Flanked by union bosses from across New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy promised a reckoning as he berated Democrats in the Legislature for introducing their own budget — one that lacks the millionaires tax Murphy claims is crucial for fiscal stability — even as the clock ticks down to the June 30 budget deadline.
“I didn’t get elected to come here to rush, rush, rush to June 30, then wake up July 1 and start the whole cycle again — this ridiculousness of living from one day, or one year to the next, of wash, rinse, dry, repeat. Enough. That’s another reason why the millionaires tax allows us to get to a better and stronger place,” Murphy said.
“And I’m hopeful that over the next 10 days, they’ll come to their senses, they’ll break out of the Trenton bubble, and they’ll stand with the governor, just like we are right here, and fight for the working people and the middle class of New Jersey,” said Barry Kushnir, president of the Hudson County Labor Council.
“We will be at your office tomorrow, we will be on the phones each and every day, urging you to do the right thing,” said Ray Greaves, New Jersey state council chair for the Amalgamated Transit Union.
But it seemed an almost empty threat for this budget cycle. Like last year, the State House has two proposed — opposing — state budgets. Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney have said they will not post Murphy’s version nor his millionaires tax. The governor is cranking up public pressure but seemed to acknowledge the budget deadline may pass without a millionaires tax.
“To every legislator willing to kick the can down the road instead of picking it up and doing what’s needed right now, I want to be perfectly clear: The pressure to pass a millionaires tax will intensify, and not lessen, if it’s not included in this budget,” Murphy said.
The Democratic legislators balanced their $38.7 billion budget with some one-shot revenues, like a bigger-than-predicted corporate business tax haul. And their budget has no rainy-day fund. That’s the kind of budget tactic advocacy groups like New Jersey Policy Perspective deplore.
“New Jersey’s in no position to fund the most important assets that make New Jersey great. We can’t do this anymore, where we’re just year after year playing whack-a-mole,” said Sheila Reynertson, senior policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective.
But the governor’s political capital is thin. To avoid an embarrassing override, he was recently forced to re-sign the dark-money bill he had originally vetoed. And while the governor Tuesday said he’s got support in the Legislature, he wouldn’t name names. The head-butting contest exasperates millionaires-tax advocates.
“Soap opera, cat fight, mudslinging between two characters in a story. It’s not Murphy versus Sweeney or Murphy versus Norcross. The ‘whose side are you on?’ is about the many, and the people, and smart policy, and investing in the state, and showing up for millionaires, and protecting the very wealthy,” said Sue Altman, state director for New Jersey Working Families.
Union leaders pointed out that polls show more than 70 percent of New Jersey residents support a millionaires tax, but there’s no rally of support in the Assembly — which is on the ballot this November in a low-turnout election.
“A small group of very committed and organized folks can have an outsized impact. So people who really don’t like taxes, even if they are outvoted when you take a poll and polls show the general public likes it, but the general public isn’t going to show up and vote in November,” said director of Rowan University’s Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship, Ben Dworkin.
The Legislature is expected to send its version of the budget — without the millionaires tax — to the governor on Thursday. Murphy said all options remain on the table, including a government shutdown.