TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Pointing to New Jersey’s multibillion-dollar debt load, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday slashed a legislative proposal for $1 billion in bonds for vocational schools and school security to $500 million.
The Democrat signed the legislation into law after the Democrat-controlled Legislature approved Murphy’s changes in a pair of rare morning sessions.
Murphy’s signature means voters will be asked on this year’s ballot whether to approve the $500 million in new debt for school security, county colleges, vocational schools and water infrastructure. The constitution requires that new debts obtain voter approval.
Murphy said he cut the bond amount in half because the state carries huge debt burdens already. Debt service in the current fiscal year tops $4 billion, and New Jersey ranks in the top five states for tax-supported debt. He estimated the total debt payments on the initial proposal would range from $1.7 billion to $2.2 billion, depending on interest and other factors.
“While I certainly endorse the priorities established in this bill, I also believe that their long-term fiscal implications must be carefully considered,” the governor said.
Murphy and lawmakers face a Tuesday deadline for enacting the measure so that it gets on the ballot.
Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney said the governor had time to communicate his desire for changes but waited until the last minute. The legislature was sent to Murphy’s desk on July 1.
“I’m not overjoyed with this,” Sweeney said. “Even though the governor reduced the amount, we felt we were right ... but we need to move forward.”
Republicans, who have repeatedly called for steeper spending cuts to help the state’s strained budget, expressed frustration that Murphy halved the bond proposal.
“Gov. Murphy’s massive cut to the school security funding in the original version of our bipartisan legislation is a total lapse in judgment,” Republican state Sen. Anthony Bucco said.
The measure, known as the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act, would approve bonds for county vocational school districts, county colleges and other schools and school districts.