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New Jersey Institute for Social Justice president Ryan P. Haygood.

Black leaders call for pro-transparency budget reforms

United Black Agenda backs waiting period for bills as Democratic leaders face questions over diversity in budget process

By Nikita Biryukov, June 29 2021 1:56 pm

A group of Black leaders called on Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders to reform the state’s budgeting process to be more inclusive and transparent shortly before the governor signed the state’s $46.4 billion appropriations bill into law Tuesday.

“With this signing, he culminates a budget process that largely shut out the voices of New Jersey’s Black and Brown communities and was instead led by New Jersey’s most powerful elected officials, each of whom are white men: Governor Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Speaker Craig Coughlin,” members of the United Black Agenda coalition said in a joint statement.

The group includes among others, New Jersey NAACP President Richard Smith, New Jersey Policy Perspective President Brandon McKoy, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice President Ryan Haygood and Salvation and Social Justice Director Rev. Charles Boyer.

The call for reforms comes after Democratic leaders in Trenton faced scorn over an opaque budget process. Budget committees in both chambers cleared the 280-page appropriations bill mere minutes after its full text became available last week.

The three leaders faced direct criticism over diversity in the budget process last week. Decisions surrounding billions of dollars in taxpayer funds, the critics said, were made by three white men without opportunity for meaningful input from the public.

“If Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin want to begin to reach a solution, they must, first, create a process that empowers Black and Brown communities to advocate for those investments. They did not,” the coalition’s members said. “This budget received votes by lawmakers who stated, in committee, that they did not have enough time to read it or understand it.”

In defense, legislative leaders have pointed to diversity on their budget committees. Two Latinas, State Sens. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) and Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Barrington) sit on the Senate panel, as do two Black members, State Sens. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) and Troy Singleton (D-Delran).

The remaining four Democratic seats are split equally between white men and women.

Five of the Assembly Budget Committee’s Democratic members are persons of color, including Chairwoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Newark).

As part of their call, the coalition urged lawmakers to require bills sit for a period of days after they become publicly available and before seeing a vote.

Gov. Phil Murphy has mentioned a similar program and proposed a three-day waiting period for bills last February, though that bill never moved.

“If New Jersey is to ever live up to its stated values of liberty and justice for all, naming systemic racism is an essential starting point,” the coalition said. “We urge the Governor, Senate President, and Speaker Coughlin to work with their colleagues and make transformative and reparative investments in the billions in marginalized Black communities and other communities of color.”

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