By Rosemary Becchi
With debt ceiling negotiations continuing in Washington, all sources of federal dollars are on the table, including the prospect of clawing back any unspent federal pandemic funds from the states. And that’s bad news for New Jersey, because due to Gov. Phil Murphy’s mismanagement, over $5 billion would be quickly stripped from our state’s coffers. Billions of dollars may not seem like a lot of money to Murphy, but to New Jersey families and businesses who are struggling, it’s unthinkable to send that money back to Washington.
Murphy has had two years to spend $6.2 billion in pandemic emergency funds. New Jerseyans are still hurting from the aftermath of the governor’s pandemic lockdowns and deserve real relief. Thousands of businesses closed their doors and many never re-opened. And now supply chain issues and inflation are crushing many large and small employers alike. Our kids suffered widespread learning loss, equivalent to seven years of progress. And post-COVID-19 depression and anxiety levels among children and adolescents have sky-rocketed, with teen mental health emergencies at an all-time high.
So, with $6.2 billion in federal funds to provide pandemic relief, what did Gov. Murphy do? Did he put that money into our public schools to address the learning loss that brought testing levels down to 2015? Did he fully fund the 157 school districts that are receiving significant state funding cuts this year? Has he spent that money on hiring more behavioral health specialists and counselors in our schools? Is he cutting taxes for the small businesses that are struggling with inflation, or reducing personal tax rates for struggling families, something that 21 other states have done?
No, Gov. Murphy is not doing any of those things. He did, however, purchase a fleet of eight new SUVs for $521K for his family and administration’s security detail with federal COVID funds. Meanwhile, $5.2 billion in federal funds are sitting in an idle account unused, being eaten away by inflation and at risk of being clawed back to Washington, DC. While the Murphys get brand new SUVs, New Jersey families and businesses get absolutely nothing.
The reality is, New Jersey taxpayers send more money to Washington, D.C., than we receive in services compared to any other state. It would be fiscal malfeasance for New Jersey to lose federal funds earmarked for helping our residents recover from the pandemic. To make matters worse, the New Jersey Department of Treasury recently announced it expects to collect $1.2 billion less for this fiscal year than it originally estimated, and Office of Legislative Services projects a $2 billion shortfall in revenues over the next two years. It makes no sense to leave $5 billion on the table when it could be put to good use helping New Jersey businesses and families.
Republicans in the Legislature have repeatedly reached out to Gov. Murphy to provide common-sense solutions to disburse these funds and to help those who need it most. However, the Administration has refused to work with them and has chosen to sit on the funds, which are being devalued by inflation and now at risk of being lost.
At a rally for Albio Sires for mayor in West New York, when talking about a state funding proposal, Murphy said to the crowd, “Remember one thing when anyone says something otherwise, tell them Murphy said the following: it’s my money and that’s how it’s going to be spent.”
No, Gov. Murphy. It’s the taxpayers’ money. Now give it back, before we are at risk of losing it to Washington, D.C.
Rosemary Becchi is founder and president of Jersey 1st, a Morristown-based nonprofit founded with the mission of being a voice for the hard-working people of New Jersey.