Murphy signs law expanding public-private partnerships

The bill signing was the main attraction, but Gov. Phil Murphy — fresh off a Monday evening tour of flood-damaged communities — had the widespread destruction on his mind.

“The 190 flooded homes in Little Falls, 210 in Woodland Park, just to pick those two communities,” Murphy said.

The Murphy administration Tuesday issued a state of emergency for Passaic, Essex, Bergen, Monmouth and Ocean Counties where two months’ worth of rain fell in just a matter of hours over the weekend. Many remain evacuated.

“That means we can more quickly activate the potential for federal funding. The hurdle we have to hit is high, I have to say that to everybody, but we were able to do it with the blizzards and we’re going to be as aggressive as possible,” Murphy said.

In what could be a partial solution for budget woes, Murphy used The College of New Jersey as a backdrop for signing a bill expanding public-private partnerships. P3, as they call it in Trenton, allows for private investments in public projects without burden on taxpayers. Up until now, it was limited to public colleges and universities. With the new law, it can be almost anything.

“It could be a local library, highway construction, transit-related, the whole raft of infrastructure,” Murphy said.

“This bill is better than the last P3 bill that we did because it’s expanded into infrastructure,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “New Jersey is going to be the lead in this country in making investments to improve our infrastructure, our universities. It’s wonderful, but there’s just so much more we can do. We were just scratching the surface.”

The state treasurer will have to sign off on any investments attached to the projects. The Economic Development Authority will have oversight. The bill is a bipartisan upgrade to a previous law, with certain projects still under a different jurisdiction, like the long-anticipated Gateway Tunnel.

“This is a big deal, not just in New Jersey, moving the needle in the P3 world. But if you compare what we’re doing today in New Jersey, I think almost to any American state, we’re opening this up wide,” Murphy said.

Murphy also took questions on NJ Transit, saying he’s fully committed to seeing through the needed improvements, and a call from Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo to reenact the 2 percent salary cap for police and fire raises.

“There are good arguments on both sides; both on the sides of the unions as well as on the side of the folks who want to have some feeling like property taxes aren’t going to get away from it. It’s something that the Legislature and I, I’ve said I’m willing to raise my hand and try to find some common ground,” Murphy said.

As for those flood-ravaged communities, Murphy says he’s not scheduled to visit any other towns Tuesday, but his administration is working closely with local, state and federal leaders to secure the funding needed for cleanup.