The state’s environmental and progressive groups are pushing for Gov. Phil Murphy to funnel more money toward public health and ecological policies, as the governor readies to deliver his third annual budget address Tuesday.
“Funding public health safeguards has suffered due to 25 years of fiscal irresponsibility that will take years to recover from,” reads the joint Feb. 20 letter signed by 48 separate groups. “Your revisions to the [Fiscal Year] 2018 and actual FY 2019-20 budgets began the effort to repair that damage.”
The state’s current budget clocks in at $38 billion and expires on June 30, at which point Murphy will have to sign a new budget, or else have to order a government shutdown.
Murphy is widely expected to make the millionaire’s tax – twice blocked by the state Legislature – a key part of his plan, which will cover the 2021 budget that starts July 1.
“We urge you to continue and accelerate that trend with fewer one time infusions of money, a fair balance of budget cuts and tax fairness, less diversion of dedicated funds, and a healthy budget surplus,” the Thursday letter adds.
The groups are calling for increased funding for New Jersey Transit, an end to long-term budget raids of the state’s Clean Energy Fund and Department of Environmental Protection, and financing for capital upgrades to the state’s water infrastructure.
“These funds and paying for them responsibly are critically needed to compete and defeat the crises we face,” Clean Water Action Campaign Director Eric Benson said in a Thursday statement.
Murphy’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Earlier this week, a group of progressive activists identified $3.1 billion of potential revenue for the state in the upcoming budget, and the Thursday letter points to several of those same potential funding sources.
The state has long relied on the practice of raiding pots of money to plug holes elsewhere in the budget, resulting with dollars ultimately not being used for their intended purpose.
One practice the groups are seeking to end is taking from the state’s Clean Energy Fund, which is used to assist the lower-income residents with utility bills: The Murphy administration diverted $146 million in the 2019 fiscal year and $87 million in the current fiscal year.
The groups are also seeking an end to the practice of using capital funds dollars, which are intended for upgrades and long-term projects.
NJ Transit’s current budget relies on more than $460 million from capital funds, despite Murphy’s criticisms of the same practice under the Christie administration. Legislative leadership is promising a recurring and potentially constitutionally-protected source of funding for NJ Transit as part of upcoming budget talks.
The groups are also pushing for a reversal to Christie-era budget cuts of the DEP. State environmental officials told lawmakers a budget hearing last year that they were still feeling the effects of that practice.
The groups want long-term upgrades to the state’s water infrastructure, which includes stormwater management, lead mitigation, sewage and “unregulated contaminants.”
“This requires billions of dollars over many years. We can’t afford to wait – the problem just gets worse,” the letter adds. Murphy and lawmakers are pushing for the state to borrow $500 million for phasing out lead pipes and paint across the state, but many estimates peg the actual dollar amount needed in the billions of dollars.