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GOP lawmakers express dismay with Gov. Murphy’s budget plan

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GOP lawmakers express dismay with Gov. Murphy’s budget plan

Feb 27, 2024 | 7:48 pm ET
By Sophie Nieto-Munoz
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GOP lawmakers express dismay with Gov. Murphy’s budget plan
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Sen. Declan O'Scanlon (R-Monmouth) speaks out against Gov. Phil Murphy's latest budget proposal at the Statehouse in Trenton on Feb. 27, 2024. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

After Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled his $56 billion budget plan Tuesday, top Republicans criticized the spending proposal’s new tax on about 600 businesses to fund NJ Transit, a $2 billion drop in the state’s surplus, and changes to school funding that they say would leave more than 100 schools with less in state aid.

“So while all sounds rosy when you hear the governor’s budget address, the legacy this administration is going to leave is tragically squandered opportunities that we may never get back in the course of our lifetimes,” Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) told reporters after Murphy’s speech.

They argued the record spending represented by Murphy’s budget plan is due to years of one party — Democrats — calling the shots. Sen. Tony Bucco (R-Morris) said that’s “not the way it should operate.”

Assemblyman John DiMaio called Murphy’s spending plan the “opposite of affordability,” adding that the “few crumbs” people receive from the Anchor tax rebate program will be erased by rising costs for families.

Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Union), who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor next year, echoed the concerns about one-party rule in Trenton.

“History has shown us, over the next few months, Democrats will add hundreds of millions of dollars for pet projects in their communities. These budget add-ons do not make New Jersey stronger, only more expensive,” he said in a statement.

Lawmakers added $1.5 billion onto last year’s budget in the final hours before its adoption without a clear explanation of where the money was going.

Republicans on Tuesday added that they don’t believe the Murphy administration will be able to follow through with the StayNJ property tax relief program, which aims to cut seniors’ property tax bills in half. Under Murphy’s current budget plan, the state’s surplus would drop below a level required by the StayNJ legislation. GOP lawmakers said they predict there will be an even smaller surplus in 2026, when the first payouts under the program are expected to be delivered and Murphy will be out of office.

“That’s unfair to let people think they’re going to get this when the reality is, will we be able to afford it? Most likely not,” Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Union) said. 

Murphy’s speech touted that his budget plan would fully fund the state’s funding formula for local school districts for the first time. But though the budget plan increases overall school funding, GOP lawmakers said they expect to see more than 100 school districts lose funding as part of the formula.

“The kids in those school systems, the parents in those school systems, they don’t think this is stronger and fairer,” said Bucco, using one of Murphy’s commonly used slogans.

District-level state aid figures are expected to be released in the next few days.

Bucco, the chamber’s minority leader, also voiced concerns over the state’s reduced surplus, which would fall from the $8.1 billion in the current year budget to $6.1 billion. And DiMaio faulted Murphy for the $4 billion the state “needlessly” borrowed in the early months of the pandemic when state officials believed they would need more revenue.

O’Scanlon, who serves on the Senate’s budget committee, predicted Murphy will leave the state with a larger budget problem than the one the state was facing when the governor took office in 2018, which O’Scanlon called “a tragedy” (Murphy in his speech noted that the state has seen seven credit rating upgrades in the last two years). Meanwhile, Bucco said he hopes Republicans aren’t shut out of the budget process this year.

“We get invited all the time, but when we get to the table, nobody’s there. It’s just us,” Bucco said.

Republican Jack Ciattarelli, a former Assemblyman who lost the 2021 governor’s race to Murphy and is expected to launch a 2025 campaign to succeed him, criticized the spending plan as one that does not improve the economic stability of the state. Instead, he suggested the budget is about helping First Lady Tammy Murphy’s “flailing” campaign for the U.S. Senate.

The budget is a “betrayal of what the Gov promised the state’s business community just weeks ago,” Ciattarelli said on social media. “Shame on him and shame on anyone who votes for it.”