New State Budget of 54.3 Billion Dollars Features Big Spending Increases and Complaints about Lack of Transparency

by John Reitmeyer – NJ Spotlight June 30, 2023

Gov. Phil Murphy, just hours before the start of a new fiscal year, signed off on a new state budget that calls for another big increase in year-over-year spending.

An election-year spending bill approved in both houses of the Legislature on Friday includes more money for K-12 public schools, child tax credits and senior property-tax relief, among other key initiatives. All 120 seats in a Legislature now controlled by Democrats are on the November ballot.

Murphy signed the spending bill into law just after 8:30 p.m. During a State House event, he said it wouldhelp address the “affordability challenges” faced by many middle-class residents.

“Everything in this budget is about growing and strengthening the middle class,” Murphy said.

Pet projects, last-minute add-ons

Overall spending is slated to increase by more than 7% compared to the budget enacted around this time last year — well above the annual rate of inflation. And lawmakers have new funding set aside for pet projects and other last-minute add-ons, such as $4 million for a public marina in Woodbridge and $500,000 for a dog park in Rahway.

In all, the new budget calls for $54.3 billion in total spending, adding more than a $1 billion to the $53.1 billion spending plan unveiled by Murphy, a term-limited Democrat, earlier this year.

During Friday’s budget debates, Republicans continued to air concerns about transparency and a lack of public access.

Meanwhile, the majority Democrats’ budget also calls for spending down nearly $1 billion share of the remaining COVID-19 aid New Jersey received from the federal government. Funding for hospitals and firefighter safety grants are among the many line items listed in that section of the nearly 300-page spending bill.

At the same time, a planned more than $2 billion deposit into the state’s debt defeasance and prevention fund has been whittled down to $400 million, according to legislation that has advanced along with the new spending bill this week.

How they voted

The Assembly approved the budget in a 51-27 vote. A few hours later, it cleared the Senate by a 25-12 margin. Both houses are controlled by Democrats.

Democrats defended their spending bill, the largest in state history, citing the funding for property-tax relief programs and school aid, among other key programs and services.

“Before you, is a significant budget, that makes significant investments and provides significant property-tax relief,” said Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chair Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen).

During Friday’s budget debates, Republicans continued to air concerns about transparency and a lack of public access. They also noted that written budget resolutions that document the dozens of spending items that were added by the majority at the last minute were not made public prior to final consideration of the spending bill.

“New Jersey deserves better,” said Sen. Michael Testa (R-Cumberland).

The state Constitution requires a balanced budget to be in place at the start of each new fiscal year on July 1 or the state government is forced to shut down.

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