Murphy Likens Democrats to Trump as N.J. Budget Vote Stalls

(Bloomberg) -- Governor Phil Murphy issued his harshest criticism yet of fellow New Jersey Democrats as lawmakers prepared to vote on a $36.5 billion budget that omits revenue from a millionaire’s tax that he had demanded.

“The legislature seems intent on keeping the legacy of Chris Christie alive and well in Trenton, with a budget to match,” Murphy, referring to his unpopular two-term Republican predecessor, told reporters Thursday evening. “I will not put forward gimmicks and games that I know are ticking time bombs.”

Murphy’s administration met “a couple of times” with Assembly and Senate leaders, he said, and received no deal offers nine days before the fiscal 2019 deadline. Their budget framework was faulty, Murphy said, and they had embraced what he called “alt facts” in the style of President Donald Trump.

Richard McGrath, a spokesman for Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat from West Deptford, said he had no immediate comment.

Both houses were scheduled to vote Thursday on their spending plan, though the Senate recessed in the afternoon and hadn’t emerged five hours later.

Though the legislative measure was expected to pass both the Assembly and Senate, Murphy has said he won’t sign it because it relies on non-recurring funds. His $37.6 billion budget includes more than $1.5 billion in revenue from new or higher taxes and fees. Lawmakers refused to back the biggest tax-revenue sources, saying the state already has some of the highest U.S. living costs.

Murphy, a political newcomer who took office in January, is at odds with fellow Democrats in the legislature who have objected to the extent of the tax increases in his first proposed budget. Negotiations pit Murphy -- a multimillionaire Goldman Sachs Group Inc. retiree and former U.S. ambassador -- against Sweeney, a 16-year veteran of the legislature.

“We believe that a tax on corporations is better than a tax on people,” Sweeney said Thursday in an email from the Senate Majority political-action committee to supporters.

Shutdown Prep

If New Jersey lacks a budget on July 1, the start of fiscal 2019, all but essential services will be suspended. A shutdown would leave a mark on Murphy’s administration less than six months into his term.

New Jersey government has shut down only twice in recent history. Democrat Jon Corzine, also a Goldman alum, presided over an eight-day closing in 2006 after an impasse with Democratic lawmakers over a sales-tax increase. Last year, Republican Chris Christie shut it down for three days, then was castigated on social media after he and his family were photographed lounging on a closed state-run beach.

Even if an agreement is forged before deadline, the result potentially will be humbling for Murphy, who has promised to make New Jersey a national force of progressive social policy even as its fiscal health is poor. He almost certainly will be forced to scrap or alter some of his promises, among them legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, a record $3.2 billion pension payment and state-paid community college tuition for students of little means.

Though the Democrats who dominate both houses oppose Murphy’s millionaire’s tax, they were expected to approve a two-year corporate-tax surcharge that would reap an estimated $805 million. To further support their budget they were to vote on a tax-amnesty program for delinquent payers. Murphy at a news conferences this week derided both as gimmicks that wouldn’t generate sustainable revenue.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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