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New Jersey Republicans want to claw back museum funding

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(The Center Square) — New Jersey Republicans are seeking to claw back state funding for a French-themed museum they’ve described as a “circus of waste and excess” for the state’s taxpayers.

In a letter to Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way, the GOP lawmakers urged the Murphy administration to redirect a $24 million state grant given to the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority for the Pompidou Museum project and seek reimbursement for $6 million of that funding that was “unwisely” spent by the city on consultants and other planning costs.

“Ever since the city bought the property in 2018 where the French museum will supposedly be built, there’s been a consultant feeding frenzy,” they wrote. “Six years later, there is little to show for it other than city promises to pay a French corporation $30 million for naming rights and other services, and another approximately $10 million in contracts with two dozen or more other consultants.”

The demands follow threats by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to pull $35 million in state funding for the museum project unless the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency “rectifies” a $19 million shortfall on its books.

The state agency gave Jersey City until May 26 to submit updated plans that “rectifies” the operating shortfall or it will “have to consider whether it is more prudent for the state to use these funds for other fiscal priorities.”

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop blasted the threats to choke off funding, claiming the agency’s move is retaliation for him pulling back his endorsement of Tammy Murphy’s now-suspended bid for the Democratic nomination to run for embattled Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s seat. Fulop, a Democrat, said the project was on track to receive state funding until he announced that he was backing Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., in the primary race.

Jersey City officials have touted the museum project as key to revitalization efforts for the city’s long-neglected downtown. Pompidou X would be a satellite of Centre Pompidou, Paris’ famed museum of modern art. It would exhibit art from the Pompidou’s renowned collection, including artists such as Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse and Marcel Duchamp, officials say.

So far, the project has received about $58 million in public funds, GOP lawmakers say it includes $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

But the $200 million museum project has drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers who called it a “circus of excess and waste” of taxpayer dollars fueled by the state’s pay-to-play laws.

A review by GOP lawmakers last year found more than $33 million in taxpayer dollars will be paid to the Centre Pompidou French Arts Museum in Paris – $11 million of which is for the right to use the Pompidou name on the museum for five years.

Meanwhile, more than 30 no-bid consultants will receive an estimated $40 million for the project’s “extravagant” soft costs, the report claimed.

“The city’s finances are well-known to be a grossly mismanaged mess,” the GOP lawmakers wrote. “They are already having trouble paying their bills. Letting them dig a deeper hole will ultimately trigger bankruptcy or a state bailout. Neither is acceptable.”

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