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N.J. Republicans Slam Murphy’s Silence on Revenue Windfall

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 6/10/2021 Elise Young

(Bloomberg) -- The Republican minority in New Jersey’s legislature criticized Democratic Governor Phil Murphy for not disclosing his plans for billions of dollars in unexpected revenue. The money should go to the pension, taxpayer relief and other long-term relief from the state’s high expenses, they said.

Their remarks, in a streaming press conference, came after cancellations this week of Assembly and Senate hearings on Murphy’s $45 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. On Wednesday, Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio announced that New Jersey was heading toward record revenue, pushing forecasts $5.1 billion beyond an estimate four months ago.

Philip D. Murphy, Brian P. Stack are posing for a picture: Governor Murphy Holds Get Out The Vote Rally Ahead Of Primaries © Photographer: Paul Frangipane/Bloomberg Governor Murphy Holds Get Out The Vote Rally Ahead Of Primaries

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy

Photographer: Paul Frangipane/Bloomberg

Muoio was to appear at both hearings, but both were called off by legislative leaders without giving a reason. The Republicans said they suspected that the administration and Democratic lawmakers were devising spending plans without them.

“We will continue to discuss proposals with legislative Leadership to determine the best uses of state funds,” Alyana Alfaro, a Murphy spokeswoman, said in an email.

Jennifer Sciortino, a Muoio spokeswoman, said the budget now is the legislature’s purview. “Any additional spending will be the result of negotiations between leadership and the governor’s office,” she said in an email.

New Jersey is among several states, including California and Texas, with unexpectedly robust revenue, fueled by brisk retail sales and income taxes from high earners. As of February, at least 29 states had collected revenue equal to or in excess of prepandemic figures. States and cities also are receiving a total $350 billion in aid from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Senator Declan O’Scanlon of Little Silver said the money should be used to make a pension payment higher than the $6.4 billion pledged by Murphy for 2022, the first time New Jersey would make the full actuarially required contribution in more than two decades. Senator Sam Thompson of Old Bridge argued on behalf of “a group of people out there who have been forgotten: retired public employees who have not received a cost-of-living raise since 2008.”

Another senator, Michael Testa of Vineland, said Republicans “are being shut out” of budget negotiations and a chance to speak to Muoio.

“They’re hiding their treasurer from us, because they’re quite frankly concerned about the questions we’re going to ask in those hearings,” Testa said.

Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, the budget chairwoman from Newark, didn’t respond to a message seeking comment left at her district office. Senator Paul Sarlo of Wood-Ridge, who heads his house’s budget panel, had a full voicemail box and didn’t respond to a text message for comment.

Assemblyman Hal Wirths of Hardyston, the Republican budget officer, said Murphy already tapped $3.7 billion in emergency budget borrowing and the state received $6.4 billion in federal aid atop the unexpected revenue.

“The surplus should be given back to taxpayers because it is theirs to keep, and the state is already flush with cash,” Wirths said in a statement.

(Adds administration comment in fourth and fifth paragraphs)

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