WILDWOOD, N.J. — In what might be a first, this New Jersey news conference was held, literally, under the boardwalk.
It was quite clearly a boardwalk badly in need of repair. As of two weeks ago, all vehicles, including the iconic Wildwood tram cars, were blocked at Burk Avenue heading south, including in front of the much-photographed Wildwood beach-ball sign.
And Tuesday afternoon, the chunks of the boardwalk’s concrete and rebar underpinnings literally crumbled around Mayor Ernie Troiano as he showed the gathering of politicians just how dire the situation is, and how the structure is shored up in numerous places.
“That highlights the point,” said State Senate President Steve Sweeney, who traveled to Wildwood to protest a recent veto by Gov. Phil Murphy of $4 million a year for the next 14 years that was to be dedicated to reconstructing the seaside walkway.
He and State Sen. Bob Andrzejczak are now proposing to reclassify the state’s boardwalks as roadways to qualify for other state funding.
Murphy spokesperson Alyana Alfaro explained that the veto was because the Legislature “failed to appropriate funds necessary for this bill in the budget.”
Troiano, the Wildwood mayor, took it more personally. "I was disappointed beyond words. I got a call from him a while back saying, ‘We love the Wildwood boardwalk, we love Wildwood.’
“It’s a war between the north and the south,” he added. “We thought the civil war was over. It’s here in New Jersey.”
The governor’s reasoning involved various rules of appropriation and budgeting and in his veto message, Murphy said the money was not sufficiently accounted for in the state budget and was therefore unconstitutional.
Sweeney dismissed that. He said Murphy approved a $20 million appropriation for the horse-racing industry that was done by the same process.
“That’s the horse industry,” he said. “This is the tourism industry. New Jersey is a tourist-industry destination. Boardwalks are a critical component of it.
“You’re seeing that they’re doing everything they can to keep it open," Sweeney added, “but at some point they’re going to have to shut sections down.”
But the elected officials have another plan. Andrzejczak has introduced a bill that would designate the state’s boardwalks as roadways and thereby become eligible for money from the state’s hefty Transportation Trust Fund, which is supported through a gas tax.
Andrzejczak said the money was added to the budget as a line item, which was also vetoed.
“A governor who comes from the banking world and is talking about sound investments in the state of New Jersey, here’s one that’s a guarantee,” he said. "Here’s one that has lasted 90-plus years. It’s time we do the right thing and help the economy of South Jersey.
Said Sweeney: “We’re going to give him one more chance.”
Added Troiano, “We’re not crying wolf.”
Alfaro, the spokesperson for the governor, would not say if Murphy would support the idea of designating boardwalks as roadways. “The Governor’s Office doesn’t comment on specific or pending legislation,” she said.
Murphy is in India on a weeklong state trade mission.