Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday approved the biggest budget in state history, a $ 50.6 billion spending plan that now heads to Gov. Phil Murphy for final approval before taking effect Friday.
Dealing with an unprecedented surplus, legislators added $ 1.7 billion to the $ 48.9 billion budget Murphy proposed in March. The latest spending plan features a range of tax breaks and investments, from Murphy’s previously announced property tax relief plan and fee holidays to $ 1.8 billion for water infrastructure to reduce lead in municipal water systems and addressother sanitary issues.
Another $ 2.9 billion is earmarked for capital projects for the Schools Development Authority, New Jersey Transit and the Department of Transportation. The SDA and NJ Transit have had no long-term funding for many years as crucial infrastructure like schools and trains age and break down.
Ahead of the vote Wednesday, Sen. Holly Schipesi, R-Bergen, noted that the budget has increased more than $ 14 billion in the last four years and that Democrats were now “setting the floor at $ 51 billion” because she has yet to see the Legislature embrace spending cuts during her time in office.
“We could have done so many different things but instead we relied on gimmicks,” she said. “This is an enormous obligation we are putting on the residents of this state and one that I truly do not believe is sustainable moving forward.”
Senator Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, spoke about the benefits of this budget, including the special education aid.
“To say that this entire budget is just terrible is doing a disservice to all the people it’s going to help,” he said. “I know its going to help a lot of our school districts, a lot of our teachers and a lot of our kids. ”
Surplus spending:NJ may offer school supplies’tax holiday’this summer. Here’s what would be tax-free
During marathon committee sessions on Monday, lawmakers approved some of Murphy’s signature proposals, including a “fee holiday” for marriage licenses and driver’s licenses as well as sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping later this summer.
Much like other years, Republicans ridiculed Democrats for a lack of transparency. Democrats helped shape the budget over the last three months but didn’t make it public until Monday night, after committees approved it.
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, pointed out that they only had the document for about 20 minutes before the vote was called, so “nobody voting on it today is going to have a chance to read the whole thing.”
The highlights of the new budget include:
ANCHOR property tax relief
The cornerstone of Murphy’s oft-discussed affordability effort is the ANCHOR Property Tax Relief Program. First unveiled in March as a three-year plan, the updated version is expected to provide $ 2 billion in relief to homeowners and renters.
More: More:Murphy’s property tax plan would give some residents up to $ 1,500. Find out what you’d get
The new budget also includes $ 814 million for Transit projects, including capital improvements and maintenance at various facilities. Projects include $ 250 million to redevelop Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden, $ 191 million in improvements at Newark Penn Station and $ 176 million for infrastructure and access improvements at the Hoboken Ferry Terminal Building and Hoboken Bus Terminal.
More: More:NJ Transit to get money for upgrades at Newark Penn, other locations
About $ 1.9 billion is being allocated to the Schools Development Authority. Of that, $ 1.55 billion would pay for school facilities projects, emergent needs and capital maintenance in the state’s 31 SDA districts, while $ 350 million would pay for projects in non-SDA school districts. The authority is out of money for new projects and has about $ 6.5 billion in needs to address overcrowding and outdated schools.
Related: Related:Overcrowded and crumbling, schools in New Jersey’s 31 SDA districts are outdated
Tax and fee holidays
As Murphy and legislative leaders announced last week, the budget includes that 10-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping. While most shoppers may be stocking up on notebooks and pencils, the list of items included doesn’t end there. Laptops, televisions and even bicycles are considered school supplies and will be among the products with no sales tax from Aug. 27 to Sept. 5.
The budget spends $ 60 million to offer “fee holidays” for driver’s license renewals, marriage licenses, state park entry and about 130,000 health care professionals who are applying for or renewing their licenses.
Saving for recession
State leaders also socked away $ 6 billion into surplus, a record amount, said Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, the budget chair. Such a large amount in savings helps the state’s credit rating while also having a buffer for a widely anticipated recession, she said.
“This is what responsible budgeting looks like: promoting affordability, spending within our means, helping people who need it and meeting or exceeding all of our state’s obligations,” Pintor Marin said.
Republicans called it a “wasted opportunity” that leans on gimmicks rather than meaningfully reducing taxes, aiding struggling households and investing heavily for the long term.
“We’re left with a series of one-shot gimmicks and respectfully the people of New Jersey deserve better than that,” said Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, R-Ocean.
Back to school:NJ may offer school supplies’tax holiday’this summer. Here’s what would be tax-free
Katie Sobko is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to her work covering New Jersey’s governor and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.