Only in Trenton during budget season will you find a coalition of progressives and labor unions cheering a former Goldman Sachs executive and denouncing a fellow union member. But such was the case Thursday, as public employees showed up by the hundreds to call for the passage of a millionaires tax, supported by the millionaire governor, and adamantly opposed by iron worker Senate President Steve Sweeney.
“I don’t care what your job is, where you come from, you either stand for the people of New Jersey or you’re standing strictly for 18,000 millionaires in this state,” said Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association. “It’s a bit ironic that that particular tax was passed five different times in the state Legislature, and we finally got a governor who said, ‘Absolutely, we will have fairness,’ and suddenly, nobody wants to put the millionaires tax up. That’s the irony.”
With less than a week to go before the Legislature presents its budget, leaders say with no millionaires tax the governor’s coalition is making it personal, calling out Sweeney as a hypocrite for not allowing an up-or-down vote on the tax and asking for concessions from public unions.
“Workers lose. All I know is that the workers always lose,” said Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America. “The workers are always on the receiving end. We get used as leverage. The governor is right on his budget. I agree with him, and I believe him, and I think that the Legislature needs to pass a responsible budget that includes sustainable revenue.”
Sweeney was scheduled to address a conference of the AARP at the Masonic Temple, which is about a block or so from where the demonstrations were taking place. Ironically, most of the buses parked outside the Masonic Temple were carrying demonstrators to the protest, which may or may not have explained why the Senate president wasn’t there.
Sweeney did tell NJTV News he couldn’t talk because he was in meetings for most of the day, at least part of them reportedly with the governor and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, who we managed to run into outside the Masonic Temple.
It hasn’t really been billed as Coughlin’s fight, but the speaker could ultimately play a big role in bringing the two sides together. With one side saying we need a millionaires tax, the other saying no new taxes. Where are the two sides going to meet?
“Hopefully somewhere where we can do what we really want to do, which is to get a budget done that is good for the state of New Jersey and serves all of our interests,” said Coughlin. “I’ll certainly do whatever I can to try and get a budget across the goal line but that’s not unique to me. The governor and the Senate president work in good faith too to try and get something done.”
With a state government shutdown looming in less than three weeks, sources say talks are ongoing and issues like reforms to the state’s tax-incentive programs could yet play a part in a final deal. But on the record, both sides remain steadfast and no one is making any plans for the first few days in July.