In Trenton on Thursday, the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee held its next slate of hearings on Gov. Phil Murphy’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget with presentations by the Department of Community Affairs, the Department of Education and the Schools Development Authority.
The hearings opened with Chairman Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-36th District, acknowledging students touring the State House.
“Just give a little shoutout to all of the children that are here, all the kids and students that are here flowing around,” Sarlo said. “Great to see everybody back and moving around the State House.” April 28 is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.
The floor was then turned over to Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who also serves as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.
Oliver opened her testimony by running through some of the work and projects being done by the department. She also had a team of “lieutenants” on hand to provide answers on specific aspects of the DCA. Topics discussed included Hurricane Ida cleanup, eviction prevention, grants, shared services, COVID-19, and others.
“It’s been a rough two years as we had to navigate through the pandemic and begin to prepare to implement and administer programs that both you through the Legislature charged us with and the federal government,” she said. “We had to stand up, staff up, and hit the ground running in order to help constituents all across the state.
“But, as we emerge from the pandemic, we realized that we still have a lot of work left to do.”
Oliver noted efforts to get emergency rental funds on the street as quickly as possible, and boasted that the U.S. Treasury, in September 2021, ranked New Jersey as first in the nation among state-administered emergency rental assistance programs. “To date, we have dispersed more than $632 million in Federal Emergency Rental Assistance funds, and that has benefitted 77,9000 households across the state,” she said.
Oliver then ticked through concerns about court backlogs and the need for more affordable housing in so many areas around New Jersey.
The hearing got a bit testy as Oliver was questioned by Sen. Michael Testa, R-1st District. As he gave a long rundown of DCA grant projects, Sarlo jumped in and asked whether he was planning to ask a question, or just make a statement. Testa shot back that he did not interrupt anyone when it was their turn.
After Testa asked for details about certain grants, Oliver explained that her department is often just the administrator of such endowments. Testa pressed further, moving to affordable housing, asking why the budget proposal is light on information.
“As far as I’m aware, aside from a few sentences in a budget speech in this random press release, we as the Legislature have received zero details as to how the money would be allocated,” Testa said. “And based on the language changes in the budget, it seems the governor doesn’t want to have to explain his proposal more fully or gain legislative approval.”
Oliver responded that this is the point in the budget process to work through those details, and that she does not view the proposed spending plan as the Alpha and Omega. “What happens in those next ensuing months are things that are going on today, these budget hearings,” she said. “And as you work through your legislative committees, the Senate and Assembly, you work through a process of what eventually the Legislature intends to give back to the governor.
“I don’t think the governor’s proposed budget is a closed door to anything or any discussion.”
The hearings continued with an afternoon session as lawmakers heard from Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner for the Department of Education, along with Manuel Da Silva, chief executive officer of the School Development Authority, as well as other top officials.
“I look forward to testifying today in support of Gov. Murphy’s proposed Fiscal Year 2023 Budget,” Allen-McMillan said. “The governor’s spending plan will provide nearly $19.2 billion to support New Jersey schools, including increases in K-12 school aid, increases in preschool funding and various new and continued programs that prepare students for career success and promote healthy, safe, and high-quality schools with a $650 million increase in K-12 formula aid.”
The budget process continues to heat up as lawmakers review Murphy’s $48.9 billion proposal.