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Budget talks falter as Gov. Murphy, lawmakers skirmish

June 22, 2018

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s Democratic-led state government on Thursday lurched toward uncertainty and a looming budget deadline as talks between Gov. Phil Murphy and lawmakers devolved into finger-pointing and name-calling.

Murphy said fellow Democrats appeared to be fighting for Chris Christie’s legacy in budget talks, suggested they were dealing with “alt facts” and called their $36.5 billion budget a “ticking time bomb.”

It was the toughest language yet from the freshman Democratic governor and former Wall Street executive who is clashing with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin ahead of a June 30 budget deadline.

Sweeney returned the criticism after lawmakers sent a $36.5 billion budget to Murphy’s desk. Murphy threatened to take out his veto pen over what he called gimmicks and unsustainable revenues.

“We’re not going to be dictated to,” Sweeney said. “This is not Goldman Sachs. We’re not going to be told what to do. We’re going to be partners.”

Murphy invoked his two-term GOP predecessor whom the Democratic-led Legislature seemed to loath at times and loved to spar with, and whose approval rating was near record-lows. He also raised President Donald Trump’s name, another unpopular figure among Democrats, and said he would not preside over “Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C.,” calling lawmakers’ revenue projections “alt facts,” a reference to Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway’s 2017 statement regarding inaugural crowd sizes.

“The Legislature seems intent on keeping the legacy of Chris Christie alive and well in Trenton with a budget to match. This is not a game. These negotiations aren’t about us. Who wins and losses in Trenton is meaningless as to whether we do the right thing.”

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who clashed frequently with Christie said she was frustrated, but that she thinks talks and negotiations will continue.

“You know what? I haven’t been around here waiting for this governor to arrive to carry on any tradition of Chris Christie’s. I’ve said before as far as I’m concerned this governor is manna from heaven,” she said.

Murphy spoke during a roughly 20-minute news conference as legislators prepared to hold a vote on their spending plan. He and lawmakers mostly agree on spending priorities and met twice on Thursday at his office, but differ on how to pay for them.

Murphy wants to increase taxes by roughly $1.6 billion, mostly by raising rates on incomes over $1 million from 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent and increasing the sales tax from 6.625 percent to 7 percent.

Lawmakers instead advanced a budget that raises businesses taxes.

Their plan calls for increasing business taxes on firms making from $1 million to $25 million from 9 percent to 11.5 percent. The plan also would raise business taxes on companies making more than $25 million from 9 percent to 13 percent. That would make New Jersey the state with the highest business tax, beating out Iowa at 12 percent. Though the provision sunsets in two years.

They also said they were disappointed that Murphy failed to embrace a potential windfall from a Supreme Court decision that could lead to greater sales tax collections from online retailers.

Coughlin said the administration didn’t work fast enough to determine how much the decision would mean for the budget.

Republicans, who are out of power since Christie left office this year, held a news conference earlier in the day to say they would instead focus on cutting costs and making the state more affordable.

“There’s not a vote for taxes in our caucus,” Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick said later Thursday.

If lawmakers and Murphy fail to enact a balanced budget by the end of the fiscal year, state government faces a shutdown.

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