This is a tale about Donald Trump, New Jersey finances, “illegals” and a bruising state Senate Republican primary in Morris and Passaic counties.
The first thing to keep in mind is that just about nothing rankles Republicans these days as much as illegal immigration.
So it’s no real surprise that border crossings are an issue in the LD-26 primary, where incumbent Joe Pennacchio is being challenged by Tom Mastrangelo, a Morris County commissioner.
Yes, yes, immigration is a federal issue and this is state government, but when passions are high, logic can take a back seat.
The state finance part of our story dates back to New Jersey’s fiscal 2019-20 budget.
When that budget was passed almost four years ago, something strange happened. Many Republicans, including Pennacchio, voted yes. The vote in the Senate was 31-6.
In partisan times, that was quite the rarity. Pennacchio explained recently that he voted “yes,” because this budget was less than what Gov. Phil Murphy originally proposed, and what’s more, it raised no taxes.
However, Team Mastrangelo claims that it included $3.1 million to provide legal services to those here illegally.
A statement by Mastrangelo’s campaign this week references a story from that time period in the Asbury Park Press. It says:
“Last year, Murphy allocated $2.1 million to legal aid that would help people in immigration court, where individuals are not guaranteed a lawyer. The budget bumps that up to $3.1 million.”
The statement adds, “Joe (Pennacchio) either does not know what he is voting for, or is forgetting what he voted for.”
Time out, says Pennacchio.
He suggests that his opponent either does not know what he’s talking about, or is just “lying.”
Pennacchio points out that the adopted budget normally differs from the governor’s introduced budget and he said that is what happened here. Money to provide undocumented individuals with lawyers was not in the adopted budget. Anyone who cares can examine the budget and see for themselves, he said.
And he noted that if that money was in the 2019-20 budget, no Republican would have voted for it.
Where does Trump fit into all this?
Well, Trump, who, of course, was president at the time, actually sent out a tweet congratulating the Legislature on a good budget. More specifically, the then-president said lawmakers deserve credit for “not passing (higher) taxes that would have driven large numbers of high end taxpayers out of the state.”
Pennacchio, not surprisingly, saved the tweet, which dates back to July 1, 2019. After all, it’s hard to see Trump lauding a budget that offers financial support for undocumented individuals.
Still, don’t expect this to be the end of it.
Subsequent Mastrangelo campaign messages have sought to tie Pennacchio to the current situation on the southern border.
The one meant to terrify voters the most shows hordes of people congregating under the headline “800,000 illegal Immigrants at the southern border.”
The rather tenuous connection here is that Pennacchio’s vote four years ago inspired what’s happening today.
Also being raised is an accusation that the Murphy administration aims to give undocumented individuals $53 million in aid, including one-time payments to some of $500.
One problem here, of course, is that the budget Pennacchio supported four years ago did not include the original aid in question. Additionally, that referenced $53 million was stripped from last year’s budget and even if it wasn’t, Pennacchio did not vote for that budget anyway.
As we said, illegal immigration is a major issue for the country.
Don’t expect it to go away regardless of the facts involved.
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