A coalition of faith-based leaders gathered in Trenton to speak in support of Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed millionaires tax increase on moral grounds and to start what they called conversations with lawmakers as they consider the next state budget.
“Shame on us if we don’t use what God has given us in our hand for the benefit of God’s people,” said Rev. Darrell Armstrong, senior pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church.
“We have to stop being quiet. And they have to respect the fact that faith-based leaders have the power because it’s given to us by God to speak to the kings to tell them if they don’t listen that our people suffer,” said Rev. Louise Scott-Rountree, Newark clergy affairs manager.
“We’ll ask that the Legislature cooperate with the governor. If it doesn’t happen, then we’ll take it to the community,” said Rev. Maurice Jean, president of the New Jersey Association of Haitian Ministers.
Pastors stopped short of specific political threats, but close to 90 from all 21 counties signed a letter to senators and Assembly members asking them to vote for Murphy’s budget, arguing that Scripture obligates millionaires to step up.
“We believe that those who make more should also pay more, because to whom much is given, much is required,” said Armstrong.
But the pastors acknowledged the budget process is snarled in a titanic political power struggle among Democratic factions. As members of the Assembly launch campaigns for re-election in November, they’re edging away from tax hikes. Another consistent “no” vote is Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who is backed by South Jersey power broker George Norcross and his Camden contingent.
Faith-based leaders claim they have reached out to legislators. “But we’re dealing with a system that they don’t have a voice themselves, an independent voice to speak for themselves. And so they speak on behalf of the persons that fund their campaigns,” said Rev. Levi Combs III, pastor of First Refuge Progressive Baptist Church. “We have an issue where Democrats are fighting with Democrats, and it is shown throughout the state, and specifically in the city of Camden. So in trying to deal with legislators, it really gets nowhere.”
That battle only intensified when Murphy set up a task force to probe New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority. Investigators focused on tax breaks awarded to companies with Norcross connections. A furious Norcross sued to block the task force, arguing Murphy lacked jurisdiction.
On Friday, a judge put the next meeting of the task force on hold pending a June 17 court hearing. The pastors, meanwhile, took EDA officers on a bus tour of Camden Thursday and argued that any new tax-credit programs must benefit companies that raise up residents.
“We don’t see that trickle-down effect where it’s coming into the city of Camden where the residents are. We’re experiencing truly the tale of two cities in Camden,” said Rev. Amir Khan of Camden Empowerment Center.
Nobody wants a government shutdown, and legislative leaders are talking. But for now, the momentum seems to be away from any tax increases in this budget cycle.