At 7:30 a.m. the day after the election, Senate President Steve Sweeney tweeted that the millionaires’ tax would be the first bill passed in January to fully fund schools.

Now he says it’s a last resort, even though Gov. Phil Murphy wants to enact it. He said the federal tax reform’s impact on high-tax states like New Jersey is the reason.

“It’s time to have a conversation with the taxpayers about what kind of government they want and how much they want to pay for it. You know, it’s too much right now,” Sweeney said.

Murphy, who introduces his first budget in a March 13 speech to the Legislature, said he hasn’t changed his mind since the campaign.

“I am no less committed than I was three months ago to ensuring that the wealthiest among pay their fair share in taxes,” Murphy said.

“We are not George Washington, by the way, when we close big corporate loopholes or hedge fund loopholes,” he said. “Many other states have already done it.”

Murphy also wants to legalize and tax marijuana for recreational purposes. An Assembly committee scheduled a March 5 hearing to take testimony on the idea.

Sweeney appears not to be on board – even when asked about specifically about hedge fund managers and corporations, but particularly the millionaires’ tax.

“It’s the absolute last thing I’m willing to look at it. I’m not saying anything is dead, but what I’ve been saying all along is we’re only kicking the can down the road,” Sweeney said.

Repeatedly when Christie was governor, Sweeney and fellow Democrats in the Legislature would send him a millionaires’ tax knowing it would be vetoed.

Sweeney said federal tax changes that include a penalty for high-tax states though new limits on tax deductions should compel a conversation about reducing the size and cost of government, and he has organized some economists for private meetings to analyze the issue.

“It shouldn’t be the first resort. It should be the absolute last resort,” Sweeney said of a tax increase. “And too often we are looking, in my mind says, we always look for a tax. Well, how about if we look at what the problem is.”

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, welcomes the change of heart.

“This is why I like Steve Sweeney,” Bramnick said. “Steve Sweeney in the past has always had common sense. And he actually led the fight for pension reform before it was popular. Now he’s using some common sense to say, ‘Don’t raise taxes.’

“And I think a lot of Democrats like that because they know they don’t have the Christie veto pen to stop it,” Bramnick said. “So I’m impressed by his common sense. I’m impressed by the fact that he’s standing up for taxpayers. So I think it’s really good.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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