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Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Coughlin will back Murphy borrowing plan

Assembly Speaker will seek legislative oversight, some spending cuts

By David Wildstein, May 20 2020 5:30 pm

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin told his leadership team today that he will support Gov. Phil Murphy’s emergency borrowing plan to plug holes in the state budget created through the coronavirus pandemic, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

Coughlin will back Murphy on a proposal to use the proceeds of bond sales that could bypass spending and debt constraints in the State Constitution, a source with first-hand knowledge of the call told the Globe.

The Speaker will seek legislative oversight, some budget cuts, and will listen to feedback from the Assembly Democratic Caucus.

Coughlin’s move comes two weeks after Senate President Steve Sweeney said that Murphy has not yet convinced him of the need for massive borrowing.

Last month, Murphy floated the idea of borrowing as much as $9 billion to help the state get through the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

“I’m not sure exactly what the amount would be, but we want this tool in our tool belt, and when I say we, that ain’t just me,” Murphy said on April 16.  “This is on behalf of the 9 million of us who care about great public schools, police and fire services at all levels of the state, who care about pension payments getting made, etc.”

Update — Speaker Coughlin issued a statement on Wednesday evening: 

“As I have previously indicated, to help us through the unique challenges and the significant revenue loss the coronavirus public health emergency has caused, I will support legislation to responsibly borrow funds to make up for our substantial revenue shortfall and stimulate our economy.

“I believe the time has come to take the next step to enable the borrowing by posting the ‘COVID-19 Budget Recovery Act’ for a vote in the full Assembly on June 4.

“The coronavirus pandemic represents the greatest public health and economic challenge we have faced since the Great Depression, nearly a century ago.

“Our residents face record unemployment, loss of business and difficulty in paying rents and mortgages.  The middle class is struggling to make ends meet.

“Furthermore, the State Treasurer estimates the revenue loss in excess of $10 billion.  It’s an economic tsunami that requires an extraordinary action.  I therefore support the Governor’s proposal to meet this crisis in the most prudent and immediate fashion. 

“While not ideal, I will support the borrowing of necessary funds through bonding, provided the sacrifice is spread evenly and that proper Legislative oversight is included, to ensure our economic position is strengthened for both the present and future.”

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