Murphy: Legislature’s Budget Is Full of ‘pork and Christmas trees’

Governor says staffers are targeting items for his veto pen, but won’t say what his final response to lawmakers’ budget will be

Gov. Phil Murphy characterized the state budget lawmakers sent him Thursday as one larded with “pork and Christmas trees” — a $38.7 billion spending plan without Murphy’s proposed millionaires tax or any other significant revenue raisers which he said fails to set New Jersey on a stable fiscal path.

“You have no credibility if somebody argues on the one hand that we’re in a fiscal death spiral, and then you back up the truck and add hundreds of millions of dollars in pork spending to what we already kept, by the way, in the budget this year and then spend the rainy-day fund down to its last penny. Those two concepts do not compute,” Murphy said.

The governor described a large army of staffers going through the budget, selecting unidentified targets for his veto pen — items he would strike to balance spending with revenues he certifies as reliable. He wouldn’t say precisely what he plans to do — veto the budget, sign it or shut down the government.

“To be determined. To be determined. We have to look at the whole spectrum of our options, and we will look at the whole spectrum, and we will use every minute we have on the clock,” he said.

If Murphy does veto parts of their budget, Democrats could go for an override. The budget passed by large margins. They noted their budget carries a $1.4 billion surplus and they’re unconcerned about discrepancies in revenue estimates.

Sweeney: ‘We should all celebrate’

“It’s a good budget and I don’t know why the governor would veto something. The reality is the corporate business tax, which the Legislature pushed in last year’s budget, is what performed. And it performed extremely well. And we should all celebrate and be happy that numbers came in good,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said.

Sweeney noted his Path to Progress agenda hasn’t gotten Murphy’s approval, yet, either.

“He didn’t get a millionaires tax, he didn’t get taxes, and I haven’t gotten my property-tax relief from him, yet, either,” Sweeney said. “We’re never going to always agree. We’re Democrats. Seriously.”

Murphy accepts the battle over a millionaires tax could extend for months, but said he wants a rainy-day fund, or money to safeguard against an inevitable recession. New Jersey is one of three states without one.

Preparing for a rainy day

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“Because if a recession hits and the bottom drops out like it did during the dot com recession to the tune of $2 billion in hit to our revenue, or worse like it did during the Great Recession when we lost nearly $5 billion in revenue, that is what a rainy day really looks like,” said state Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio.

“This isn’t just about stumbling through midnight on June 30. Those taxes, also those revenue sources, allow us to plan for the intermediate to long term, which is what folks want us to do,” Murphy said.

With nine days left until the budget deadline, the governor said all options remain on the table. But at this point, no new meetings are scheduled.

Late Friday afternoon, Sweeney responded to Murphy’s comments, calling them “… a rerun of a perspective that fails to understand the real life impact of a responsible budget that addresses the priorities of working people and the needy and that fails to get at the root causes of New Jersey’s fiscal problems.”