A fight over a Jersey City agency’s request for state approval to borrow $157 million dollars offers a peek into the snide back-and-forth New Jerseyans may witness as it searches for its next governor.
The bonding request has a handful of Republican leaders trading barbs with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop — the only Democrat who has declared he will run to succeed Gov. Phil Murphy — with Sen. Mike Testa (R-Cumberland) accusing Fulop of shoddy governance and Fulop’s spokeswoman attacking Testa as irrelevant.
The sparring is a reminder that, even with all 120 legislative seats on the ballot in two weeks and a presidential election next year, some New Jersey pols already have their sights set on the next gubernatorial election in 2025. Gov. Phil Murphy is barred from seeking a third consecutive term.
Dan Cassino, professor of government and politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said New Jersey is now in the “invisible” 2025 gubernatorial primary, when anyone who is thinking of running for governor is trying to nail down the support of party leaders, big donors, organizers, and others before anyone else can.
“Attacks against Fulop might well make his task harder, especially if it cuts against his management skills, which is one of his selling points. Assuming this isn’t just a broadside against any Democratic mayor, it could be read as a sign that they’re worried about Fulop’s candidacy, and are trying to work against it,” Cassino said.
The issue at the center of the current fight went before the state Local Finance Board on Wednesday. The Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority asked for permission to issue $157 million in bonds, $102 million to pay for capital projects and $55 million to give to Jersey City’s municipal government as a franchise fee. The agency pays the fee to the city to run the city’s water and sewer systems.
Testa wrote to the board Monday asking it to reject the request, saying the city was playing “reckless financial games” and calling the $55 million plan to borrow money and hand it to the city’s government “especially offensive” because it appeared the city was trying to paper over its own debt problems by pushing one of its agencies further into debt.
Testa, a rising GOP star, has criticized Jersey City before, for its plan to build a French art museum, some of it with state funding.
“I am perplexed as to why Jersey City continues to be the darling under the Golden Dome that appears to be the recipient of a lion’s share of funds that could be better utilized elsewhere,” Testa said Tuesday.
The Local Finance Board approved the utilities authority’s plan to borrow $102 to pay for capital projects but rejected its request to borrow $55 million to pay franchise fees to the city. Testa noted that the board referenced his letter.
“It’s a win for the taxpayers of New Jersey, because it was recognized that this was a rather gimmicky plan. Eventually, the taxpayers of New Jersey were going to have to foot this bill,” he said.
The Local Finance Board’s rejection of some of the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority’s bonding request was also applauded by Republican Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, who like Testa asked the board to reject the request, and Jack Ciattarelli, a GOP former assemblyman who lost the 2021 gubernatorial race and is running again in 2025.
Cittarelli called the request “an obvious financial gimmick” on social media and said Jersey City residents “won’t be fleeced by unnecessary borrowing.” O’Scanlon attacked the borrowing plan as an “expensive gimmick.”
Fulop spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said Jersey City is glad the funding for capital projects was approved, but shot back at Republicans complaining over the city’s spending.
“It’s funny that with all the dysfunction in Senator Testa’s and Senator O’Scanlon’s own districts they obsess over Mayor Fulop and Jersey City. Everyone can see the naked politics here, but in any event, we pay little attention to Senator Testa, similar to the way he is treated in Trenton,” she said in a statement.
Testa responded by calling it “laughable” that he has no influence in Trenton, noting he serves on the Senate Budget and Judiciary Committees.
“Notice how he continues to avoid the actual issues of his poor governance by attacking me personally,” he said. “Without the state propping him up, there would not have been the revitalization of Jersey City that he takes credit for.”
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