NJ Politics Digest: Murphy Reportedly Ready to Sign Nuke Bailout Bill

Gov. Phil Murphy. Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for SiriusXM

A bill that would force state ratepayers to bailout the nuclear industry in New Jersey and other states to the tune of $300 million per year will be signed today by Gov. Phil Murphy, according to reports.

While Murphy has never publicly said if he supports the bill, Bloomberg reports the governor is expected to sign the measure, pushed through the legislature by Senate President Steve Sweeney, at an 11 a.m. event today.

The bill would add approximately $41 onto the annual bill of ratepayers throughout the state. The added fees come as Murphy is also pushing for tax hikes totaling more than $1.5 billion to support his proposed budget.

And residents could also be facing an additional hike in the state gas tax of approximately 3-cents per gallon this fall, according to a report by NJ101.5.

The nuclear bailout bill is supported by Sweeney, who contends the subsidy is needed to prevent PSEG from closing two nuclear power plants in his district and preserve the jobs there. Plant operators say the subsidy is needed to help plants compete now that the cost of natural gas is so cheap.

But PSEG officials have also conceded that the money from New Jersey could also go to prop up power plants in other states. Environmentalists have opposed the bill, as has the state’s ratepayer advocate, who says the measure prevents the public from examining PSEG’s finances to see if the subsidy is needed.

News that Murphy is planning to sign the bill comes shortly after a state official warned the recently raised gas tax could be hiked again. The legislature in 2016 approved a 23-cent increase in the gas tax to pay for road projects. But that measure included a formula to guarantee a consistent funding level, according to a report on NJ101.5.

Frank Haines, the Office of Legislative Services budget and finance officer, told an Assembly Budget Committee on Monday that it appears likely the gas tax will have to go up another 2 to 4 cents to maintain the target funding levels, according to the NJ101.5 report.
When the 2016 gas tax hike was approved, lawmakers also reduced the state sales tax from seven percent to 6.625 percent. They said the decrease would provide some relief to the state’s struggling taxpayers.
Murphy, however, wants to boost the tax back to seven percent. The governor says the additional amount families will have to pay is negligible. Murphy is also pushing for a millionaire’s tax, as well as taxes on ride- and home-sharing services as well as legalizing and taxing the use of recreational marijuana.

While Sweeney and other Democrats in the legislature have said they oppose the tax increases, state Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio said this week the increases are necessary to fund Murphy’s priorities.

The governor’s proposed $37.4 billion budget is a $2.7 billion increase over last year and includes free community college tuition for low-income residents, upgrades to New Jersey Transit, increased school aid and payments to meet the state’s pension obligations.
While state residents have long complained about New Jersey’s crushing tax burden, Murphy contends residents will be willing to pay more if they feel they are getting their money’s worth in state services.

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NJ Politics Digest: Murphy Reportedly Ready to Sign Nuke Bailout Bill