Sweeney, Weinberg examine state budgetary puzzle


TEANECK – State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) shed some light into the difficulties faced by New Jersey legislators in advance of what is anticipated to be a trying state budget battle.

Sitting together at an impromptu news conference in Weinberg’s Teaneck office after a joint meeting held on Wednesday to highlight the importance of maintaining social service programs during a difficult budget season, the two Democratic legislative stalwarts touched upon two possible revenue boosters for the beleaguered state budget: the estate tax and the gas tax.

As he prepares to launch a 2016 Republican presidential nomination bid, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reportedly wants to get rid of the estate tax in exchange for a revenue booster, such as a sales tax on all petroleum coming into the state. PolitickerNJ asked Sweeney and Weinberg if they were amenable to that idea.

“I said I was open to it, a phase-out of it. Sometimes, removing certain taxes increases dollars. But not at the expense of [non-profit social programs],” Sweeney said.

Weinberg agreed with Sweeney regarding the programs, with an extra caveat.

“The governor was very quick to remove the earned income tax credit for the working poor,” Weinberg said. “I’d like to see that go hand in hand [during the budget negotiations].

“If the governor can do something to improve the economic conditions of this state, our revenues would improve, and with improved revenues there would be more dollars to do more things with,” Sweeney added. “[Christie] cannot blame [former Democratic Governor] Jon Corzine or anybody else. This is year six [of Christie’s administration]. We’ve recovered half of the jobs from the recession of 2008, where everyone else around us has recovered all of the jobs they lost, plus. Government can be easy with money, but what’s much easier is creating a better economic climate so you generate revenue to support programs.”

Presidential politics could play a role in the budget negotiations. If former Florida Governor Jeb Bush ultimately runs for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, it is conceivable that donors from the major oil companies will gravitate his way because of the Bush family’s long-standing ties to the industry. With Big Oil behind Bush, could that free Christie to enact a gas tax on personal consumers, a move some policy observers believe could play a key role in fixing the ailing state Transportation Trust Fund?

“I don’t know his side of the party aisle and how it works, nor do I really care.” answered Sweeney. “The problem is that there have been to many decisions focused on national instead of state [issues]. We are focusing on the transportation trust system. No plan will go forward without Hudson-Bergen Light Rail [expansion]. We’re not just going to maintain transportation. We’re going to improve it. The bottom line is, we need to fix the fund. We’re looking at all options.” Sweeney, Weinberg examine state budgetary puzzle