(The Center Square) — A New Jersey senator is criticizing a state panel for not moving swiftly to spend federal block grant money, arguing the delay is costing taxpayers millions.
New Jersey has received more than $6.2 billion through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, with more than $1 billion yet to be unallocated.
But state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, describes the process of determining how the federal money will be spent as a "secretive joke" and said there should be more legislative input and transparency, including an opportunity for public participation.
"This process of spending federal money is a secretive joke," he said in a recent blog post. "It blows huge chunks of money on frivolous things, and perhaps even worse...leaves billions of dollars languishing in idle state accounts to be ravished by inflation so more than a half billion dollars of buying power just disappears."
On Friday, New Jersey's Joint Budget Oversight Committee approved a request by the Murphy administration to use $2 million in federal funds for a marketing and outreach fund for the state’s new “Anchor” property-tax relief program.
The new program, which was approved earlier this year as part of the $50.6 billion state budget, will provide tax credits or rebates of up to $1,500 to homeowners, and $450 to renters below certain income levels. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said the program will cut property taxes 16% for the average resident.
But Republicans argued that the pot of federal money should be spread out over programs, such as capital grant projects to address flooding, parks, and infrastructure projects.
"It’s all frittering around the edges while we should be putting this money to good use helping businesses still struggling and wisely investing the money in ways it would provide relief for our beleaguered taxpayers," O’Scanlon said.
Republicans argue that the oversight committee has moved at a "snail's pace" to allocate the federal funding, estimating inflation has eaten away the buying power of money sitting in state accounts to the tune of an estimated $500 million.
"It’s taxpayer money, and we just set a half billion dollars on fire," O’Scanlon said. "Gov. Murphy slow-walking money given to us courtesy of federal taxpayers is a joke and wasteful."
Republican lawmakers have been calling for more transparency in New Jersey’s budget approval process and spending decisions on federal relief funds.
O’Scanlon said Republican concerns about allocating the federal grant money mirrors those on pork barrel spending, which he suggests are bypassing the normal legislative process.
“Some of this federal money is being spent without any legislative approval or even a legislative discussion," he said. "The governor has abused his authority by: buying the governor and lieutenant governor new SUVs; giving criminals leaving jail $4,000 checks; and building permanent bureaucracies with money that will eventually run out. It’s absurd."