(The Center Square) – The New Jersey Assembly Budget Committee on Thursday approved a $7.7 billion supplemental state spending plan for the next three months, a move that is needed due to the extension of fiscal 2020 through Sept. 30 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The plan also includes an additional $4.6 billion in federal funds.
The plan, which does not include a tax increase but does include $4 billion in cuts, was given to lawmakers just hours before the vote. The Senate Budget Committee votes on the bill Friday, with the full bodies both scheduled to vote Monday.
The planned cuts include some to programs that provide property tax relief to seniors and disabled residents. More money will be allocated to higher education. The Department of Labor, which has been criticized for its responses to unemployment recipients during the pandemic, will also receive additional funds for technology.
The vote was along party lines with all Republican members opposing the bill.
Assemblyman Hal Wirths said he was disappointed in the transparency and the timing of the bill. He asked about the $400 million in property tax savings “at a time when there’s never been more struggling since the Great Depression to get by.”
Assemblyman John McKeon criticized Republicans for their opposition, noting they voted against a proposed bond issue that would allow Gov. Phil Murphy to borrow $5 billion to offset budget shortfalls.
“There was not one vote from the minority party as it related to the bonding plan which would put us in a position if we were to move forward, not to have to make gut-wrenching decisions,” McKeon said. “With all that said, I don’t see how anyone votes against this budget. It’s got no new taxes. It’s got no borrowing and it’s balanced in the most incredible circumstances just by cuts.”
Murphy said during his daily news conference he feels as if there is good common ground with both chambers and no one is “looking at it with a lot of joy now.”
“I need to reiterate we need to bond and take advantage especially of the Federal Reserve’s special program and secondly, we need direct cash assistance,” Murphy said.
The plan is “as painful as it can be,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem, vice chairman of the committee.
“Everyone keep in mind what the governor will choose to deappropriate is not absolutely known yet. We will have another voice in this process as we move forward even in this short time,” he added.
Assemblyman Edward Thomson, who is not a member of the budget committee, criticized the deferral of nearly $1 billion in pension payments to FY2021.
“The state’s failure to make the necessary payments is what led to the pension crisis that we have been trying to dig out of for more than a decade,” said Thomson. “Skipping this payment undoes the progress we have made and threatens the retirement of hundreds of thousands of public workers.”