- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2020

TRENTON, N.J (AP) - New Jersey’s Democrat-led Assembly on Thursday passed a measure authorizing $5 billion in borrowing sought by Gov. Phil Murphy.

The measure gives the Democratic administration approval to borrow the money to plug a budget hole blown open by the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans oppose the borrowing on several grounds. Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick said he’s not convinced $5 billion is needed. He also said in a teleconference on Thursday that the borrowing will lead to increased taxes.

“This is a massive tax without any - without any - changes with respect to spending, no changes with respect to capping state revenues, no reforms that Republicans have pushed for for years,” he said.

Murphy’s Treasury Department has said the state faces a $10 billion shortfall over the current and next fiscal years. The governor is also proposing $5 billion in cuts in the coming fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.



While Republicans argued that repaying the bonds could lead to statewide property tax hikes, Murphy dismissed the criticism, saying that the language in the bond measure was “boilerplate,” and that Republicans had voted for it previously.

“This notion of property taxes (going up) is kind of laughable,” Murphy said, adding that if the state wasn’t able to borrow the money, it would have lay off thousands of state and local front-line workers.

Murphy did not detail how he plans to repay the prospective debt, which is about 12.5% of the state’s overall budget. He suggested direct federal cash assistance could repay it, but added that it wasn’t certain to come.

Republicans have promised to pursue a lawsuit if the measure becomes law.

The fate of the bill is unclear in the Democrat-led state Senate, where Senate President Steve Sweeney has said he wanted to consider some savings first.

A look at other coronavirus-related developments:

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

New Jersey has paid out $5.2 billion in jobless benefits, up by nearly $1 billion from last week, since the coronavirus outbreak began in the state, according to a statement from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. There were 27,000 new jobless claims for last week, down 22% from the week before.

There have been a total of 1.2 million claims since mid-March.

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NONESSENTIAL RETAIL GUIDELINES

When nonessential retail shops are cleared for opening on June 15, they’ll have to follow the same guidelines essential businesses currently do, Murphy said.

That means capacity has to be limited to 50%, customers and workers have to wear masks, and employers must be sure to sanitize regularly, he said.

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THE FIGURES

New Jersey reported 603 more positive cases overnight, Murphy said, putting the total at more than 162,000. The total death toll recorded is 11,970, after 92 deaths recorded overnight.

New Jersey has seen the second-highest number of fatalities from COVID-19 in the nation, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness or death.

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