A four-word e-mail from Gov. Phil Murphy’s political consultant to George Norcross’ spokesman gives legitimacy to claims that a $5 million budget cut to Cooper Health Care was an act of political retribution.
“No pain, no gain,” wrote Steve DeMicco, who also runs the Murphy-tied New Direction New Jersey dark money group, in an e-mail to Daniel Fee, who works for Norcross.
DeMicco’s comments could be interpreted as a move by Murphy to punish Norcross and other South Jersey Democrats as the governor fights a bitter intra-party war.
Fee had sent out a press release on July 3 responding to Murphy’s line item veto of money for Cooper and his announcement that he had frozen $27.4 million in funds earmarked for the hospital system.
DeMicco’s response a little more than 2 ½ hours after the release was sent by Fee, whose e-mail address him as affiliated with Connor Strong, the insurance company Norcross runs.
On Monday, Senate President Steve Sweeney said that he viewed Murphy’s decision to cut or freeze some budget items as politically motivated.
“It is obvious that services and programs associated with those who have legitimate disagreements with you were targeted,” Sweeney said. “The facts and financial figures tell the truth. The fact that you instituted a freeze was overtly political to begin with.”
The Cooper release criticized Murphy for freezing $15.4 million in funding for cancer patients – funding that the governor had proposed that funding in his own budget.
“What changed,” Cooper asked, noting that Murphy did not freeze $30 million in funding for North Jersey cancer programs.
The press release also alleged that Murphy targeted $12 million that was supposed to go to Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. According to Cooper, Murphy said “there’s not (a) better medical school I the state that Cooper.”
DeMicco did not immediately respond to a 1:45 PM call seeking comment.
The governor’s office said that DeMicco was not involved in the state budget process.
“Steve DeMicco is an outside political consultant to the Governor and to many other clients. He played no role in the drafting or implementation of Executive Order 73,” Dan Bryan, a senior advisor to the governor, told the New Jersey Globe. “The Governor’s budget actions were driven by his fiduciary responsibility to the people of New Jersey, not politics.”
This story was updated at 3:39 PM with comment from Murphy’s office.DeMicco Cooper