Wildwood has gotten nearly a century out of its famous boardwalk. That’s a lot of value. It’s not only a compelling tourist destination, it’s a linear park that encourages many healthy habits — walking, running, bicycling, breathing the salty air by the beautiful beach and ocean. Now it must be replaced.
That’s expensive, so the city has turned to the state for funding. The Legislature approved, but Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed the funding last month, saying the money wasn’t sufficiently accounted for in the state budget.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, during a visit to view structural damage to the boardwalk last week, dismissed that excuse. He said Murphy approved of the same funding process when it was used to give $20 million to the horse racing industry.
Since Murphy took office, he and Sweeney have fought nearly constantly — over control of the party, taxes, conduct of the Murphy campaign, tax incentives … pretty much anywhere one saw an opportunity to gain an advantage over the other. Sweeney and his supporting legislative leaders twice denied Murphy the simple millionaire’s tax he wanted. Murphy dramatically weakened the business incentives in the growth zone at Atlantic City International Airport and his NJ Transit shut down the Atlantic City rail line for several months to send its trains and crews out of South Jersey.
With the veto of the Wildwood Boardwalk funding, Murphy now “appears intent on bringing his opponents to heel in the most effective manner possible — using control over state resources to reward or punish,” Carl Golden, a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, said recently.
The upcoming November election has raised the stakes in this internal feud among Democrats.
An important reason Wildwood boardwalk funding is advancing now is because three Democrats in the 1st District are seeking re-election. All three sponsored the initial bill that Murphy vetoed.
State Sen. Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland — the top of the ticket and the only senator seeking re-election this fall (he was appointed to replace Rep. Jeff Van Drew) — is now sponsoring a new bill to make Wildwood’s boardwalk and others eligible for money from the state Transportation Trust Fund. Sweeney vowed to speed it through the Senate and give Murphy another chance to help the state’s tourism industry.
As Sweeney noted, Cape May County generates $550 million a year in state revenue, mostly from tourism, so $4 million a year for a new boardwalk would be “a hell of a deal.”
When Andrzejczak’s bill to exempt regular vacation home rentals from the new so-called Airbnb tax reached Murphy’s desk in the summer, the governor let it sit there and South Jersey Democrats stew for weeks before signing it.
Now the governor again has a chance to undermine the re-election of members of his party who are aligned with his rival. That seems like it would cross a line for the Democratic Party in New Jersey, so we expect Murphy to find a way to support one of the boardwalk funding methods and his party’s ticket in the hotly contested 1st District. If not, well, then the internal feud has turned into war.