Murphy: ‘There’s No Bias’ in Picking $235M in Spending to Freeze
JERSEY CITY – Gov. Phil Murphy says he feels very confident in the process that identified $235 million in spending currently frozen in the 2020 state budget and that the items haven’t been impounded for political purposes.
Murphy announced June 30 that he would freeze some appropriations over concerns that revenue forecasts or savings initiatives in the new budget won’t pan out. He said the freezes are “geographically spread all over the state” in rejecting the idea South Jersey was disproportionately targeted.
“The factors are: Are these old or new elements of the budget? Number two, what’s the breadth of the community they impact. And number three, the timing throughout the year,” Murphy said. “There’s no bias, geographic, institutional or otherwise.”
“I don’t know there’s anything on there I wouldn’t do, if we could find the money,” he said. “The problem is both the revenues we got back from the Legislature as well as the savings, we could not justify.”
Murphy said that’s a difference between the $235 million in frozen spending and $48.5 million in line-item vetoes he issued last Sunday.
“Assuming the savings are real or revenues come in better than we think, or I think the easiest one is find a different revenue stream, a new revenue stream, those are expenditures that we want to see done. We want to see all of that invested. We believe in them. We just don’t have the money,” Murphy said. “And at the end of the day, somebody has got to say: ‘You know what? I’ve got to be the steward of the fiscal reality of the state.”
At first a week ago, Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, shrugged off Murphy’s plan to impound $235 million in spending, saying he wasn’t concerned because he was confident the Legislature’s revenue forecast is sound.
After the list was released Wednesday, however, Sweeney called it “an abuse of gubernatorial power that victimizes some of the neediest and most vulnerable people in New Jersey.”
“The governor’s action putting a so-called freeze on items cherry picked from the budget is a shameless act of political retribution that is both petty and vindictive – it’s Bridgegate on steroids that punishes those who disagree,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney continued the criticism Monday. He said 80% of the spending that was frozen came from his original budget, not the legislative additions he had derided as pork. And he questioned why funding for cancer and medical school programs in South Jersey were frozen while those elsewhere were not.
“It is obvious that services and programs associated with those who have legitimate disagreements with you were targeted,” Sweeney said. “The facts and financial figures tell the truth.”
The freezes amount to $235 million across 64 line items in the budget. The single largest appropriation currently in limbo is nearly $105 million in transitional aid to localities with financial difficulties.
In South Jersey, the freezes include $15.4 million for Cooper Hospital’s South Jersey Cancer Program, $12 million to the Rowan/Cooper Medical School, $4.6 million to Stockton University, $3 million from the Rutgers/Rowan business school, $2 million for the CREATE program at Rowan University and $1 million from the Battleship New Jersey Museum.
The freezes also include $36 million allocated to Essex County, as well as $4 million to Turtle Back Zoo, $3 million to Irvington and $7.5 million to Montclair State University, all also in Essex County.
Elsewhere in North Jersey, the freezes affect $4 million to Union County and $3 million to Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck.
Operating subsidies were also frozen in the amount of $1 million each for Ramapo College, The College of New Jersey and Thomas Edison State University, as well as for independent colleges.