NJ Has $3 Billion in Unspent Relief Money
New Jersey government hasn't been this flush with cash since, well, ever.
Billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funds have been flowing into the Garden State. So much of it, in fact, lawmakers and Gov. Phil Murphy haven't been able to spend it all.
As legislative budget hearings continue this week, who controls all that money has become a source of increasing tension between Murphy and fellow Democrats.
There is over $3 billion in unspent relief money.
An agreement was struck in this current budget that the legislature and Murphy would jointly control the distribution of that money, with the Joint Budget and Oversight Committee having to approve any spending.
However, lawmakers are furious at what they see as a power grab by the governor. His new budget proposal erases the oversight and any accountability Murphy would have to the legislature for how he chooses to spend the federal funds.
That made for an uncomfortable appearance before the Senate budget committee for Murphy's treasurer, Elizabeth Muoio.
Muoio stumbled as she was pressed hard by chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) to account for the money and why the oversight language was removed from the proposed budget.
Sarlo told the treasurer Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) was not happy to learn the language was removed, and neither was he.
The budget chairman was then more direct, telling Muoio oversight was a "non-negotiable item," and budget talks would stop until it was restored.
Having the extra money has become more critical amid already record spending in the proposed budget. With inflationary pressures potentially impacting the state's sluggish economic recovery and the very real threat of a recession, a solid reserve would ensure continued solvency.
Yet few are talking about keeping the money in reserve. Democrats and Republicans are eager to spend it, they just can't agree on how. GOP lawmakers want to use it to stimulate the economy to try and stave off recession. Democrats seem to favor increasing social programs, but that creates recurring spending that could be difficult to support if the economy slows down.
Lawmakers and the governor have until July 1 to enact a new spending plan.