TRENTON — It wasn’t exactly party line, but Assembly lawmakers nonetheless approved a major business tax at their afternoon budget session today.
The one-time, 15 percent surcharge the state’s on corporate business tax passed just after the chamber passed a millionaires tax, with Democrats and Republicans lining up on each side of the aisle to support or oppose the measures. Democrats cited a need to meet the state’s $3.1 billion pension obligation this year, for which revenues from the tax would make possible, while Republicans condemned the tax and their counterparts’ overall anti-business spending plan.
“The question is simple and the answers are simple. We need to attract jobs. And we need to attract businesses in this state. This bill should be voted down,” said Assembly Minority Jon Bramnick (R-21), making a brief case that other Republicans echoed.
“We’ve got to stay competitive,” added Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-40).
Democrats are set to approve their $35.3 budget this afternoon. It is one of the biggest spending plans in in state history, focusing largely on funding for higher education, healthcare and social services, and a beleaguered pension and benefit system. But many of those measures are likely to meet the veto pen of Gov. Chris Christie, who with the support of Republicans in the legislature has put up a $33.8 billion budget that includes a partial $1.3 billion pension payment.
Christie’s decision to under-fund the system is one again serving as the main flash point of this year’s budget season, pitting unions and Democrats who would see the state meet its full obligation against Republicans who argue further reforms, such as those passed by both parties in 2011, are needed.
“I don’t think anyone in here wished they had to take this vote,” said Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-8). “We all believe we would have more significant economic growth, but we did not. This vote is significant.”
Democrats ultimately rallied more than enough votes to pass the measure — but there were a few that broke ranks, including Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7) and Tim Eustace (D-38).
Absent today, Assemblyman Joe Egan (D-17) didn’t cast a vote.
Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26) perhaps levied the strongest critics against the Democratic budget.
“The reason you’re raising taxes today is because you don’t want to make the hard choices and cut taxes,” he said. “I’m starting to think that the easiest choice I’ve ever seen is the Democrats choice to raise taxes.”