What to Know
- New Jersey lawmakers have voted to delay the governor's legally required address by two weeks in the hopes that falling COVID-19 figures mean the return of an in-person speech.
- Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy had sought the extension “hoping that case numbers will allow the address to be delivered” in the Assembly chamber for the first time in two years, according to a spokesperson.
- The votes in the Democratic-led Assembly and Senate passed despite Republican objections, sending the bill to the governor’s desk. State law requires the budget address to be delivered by the fourth Tuesday in February. The new bill changes the date to March 8.
Aiming to return for the first in-person budget speech by the governor since 2020 and the COVID-19 outbreak, New Jersey lawmakers voted Monday to delay the legally required address by two weeks.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy had sought the extension “hoping that case numbers will allow the address to be delivered” in the Assembly chamber for the first time in two years, according to spokesperson Alyana Alfaro Post.
The votes in the Democratic-led Assembly and Senate passed despite Republican objections, sending the bill to the governor's desk. It's unclear when he will sign the measure.
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State law requires the budget address to be delivered by the fourth Tuesday in February. The new bill changes the date to March 8.
COVID-19 cases have been declining rapidly in New Jersey since an omicron-variant-fueled spike around the holidays.
Murphy also recently said a mask mandate in schools would end on March 7.
For voters, the delayed speech means waiting longer to get a look at how Murphy plans to spend billions of dollars in federal aid, along with billions more in state taxpayer funds. It also means having to wait a bit longer to see whether the governor makes good on a pledge made during last year's campaign not to raise taxes.
It will also be the first year that newly sworn-in Senate President Nicholas Scutari steers a budget through the Senate since he succeeded former Senate President Steve Sweeney. After a rough start, Sweeney and Murphy had begun to get along, but the governor's relationship with Scutari is largely untested.
Republicans balked at the request, which previous governors have also made. They argued that delaying the speech, which kicks off negotiations over the state's roughly $46 billion spending plan, gives lawmakers less time to craft the document.
“Hold the governor accountable for once,” Republican Assembly member Brian Bergen said during a debate on the floor.
Democratic Assembly member Eliana Pintor Marin pointed out that extensions aren't unusual. Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo promised legislators would still do due diligence crafting the budget.
New Jersey's fiscal year ends June 30, when lawmakers and the governor are constitutionally required to enact a balanced budget.
If the speech does return in person in the Assembly chamber, it'll follow a tense standoff between Republican legislators and state police in December over the GOP's objection to a requirement to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test to enter the room.
The disagreement led to a crackdown on security in the building. It's unclear whether the Legislature would lift the requirements to enter the building. Messages seeking comment were sent to legislative leaders.