What there is to know

  • New Jersey lawmakers voted to delay the governor’s legally required address for two weeks in hopes that falling COVID-19 numbers mean the return of in-person speech.
  • Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy had requested the extension “hoping the number of cases will allow the speech to be delivered” in the Assembly chamber for the first time in two years, according to a spokesperson.
  • Democratic-led Assembly and Senate votes passed over Republican objections, sending the bill to the governor’s office. State law requires that the budget speech be delivered no later than the fourth Tuesday in February. The new bill changes the date to March 8.

In a bid to return for the governor’s first in-person budget address since 2020 and the COVID-19 outbreak, New Jersey lawmakers voted Monday to delay the legally required address for two weeks.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy had requested the extension “hoping the number of cases will allow the speech to be delivered” in the Assembly chamber for the first time in two years, according to spokeswoman Alyana Alfaro Post.

Democratic-led Assembly and Senate votes passed over Republican objections, sending the bill to the governor’s office. It is unclear when he will sign the measure.

State law requires that the budget speech be delivered no later than the fourth Tuesday in February. The new bill changes the date to March 8.

COVID-19 cases have declined rapidly in New Jersey since a peak fueled by the omicron variant during 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 see how Murphy plans to spend billions of dollars in federal aid, as well as billions more in public funds. It also means having to wait a bit longer to see if the governor keeps his campaign promise last year not to raise taxes.

It will also be the first year that newly sworn in Senate Speaker Nicholas Scutari has led a Senate budget since taking over from former Senate Speaker Steve Sweeney. After a rocky 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 on the state’s roughly $46 billion spending plan, gives lawmakers less time to craft the document.

“Hold the governor accountable for once,” Republican Assemblyman Brian Bergen said during a debate on the floor.

Eliana Pintor Marin, member of the Democratic Assembly, pointed out that the extensions are not unusual. Democratic Senator Paul Sarlo promised lawmakers would always exercise due diligence in crafting the budget.

New Jersey’s fiscal year ends June 30, when lawmakers and the governor are constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget.

If the speech returns in person to the Assembly Hall, it will follow a tense standoff between Republican lawmakers and state police in December over the GOP’s objection to the requirement to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test to enter the room.

The disagreement led to a security crackdown in the building. It is unclear whether the legislature would waive the requirements to enter the building. Messages seeking comment have been sent to legislative leaders.