NJ Politics Digest: Dems’ Intraparty Budget Battle Spurring Shut Down Talk

Phil Murphy (left) and Steve Sweeney

Phil Murphy (left) and Steve Sweeney Christian Hetrick for Observer

Independence Day is still a month away, but talk coming out of Trenton these days is making it appear more likely New Jersey residents will go into the holiday facing another shutdown of state services.

On Thursday, Senate President Steve Sweeney said he’d be willing to force a governmental shutdown to win passage of his plan to reform the way school funding is distributed. And on Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered state departments to begin drawing up plans in preparation for such a shutdown.

Murphy’s order came after a Friday morning meeting between top aides representing his office and legislative leaders ended in acrimony, with Murphy’s representative leaving the room and slamming the door, according to POLITICO. The source of the friction had been Sweeney’s school funding plan, according to reports.

The plan establishes a seven-year timeline for shrinking aid to schools that are overfunded according to the state funding formula and shifting it to underfunded districts with growing enrollments. Sweeney contends the plan gives the overfunded districts time to gradually raise taxes to make up for the reduced funding while also trimming costs and eliminating positions through attrition.

The plan, however, is opposed by some education advocates and by the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s powerful teacher’s union.
Murphy and the legislature are also feuding over Murphy’s plans to raise more than $1.5 billion in new taxes. The governor is calling for a millionaires tax and a hike in the state sales tax, as well as new taxes on ride- and home-sharing services. He also wants to legalize and tax the recreational use of marijuana.

Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have said they’re opposed to raising the sales tax. Sweeney, who in the past has supported a millionaires tax, has warned that the recent GOP federal tax overhaul has hit New Jersey residents hard. He says a millionaires tax will drive wealthy residents from the state.

Sweeney playing hardball also forced Murphy to order an immediate freeze on state spending and hiring, according to NJ.com.

That’s because the senate president has said he won’t support a plan to shift funds from one area of the budget to another unless Murphy restores $123 million in legislative spending priorities to the budget. Murphy had cut the items in his budget proposal, the report said.

While Sweeney and Murphy, the state’s two top Democrats, have never been close, the budget fight has highlighted just how fraught their relationship is.

One thing angering Sweeney is a pro-Murphy group’s plans to air advertisements promoting the governor’s progressive agenda. While the ads don’t mention the legislature, Sweeney views it as an attempt to pressure lawmakers during the budget negotiations, according to POLITICO.

Murphy has dismissed those concerns, the site reported.

The governor and legislature must agree on a new budget by June 30, or face a shutdown.

Last year, the state government shut down for three days over the Independence Day weekend after Republican Gov. Chris Christie and the Democrats battled over the spending plan.

Quote of the Day: “If you are the governor, you have to figure out how to bring people together. If things fall apart, it’s your fault, 100 percent.” — Republican Assembly leader Jon Bramnick, on Gov. Phil Murphy and the possibility of a state government shutdown.

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NJ Politics Digest: Dems’ Intraparty Budget Battle Spurring Shut Down Talk