TRENTON – $44.8 billion. That’s the big, glorious figure that Gov. Phil Murphy wants to spend in the next fiscal year to provide all the great services you expect from the great State of New Jersey. Now, before you spit out your Cheerios in shock of this massive expense, the governor has a key message for you: No new taxes. No raised fees. And the state will even pay attention to the perennially-broke pension fund, providing its first, full contribution since 1996. There’s even some proposed cash for more school aid and – hey, why not – how about income tax rebates to hundreds of thousands of New Jersey families? Yes, the cash is raining down at the moment – thanks to borrowing a heap of cash – creating a fat $6.3 billion pillow in state coffers. Wet blankets – like us – note the state budget has increased nearly 30% in the last four fiscal years. And now – with this sudden cash windfall – one must ponder when the bill comes due.

TRENTON – For most of the past year, the news has focused on people unable to access unemployment benefits. Plenty of blame was thrown at the state’s computer system – likely powered with exhausted hamsters and Windows 95 – which was completely ill-equipped to handle the immediate demands of a pandemic. In his proposed budget, Murphy wants to throw $7.75 million at the system, which has managed to dole out billions of dollars from 2 million initial filings. The budgeted amount is a pittance of the $200 million the state Labor Department has requested over a five-year period, but should allow the hamsters a 15-minute break during their 12-hour shifts.

LEONARDO – Within minutes of New Jersey legalizing weed, we now learn of a new “Clerks” movie. And what business will Jay and Silent Bob be running in Clerks III? Of course, a weed store. And let’s assume this fictional enterprise will somehow be connected to Leonardo, a section of Middletown, replacing their favorite hangout, RST Video. (You really need to be a fan of the original Clerks from 1994 to understand any of this.) But now a whole new generation can learn about Clerks. Just be kind, rewind.

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BRIEFING BREATHER 

Donald Duck comics were banned in Finland because he doesn't wear pants. 

ATLANTIC CITY – The city is on the rise! OK, you have been hearing that for decades, yet it seems whenever there is some decent progress, there’s a recession or new, out-of-state gambling competition or, let’s say, a global pandemic that shuts down 90% of the city’s economy. Despite all of this, the city’s home prices jumped 30% in the fourth quarter of 2020, the Wall Street Journal reports, noting Atlantic City was one of the biggest gainers in the nation. And this might not be a blip, as the healthy market continued last month, jumping 35% from a year earlier, when things were pre-pandemic. Why? Because we’ve already told you: the city is on the rise!

PARSIPPANY — The gloves are off in a grudge-match to oust first-term Mayor Mike Soriano and two fellow Democrats who won a toe-hold on the GOP-controlled Town Council in 2017. Soriano now faces a challenge from Louis Valori, former council president and a retired police sergeant, who got booted when Soriano's slate won. InsiderNJ says Morris County Democrats have wasted no time boldly bashing the Republican challenger, saying voters “had the good sense to reject Valori once," adding that voting for him “is a vote for political favoritism, budget gimmicks, overdevelopment, dishonesty, and putting Parsippany families in jeopardy." Them’s fightin' words, another reason why local politics are just so colorful.

ROCHELLE PARK – It took a few months, some howling and a judge’s ruling, but a Republican candidate finally overturned his razor-thin loss for a Township Committee seat. That leaves a lone Democrat on the five-person governing body. A Superior Court judge validated a bunch of disqualified votes and ordered a recount. The Record says the new tally shows Democrat Michael Warren didn’t actually have a three-vote win over his GOP opponent Perrin Mosca. So, Mosca is to be sworn in at tonight’s Committee meeting. Yet another painful lesson about how every vote matters.

IN THE MEDIA

TRENTON — But nothing beats this. Suspending for the moment the desperate need for our capital city to have real, mature leadership, enjoy this latest dispatch from the Trentonian about the often-nutty, sometimes-nasty City Council. Councilman Jerell Blakeley called Council President Kathy McBride an “illiterate crackhead prostitute” last year during a coronavirus briefing, after she apparently called him a “disrespectful piece of shit.” At first, Blakely repeatedly denied calling the council president a drug-addicted woman of the evening. And then he threatened to sue the newspaper for defamation, deriding the pursuit of news as “yellow journalism.” And then he admitted to saying the comment. And then, he called it “reprehensible and disrespectful.” And then, he called McBride to apologize. And then he concocted a reason for why he lied: “I did not want to see a Black woman’s name associated with these accusations. That’s why,” Blakeley said. (Huh?)  

IN OTHER IMPORTANT NEWS

MICHMORET, Israel — You’ll never see mayo on a bagel here – nor should you see it smeared like that anywhere else. Yet, Israelis have found a practical use for mayo, finally, to save endangered green sea turtles. Employees at the National Sea Turtle Rescue Center are generously applying the mayo to turtles suffering through a devastating oil spill that has coated Israel’s coast with thick black tar. It’s considered one of the country’s worst ecological disasters on record, coating most of Israel’s 120 miles of Mediterranean coastline with disgusting, sticky stuff.  The turtles are now being force fed the mayo, which is doing a great job cleaning out their innards. After two weeks of this steady diet, they will be released back into the wild – perhaps in search of a better condiment.

WORD OF THE DAY

Gadabout – [GAD-uh-bout] – noun

Definition: A person who goes from place to place in social activity

Example: When the bars were open, I was a terrific gadabout.

WIT OF THE DAY

“Early to rise, early to bed, makes a man healthy, wealthy and dead.”

-James Thurber

BIDEN BLURB

“Sleep was like a phantom I was too tired to chase.”

-Joe Biden

WEATHER IN A WORD

Beauty