Republicans filing a lawsuit to block Gov. Phil Murphy from borrowing billions to plug revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus won’t deplete party resources for the upcoming election, GOP leaders said.
“At some point you have to be willing to say ‘enough is enough’ and put our money where our mouths are,” said Doug Steinhardt, the Republican State Chairman. “You’ve got to fight back.”
Steinhardt wouldn’t speculate on the cost of the lawsuit, but noted that there is a limited window to mount a legal challenge to Murphy’s plan.
He said there are less demands on state party coffers in a federal election cycle.
“There are other sources of income that come into the party in a year like this,” he said.
In past years, the Republican State Committee depleted some of their cash on legal battles, including an extended court fight to force Gov. Jon Corzine to release emails with a labor leader.
But a court fight funded by Republicans nearly sixteen years ago is the foundation of a bid by Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and Senate Republican Budget Officer Steve Oroho to stop Murphy from borrowing money to balance the state’s annual budget.
Bramnick views that 2004 case, filed by Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance against Gov. James E. McGreevey, as similar to the one he is leading now.
“This issue is pretty clear cut. I don’t think anyone is going to differ on the facts,” Bramnick said. “It’s pretty much a yes or no question for the Supreme Court.”
Bramnick said the Corzine litigation was much more complicated.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that McGreevey’s plan to borrow $1.9 billion to balance the state budget was unconstitutional, but said their ruling would apply to only future budgets.
“That’s where the smoke and mirrors come in,” Oroho said. “The $5 billion is one thing, but what they’re really going for is $14 billion.”
One of the brains on the legal team in Lance v. McGreevey was Jay Webber, then a 32-year-old lawyer and now a seven-term assemblyman and former state GOP chairman. Webber is involved in guiding the Republicans through a lawsuit they have already won once.
The state Supreme Court is arguably more conservative today than it was in 2004, at least if one were to accept the definition of more conservative as simply being to the right of Chief Justice Deborah Poritz.
The announcement by Senate and Assembly Republicans and the state GOP follows a move to by Jack Ciattarelli, the only announced candidate to take on Murphy next year, to do the same thing.
The Republican leaders said that Ciattarelli was free to join their lawsuit if they want.
“If Jack is a candidate for governor and wants to reach out and join the elected group of representatives, the more the merrier,” Bramnick said.
Bramnick said that the responsibility was on him, Oroho and Steinhardt “because we’re actually in office.”
“Appearances are important. I like Jack, served with him in the legislature, but he’s a candidate for governor. He’s not presently holding office,” the minority leader explained. “I do have some concerns that the court views that as somewhat more political, though they’re going to view all of this as political.”
Bramnick and Steinhardt are both potential candidates for governor next year.
“Governor Murphy likes to say that we’re all in this together,” Steinhardt said. “We’re all in the storm together, but I think we’re weathering it in different boats. He’s in his yacht with the one-percenters and the other 99 percent of New Jersey is looking for a champion.”