Gov. Phil Murphy said he was floating a waiting period between when lawmakers send a budget to his desk and when he ultimately signs it, as lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Legislature face criticism for fast-tracking the record-high Fiscal Year 2022 spending plan.
The governor defended the budget process as is.
During the June 22 Senate budget committee hearing, a 281-page budget was introduced roughly 10 minutes before lawmakers approved it.
The bill now goes for a full floor vote in both chambers on June 24. It includes half a billion dollars of added pension payments beyond the $6.4 billion Murphy sought and $3.7 billion to pay down some of the state’s most expensive debt.
Lacking from the budget are upgrades to the state unemployment system and replenishment of the state unemployment fund after it was used to pay out billions of dollars in jobless benefits over the past 15 months.
It also lacks a recurring source of revenue for New Jersey Transit.
“Would I be open-minded to sort of a window between posting and voting? Yeah, that is something I would welcome,” Murphy said when asked about it during his regular COVID-19 press briefing on June 23.
“As a general matter, New Jersey’s got a good process,” he added. “Presenting our budget in February, countless hearings … regular revenue updates.”
Text for many of the bills, such as the spending plan and the $3.7 billion debt defeasance program, took hours to be posted.
Republican lawmakers in both budget committees complained of a lack of transparency in the spending process.
“[New Jersey] Democrats passed bills yesterday that weren’t even written yet, including a bill spending more than $100 million on items unknown,” tweeted Sen. Mike Testa, R-1st District, who sits on the Senate Budget committee. “We were told the information would be available later. It reeks of Nancy Pelosi to have to pass it to find out what’s in it.”
NJ Democrats passed bills yesterday that weren't even written yet, including a bill spending more than $100M on items unknown. We were told the information would be available later. It reeks of Nancy Pelosi to have to pass it to find out what’s in it. https://t.co/gGfzGTu5z8
— Senator Michael Testa (@senatortesta) June 23, 2021
Former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, a Republican seeking to unseat Murphy in the gubernatorial race this November, promised as governor to veto any bills that are not posted at least seven days before a vote.
“No more backroom deals that disrespect the taxpayers, stifle free press, and embarrass our state,” he said in a statement Wednesday morning.
Murphy admitted that the process could, nonetheless, be improved upon and that the fault lays on “both sides”–with his administration and the Legislature.
“That’s why I say, sitting down and trying to figure out a good way forward, I think it’s something I’m open-minded to,” he said.
The $46.4 billion spending plan, should Murphy approve it, would be the state’s largest budget in a single year. It’s fueled by a $10 billion surplus and $6.5 billion in federal aid under the American Rescue Plan.
When asked, Murphy declined to say whether he would sign the budget as is, or nix any spending items in what is called a line-item veto.
The budget has roughly half a billion dollars of projects benefiting individual towns and cities across the state – something that has typically been decried as “pork spending.” That includes $24 million for an art museum in Jersey City, $15 million for demolitions in Camden, $300,000 for the Paramus library, $10,000 for the “Brian Stack Intern Program,” and $300,000 for a Little League field in Franklin Township.
“It’s a tradition that there be a combination of governor-initiated programs and expenditures and legislative-initiated programs and expenditures,” Murphy said.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story indicated that the “Brian Stack Intern Program,” was named for a state senator, however that was incorrect, it is named for a different Brian Stack; the story was updated at 8:48 a.m. EST on June 24, 2021.