Showdown set as Sweeney’s Senate will vote to override Murphy’s veto on homeless housing aid

Updated Feb 20, 2019

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he will ask his colleagues Thursday to override Gov. Phil Murphy’s veto that killed legislation preventing thousands of low-income people, some of them chronically ill and disabled people, from becoming homeless.

The decision to hold the override vote in the Senate significantly amplifies the simmering tension between Murphy and Sweeney, fellow Democrats who have repeatedly clashed over the party’s agenda and how it is pursued.

This is the first override attempt in the Murphy era. Democrats who control the state Legislature unsuccessfully tried to overturn Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s many vetoes.

For politicians who both favor a progressive agenda, the clash of wills over a bill creating a more generous housing assistance program for thousands of chronically ill and disabled people in New Jersey is surprising. But Murphy wrote in his veto message the tab could rise to $100 million or more.

“While I certainly support the provision and expansion of affordable housing opportunities, I also believe that the long-term financial implications of the bill, and other bills that directly affect the state’s finances, must be carefully considered,” Murphy wrote in his veto message.

The governor recommended taking up a matter that expensive during budget negotiations.

In an interview with NJ Advance Media on Wednesday night, Sweeney noted that Murphy just last week signed a bill that spends $20 million every year for five years to subsidize the struggling horse-racing industry in New Jersey.

“We did $20 million a year for horse purses but we can’t help people being thrown out of their homes? Passing this is the right thing to do," Sweeney said.

Sweeney would need two-thirds of the 40-member Senate to vote yes to override, which is likely, considering the Senate approved the bill by a 35-0 vote last year. The state Assembly, which passed it by a 70-9 vote, would also need to override the veto.

"As prime sponsor, I was beyond upset,” Sweeney said. “He likes being known as a progressive and I am supposedly the fiscal conservative. How do you veto that bill?“

Murphy’s spokesman Mahen Gunaratna said the governor has demonstrated his support for housing assistance programs. In December, Murphy signed into law (S866), which gives the commissioner of Human Services discretion to renew the 12-month emergency housing assistance for another six months in cases of extreme hardship.

The bill Murphy vetoed, (S1965) called for a maximum of 18 months of lifetime “emergency assistance” payments for low-income people, but would not count any time they spent in the program prior to seven years ago.

The nonpartisan state Office of Legislative Services described the financial impact of the bill as “indeterminate.” Monthly rental stipends range from $600 to $1000 each, according to the office’s fiscal note for the bill.

“Nullifying Emergency Assistance benefits received more than seven years ago in the manner proposed by this bill would clearly trigger an ‘indeterminate’ unbudgeted cost potentially amounting to many millions of dollars,” Murphy wrote in his veto statement.

“Unfortunately, the Senate President’s plan is neither fiscally responsible nor a comprehensive approach to dealing with the problem,” Gunaratna said. "We have made it clear to the Senate President that we want to find a responsible solution, but sadly he has not chosen to do so.”

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