New Jersey Governor Promises No State (or Beach) Shutdown

By Nick Corasaniti

THE NEW YORK TIMES

June 27, 2019

A budget showdown between Gov. Philip D. Murphy and legislative leaders threatened a state shutdown that would have closed Island Beach State Park.

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In New Jersey, a nasty fight among top Democratic elected leaders threatened to ruin escapes to the Jersey Shore.

A new state budget is due by midnight Sunday. Without one the state would shut down, closing, among many other things, Island State Beach Park, a 10-mile stretch of sand along the Atlantic Ocean that’s a popular destination in the summer.

But on Thursday, Gov. Philip D. Murphy, who has been quarreling with fellow Democrats in the Legislature, announced that the state would meet its deadline and avoid a shutdown.

“I want to give folks up and down the state a sense of security,” Mr. Murphy said at a news conference. “Closing state beaches and parks only punishes the innocent.”

Besides closing state beaches and parks, a shutdown would also furlough state employees, close motor vehicle offices and halt sports betting. The state’s casinos, however, would have remained open for a few days.

Mr. Murphy has been facing a difficult situation since last week, when the Legislature sent him a $38.7 billion budget that did not contain one of his top priorities: a tax on the wealthy. Legislative leaders are adamantly opposed to raising taxes in a state with some of the country’s highest tax rates.

The plan did include hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending that was not in Mr. Murphy’s initial budget proposal.

The gridlock over the budget has exacerbated an already tense relationship.

On Wednesday, a war of words erupted between Mr. Murphy and the Legislature, with Mr. Murphy portraying lawmakers as being on the side of wealthy special interests. Stephen M. Sweeney, a Democrat and the Senate president, fired back and accused Mr. Murphy of throwing “tantrums” and compared him to President Trump.

Until Thursday, the governor had been adamant that he was considering all options, suggesting that he was prepared to reject the budget entirely and plunge the state into a shutdown.

But in announcing that he would not close the state government, Mr. Murphy left himself with two options: he could sign the budget as it is or use his line-item veto power to remove specific spending provisions.

“Make no mistake: I have very strong feelings about some of the Legislature’s wrong choices in our next budget and I will continue to press our case for smart investments and tax fairness,” Mr. Murphy said.

The governor’s office announced that Mr. Murphy would hold a “budget event” in Trenton on Sunday, though it did not provide any details.

Mr. Murphy could use that event to reveal that he is wielding his veto pen, perhaps naming some of the items. In recent days, the governor has castigated lawmakers for stuffing millions of dollars in projects into the budget at the last moment.

Mr. Sweeney and other legislative leaders have threatened to seek overrides if Mr. Murphy does veto specific items, though it is unclear whether enough support exists in either chamber to deliver a rebuke to the governor.

Mr. Sweeney and Craig Coughlin, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

The state’s powerful public sector unions had taken Mr. Murphy’s side in the battle, saying they supported the so-called millionaire’s tax; they praised the governor’s move to eliminate the possibility of a shutdown.

“We welcome and support Governor Murphy’s decision,’’ said Hetty Rosenstein, the director of the New Jersey chapter of the Communications Workers of America. “And while we are disappointed the Legislature is not joining the governor, we enthusiastically look forward to joining him in his commitment to restoring balance and fairness to the New Jersey budget.”

Budget brinkmanship has become routine in New Jersey in recent years, clouding potential Fourth of July vacations to the state’s parks and beach as politicians in Trenton argue over how much the state should spend.

Two years ago, former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, was forced to shut down the government during a budget impasse. Though many angry vacationers were turned away when they showed up at the beach on July 1, the shutdown did not derail the governor’s plan.

In an infamous moment that became national news, Mr. Christie and his family were photographed lounging on a vast and empty stretch of beach that had been closed to the public.

Last year the state came within hours of another shutdown when Mr. Murphy was again pressing to raise taxes on the wealthy. At the last minute he and Mr. Sweeney reached a compromise to raise taxes on those making $5 million or more, instead of the $1 million threshold Mr. Murphy is still pressing for.

The governor said he intends to continue campaigning for the tax, including during the fall when the entire State Assembly is up for re-election.

“I’m going to talk about it every day if I can,” Mr. Murphy said in an interview. “I will discuss it when they’re having their elections and when they’re not having their elections.”

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