With only a month to go before a final state spending plan must be adopted in order to avoid a government shutdown, the rift between Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Democratic State Senate President Steve Sweeney seems to be growing wider.

Murphy keeps calling for a new tax on millionaires, which Sweeney has rejected. Sweeney wants to cut Jersey’s growing multi-billion dollar debt by scaling back public worker healthcare coverage from platinum to gold plans, which Murphy won’t support.

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said both men have different visions for New Jersey. He said their "clash of the titans’"has become a "civil war" — one that's unprecedented in Jersey’s political history.

“The personal aspect is what is really driving the animosity that we see behind this," Murray said.

Before Murphy entered the Democratic primary in 2017, Sweeney had been considered the frontrunner to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, but things quickly changed — as Murphy flooded the campaign with millions of dollars of his own money.

Then, Murphy did not challenge the NJEA’s effort to unseat Sweeney as a State senator. Murray believes Sweeney has been furious about that ever since.

Murray noted Sweeney, who is aligned with South Jersey political boss George Norcross, is determined to push a set of reform plans for state he’s been touting in his "Path to Progress" tour.

"It’s become clear that Murphy would be happier if Sweeney was not in charge of the Senate," Murray said.

Murray also said it’s also become clear Sweeney and Norcross are looking for the opportunity to challenge Murphy when the governor is up for re-election in 2021.

Ashley Koning, the director of the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, said Sweeney and Norcross are asserting their dominance in a power struggle — "that they’ve been on the political scene much longer than Murphy has within the Garden State.”

She added in challenging the governor, Sweeney wants to look good, and perhaps make the governor not look so good during the final budget push.

So with one month to go before a new state spending plan must be in place, what’s going to happen?

Murray said with the Murphy-Sweeney feud seemingly getting more intense by the day “the possibility of a shutdown has increased dramatically over he past two or weeks weeks, and prior to that I think we thought everything was hunky-dory.”

“Both sides are going to take a stand politically on what they want," Murray said. "When that happened last year, I think objectively people felt that the Senate President won over the governor."

Last year, Murphy had also pushed for an increase in the millionaire’s tax, but wound up accepting a last-minute deal to increase taxes for those making at least $5 million annually.

Koning said no one wants a shutdown, but if a deal to avert a government closure is going to be reached “I think there has to be something concrete that’s done with taxes to show New Jerseyans that there’s some progress in a certain manner."

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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