New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday called congressional Republicans’ emerging economic relief plan a “slap in the face,” saying that his state is confronting its worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression and that the latest proposals in Washington would do nothing to address the state’s coronavirus-inflicted $10 billion budget hole.
As the virus continued to extract a seismic economic toll, rising case numbers across the river in Philadelphia and its suburbs stoked new anxieties, even as some Pennsylvania lawmakers called Gov. Tom Wolf a “tyrant” and urged him to move ahead with reopening the economy.
Pennsylvania had recorded 7,063 coronavirus-related deaths as of Wednesday and more than 100,000 confirmed cases. While death rates have been declining, the seven-day average for daily confirmed cases through Monday was twice what it was in mid-June, according to an Inquirer analysis. Surges in Western Pennsylvania have swelled those numbers, and on Wednesday the state scotched a plan to have the Toronto Blue Jays play their “home” games in Pittsburgh.
But infections have also been ticking upward this month in Philadelphia and in Bucks and Delaware Counties, and they spiked dramatically in Chester County. Between July 14 and 20, Chester County added 321 new cases. The previous week, it added just 195 new cases. The county Health Department said half the new cases over the past seven days were among people under age 30.
New Jersey’s case totals have been trending downward, as have hospitalizations and transmission rates. But Murphy said the state isn’t backing off on safety protocols. “No matter what the numbers say, there is no reason for us to give up on our social distancing, or on wearing face coverings in public,” he said.
In the meantime, he said, the Garden State is in the fight of its fiscal life and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell isn’t in New Jersey’s corner — or that of any other state. While Republicans have yet to formally make an opening offer in the latest round of stimulus talks, McConnell is expected to omit aid to state and local governments. Murphy called that “a slap in the face of every governor, Republican and Democrat, who has shouldered the responsibility of responding to this pandemic.”
Republicans say the $150 billion previously allotted to state governments is sufficient to avert sweeping layoffs. But Murphy said the $2.4 billion in federal aid the state already had received “is a drop in the bucket compared to our needs.” He said New Jersey schools could lose $1 billion in state funding unless the federal government comes through with more aid.
Murphy, a Democrat, also fired back at his Republican predecessor, Chris Christie, who this week criticized him for “prioritizing public workers” over small businesses.
“In the end, this has not been shared sacrifice,” Christie said Tuesday during a video news conference held to discuss his 30-Day Fund, which he and his wife started to raise money for small businesses.
“Who thinks that laying off middle-class workers who are the very folks on the front lines providing the services that our residents so desperately need … somehow benefits New Jersey families?” Murphy responded. “Give me a break.
“We are in there every single day doing everything we can for small businesses,” he added.
Among the small businesses that will be able to reopen in New Jersey are martial-arts and yoga studios, but attendees must wear face masks and adhere to social distancing. Gyms are allowed to open only for one-on-one training.
In Pennsylvania, several Republican lawmakers took to the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg to call on Wolf to end all coronavirus restrictions in the state, which they said infringe on individual rights.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalf (R., Butler) called Wolf a “tyrant” and reiterated his call for impeaching Wolf for a “violation of our rights.” State Sen. Mario Scavello (R., Monroe) suggested that Democrats were overhyping the threat of COVID-19 in order to hurt Republicans in the 2020 election.
Lebanon County in south-central Pennsylvania is suing Wolf for almost $13 million in coronavirus relief funding, saying the governor overstepped his authority by withholding the money after local commissioners defied his shutdown order. The lawsuit represents yet another test of Wolf’s emergency powers, which have been unsuccessfully challenged several times since he issued a disaster declaration in March.
Wolf addressed the uptick in Pennsylvania cases Wednesday, saying they could be traced at least in part to bars and other places where people have been gathering and drinking, according to PennLive. He ordered new restrictions last week that limited bars and closed nightclubs.