Murphy reverses controversial diversion of $33M from firefighter fund

Following fierce pushback from firefighters unions and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Gov. Phil Murphy has backtracked on a controversial plan to divert funds dedicated for firefighters and their families in times of hardship.

Murphy’s FY2020 budget initially called for diverting $33 million from the New Jersey Firemen’s Association into the state’s general fund to pay for other priorities.

The fund covers costs for burial benefits, financial assistance, a long-term health care facility, and in-home medical care for retired and active-duty firefighters, both career and volunteer, and their families.

Just one day after defending the plan in public, Murphy changed course in a letter he sent to top Democrats, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, requesting they preserve the $33 million in the budget process.

“I can say unequivocally that we are taking this budget option off the table,” Murphy said in a statement.

The New Jersey State Firemen’s Association, which was created in 1885, is fed by a 2% tax on fire insurance policies written by out-of-state insurers on New Jersey properties.

On Monday, Murphy referenced a state comptroller’s report that had found the association was sitting on more than six years’ worth of program costs, totaling roughly $185 million, as the reason he had called for the funds to be diverted in the budget.