Murphy unlikely to get the tax hikes he hungers for (Analysis)
When last year’s bruising budget battle finally came to a close, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown, new then-Gov. Phil Murphy was overheard telling Senate President Steve Sweeney, “You got me good this year. That won’t happen next year.”
Sweeney chuckled, and retorted, “Yes it will.”
It’s now next year, and it appears Sweeney was right.
Sweeney was elected to the state senate in 2001 and became senate president in 2009. He has been both an architect and enabler of the tax-and-spend policies that have crippled New Jersey and created the heaviest tax burden in the nation. Now, he seems to relish a new role as a reformer.
The 2020 budget is the second for Murphy. For Sweeney, it’s his 18th. In the brutal world of New Jersey politics, experience matters. Murphy hungers for more revenue to pay for his costly progressive agenda. As early budget talks began, Murphy made no secret he wanted to hike and expand the sales tax. There was talk of a toll hike, and selling off valuable state assets. A fare hike for New Jersey Transit? Murphy’s transportation commissioner told commuters “not to be frightened by that conversation."
Murphy had a team looking at every fee and surcharge in the state for ways to increase revenue. As the deadline neared for Murphy to deliver his budget to the legislature, Sweeney made it clear there was zero support for any of it.
In the end, Murphy abandoned plans for broad based tax increases and toll and fare hikes. He gambled the tax hikes he did include would be well received by fellow Democrats. As far as Sweeney is concerned, he was wrong.
During his appearance on New Jersey 101.5, Sweeney did not voice support for a single Murphy tax hike, including the same millionaires’ tax he once championed when Chris Christie was governor. Sweeney went as far as to agree it might be a good thing to reduce taxes on New Jersey’s wealthiest. He also rejected Murphy’s plan to hike taxes on gun owners and hunters. He was non-committal on the plan to impose a “corporate responsibility fee” on companies thaat don’t provide health insurance to their workers.
While he praised the governor for savings in the new CWA union contract, he said it didn’t go far enough, and plans to introduce a bill to force more givebacks from the union.
Murphy is said to be stunned by Sweeney’s almost complete rejection of his initiatives. On Wednesday, the governor appeared to try playing hardball. Speaking at a New Jersey Transit maintenance yard, he repeatedly vowed there would be no NJ Transit fare hike, but only if the legislature gives him what he wants in his budget. Making already angry and frustrated mass-transit commuters a pawn in this budget fight could backfire for Murphy.
Murphy has already started talking up his budget to Wall Street ratings firms to try and improve New Jersey’s credit rating. He’s touting a billion dollars in savings in this budget, and boasting of the huge surplus he’s including in his 2020 plan. Murphy says the state will finish the next fiscal year with $1.2 billion in reserve. That also appears to have played right into the hands of the Senate president. Sweeney, in theory, could pass a plan with none of Murphy’s tax hikes, lower the surplus amount, and still have a balanced budget.
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