by Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor
Gov. Phil Murphy signed the $50.6 billion state budget into law, a spending plan that includes the largest property tax relief program in over a decade, full payment to the state’s public worker pension fund for the second year in a row, and a surplus of more than $6 billion.
An unprecedented and unexpected surge in tax revenue gave Democratic state leaders — who control both houses of the Legislature and negotiate with Murphy on the budget — a chance to keep taxes at the same rate while setting billions aside in the case of an economic downturn.
“The priorities of this budget are the priorities of our families — and at the top of that list right now is affordability,” said Murphy during a signing ceremony at the Cranford High School library.
The Legislature passed the fiscal year 2023 budget bill largely along party lines Wednesday, less than 48 hours after it was unveiled to the public and to some Republican lawmakers for the first time. It includes an additional $1.7 billion in spending than the plan Murphy proposed in March.
Murphy on Thursday highlighted the budget’s investment in education, a state-level child tax credit, money for affordable housing, and tax and fee holidays on school supplies, marriage licenses, and more.
About $2 billion in the budget is reserved for the ANCHOR property tax relief program, which will give tax credits or rebates of up to $1,500 to homeowners and $450 to renters below certain income levels. Murphy said the program will cut property taxes 16% for the average resident.
“This will roll the clock back to 2011 levels. It’s historic and direct property tax relief,” Murphy said.
The budget also gives the second-term governor a $300 million pot of money he can spend largely without legislative approval.
Murphy commended his fellow Democrats who negotiated the budget with him and “share our commitment to a state which doesn’t just speak of meeting the needs of our residents, but backs up those words with action and investment.”
Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) thanked their chambers’ budget chairs and other Democrats who ensured the budget crossed the finish line ahead of the constitutional deadline of June 30.
Scutari, who oversaw the budget for his first time as Senate president, called it the “greatest budget in history,” echoing what he said before its passage on Wednesday.
Republicans criticized the bill for not giving enough money back to taxpayers at a time when economists warn of an impending recession, gas is at $5 a gallon, and inflation has caused prices to rise. Their attempts to push through their own tax plan were not fruitful.
“The delayed and failed tax relief efforts in the Democrats’ budget when the state is ridiculously flush with funds will go down as one of the biggest missed opportunities in New Jersey history,” said Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), who serves as the Republican budget chair.
Murphy brushed off the criticism while speaking to reporters after the budget signing, saying the budget provides the affordability his opponents argue isn’t there.
“We’re doing three things that no one thought could be done at the same time — historic affordability relief, historic investment in our future, and all the while being fiscally responsible,” Murphy said.