Sweeney’s ‘Guarantee': I Won’t Let Murphy Divert Firefighter Funds
TRENTON — State Senate President Steve Sweeney said he will not allow money to be taken from the state firefighters' fund.
Gov. Phil Murphy's budget proposes redirecting the state's annual $33 million state contribution. The firefighter's fund since 1885 has been used to provide firefighters and their families with financial assistance during times of need including funerals, in-home medical care and retirement.
In December, however, the Office of the State Comptroller said most of the money is never spent because of “antiquated law.”
The governor defended the move on Monday by pointing out the fund has more than $240 million in unspent funds, which he said is six times the amount it needs. Murphy said he was open to discussion with the New Jersey State Firefighters Association, which maintains the fund, on loosening the outdated spending restrictions.
But the proposed budget move is being opposed by the Legislature's top Democrat.
“There is no reason and no excuse for denying firefighters support and assistance in their time of need,” Sweeney said in a statement. “They put their lives at risk every day in service to others. Refusing or reducing emergency responders and their families the care they deserve in order to prop up the budget is unacceptable. I can guarantee that it will not be included in the budget that gets approved by the Senate.”
“Firefighters and first responders are increasingly being treated for PTSD and other work-related illnesses,” Sweeney said. “This fund is used as a safety net for the men and women putting their lives on the line and who often suffer the consequences.”
Ed Donnelly, president of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, said Sweeney was not the only one against the move.
"We're very happy the Senate president is supporting us. We're also getting a lot of calls from other Assembly members and Senate folks from both sides of the aisle that are just appalled by the money grab here," Donnelly told New Jersey 101.5 on Tuesday.
Donnelly earlier said the fund has grown over the years because it’s been carefully protected.
“Just because we’ve been good stewards and have done good by caring for this fund, we should not be penalized for it by taking it," Donnelly said.
The New Jersey State Firemen’s Association and 538 separate Local Relief Associations receive about $30 million in funds from a 2 percent tax on fire insurance policies sold by out-of-state companies. The Comptroller's Office last year said that in 2016, the Local Relief Associations spent $10 million and most of it went to conferences, administrative costs and salaries, the comptroller said.