The Murphy administration on Wednesday unveiled $235 million of frozen spending items which were in the 2020 budget lawmakers initially sent the governor last month—the vast majority originally earmarked toward projects for local counties and towns.
Gov. Phil Murphy said those spending items will be put on hold until enough revenue materializes to support the added costs of those projects.
“The Legislature included up to $235 million in questionable savings items the administration identified as not likely to materialize, as well as initiatives the Legislature added but failed to adequately fund,” reads the Wednesday morning statement.
Unlike the $48.5 million of projects which Murphy vetoed from the budget, the governor maintained that he actually supports all the projects he put on hold. The money is simply not there at the moment, he argued.
“The overwhelming amount of the up to $235 million are programs we like,” Murphy said at a Sunday budget press conference. “At the end of the day, the buck stops with me. I’ve got to certify these revenues.”
Almost $105 million of the frozen spending is state aid to local towns, which is generally used by often needier governments to plug holes in their budgets.
Murphy also froze over $27 million for different projects related to the Cooper University Health System – where South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross is a top executive.
That includes $15.4 million to the South Jersey Cancer Program in Camden, $7 million to the Cooper Medical School at Rowan University and $5 million towards operations support for the medical school. He also vetoed $5 million towards Cooper Health’s “Vulnerable Communities Access to Care grant.”
Although the governor denied that the move was meant as a swipe at Norcross, his chief political opponent Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, disagreed, saying that the move was “punitive” and hurt “people that are underserved.”
Cooper University Health Care Senior Vice President of Communications & Marketing, Thomas Rubino, issued a statement on Wednesday expressing how inexplicable Murphy’s actions are. “We note that the state budget has more than $30 million for cancer programs in northern New Jersey that Governor Murphy did not freeze. Governor Murphy’s actions today are more inexplicable given just over 100 days ago, his proposed budget included this exact same cancer funding for Cooper. What has changed?,” Rubino stated.
Murphy is also freezing a handful of projects for Essex County, including $6 million for the recidivism pilot program, $20 million from the county jail’s substance use disorder program, $3 million from the Essex Crime Prevention, $7 million from SNAP and $4 million from the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange.
The governor froze $1 million earmarked for the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium to bolster local media projects, $500,000 from the New Jersey Hemp Farming Fund and $100,000 from the Jersey Fresh program.
The freezes also extend to dozens of local projects, such as $750,000 toward the East Brunswick Senior Center, $100,000 toward the Bergen Family Center Teen Center, $3 million toward improvements and repairs of Camp Irvington in Irvington, $1 million toward the Carteret Arts Center, and improvements and repairs for several highways and major roadways.
Still, Sweeney said on Sunday that he was fine with money being frozen and the move was a relatively common practice under former-Gov. Chris Christie.