Governor confirms no shutdown, still deciding on line-item vetoes

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Gov. Phil Murphy announced that despite some fundamental differences with the $38.7 billion state budget sent to him by Democrats in the Legislature, he will meet the June 30 deadline and sign a budget without shutting down state government. He confirmed it will not include his proposed millionaire’s tax expansion.

“Our deeply-held values of fairness and equity do not expire at the end of any fiscal year. But I feel just as strongly that going into our July 4 holiday, I cannot and I will not subject our residents to the inconveniences they would suffer under a government shutdown,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s challenged the Legislature’s revenue figures, numbers he called “fuzzy” and “voodoo” math, and he’s condemned their empty rainy day fund. He’s accused them of stuffing the budget with “pork” and “Christmas tree items” and obviously intends to veto some legislative spending items.

“I still have to certify the revenues, and by the way we’re not waiting until Sunday to keep you in suspense for any reason other than we just got this a week ago and it’s an almost $40 billion budget and we are working morning, noon and night to meet a Sunday deadline, which we will do,” Murphy said.

One of the Legislature’s spending increases that will survive Murphy’s veto pen is the extra $50 million in operating funds for NJ Transit — money Sen. Loretta Weinberg lobbied hard for.

Weinberg said, “I’m glad we’re on the same ‘track’ and on behalf of all the commuters we all represent, we are pleased with the Governor’s support today.”

Advocates called it a win for NJ Transit.

“As the governor has pointed out, there is still a long road to getting NJ Transit back into very sound fiscal positioning, but happy to see that this is not going to be disappearing from the budget,” Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Janna Chernetz said.

“That $50 million makes a big difference,” said NJ Transit Executive Direction Kevin Corbett. “In a $2.4 billion budget it may not seem like much, but a major part of our budget is contractual obligations, labor contracts, so that gives us the kind of thing to make the improvements the governor mentioned.”

Murphy’s announcement Thursday comes toward the end of yet another rancorous budget cycle with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney. While they agreed on many items, lawmakers refused to back Murphy’s proposed revenue raisers — including his millionaire’s tax, opioid tax and gun registration fees, saying revenues are strong enough to avoid tax increases. They also reduced his funding boost on free community college tuition — one of Murphy’s signature projects. Now it’s the Legislature’s turn to wait and see what spending the governor will cut.

“The final details on the budget that I sign or will sign are still to be determined, but I will meet our constitutional deadline,” Murphy said.

The governor said his staff is still working its way through the budget deciding which items are “pork” and which ones will get to stay as the budget deadline ticks down toward Sunday.