Gov. Phil Murphy speaks in Asbury Park as election results show a dead heat between him and GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration outlined more than a quarter billion dollars in federally funded spending in a proposal shared with a legislative panel Tuesday.
The governor’s proposal includes nearly $263 million in spending priorities that range from additional hospital funding, rental assistance, and money for school construction projects to items apparently unrelated to the pandemic, like the recently announced Essex-Hudson Greenway Project and a giant trash pile in Vernon.
The proposal will need approval from the Joint Budget Oversight Committee to go into effect. It’s won little favor from the panel’s Republican members, though Democrats hold four of its six seats.
“It appears the administration’s plan is grossly incomplete and fails to address key needs for New Jersey,” Sen. Steve Oroho, the Senate GOP budget officer, said in a statement.
The plan includes $100 million for the Hackensack University Medical Center, $20 million to help Inspira Health acquire the Salem Medical Center, $5 million for RWJ Barnabas Health and Rutgers University Behavioral Health, and $3 million for renovations to the Morristown Medical Center’s emergency department.
Another $40 million would pay for unforeseen expenses related to the pandemic and incurred by ongoing affordable housing and community development projects.
The proposal calls for an additional $37.5 million to aid troubled tenants file applications for rental assistance. Those funds can also be used to hire additional staff to process rent relief applications. Murphy in August signed a bill appropriating $750 million in American Rescue Plan dollars to aid troubled renters. Most of that money, $500 million, went to rent relief, while the remainder went to utility assistance.
The administration has also asked the bicameral panel to approve $25 million for the purchase of a nine-mile stretch of railroad tracks that was decommissioned nearly two decades ago.
That money accounts for more than a third of the $65 million expected to be spent on land purchases for the Essex-Hudson Greenway project, which envisions a walkable route running between Jersey City and Montclair.
The $25 million in federal dollars will go into the Green Acres State Land Acquisition Program. The administration’s proposal says the purchase would support stormwater drainage and unspecified health needs.
The administration also wants $10 million to be dedicated to boost retailers in urban areas. Those funds would be split between programs run by the Economic Development Authority and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
Another $5 million would go toward a marketing campaign to draw businesses to the Garden State.
The governor asked the same amount be appropriated to educational and social services at the Wally Choice Community Center in Montclair. Essex County officials announced renovations to the center in July.
The Alexander Hamilton Visitor and Education Center in Paterson could get $2 million to boost tourism under the Murphy proposal.
There’s also $100,000 to clean up a seven-story trash pile in Vernon Township that’s drawn the ire of the Department of Environmental Protection.
A Republican proposal for the federal money — a plan that garnered little interest from chamber Democrats — would have appropriated $2.5 billion to the state’s depleted Unemployment Insurance Fund, $1.5 billion to school construction, $1 billion to business aid, and $500 million each to update state computer systems, rent and mortgage assistance, and state school aid.
A deal reached to end the state’s public health emergency in June provided the governor with a $200 million pot of federal funds he could use without legislative approval, with a cap of $10 million per program. Other expenditures using American Rescue Plan money must be approved by the joint panel.
Federal rules allow American Rescue Plan money to be used to supplement public health spending, defray the pandemic’s economic impacts, replace tax revenue caused by COVID-19, boost pay for essential workers, and make investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
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