New Jersey lawmakers sign off on $46.4 billion state budget

(The Center Square) – New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday signed off on a $46.4 billion fiscal 2022 budget, one that proponents heralded as a blueprint for the state’s emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic and critics derided as a missed opportunity to lay a foundation for the state’s future fiscal success.

The Senate passed the measure by a 25-15 vote, while the Assembly passed it by a 49-26 vote. Both chambers voted along party lines; the budget now heads to Gov. Phil Murphy for his signature.

The bill, S-2022/A-5870, increases spending by more than 15% over last year, includes $6.9 billion for the state’s pension plan and $3.7 billion to help the state tackle its debt. It also includes $319 million for tax rebates of up to $500 for more than 760,000 New Jersey families.

“This budget represents an important statement to all New Jersey residents: we are primed and ready to rebound from the pandemic,” Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said in a statement. “This spending plan makes important new investments that bring tax relief, increase affordability, reduce debt, and enhance the health and safety of residents. It is our state’s blueprint to emerge from the ravages of COVID-19 stronger than ever.”

The budget is higher than the $44.8 billion spending plan Murphy, a Democrat, proposed in February, and Democrats putting the spending plan together were emboldened by higher-than-anticipated tax revenues. The measure also gives lawmakers oversight on how the state spends roughly $6.3 billion in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds.

“The plan also safeguards the long-term health of New Jersey itself, with an additional $2.5 billion payment to the underfunded pension plan, more than a billion dollars for a Rainy Day Fund, and a commitment to pay off older, more expensive debt,” Sweeney said. “… In short, this is the epitome of responsible budgeting to benefit future generations.”

However, Republicans blasted the budget process, saying it lacked transparency, and criticized the spending plan as filled with pork. Unnecessary spending projects Republicans cited include $300,000 for the Paramus Public Library, $500,000 for the Woolsey Park band shell in Hopewell Township and $24 million for the Pompidou Center art museum in Jersey City.

“With more than $46 billion to spend, we can all find some good things in the budget,” state Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, said in a statement. “The problem, however, is with what’s not in the budget.”

Bucco said the budget doesn’t include an investment to revitalize the state’s economy or “meaningful” long-term tax relief, debt repayment or investment to replace the state’s obsolete computer infrastructure, such as those in use at the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

“If there ever was a time to build a foundation for future years, it is now,” Bucco added. “I am afraid we’ll be back here next year with nothing to show for the many tens of billions of dollars that are being spent.”

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