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Huge spending plan for N.J. wind energy and pandemic-related projects sails through despite GOP objections  

Credit:  By Susan K. Livio and Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com | Nov. 30, 2021 | www.nj.com ~~

State lawmakers on Tuesday approved a major spending plan from Gov. Phil Murphy‘s administration that includes allocating $265 million for a massive wind energy project in Salem County and $100 million to convert the emergency department at Hackensack University Medical Center into a trauma center to treat the most critically injured patients.

In three votes in just under an hour, the state Joint Budget Oversight Committee voted along party lines to approve spending $700 million in state taxpayer money and federal coronavirus relief funds on various projects involving health institutions, housing, economic recovery from the pandemic, and more.

All four Democrats on the six-member panel voted in favor, while the two Republicans abstained to protest Murphy’s slow pace in doling out the federal aid and to criticize the Democratic governor’s priorities.

“Republicans have proposed a detailed plan to use billions of federal pandemic relief funds to support small businesses, prevent unnecessary tax increases on employers, fix broken computer systems at Unemployment and the MVC, help tenants and homeowners, and provide relief to property taxpayers,” state Sen. Steven Oroho, R-Sussex – the incoming Senate minority leader – said in a statement after the vote.

“The Murphy administration, in contrast, has presented no comprehensive plan, no strategy, no process for selecting what gets funded, and no explanation for anything that was submitted to JBOC for approval,” Oroho added, reiterating objections he and atate Assemblyman Harold Wirths R-Sussex, raised at the hearing.

Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, who sits on the panel as chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, acknowledged their “frustrations.” And even some Democrats were bothered no one from Murphy’s administration spoke at the hearing.

“Legislative leadership will work with the (Murphy) administration to work on plans going forward,” Sarlo said.

A spokesman for the governor declined to comment on Oroho’s remarks Tuesday. Last week, however, when Murphy announced the spending plan, Michael Zhadanovsky, a spokesman for Murphy’s office, released a statement saying it’s “ironic that the Senate Republicans would begrudge our administration for utilizing federal funds in a careful, responsible, and fiscally sound manner.”

The committee, a bipartisan panel of lawmakers that must sign off on any spending as part of a state budget agreement, approved $435 million from the New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund to help pay for the following capital construction projects:

$265 million to the state Economic Development Authority for the New Jersey Wind Port in Lower Alloways Creek;
$75 million for the construction of the Rowan University School of Veterinary Medicine;
$45 million to the state Department of Transportation for wind port dredging;
$35 million to the South Jersey Port Corporation for port upgrades and improvements;
$15 million for the expansion of Cooper Medical School at Rowan University.

The committee also dedicated $262 million from the $6.2 billion given to the state via the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress. That includes $100 million for the creation of a level one trauma center at Hackensack University Medical Center, one of the state’s largest hospitals. New Jersey has three level 1 trauma centers, which treat the most seriously injured patients.

“Hackensack Meridian Health is grateful to the Governor and Legislative Leadership for their commitment to improving public health,” according to a statement from the hospital, which did not elaborate on how the money would be spent. “The $100 million allocation for Hackensack University Medical Center will support the medical center’s efforts to strengthen regional health emergency preparedness infrastructure.”

Other projects supported by the unspent pandemic relief money include:

$20 million to help the south Jersey hospital chain Inspira Health acquire the Salem Medical Center;
$37.5 million for an eviction prevention program;
$5 million to help RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers University Behavioral Health expand pandemic-related programs;
$5 million for pandemic-related programs at the Wally Choice Community Center in Glenfield Park in Montclair;
$5 million to help the state implement a marketing program to highlight doing business with the state as the economy recovers from the pandemic;
$3 million to Atlantic Health to renovate the Emergency Department at the Morristown Medical Center.

The committee unanimously approved a plan to allocate $42.2 million in Green Acres open space preservation money, $40.3 million of which will be used to acquire the land in Essex and Hudson counties and create the New Jersey Greenway, a new state park. The state Department of Environmental Protection would use the remaining $1.9 million on existing Green Acres projects, Sarlo said.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, praised the committee for “making strategic investments that set us up for a strong economic future and prioritize one-time, transformative projects.”

Source:  By Susan K. Livio and Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com | Nov. 30, 2021 | www.nj.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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