Top N.J. Democrat wants to scrap embattled state agency. Murphy says no way.

Below is an article written by Brent Johnson and published by NJ Advance Media on April 30, 2019.


A new battle may be brewing between Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey’s top state lawmaker, this time over a troubled state agency that recently saw its leader resign after months of controversy.

Last week, Lizette Delgado-Polanco stepped down as head of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority, which finances construction for 31 of the Garden State’s neediest school districts.

Delgago-Polanco, a Murphy ally who was appointed by the governor, was accused of running the agency like a “patronage pit,” firing staffers to make room for hiring friends and family.

The issue has drawn the ire of state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who says he doesn’t plan to reauthorize taxpayer funding for the SDA, which has little money left in its coffers. Instead, Sweeney, D-Gloucester, wants to fold it into the state Economic Development Authority.

But Murphy, a fellow Democrat, said Monday he doesn’t agree. And he noted this is one area where he and Sweeney, who sometimes feud, are definitely at odds.

“The narrative is that we don’t see things eye to eye,” the governor said during an unrelated news conference in Atlantic City. “We see a lot of stuff eye to eye, and we do a lot together. This is one that I don’t see in the same way.”

“I’m not a supporter of that idea,” Murphy added.

The governor said the SDA has “its own unique mission.”

“Not just investing in educators and the process of teaching, but in the actual, physical structure, particularly in communities of need,” Murphy said. “That’s a very clear, specific mission, and I think it should remain so.”

Murphy has refused to say if he demanded Delgado-Polanco’s resignation.

“I have literally nothing else to add,” he said last week.

Sweeney told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday that he still does not plan to reauthorize the SDA’s funding.

He said he intends to speak with state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, about whether to push a bill that would fold the agency into the EDA.

If the bill passes the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Murphy could veto it. The Legislature could then attempt to override the veto, Sweeney said.

“I think the agency really is not needed,” he said. “There are workers that are gonna be needed, expertise needed to be shifted over. But you don’t need another whole board.”

Sweeney said if funding is cut off, the agency goes defunct anyway.

“An agency can’t operate without funding,” he said.

“He needs me to give him a bill on funding,” Sweeney added about Murphy. “I’m not going to give a bill on funding to that agency.”

NJ Advance Media staff writer Matt Arco contributed to this report.

Brent Johnson may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01.