TRENTON — Despite Democrats controlling the top levels of government in New Jersey, there is a startling level of intraparty dysfunction at the State House. When it comes to tax hikes, that may be a good thing.

During his State of the State speech on Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy praised Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, and Senate President Steve Sweeney, D- Gloucester, for their recent work on hiking the minimum wage.

"I appreciate the progress we have made, and I know that working together, we will get this done," Murphy said.

However, such meetings between the state's three top elected officials are rare.

In 2018, months would pass between meetings as Murphy struggled to navigate New Jersey's political system. In laying out his broad-brush vision for New Jersey this week, Murphy did not specifically call for tax hikes, but New Jersey is out of money and his progressive agenda is expensive.

Murphy has never denied his desire to raise more money. In December, he said it was "too early to tell" what tax hikes might be needed, but talked about some costly priorities.

"I think we have to ask ourselves, is the middle class getting the shake that they deserve? Are the folks who are working poor or in poverty, are they getting the pathway into the middle class that they deserve? Is everyone paying their fair share?" Murphy said then.

"Tax fairness" is Murphy-speak for tax hikes.

Murphy will need both Coughlin and Sweeney to raise the revenue he needs to pay for his programs. Both are on the record saying they oppose more tax hikes. They pushed back hard against Murphy tax hikes last year, trimming his proposed millionaires' tax hike and rejecting an increase in the sales tax hike. Sweeney says New Jersey is already unaffordable, and released his own economic study and Pathway to Progress.

It’s also no secret that Sweeney and Murphy don't like each other, and their combative relationship will factor into budget talks.

The Assembly Speaker and Senate President sat behind Murphy during Tuesday's speech in the Assembly chamber, and while they found some common ground to cheer about, there was little applause and a lot of scowling. After the speech, Sweeney took issue with several of Murphy's positions and outright called him "wrong."

For those worried about their wallets, Democrat dysfunction may be the best defense against tax hikes from Trenton.

Eric Scott is Vice President, Senior Political Director and Director of Special Projects for New Jersey 101.5. He anchors "New Jersey's First News" and weekday morning newscasts from 5 to 10 a.m., in addition to hosting a bimonthly Town Hall series.

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