Governor, See You In Court
Dear Governor Murphy,
Last month, I authored a statement addressing our state’s worsening fiscal crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In it, I warned that “if the administration pursues borrowing to close budget gaps, they can expect a lawsuit to put a stop to it.”
Today, I am writing to make clear that should any borrowing scheme advance through both houses of the Legislature, I intend to file a lawsuit on behalf of New Jersey taxpayers in defense of our State Constitution.
As the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services (OLS) made clear in their May 7, 2020 opinion questioning the constitutionality of your borrowing scheme, our New Jersey Constitution prohibits using cash raised from borrowing “to replace general revenue to support non-COVID-19 related spending in future budgets.” Moreover, the OLS opinion referenced a 2005 OLS opinion that clearly stated bond proceeds “may not be used for the purpose of funding or balancing any portion of the budget pertaining to general costs without violating the Appropriations Clause of the State Constitution.”
It is terribly disconcerting that, instead of heeding the OLS opinion, you proceeded to hire outside bond counsel, giving every indication that you intend to pursue your borrowing scheme. If that, in fact, is your strategy, and the Legislature approves this reckless proposal, be prepared for a fight in which I am willing to stake both my reputation and my campaign for Governor.
While the cooperation and sacrifices of citizens has “flattened the curve,” your decision-making during this pandemic, at times, has been questionable at best (e.g., reopening guidelines) and fatally-flawed at worst (e.g., long-term care centers). This proposed borrowing scheme would be another terrible mistake, as it threatens to condemn already beleaguered New Jersey taxpayers to a bleak economic and fiscal future that long outlasts the pandemic. In fact, I fear this proposal may very well be the final nail in our proverbial coffin when it comes to the Garden State being a place that working families, seniors, and small businesses can afford.
According to the draft legislation being considered, sales and property taxes would be used to repay the borrowing – up to $9 billion in bonds according to comments attributed to you in multiple reports. Not only would such a move destroy our state’s already shaky credit rating, it would also further bury us in debt that some outlets forecast as high as $65,000 for each current state taxpayer.
Governor, our residents already pay the highest property taxes in the nation. We annually rank as one of states with the highest number of foreclosures. Our cost of doing business is one of the least competitive among the 50 states. The end result? The dubious distinction of being number one in the nation in out-migration, people fleeing in search of a more affordable and better quality of life.
This may be foreign to you, Governor, but many of our residents work hard to live within their means while struggling to raise their children. Small business owners lose sleep at night figuring out how to make payroll. Soaring property taxes would only make matters worse.
Solving our current predicament need not be at the expense of our future. While changing course will require making hard choices and re-prioritizing, fixing New Jersey should take precedence over one’s loyalties to certain special interests and personal political ambition. Moreover, while New Jersey certainly does not get our fair share from Washington, that does not entitle us to federal bailouts that resolve decades of self-inflicted fiscal irresponsibility.
The borrowing scheme you are considering dumps gasoline all over an already raging fiscal fire. To what end? It is time our state government starts playing by the same rules that our residents live by. In short, government needs to do a better job living within its means. More borrowing followed by higher taxes needs to be the last resort, not the first. As Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."
Governor, I implore you to abandon this reckless borrowing scheme and work with both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature to chart a new path forward for our state. For the sake of taxpayers and future generations of New Jerseyans, do not lazily repeat past mistakes that have left us financially ill-prepared to deal with the crisis at-hand.
If you choose to press forward, I will file my complaint and see you in court.
Jack M. Ciattarelli
Candidate for Governor