Gov. Phil Murphy fired back at Republican lawmakers who in recent days have claimed the governor was using a borrowing plan to hike property taxes on the state’s residents.
“We have no plans to raise property taxes, and the irony is really at so many levels it’s too thick to cut through,” Murphy said. “But at least two levels: If we didn’t do the bonding, that’s how property taxes would rise, because folks would have no other choice but to offset the cuts that would come their way.”
The Assembly advanced the bonding bill on Thursday in a vote that largely fell along party lines. The measure would allow the state government to borrow up to $5 billion to shore up budget holes caused by the pandemic.
Republicans — including GOP State Chairman Doug Steinhardt, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli, among others — have threatened to sue if Murphy signs the bill.
They say borrowing to prop up the budget doesn’t pass constitutional muster, citing a 2004 New Jersey Supreme Court decision.
They also claim that language included in the bill that would force a surcharge on property tax payments if the state’s sales tax revenues were insufficient to make debt service payments on the bonds is Democrats’ way of pushing through a pandemic-era tax hike.
But the same passage appeared verbatim in a 2012 bill that authorized $750 million in bonds for capital projects at the state’s colleges and universities. Bramnick was one of the bill’s prime sponsors, as was Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield).
“The chorus of voices who have been talking about this, they have voted for the exact same language — and I’m very happy to read their names, either alphabetically or by height — on many occasions over the years,” Murphy said. “It’s the exact same language that’s in every bonding that the Assembly and Senate and the legislature has ever approved, at least for decades.”
The State Senate has yet to take up the bill, and Senate President Steve Sweeney has regarded the bond act with a degree of skepticism.
But all 12 of South Jersey’s Democratic Assembly members backed the proposal Thursday, signalling that the bill isn’t wholly lacking support among leadership in the legislature’s upper chamber.