning. Munoz cited an analysis out of Johns Hopkins University that found measures to protect COVID spread made no significant difference and news reports on Murphy’s post-election focus groups to prove his request is based on political science.
“Sadly, Gov. Murphy hasn’t dropped the act. He says it’s data-driven decisions, but we just don’t see it. Pushing the budget address back has nothing to do with science, it’s political science,” said Munoz, the ranking Republican on the Assembly Budget Committee. “COVID has been used as a cop-out for too long. This bill helps the governor politically, while the actions over the past two years have proven not to help the residents medically.”
The bill moving straight to both chamber’s floors was an issue for Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-25). The Morris County lawmaker found the bill being emblematic of a process that saw nearly 30 bills in 2021 passed and signed into law that circumvented the committee process.
“The system is broken. Our process is no longer responsive. If we do not adhere to our processes, we disenfranchise our residents,” said Dunn, sponsor of a constitutional amendment to require every bill to be heard in committee. “(The public has) lost trust in us. I urge all of my colleagues, on this procedural matter, to respect the process and vote no on this extension.”
In the upper chamber, State Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) noted both the Senate and General Assembly have been holding regular in-person sessions safely, so there’s no legitimate public health reason to delay a joint session.
“We believe Gov. Murphy should comply with the law and deliver his Budget Message to the Legislature on time and in person,” said O’Scanlon (R-13), the Senate Republican Budget Officer. “The proposed delay is really about buying time to try and hide $3 billion of overtaxation that everyone knows exists and should be given back to taxpayers. That’s why the Murphy administration is trying to keep his budget plans a secret for as long as possible.”
During a press briefing Feb. 16, Murphy responded that he was confident that that the budget process would not be affected by a two week delay. The governor cited the State of the State address as well as his Inauguration in playing a role for the deferral in the address but noted his administration started the budget process in October.
“I now know enough to be dangerous about other state’s practices, and New Jersey has a really good setup in terms of how they do the budget,” Murphy stated. “You’ve got from March 8th to June 30th to basically conduct all the hearings, to head the discussions, to go out and talk about the budget. So for all those reasons, this is the right, responsible step to take.”
Murphy did confirm wanting to have a large, indoor address was a factor as well as “more time on the clock allows us to have a higher likelihood that we can do it in person.”
The cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey as of Feb. 17 was 1,860,716 with 2,501 total new PCR cases. There were 365 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 292,377. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,153,093.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 65 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 29,660. The state listed probable deaths at 2,949, bringing the overall total to 32,609. State officials noted 20 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Feb. 17, Bergen had a total of 192 new confirmed cases and 56 new probable cases, Essex 167 new cases and 18 new probable case, Hudson 172 new cases and 12 new probable cases, Morris 81 new confirmed cases and 21 new probable cases, Passaic 149 new cases and 11 new probable cases, Sussex 32 new cases and four new probable cases, and Warren 17 new cases and two new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 3,230, followed by Bergen at 3,063, Hudson with 2,458, Passaic at 2,098, Morris at 1,208, Sussex at 370, and Warren County at 305.
In regards to probable deaths reported Feb. 14, Bergen has 321, Essex has 311, Morris has 291, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 200, Sussex has 83 and Warren has 27.
As for the rate of transmission reported Feb. 16, it remained at 0.53 for the second day in a row. The daily rate of infections from those tested Feb. 12 was 7.0%; by region, the rate was 6.4% in the North, 7.3% in the Central region and 8.1% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 1,232 patients hospitalized as all 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports Feb. 17. By region, there were 464 in the North, 416 in the Central and 352 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 201 are in intensive care units and 141 on ventilators. A total of 194 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, intensive care units, ventilators 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.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 513 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 26,435 of the cases, broken down between 12,206 residents and 14,229 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,360 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 46,473 residents and 37,760 staff, for a total of 84,223.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 9,212 on Feb. 17. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,477 residents deaths and 149 staff deaths.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,590,901 in-state, plus an additional 556,441 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 14,147,432 as of Feb. 17.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,471,123 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 222,522 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,693,645. With just under 8.5 million eligible in New Jersey to be vaccinated, 77% are fully vaccinated and 91% have received at least one dose.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,548,129 for Pfizer and 1,294,786 for Moderna. A total of 62,579 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,905,494 have received a booster or third shot. Overall, 51% of the 5.7 million of those eligible have received their booster.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 709,989 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 576,307, Hudson 516,008, Morris 380,820, Passaic 350,674, Sussex 91,282, and Warren 59,367.
According to the state dashboard with 64.6% of all New Jersey schools reporting, new student cases totaled 3,910 and new staff cases 1,036 in the last week as of Feb. 6. Cumulatively, 132,263 cases have been reported— 103,614 students and 28,649 staffers.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Feb. 15, the state has tracked 503 school outbreaks and 3,433 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 19 outbreaks and 178 cases from the week previous.
Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey in the new report, Bergen County has 57 confirmed outbreaks with 328 cases, Morris County has 40 confirmed outbreaks with 246 cases, Essex County has 33 confirmed outbreaks with 232 cases, Passaic County has 22 confirmed outbreaks with 188 cases, Sussex has 34 confirmed outbreaks with 177 cases, Hudson County has 19 confirmed outbreaks with 92 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 15 cases.