So will your state government shut down now that Dems have defied Murphy on the budget? Governor refuses to say.

Updated Jun 21, 2019

Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday refused to say whether he would shut down New Jersey’s government in his quest for a millionaires tax or if he would sign the state budget passed by lawmakers by the June 30 deadline.

At a Friday afternoon news conference in Trenton less than 24 hours after the Democratic-controlled state Legislature sent him a $38.7 billion budget he said is loaded with pork and based on distorted tax revenues, the Democratic governor stressed again that “everything is on the table.”

But in his opening remarks, Murphy said that “within the next nine days I will meet my constitutional responsibility to enact a balanced budget, ” — which would assure government would stay open and avoid the kind of down-to-the-wire political brawl that brought the state to the brink of a shutdown last year.

When questioned about half an hour later, Murphy said a shutdown was still possible.

“I don’t think I ever said that I would sign it, necessarily, in the next nine days," he said. "You should assume everything is on the table and we’ll use the entire clock. All options are on the table.”

Murphy argued that he could not sign the budget exactly as passed by the Legislature, which he has called irresponsible and based on “fuzzy” and “voodoo” math.

The governor would not say what “corrective action" he might take, though it’s expected he’ll slash the considerable spending added by lawmakers for pet projects and nonprofit organizations. Murphy signaled as much by criticizing the Legislature for loading the spending plan with legislative add-ons, or “pork.”

“There’s a lot of pork in there, measured in hundreds of millions of dollars,” the governor said.

The Legislature’s budget hundreds of millions of dollars in spending, including $50 million on extraordinary special education, $50 million for NJ Transit, $65 million to fund wage increases for direct-service providers who work with people with developmental disabilities or at subsidized child care centers, and $48 million to study school consolidation and municipal shared services.

Then there are smaller legislative add-ons, like $3 million for the Turtle Back Zoo, $1.1 million for stream restoration in Franklin Township and $1 million for the Liberty Science Center.

Murphy said the added spending by lawmakers undermines state Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s pitch for sweeping cost-cutting reforms he says are needed to pull the state out of a “fiscal death spiral.”

“You have no credibility if somebody argues on the one hand we’re in a fiscal death spiral and then you back up the truck and add hundreds of millions of dollars in pork spending … and then spend the rainy day fund down to its last penny," Murphy said.

The governor stressed that New Jersey is one of only three states without a rainy day fund and argued that makes the state government ill prepared for an economic recession.

Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said Murphy is “upset he didn’t get his way” and has “no plans to resolve” the state’ financial problems.

“I take it as from somebody who’s just very frustrated and won’t deal with reality,” the Senate president said.

Lawmakers rejected Murphy’s call for increased taxes and fees on millionaires, gun owners, opioid manufacturers, bear hunters and businesses that don’t provide health insurance and whose employees are enrolled in Medicaid.

They agreed only to raise a tax paid by HMOs, while dipping into reserves, cutting spending and predicting $175 million in higher tax revenue than the governor from corporation business and insurance premiums taxes. It also anticipated collecting $100 million more through a repatriation of foreign earnings.

If Murphy uses his line-item veto authority to cut spending out of the budget, the Democratic-controlled Legislature could override him.

Under the state Constitution, only the governor has authority to say how much revenue the state will collect in the year ahead. And Murphy said Friday he will not certify revenues that are not backed either by the administration’s or the Legislature’s budget experts, which would require him to cut spending or borrow from reserves.

“I’ve got to be able to tie down revenue projections and associate them with a specific rationale, a specific underpinning,” he said.

The governor said Friday that “in whatever form the budget I ultimately sign takes, it will show that despite all the headline fodder, the Legislature agreed to advance the significant majority of our administration’s priorities and values.”

The budget (S2020) contributes $3.8 billion to the public-worker pension system and increases K-12 school funding formula aid by more than $200 million.

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