New budget season sets a new tone in Trenton

Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday that he’s going to fight for the millionaire’s tax despite opposition from Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

“I personally believe, we’re talking about 19,000 people, who at the federal level have gotten a very good shake. They got a good shake during the prior administration in New Jersey. It’s not a big number, but it’s a huge game changer in our ability to invest in the middle class,” said Murphy.

At the same time, he acknowledged that the atmosphere surrounding him and the leaders has improved.

“We did lay this out with both sides of the aisle before we went public with this budget yesterday. I had a good breakfast with the Senate president and the Assembly speaker yesterday, just the three of us. We’re not going to agree on everything, but we’ve been able to find common ground on a lot of stuff,” Murphy said.

In his budget address, Murphy showed deference to the legislative process.

“I understand the budget I am proposing today will not be identical to the one that I will ultimately sign. We will talk, we will negotiate and we will compromise. This is as it should be. This is how our system works best,” Murphy said.

The leaders reciprocated.

“The governor deserves credit for having gone through this process now for a year, understanding the Legislature and the Legislature’s needs,” Coughlin said.

“The budget he has presented us today is not the budget he expects to sign, and we appreciate him recognizing that because what I took from that is he’s looking for compromise. I think we’re all looking for compromise at the end of the day, so this is a very good first step in my mind,” Sweeney said.

What a difference a year makes. This what they were saying last year:

“The governor offered no compromise, offered no counterproposal He rejected it out of hand,” Coughlin said in June, during tense budget negotiations that nearly led to a shutdown.

“He likes to talk about Christie, and I think he studied him very well. His behavior is exactly like Chris Christie’s but he smiles more,” Sweeney said last June.

The new tone is welcomed.

“One thing became very, very clear yesterday, and that is the contrariness that oft-time has typified the relationship between legislative leadership and executive leadership is something that all of us wish would be a thing of the past and not part of the future,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer.

“I think last year the governor introduced a budget and said, ‘Can you please pass it?’ This year, he’s acknowledging that there’s going to be some give and take. He also acknowledged some legislative priorities in this budget, things that were important to various legislators and their constituencies. He left them in this budget so we’re not negotiating them in or out,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo.

Sweeney told NJTV News Wednesday, “We’re partners, the governor, the speaker and I. The governor brought a new attitude to the table, and we appreciate it.”

They’ll still clash over the millionaire’s tax proposal, but this year the governor, the Senate president and the Assembly speaker seem to be working in an entirely different atmosphere.