Murphy OK with reimbursing restaurants … there’s just one problem

Governor cites potential aid as another reason for Legislature to let him borrow billions

By Tom Bergeron
Trenton | Jul 9, 2020 at 5:42 am
Editor’s Desk

Gov. Phil Murphy doesn’t always play the political game well, but give him credit on this one.

When asked Wednesday about whether he supports a bill by Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) to reimburse restaurant owners who may have lost money when Murphy reversed his decision to allow indoor dining just three days before it was to begin, the governor said, “Yes.”

With one question.

“I would say to Jon, who’s a good friend, ‘Where’s the money coming from?’” Murphy said.

The question gave Murphy a chance to reiterate his desire to have the ability to borrow money from the federal government — potentially $5 billion. A bill allowing him to do that has passed the Assembly but has not been put up for a vote in the Senate.

Murphy is hoping to get direct cash from the federal government, and mentioned revenue options — which is a subtle way of saying taxes. But, more than anything, he wants the ability to borrow, and clearly is growing frustrated with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford).

Sweeney has said he wants to know more about how the money will be spent, which means he wants more say in how the money will be spent.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.

Murphy is not interested in playing a political “Let’s make a deal.”

“Now is not the time for politics,” he said. “I literally do not care about who gets crowned a so-called ‘winner.’ I care about how we are going to make New Jersey the state where everyone can thrive — not just the special interests or the privileged few.

“I know how Trenton works, or doesn’t work, in normal times. These are not normal times. I cannot allow politics to deny our state the resources we need to provide real relief for millions of our families.

“The Senate has had this bill for three months and, again, it’s long past time to get the bill to my desk.”

Murphy noted that the state Economic Development Authority has done a strong job getting money to small businesses by way of grants and loans, but he said there is only so much that agency can do.

“The EDA has been really good with the limited resources that we have,” he said.

Murphy specifically noted Hayday, an independent coffee shop in Atlantic City, that recently received a $50,000 microbusiness loan from the EDA. Earlier in the week, he mentioned the Curvy Bride, which is based in Manalapan.

Senate President Steve Sweeney.

“These are real businesses that are being helped in real ways by the EDA, but there’s no amount of money that any state has right now to be able to do what the small business community at large needs in our state, especially the hospitality piece,” he said. “So, I have complete empathy and completely support the notion, but we have to have a source of money to back up that notion.”

Murphy said time is of the essence — and that delays could cripple the state even more.

“I reiterate the need to secure the funding we will need to protect against an imminent fiscal meltdown by allowing us to go to the bond markets for an emergency infusion of cash to keep our state afloat,” he said.

“It is well past time to secure the funding that is threatening our ability to have in place the programs and safeguards our residents and our communities desperately need to recover from this emergency and get back to work. It’s time to post this bill for a vote.

“September is coming quickly. If there is no action now, we will miss our opportunity. Even if it were passed tomorrow, it will still take many weeks for us to get to the point where we’ll have the money we need to keep this state running. We’re already cutting it way, way too close.”

Will Murphy’s play work? Only time will tell.

Murphy, who has been governing by executive order since March, hopes he can on this issue, too.

But it’s fair to say many agree with Sweeney — and feel such a blank check would not be used in the most fiscally responsible of ways.

Murphy may have to play politics after all.

Read more from ROI-NJ on coronavirus: