Gov. Murphy’s Budget. Part III: The spending plan

Having written about Governor Murphy’s revenue plans in Part II we now turn to expenses. During the campaign he spoke about reimagining and reinvigorating New Jersey. He  starts now with a likely budget gap and is facing injurious Trump/congress proposals, but given his 13.5% margin win over Kim Guadagno, such should not stop him from promoting the fulsome vision he promised. Polling shows he has sufficient public support in key areas. He has been given a four-year term so he should take a long view with a multi-year budget plan to outline the expensive but essential programs. Many smaller projects (new and existing) bare mentioning as do those he seeks to cut or end. In December he took a swipe at Christie with a vow to give us “honest” state budgets. We expect no less.

Christie used to over-estimate anticipated revenue so he could include items he liked such as huge tax subsidies, while hiding his cuts in safety net programs and other essential needs such as NJ transit. An “honest” realistic budget would be welcome – one strongly emphasizing what Murphy wants to accomplish, with priorities, but also being realistic about what he can get done. We look for a plan that is more transparent and uplifting than what we saw in the past 8 years.

The Rutgers Eagleton poll released this week show the level of willingness of the public for support for key projects:

PROJECT                                                                                                             very willing    somewhat willing

Transportation and infrastructure                                                                                     37%                                39%.
Free University.                                                                                                              45%                               23%.
Fully funding NJ school District                                                                                      41%                               28%
Free Community college for all NJ residents                                                                  44%                               25%.

Fully funding public employee pension system                                                               33%                               29%.

A somewhat similar Quinnipiac poll a year ago indicated New Jersey voters are solidly behind spending more money to improve the Garden State’s public schools, but send mixed messages on the subject of funding public employee pensions. Nonetheless, Murphy should not be dissuaded from stabilizing the pension fund, currently an albatross over us. Our unfunded pension liability is the 4th highest among the 50 states. We need
a payment plan to ensure it is robust enough to stabilize the system. A new policy shift that ups the rate of return will give him some breathing room.

No one solution is going to fix the state budget and it will take many years to “right the ship.” Because the above programs are expensive and will take time to flourish, Murphy should provide a multi-year budget implementation plan. He can lay out a four year plan, most likely with limited funding the first year, but with incremental increases over his four year term leading toward accomplishment of the goals. With accountability/evaluation mechanisms, the plan can be modified in each of the coming years based on anticipated revenues and exigent circumstances. With such a system he can make clear his expansive intentions, let recipients plan for the increased funding, and display a reassuring, much needed long term vision.

In spite of a still lagging economy Murphy is not without help in funding new important programs and increasing outlays in existing projects. He can buoyed by the fact that ten-years on, NJ is finally back to a pre-recession level. Here are just a few examples.

  • NJ Transit: in dire straits and will require a multi-year rebuilding plan.
  • More infrastuction needs: The gas tax increase in 2016 was supposed to solve underfunding of infrastructure projects, but lawmakers want $166 million more for rail, roads, bridges on top of the $2 billion already budgeted.
  • Housing: End Governor Christie’s practice of diverting affordable housing funds to plug holes in the budget.
  • Clean energy: invest in solar, wind, and other renewable energies; increase funding and provide market incentives for energy efficiency.
  • Establish A Public Bank: to invest directly in New Jersey – and for New Jersey – to keep government monies in our own state.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit: An increase reduces revenue intake, but helps working people most in need.
  • ACA: Prop up the state’s endangered Obamacare market using state funds for advertising and outreach.

Also  Murphy should be able to find and mention needed cuts such as with the EDA subsidies and the expensive Statehouse renovation. A review of Christie’s opioid budget should be undertaken. Murphy could set an example by reducing the costs and staff in Christie’s over expensive Executive Office budget.  And the list goes on…

Let. us know what other projects are important to you and what cuts Murphy should make.


You can also read Governor Murphy’s Budget. Part I: His Transition Advisory Committee smart recommendations here and Part II: NJPP recommendations in line with the public here.

The next Part IV will be about what else, not just revenue and expenses, he should mention in his address.

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