NJ at ‘breaking point’ — Top Democrat backs away from raising taxes
The top Democrat in the state Legislature said Tuesday that he is not a fan of the new taxes proposed by the governor of his own party.
In fact, Senate President Steve Sweeney also would back away from supporting even his own tax increase ideas, including a recent proposal to tax corporations with profits of more than $1 million.
“Change has to happen in New Jersey and it’s not going to happen by just raising taxes,” Sweeney said Tuesday during an hour-long sit-down where he took questions from New Jersey 101.5 host Eric Scott and calls from listeners.
Answering questions about taxes and school funding, Sweeney said New Jersey “has too much government” and has “reached a breaking point” in affordability — beliefs that the Gloucester County Democrat’s has held for years.
Murphy this month proposed a $37.4 billion budget that would raise taxes on millionaires, raise the sales tax that had been cut as part of a Gov. Chris Christie deal to raise the gas tax, and would expand the sales tax to more goods.
Sweeney has said that raising the millionaire’s tax would be an "absolute last resort" even though he has supported it before. This month, Sweeney suggested raising taxes on corporate windfalls from the Trump tax cuts — an idea that Murphy said could work in addition to, not instead of, the millionaire’s tax.
But Sweeney on Tuesday said he would not support the corporate tax if it looked like the millionaire’s tax would also pass.
“When circumstances change and that happened in Washington with the so-called tax cut, if you continue to go down the same road […] there’s ramifications if situations change,” he said, referencing the recent change to the tax code, which capped state and local tax deductions that had mostly benefited the wealthy residents of high-tax states like New Jersey.
Sweeney also said he would not support expanding the sales tax and said he had a "great concern" with raising the sales tax.
Sweeney’s resistance to Murphy’s progressive agenda might seem to put him league with Republicans, who are in the minority in both the Senate and Assembly, and whose votes Sweeney might need to block a Murphy proposal.
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, on Wednesday hit Sweeney for his inconsistent stance on taxes and said that if Sweeney "suddenly had a change of heart about working to help rather than hurt New Jersey taxpayers, he’ll be joining our years-long effort, not the other way around.”
“This vacillating by the Senate President on $1.4 billion in proposed tax increases sends a chill down the spine of every family and business that’s doing a budget,” Kean said in a statement. "The Senate President’s haphazard approach is the exact opposite of what we should be doing.”
But Sweeney says he’s been championing reducing government spending and forcing municipal and school consolidation for years despite opposition from Democratic special interest groups like the teachers union, which backed Sweeney's GOP opponent in the last election.
“No light bulb hit on me,” he said. “I just know that it’s expensive here.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated to include a response from state Sen. Tom Kean.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email email@example.com.