As Far as GOP Concerned, the Borrowing War is not Over

Assemblyman Webber was up early and often in defiance of borrowing.

When you’re dealing with an emergency, you just have to do what’s needed at the time.

That was the Democratic view enunciated today in Trenton when it came to giving the state the ability to borrow almost $10 billion.

But wait, said Republicans.

Health emergency or not, such borrowing is still unconstitutional without voter approval.

Now, this was not a fair fight; the Dems had the votes. Both chambers approved the borrowing largely in party-line votes.

But with Republicans vowing to take the battle to court, the war may not be over.

The rhetoric from Republicans in both chambers was predictable. GOP lawmakers likened the borrowing plan to giving the public the “middle finger” or financial “poo.”  Some said the move was immoral, prompting some on the Democratic side of the chamber to take “umbrage.”

As an overview, finances in New Jersey may not be in such splendid shape, but the measure at hand was all about the pandemic.

Since income and sales tax revenues began plummeting in March, Gov. Phil Murphy has talked about two ways out of the mess – borrowing money and federal aid. The state has no control over aid from Washington. Thus, the plan to borrow.

It’s true that the state has borrowed a lot of money, but the governor’s point is that borrowing is preferable to drastically cutting services, raising taxes, or a combination of both.

Republicans opposing the bill in most cases said they wanted a crack at responsibly coming up with nearly $10 billion without borrowing. But they really weren’t all that specific.

So, the debate often centered on the bill’s constitutionality.

Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, was the most vocal,  quizzing Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, D-Essex, a bill sponsor, about that very point.

Webber relied on an opinion from the Office of Legislative Services that said the borrowing on the table was unconstitutional.

Pintor Marin said the state Attorney General is convinced the bill would pass constitutional muster.

Webber asked for a written opinion.

“You’d think you’d see something in writing,” he said.

No, said Pintor Marin, she doesn’t have a written opinion.

Webber tried to press things further, but Speaker Craig Coughlin had to remind him this was not a “deposition.”

Later, Webber and Assemblyman John McKeon, a Democrat whose district primarily lies in Essex County, continued sparring over the constitution.

McKeon said the borrowing prohibition cited by Webber is irrelevant because of the pandemic. He said that was also the case during the Civil War and the Depression.

Not so fast, Webber retorted. McKeon was reading the wrong part of the constitution.

Clearly, this was a sideshow, given the fact the propriety of the borrowing likely will be ultimately determined in the courts.

Earlier in the day, state Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex, suggested the magnitude of the pandemic should overshadow what he termed “penny-ante” opposition.

After all, he suggested, Covid-19 is not like dealing with a blizzard or a hurricane.

Pintor Marin eventually rose at the end of the Assembly session and eschewed the constitutional debate for a more humane comment.

She said this is a tough bill, but it’s important not to forget the “critical services” the state must provide for the families who struggle to put a few slices of bread on the table.

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