The governor doubled-down on Monday, saying there was no political motivation behind the spending freezes and line-item vetoes his office unveiled July 3 for the state’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget—a move called “Bridgegate on steroids,” by his political opponent in the Legislature.
Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy froze $235 million of spending from the plan the Legislature sent him and cut another $48.5 million. The frozen spending will be put on hold until savings or revenue materializes.
“Those are expenditures we want to see done. We believe in them. We just don’t have the money,” Murphy said. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to be the adult in the room that says we don’t have the money to finance these right now,” he added.
Businesses and legislative leadership accused Murphy of political retaliation for cutting a $5 million program and freezing another $27 million for Cooper University Health Care, where South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross is a top executive.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the governor was “acting like the child who gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar,” rather than “the adult in the room.”
“There’s no bias — geographic, institution or otherwise,” Murphy said at an unrelated event Monday in Jersey City.
“The three questions are: are these new or old elements of the budget… the breadth of the community they impact and… the timing throughout the year,” the governor added.
Programs that are not reliant on all the money being allocated at once, versus over the course of the year, might be more likely to be frozen, Murphy said.
The three questions are: are these new or old elements of the budget… the breadth of the community they impact and… the timing throughout the year.
– Gov. Phil Murphy
Among the $27 million in frozen Cooper funding is $15.4 million to the South Jersey Cancer Program in Camden, $7 million to the Cooper Medical School at Rowan University and $5 million toward operations support for the medical school.
“We need to know if there is such a difference in the severity of cancer cases that programs in North Jersey should be sustained while those in South Jersey are cut,” Sweeney added. “Are the medical schools outside of South Jersey doing something so different that OMB feels risking the closure of the South Jersey medical school is somehow a benefit for New Jersey?”
The move was also lambasted last week by Cooper officials, who suggested political motivation for the cuts.
“We note that the state budget has more than $30 million for cancer programs in northern New Jersey that Gov. Murphy did not freeze,” Cooper spokesperson Thomas Rubino said in a statement issued on July 3. “Gov. Murphy’s actions today are more inexplicable given just over 100 days ago, his proposed budget included this exact same cancer funding for Cooper,” he said, adding: “What has changed?”
The budget also freezes $105 million in aid to local towns, which is used by the state’s most disadvantaged and often-struggling local governments to plug holes in their budgets. Murphy also froze millions of dollars of state aid to universities, and an array of local projects including the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange.
This story has been updated with comments from Senate President Stephen Sweeney.