SC on Murphy’s FY 2022 Budget – Raises Concerns

SC on Murphy’s FY 2022 Budget – Raises Concerns

 

Governor Murphy delivered his FY2022 Budget Address today. The Department of Environmental Protection is up slightly by $26 million. The budget still raids $82 million from the Clean Energy Fund for NJ Transit. The overall budget totals $44.83 billion.

 

During his speech, Governor Murphy said, “This budget will … do away with antiquated permitting rules at the Department of Environmental Protection, and other departments, which will cut government bureaucracy and get projects off the ground quicker.”

 

“The Governor’s statement about streamlining DEP permitting should raise a red flag with environmentalists and others. When you talk about streamlining permitting, cutting bureaucracy, and moving projects faster, it usually means weakening environmental standards. We are worried that they will be rolling back environmental programs and pushing out permits without enough public scrutiny and input, similar to the infamous Fast Track Law of 2005. This is something you’d expect from a Republican governor,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It would be one thing if they were modernizing DEP permit programs to deal with the threat of climate change and flooding. Instead, this sounds like the opposite. The concern we have is that this will fast-track permits for widening highways, housing developments, factories, box stores on farmland, power plants, pipelines, and more.”

 

The FY2022 Budget will raid $82 million from the Clean Energy Fund for NJ Transit. This would bring the total amount that the state has raided from the Clean Energy Fund since 2010 to approximately $1.9 billion. The CEF is supposed to support projects that make our homes more resilient, such as weatherization, along with energy efficiency and green jobs.

 

“Governor Murphy promised not to take any more money from the Clean Energy Fund. However, they are once again using it as the state’s ATM and taking at least $82 million for NJ Transit, and there could be more. This is a small improvement, but we have a long way to go. We have raided nearly $1.9 billion from the CEF since 2010. At the same time, bills in the Legislature are moving forward that would use more CEF money for schools, wind, and a whole range of other things instead of energy efficiency,” said Jeff Tittel. “We need to keep the CEF intact so that we can meet Governor Murphy’s clean energy goals. More importantly, we need it to help people in low- and moderate-income areas save money on their electric bills while reducing pollution.”

 

NJ Transit’s FY2022 budget is $2.65 billion. This includes $760 million for NJ Transit capital projects. However, the agency is taking about $350 million from capital funds for operations and maintenance. This is about $100 million less than last year.

 

“NJ Transit is still using $350 million capital funds for operations and maintenance. This is $100 million less, but they still need to do more. We can’t continue to use capital money for operations. This is like robbing our future to pay for current expenses or taking a second mortgage on a house to buy groceries. They need capital funds for projects like expanding the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line, building the Monmouth Ocean Middlesex Line, or buying electric buses,” said Jeff Tittel. “The state should take at least $400 million a year from the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway toll hikes. This is especially important because expanding mass transit is an alternative to highway widenings.”

 

The DEP’s budget is going up slightly this year after being flat or going down for years with $26 million. The DEP budget will increase full-time employees from 996 in FY2021 to 1,116 in FY2022. Total employees will increase from 2,544 to 2,811. Meanwhile, the state will be increasing its contribution to public employee pension funds. The South Jersey Wind Port will receive $200 million from the general funds, which is good but it could have come out of the Economic Development Authority instead.

 

“The DEP budget is going up for the first time, with a small amount of $26 million. However, it doesn’t make up for all the cuts over the past 3 years or 10 years. There is a slight increase of staff by about 200 people, but we’ll still be down more than 250 people from what Murphy committed to when he came in. The money for these hirings is coming from important programs like the Hazardous Discharge Fund, Brownfield Program, and other CBT programs,” said Tittel. “Enforcement is down, parks are in disrepair, and we don’t have enough people to deal with the lead crisis or clean up toxic sites. They need more people to write the Environmental Justice rules or rules dealing with sea-level rise and storm surges. If you want to move permits quicker, hire more staff instead of weakening standards.”

 

The budget includes $200 million for the Offshore Wind Port in South Jersey. According to the Budget Brief, 2019 was a record-breaking year for New Jersey’s solar energy program. It also noted that the light duty electric vehicle incentive program awarded $30 million in 2020 and incentivized more than 5,000 electric vehicles.

 

“There is $200 million going for the offshore wind port, which is an important investment in our future. We are seeing a slight increase in solar installations, but we need to do more. There is a modest increase in electric vehicles, but we won’t get to our goals unless we have more resources and funding,” said Tittel. “This doesn’t show the sense of urgency on climate change and moving forward with a green economy. We need to do more faster if we’re really going to see the green recovery and the jobs that we need after the pandemic.”

 

The budget will include $60 million for “Drinking Water and Clean Water Infrastructure.” Lead in drinking water has become an ongoing issue in New Jersey. Lead is one of the most hazardous substances known to man and it impacts children, especially small children, in our urban areas. It can cause illness and even in small amounts can lead to brain damage and learning disabilities.

 

“It is important that New Jersey has funding to fix the state’s major lead problems. This $60 million is a start and a downpayment, but we need a stable source of funding. We have major problems with lead including $8.2 billion worth of pipes that need to be fixed, $4.6 billion for getting lead out of our water and a $6 billion combined sewer overflow fix. Overall, we need at least $46 billion to fix New Jersey’s environmental problems,” said Jeff Tittel. “We also need to tie fixing our infrastructure to energy efficiency and renewable energy as well as green building including blue and green roofs to reduce flooding.”

 

The Governor has 110 days to work with the Legislature and enact the budget, per constitutional deadline.

 

“For over a decade, New Jersey’s budget has had a lot of money being diverted from critical environmental programs. We need real money, not just pocket change for these programs. We still need to adequately fund DEP and NJ Transit. More funding for DEP and critical environmental programs means having enough staff to get the lead out of children’s schools and moving New Jersey forward in energy efficiency while reducing our impact on climate change,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Governor Murphy has made commitments on climate change and clean energy, but this budget does not fund those commitments.”

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