COVID-19 is costing NJ tons of cash. Murphy avoiding talking about cuts
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began back in March, more than 1.2 million New Jersey workers, the vast majority from the private sector, have either been laid off or furloughed and filed unemployment insurance claims.
They're not the only ones struggling for cash.
As the Garden State reopens, it's facing a massive revenue shortfall from the lack of economic activity over the past three months, coupled with serious spending to address the pandemic itself, and Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly called for federal assistance.
At the same time, he has not offered many specifics about scaling back state programs or asking state workers to make sacrifices -- only suggested they'd be catastrophic if federal aid doesn't come through.
During his daily COVID-19 update the governor was asked, in light of the looming financial crisis, if it’s fair and reasonable to freeze salary levels for public sector workers who had been scheduled to receive raises.
He did not offer a specific answer to the question. He did say this:“I do think this is a time when we’re all going to have to give of ourselves. We need the ability to borrow as a state.”
Michele Siekerka, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said the governor has discussed making some cuts for the upcoming state budget, which is a positive step, “but we believe some of those reductions, freezes and deferrals should become permanent cuts through Fiscal Year 21 and 22 in addition to reform for things such as pension, property tax.”
Murphy was also asked if it makes sense to ask all Jersey departments to be required to trim their budgets a slight amount. Again, he didn't directly answer the question.
But he said in addition to New Jersey needing to be able to borrow money, “the federal cash assistance and the need for that has not gone away. That remains uncertain though.”
Siekerka said even before the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey was at the edge of a financial cliff, and spending and tax cuts must be made “now more than ever."
"This is a pivotal time in the history of this state. We have to get this right. We need sustainable economic solutions as we come out of this on the other side," she said.
The governor Wednesday repeated a pronouncement he has made several times that ‘we are all in this together’ and said to address the financial challenge ahead we’ve got to find unusual means.
He suggested that must include taking on more debt “if we want to keep firefighters, police, EMS, health care workers, educators at the point of attack at the very moment in our state’s history when we need them."
Siekerka suggested instead of looking to solve our fiscal challenges by borrowing we need to focus on cutting spending in a responsible way.
“And that means that we need to look at reduction of costs here in the state of New Jersey, now or nothing will be sustainable for the future,” she said.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com