Senate President Steve Sweeney believes Gov. Phil Murphy’s freezing of some budget items is an act of political retribution, no matter what the governor says.
“I am sorry, Governor, but your denials about how and why specific budget items were frozen just don’t hold water,” Sweeney said. “You spent weeks touting that the Legislature preserved 95% of your budget but then added pork. With 80% of the freeze items coming from your own proposed budget, it appears that [the Office of Management and Budget] determined that your budget was full of pork and the legislative additions were essential.”
Last Sunday, Murphy issued a line-item veto that cut $48.5 million out of the budget legislators sent to his desk. A $5 million grant to Cooper University Hospital, where Sweeney ally and powerbroker George Norcross is chairman of the board, was among the items Murphy excised.
The governor also froze $235 million in spending for programs across the state, including $15.4 million for Cooper’s South Jersey Cancer Program.
He said OMB made those decisions but hedged on how involved his office was in the process.
“At the end of the day, I’ve got to be the adult in the room that says ‘we don’t have the money to finance these right now,’” Murphy said.
The governor said decisions about which funds would be put in limbo were based on the seniority, cash value and scope of impact of a given program.
He insisted politics didn’t play a role in deciding which programs got placed on the backburner.
“It is obvious that services and programs associated with those who have legitimate disagreements with you were targeted. The facts and financial figures tell the truth. The fact that you instituted a freeze was overtly political to begin with. How did you simultaneously certify revenues and then decide the state would be short $235 million?” Sweeney said. “Being the ‘adult in the room’ means accepting responsibility for your actions, and not acting like the child who gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar.”