Gov. Phil Murphy is asking lawmakers to approve $700 million in COVID-19 recovery spending to bolster health care infrastructure and support New Jersey’s post-pandemic economic rebound.
The proposals must be cleared by the Legislature’s Joint Budget Oversight Committee. Murphy, in a Nov. 26 announcement, said legislative leaders have agreed to approve the funds.
“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,” the governor said.
Republicans were critical of the timing, during the usually quiet Thanksgiving week. Murphy’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The governor proposed 13 projects in a Nov. 24 letter from the State Treasury Department to JBOC. The panel is scheduled to meet virtually on Nov. 30 to consider those requests.
Of the $700 million in proposed spending, $262.6 million would come from the $6.4 billion of federal pandemic-relief dollars the state received under the American Rescue Plan. The remaining $435 million would be drawn from a fund established to prevent the state from taking on more debt.
“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,” Murphy continued.
State Sen. Steven Oroho, R-24th District, and the incoming Senate Republican Leader, characterized the plan as “grossly incomplete” that fails to “address key needs for New Jersey.”
While the funds can and should be used to “help workers and small businesses, support tenants and landlords, invest in infrastructure improvements, fix broken computer systems at unemployment and the [Motor Vehicle Commission], and prevent unnecessary tax increases on employers,” Oroho said, “most of those important priorities still haven’t been addressed.”
Murphy had the option to use the ARP funds to maintain the weekly $300 supplemental unemployment payments, but declined to do so, saying the state would burn through the cash too quickly.
Murphy and Democratic legislative leaders also declined to use the funds to offset tax increases employers began paying this fall to replenish the state unemployment fund, which was drained during months of COVID-19 business closures.
“The Murphy administration can’t undo the harm that’s already been done, but it can work to enact a comprehensive plan as we’ve proposed using the billions in relief funds that are still available,” Oroho said.
Treasury officials told lawmakers that the $435 million from the New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund would keep the state from having to add another $8.7 million next fiscal year to its $44 billion debt obligations and avoid another $508 million in future debt service payments.
The administration is seeking $265 million for the New Jersey Wind Port in South Jersey, and $75 million to build the Rowan University School of Veterinary Medicine.
Another $45 million is being proposed for dredging at the wind port, $35 million for the South Jersey Port Corporation for port upgrades and improvements and $15 million for the expansion of the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.
Hackensack University Medical Center would get $100 million to improve its health care infrastructure.
The Department of Community Affairs and the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency would receive $40 million to “fill COVID-induced” supply chain gaps in affordable housing and community development projects.
Another $37.5 million would be used to help rent-relief applicants most at risk of eviction, and $25 million for the state to buy land in Essex and Hudson counties as part of a planned $65 million Greenway transportation corridor spanning the two counties.
Under the plan, the state would spend $20 million in COVID relief to help Inspira Health purchase Salem Medical Center.
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