The Murphy administration on Thursday unfroze $114 million of spending from the 2020 budget lawmakers sent the governor in June – nearly half of the $235 million he put on hold – arguing that the move was justified by strong state monetary performance.
A statement from the state treasury, released just an hour before Gov. Phil Murphy’s move, indicated that the state’s revenue recollections for September – the third full month of the 2020 fiscal year – were on target, a sign of optimism for New Jersey’s budget in the coming year.
Murphy froze dozens of spending items when he signed the $38.7 billion budget on June 30, arguing they might not be supported by revenue or savings predicted by lawmakers.
Revenue for the first quarter of the fiscal year – July through September – was up 7 percent over the same period last year.
Legislative leadership had accused Murphy of twisting arms politically, since many of the items he froze were related to Cooper University Health Care, where one of Murphy’s biggest political foes is the board chair: South Jersey power broker George Norcross. But, the unfrozen dollars include a $7 million grant to Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, $1.3 million for the South Jersey Cancer Program in Camden, $5 million for the Rowan/Cooper Medical School operations support and $170,000 for the Rutgers Camden Mental Health and Well Being program.
The administration unfroze $53.7 million of transitional aid, which is state aid that goes to help balance the books of the state’s poorest municipalities.
$20 million dollars for the Essex County Jail Substance Use Disorder program was unfrozen, as was $500,000 for the state’s hemp farming fund, $100,000 for the Jersey Fresh program, $396,000 for Holy Name Hospital’s Palliative Care Pilot Program and $3 million for the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station.
But the unfrozen transitional aid is roughly just half of what lawmakers appropriated, and it is not clear which local governments will receive the dollars and which will still have to wait.
Stockton University was appropriated $4.6 million for dormitory construction at its Atlantic City campus in the 2020 budget, but that is still frozen, as is $4 million to the Turtleback Zoo in Essex County, $2.5 million to the Rutgers School of Engineering and $1 million each to Ramapo College, Thomas Edison University, The College of New Jersey and New Jersey City University.