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Gov. Phil Murphy. Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Murphy line-item vetoes $48.5 million

Sweeney says he doesn’t intend to override

By Nikita Biryukov, June 30 2019 4:49 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy signed the state budget in with a line-item veto hours ahead of the deadline Sunday.

Senate President Steve Sweeney suggested he would not seek to override the $48.5 million in line items or up to $235 million in impounded revenues that Murphy said he would only release once “savings assumed in this budget materialize, current revenues reliably overperform or the Legislature authorizes new revenues.”

Murphy, who has in recent days repeatedly asked “whose side” legislators who refused to send him a millionaire’s tax were on, declined to name any Democrats he thought ought to be ousted for their opposition to one of his top policy priorities, saying he could not hear a question that was repeated.

“I’m not sure I understood. Who specifically would I what?” Murphy said at an event that was more political rally than press conference.

“Let me come back to you one that,” he added after the question was repeated. “I honestly didn’t hear it, so I apologize.”

He never answered the question. He asked whose side legislators were on four times in his prepared remarks Sunday.

The bulk of Murphy’s $48.5 million in cut items comes from cuts to shared services agreements favored by some lawmakers. Those accounted for $38 million of the cuts.

Reductions in school choice funds accounted for another $4 million, and a $1 million cut to East Orange General Hospital was made because of supplemental funding provided to the hospital outside of the 2020 budget.

The remaining $5.5 million in cuts hit Camden, the seat of power of Democratic kingmaker George Norcross, a childhood friend and close ally of Sweeney.

Murphy insisted that those cuts — which eliminated $5 million in grants to Cooper University Hospital, where Norcross is chairman of the board and $500,000 for workforce analysis at Rutgers Camden — weren’t political.

“It is not, I promise you,” Murphy said. “This is literally assessed by folks who are making decisions in treasury and [the Office of Management and Budget], and they’re calling it based on those parameters I just mentioned.”

Murphy and Sweeney, with Norcross at the latter’s back, are feuding over tax incentive programs set to expire at midnight Sunday.

The senate president didn’t buy Murphy’s line on the Camden cuts not being political.

“Super pinky swear? Come one,” Sweeney said when asked whether he thought Murphy was lying. “Listen, the governor talked about whose side he’s on. I’m on the side of poor people who need healthcare. It’s unfortunate that he took this away from these people in Camden.”

It’s not exactly clear what funds Murphy plans to hold hostage.

Neither he nor his office gave any indication during Sunday’s event, and Murphy refused to say whether legislative priorities would make up $235 million held hostage.

Sunday’s events put a cap on a budget seasons that was marked by lawmakers’ hostility and intransigence.

The two camps did not meet after the legislature sent their budget to Murphy’s desk, instead opting to send letters to one another, some of which were less kind than others.

The season ended with Murphy repeating lines saying legislators were choosing millionaires and opioid manufacturers over the state’s residents and with Sweeney once more comparing Murphy to President Donald Trump.

“This actually reminds me of Donald Trump in some ways,” Sweeney said. “He declares victory after he doesn’t get his way, and that’s a little bit what happened today.”

The budget Murphy signed on Sunday did not include a millionaire’s tax, which was a cornerstone of Murphy’s 2017 campaign platform.

“I am really, with a couple of exceptions, happy that we got what we got in our budget,” Murphy said. “We got the overwhelming majority of our priorities, and, to me, that’s a huge deal.”

Sweeney, despite not receiving an invite to Murphy’s budget announcement, watched the governor’s speech from the back of the media room in 225 West State St.

Murphy asked the crowd of public-sector unions and activist groups aligned with the governor to acknowledge him, which they did with halting applause.

The senate president said he wasn’t concerned about those groups targeting members of his caucus in 2021.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, spent millions backing Sweeney’s Republican challenger last year.

“They’ve been doing that to me since I’ve been here,” Sweeney said. “I’m not a little bit worried because they haven’t been successful yet.”

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