Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday threatened to use line-item vetoes to cut spending in the Legislature’s proposed $38.75 billion budget, saying lawmakers are overestimating revenues, as the deadline for the state to reach a balanced budget is less than two weeks away.
“So, to be clear, if this budget contains the revenue for your added spending, I will work with you,” wrote Democrat Murphy in a letter to the Democrat-led Legislature. “But if not, I will be forced to take corrective action.”
Line-item vetoes would be met with veto override votes, Sweeney said at a Wednesday editorial board meeting at The Press of Atlantic City.
“The reality is our numbers are real,” Sweeney said. “The only phony numbers are his.”
The lawmakers’ budget, approved by key committees early this week, includes $100 million in new legislative spending priorities and an additional $50 million to NJ Transit, compared to the extra $25 million Murphy’s budget provides.
Murphy released his $38.6 billion budget in March. The state constitution requires a balanced budget be in effect by July 1.
In the letter, Murphy also objected to the lack of a millionaire’s tax in the legislative budget, to the lack of increased taxes on gun sales and opioid manufacturers, and to the “indefensible and needless cuts to wildly successful programs, such as tuition-free community college.”
Murphy’s budget included $28.5 million in Community College Opportunity Grant funding, which the lawmakers cut.
Sweeney said community college is already the most affordable form of higher education, and federal grants already provide free community college to those whose families make less than $45,000 a year.
The legislators’ budget also includes an additional $4.5 million for Stockton University and $7.5 million for Montclair University, Sweeney told The Press.
Sweeney said those two schools are growing fast and greatly underfunded compared to the state’s other four-year higher education institutions.
In spite of the back and forth, Sweeney said he remains confident there won’t be a state government shutdown over the budget.
Murphy narrowly averted a state shutdown in 2018 with a last-minute budget agreement.
There have only been two state shutdowns in New Jersey history.
The first was July 1, 2006, after the Legislature and Democrat Gov. Jon S. Corzine failed to agree on a state budget by the constitutional deadline. They clashed on the issue of raising the state sales tax to help balance the budget. It ultimately went up to 7% from 6%, and the state reopened July 8.
That shutdown forced the closing of Atlantic City casinos during the high season, costing the state $1.2 million a day in tax revenue. The law was later changed to allow casinos to stay open during a shutdown even though state regulators were not working.
The second happened July 1, 2017, when Republican Gov. Chris Christie failed to reach a budget agreement with the Democrat-led Legislature. It ended July 3.
That shutdown is best known for producing photos of a swimsuit-sporting Christie enjoying the empty and closed Island Beach State Park with his family.