Phil Murphy was “grateful,” but there was no, as he often says, spiking of the football. That’s because even if the state borrows billions, it still needs help from the feds.
As for Republicans, they lamented living in a state where all power is controlled by Democrats.
Those were the very quick – and perhaps expected – reactions today after the state Supreme Court’s ruling that the administration’s plan to borrow $9.9 billion over two fiscal years is constitutional.
This really wasn’t a surprise decision.
Republicans partially based their challenge on the fact such borrowing needs voter approval.
That’s normally true, but as the court unanimously said, that’s not true in an emergency.
And as the opinion noted, the COVID-19 pandemic is a once in a century type of thing.
That really was a hurdle the GOP plaintiffs could not overcome.
Their comments in a post-opinion conference call centered more on the state of politics in the Garden State than anything else.
Doug Steinhardt, the state chair of the Republican Party, talked about a “one-party” state, adding that the only way to change that would be to send more Republicans to Trenton.
Jon Bramnick, the Assembly Minority Leader, said if that happened, there would be more compromise as opposed to Dems just passing what they wanted.
It was pointed out that Chris Christie, obviously a Republican, actually appointed many of the justices who now sit on the Supreme Court.
Steinhardt acknowledged that, but said he was talking about the court’s “tenor” and “mindset,” not simple political affiliation.
Both in arguments before the court last week and today, Republicans agreed that COVID-19 is a definite health emergency. But they insisted that the fiscal emergency arising from it is Murphy’s fault.
This is really a tough argument to swallow, and the court did not.
The governor surely can be criticized for some of his pandemic-related decisions, but how can any reasonable person blame him for plummeting tax revenues due to a virus beyond his control?
At any rate, Republicans took some solace from the fact the opinion stipulated that the administration must specifically identify the budget shortfall and that borrowed money only can be used to meet the emergency.
The court acknowledged that the definition of “meet” is a bit vague. It explained that funds can be used for such basic needs as personal protection equipment, but also for public safety and education needs.
Or as it said, “to secure the continued functioning of government.”
But it can’t be used to finance a sports arena, which was a largely hypothetical, albeit silly, point that arose during oral argument.
As is customary, the court offered no opinion on the wisdom of the borrowing plan, saying that was a legislative decision.
Murphy’s regular briefing went off an hour after the opinion came down.
He stressed that the decision was unanimous and seemed a bit relieved that the borrowing can go forward.
“The alternative would have been something no one up here, or anywhere, would have wanted to experience,” the governor said.
The governor was asked how he felt obligating future New Jerseyans not yet born to pay off state debt. Murphy quickly shot back that he was trying to keep people alive today so they can have children in the first place.
“I don’t wake up wanting to borrow, but we’re also in a corner,” he said.