(The Center Square) – The New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee will hold the first scheduled hearing on Gov. Phil Murphy’s $40.7 billion budget plan, with testimony from the New Jersey state treasurer, on Tuesday afternoon, with the Assembly holding a similar hearing on Wednesday.
The Legislature is allowing written testimony, but is not holding in-person hearings. Sen. Steven Oroho says the hearings should be open to the public, even if it is just for a Zoom meeting.
“I know we all individually meet with concerned residents and I will be doing so throughout the budget process,” Oroho said in a letter to Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo. “But a public budget meeting is about more than good people having an opportunity to talk to us – and for us to hear from them. It is about their ability to do so in a public setting where the press can hear their concerns as well and share their concerns with the broader public.”
The 2021 fiscal year was delayed from a July 1, 2020, start date to Oct. 1 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Murphy proposed a revised budget on Aug. 25. While the lawmakers will hear from several departments, not all will appear.
The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee will hold hearings with the Departments of Education, Corrections and Labor and Workforce Development. The Assembly Budget Committee will hear from the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health and the Department of Transportation, the Motor Vehicle Commission and New Jersey Transit.
The budget process is not transparent and inclusive, Oroho said in his letter to Sarlo.
“I know we both are acutely aware of the increased disclosure requirements the business community has to the public as required by the likes of the Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulatory agencies, including New Jersey’s own Department of Banking and Insurance,” Oroho said. “Allowing this Administration to get away with such a lack of disclosure on such a large budget will be negligent on the part of our co-equal branch of government.”
Republicans criticized several tenets of Murphy’s budget proposal. The budget includes a millionaire’s tax, a permanent 2.5 percent corporation surcharge and the removal of the tax cap on boats.
Murphy also proposes giving each baby born in New Jersey $1,000. Republican Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick said the $80 million plan is not appropriate given the governor is borrowing money to cover revenue shortfalls.
“The governor must borrow $80 million to fund this ‘free money’ giveaway plan,” Bramnick said in a statement. “Maybe a better plan is just to reduce property taxes for our residents.”
Other lawmakers are concerned about proposed cuts to school mental health and counseling services.
“Our Governor is out of touch with the needs of our students and it’s obvious he cares more about creating ‘baby bonds’ and diverting school aid to urban districts,” Sen. Jim Holzapfel said in a statement.