FILE - NJ Elizabeth Maher Muoio 4-13-2018

New Jersey Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio.

(The Center Square) – The federal government has sent New Jersey $6.3 billion in “relief funds” as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), but precisely how the state plans to spend the money is still undetermined.

The state received the money on Wednesday. Some lawmakers said they learned about the development during a Thursday Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing with state Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio.

Republicans said they were blindsided by the revelation and seized the news to criticize Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, for keeping lawmakers in the dark about the funds. They are pushing legislation, S-3712, to remove the governor’s authority to spend “emergency disaster aid” and “economic stimulus” funds during the 2021 fiscal year.

“It’s absolutely shocking that Budget Committee members had to learn from Treasurer Muoio through a casual answer to a question at [a Thursday] hearing that the Murphy administration is sitting on $6.3 billion of federal aid,” state Sens. Steven Oroho, R-Sussex; Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth; Michael Testa, R-Vineland; and Sam Thompson, R-Middlesex, said in a joint statement.

“Once again, the Murphy administration has failed to be transparent about New Jersey’s finances and kept important information from the public and legislators,” the lawmakers added. “Further, it’s clear that neither Governor Murphy nor Treasurer Muoio are willing to articulate a plan to spend this money effectively. We can’t afford to let this money be wasted as happened with the billions in CARES Act money that the Murphy administration wasted and misspent.”

However, the governor’s office said they are still evaluating how the state can use the money. 

“The guidance issued by U.S. Treasury is interim and not yet final,” Darryl Isherwood, a spokesman for Murphy, said in an email. “We will continue to evaluate the allowable uses of ARP funds while working in conjunction with our partners in the Legislature to make sure we meet the state’s many pressing needs and ensure our continued recovery from the pandemic.”

Some business leaders have suggested that the state use the federal dollars to reduce some of its debt.