FILE: Fiscal Deficit

(The Center Square) — New Jersey has the worst fiscal health in the nation, with billions of dollars in debt and not enough money to cover bills, according to a watchdog report.

The latest Financial State of the States 2022 report from Truth in Accounting, placed the Garden State dead last among the top five "sinkhole states" for fiscal health, with an individual taxpayer burden estimated at nearly $59,000, the highest total for any state in the nation. 

It's the 13th straight year New Jersey has been ranked last in the nation.

The report's authors gave New Jersey’s financial condition an “F” grade due to excessive spending and the pension and healthcare debt. The group said the money needed by the state to pay its outstanding bills has increased by more than $12.5 billion in the previous fiscal year. Overall, the state's outstanding bills add up to more than $241 million, the group said. 

New Jersey’s financial position appeared to decrease in 2021, according to the report. The decline will likely continue as federal pandemic aid dries up, and the market value of the state's retirement system assets declines.

"New Jersey had only set aside 47 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and one cent for every dollar of promised retiree health care benefits," the report's authors wrote. "Given these facts, the state’s overall debt situation will likely further deteriorate over the coming year."

Republicans say the report highlights "reckless spending" by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's administration which they say has added billions of local pork into the state budget. 

"What we’re doing now is only digging a deeper hole," Testa said. "All this does is make an already unaffordable state even more unaffordable. We must chart a new fiscal course because New Jersey residents deserve better."

Testa and other Republicans have filed legislation to curtail the amount of earmarks going into the budget to require some funding to be distributed through competitive grants. 

“Some of these payouts may be for worthy causes," Testa said. "However, these awards should be transparent, competitive and merit based, but what we’ve seen out of Trenton is secretive, arbitrary and unfair."