A couple of years ago Wildwood was on its way to replacing its deteriorating 92-year-old Boardwalk — until Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed the funding. The governor’s action was widely viewed as punishment for uncooperative South Jersey Democrats and perhaps also for Wildwood’s pro-Trump mayor at the time.
Now Murphy, awash in extra borrowed state and federal billions, has told the current Democratic mayor that he can spare $4 million to patch up the tourism resort’s centerpiece.
Senate President Steve Sweeney and what was then an entirely Democratic local delegation to the Legislature crafted a bill in 2019 for the state to provide $56 million over 14 years to rebuild the Wildwood Boardwalk. As Sweeney noted, that’s a small price considering the $550 million in mostly tourism revenue that Cape May County sends the state every year.
Murphy vetoed the bill, claiming there was a problem with the funding method, prompting Sweeney to point out that the governor had used the same method to give $20 million to the horse racing industry.
Sen. Bob Andrzejczak, a Democrat representing Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic counties and a sponsor of the bill, said he was “furious at Gov. Murphy’s shortsightedness on this issue,” considering that the Wildwoods annually attracts 9 million visitors who spend about $1.5 billion.
Carl Golden, a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, said Murphy’s veto “was immediately seen as another example of executive office retaliation against the party establishment and its hold on the land mass south of Trenton.” Golden said Murphy “appears intent on bringing his opponents to heel in the most effective manner possible — using control over state resources to reward or punish.”
We were shocked that Murphy would undermine the reelection of Andrzejczak and his 1st District Democratic partners in the Assembly by voiding their major effort to update a key to the region’s tourism economy. We expected the governor would find a way to support his party and this obvious infrastructure need.
We were wrong.
Murphy continued to rule out Wildwood Boardwalk funding and sure enough, a couple of months later the Democrats lost all three seats in the 1st District.
Now Murphy has told Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, also a Democrat but perhaps a more cooperative one, that there is $4 million for the Boardwalk in his $44.8 billion state budget plan (10% higher than last year’s record state spending).
Murphy borrowed about $4 billion for current spending — a thousand times what he’s giving for repairs to the Wildwood Boardwalk — most of which turned out to be unneeded as revenues rose.
Murphy’s state government will also get an extra $6.4 billion from the Democrats in Washington as part of their $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — entirely borrowed money.
Byron gushed his gratitude for the crumbs Murphy is now letting drop from his overflowing table.
“It seemed like in the past, people thought South Jersey ended in Atlantic City,” he said. “It’s nice to have a governor that knows it doesn’t. This is huge that we’re finally getting recognized.”
For that, he ought to at least get the rebuilt Boardwalk needed by Wildwood and the state’s tourism industry.