New Jersey earmarks $100M of bonding for school water upgrades

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Voter-approved bond funding will be used to tackle lead remediation projects at schools throughout New Jersey.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced that his administration would use $100 million of borrowing from the Securing Our Children Future Bond Act passed by voters last November. The $500 million referendum, geared mainly toward school security upgrades, also earmarked money for water infrastructure improvements.

The water system enhancements were announced Monday, after Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, criticized the Murphy administration for delays in implementing the borrowing. Murphy said Monday during a joint press conference with U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., that he expects the money to be out by next spring with districts that had a lead-exceedance in their measurements first eligible for funding.

“Thankfully, the delay in securing the funding of $100 million to help school districts remove the dangerous threat of lead contamination will now be resolved,” Sweeney said in a statement Monday. “Our schools should be able to ensure clean and safe drinking water for all of our schoolchildren and protect against any exposure to lead contamination.”

The Murphy administration announced other measures Monday to enhance lead testing and remediation policies including requiring that schools test for lead every three years compared to the current six years. The New Jersey Department of Education is also creating and hosting a centralized, state-managed database complete lead testing results from all school districts.

The Garden State is taking steps to combat lead-tainted water in schools after the Environmental Protection Agency discovered two Newark homes with water that exceeded federal lead standards. Essex County is borrowing $120 million on behalf of Newark to fund the replacement of 18,000 lead pipes blamed for the elevated lead levels reported in early August.

“In the city of Newark we are seeing the impact of aging water infrastructure, but we would be naive to think that some of the causes of high lead content in Newark’s homes and schools… just a Newark problem,” said Murphy at the press conference. “It’s a whole of New Jersey problem and is a problem we are here today to strengthen our efforts to overcome.”

New Jersey has the second lowest-rated state general obligation bonds in the nation due largely to mounting pension liabilities. The Garden State’s GO debt is rated A3 by Moody’s Investors Service, A-minus by S&P Global Ratings and A by Fitch Ratings and Kroll Bond Rating Agency.

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