NJ Politics Digest: Legislature’s Budget Advances During Busy Day in Trenton

The New Jersey state house.

The New Jersey state house. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

It was a day of drama and action in the state house Thursday, as the Democratic legislature passed a $36.5 billion state budget after legislative leaders failed to reach a compromise on the spending plan with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.

Murphy, whose competing $37.4 billion budget plan calls for $1.5 billion in new taxes, accused legislators of perpetuating the short-term fiscal policies of former Gov. Chris Christie.

Murphy wants to impose a millionaires tax, raise the state sales tax, impose new taxes on internet purchases, as well as ride- and house-sharing services, and legalize and tax marijuana. Murphy’s plan calls for increased school funding, more aid for NJ Transit, free community college for low-income students and expanding the state’s pre-k program.

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craigh Coughlin oppose both the millionaires tax and sales tax hike and are pushing an alternative plan that would temporarily raise taxes on corporations. They contend raising taxes will just increase the flight of residents from the state.

No matter which budget is adopted, it’s likely New Jersey residents will face a new tax on online purchases, since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for such a measure with a ruling Thursday.

Residents are also likely to be hit with a shopping bag tax, as the legislature passed a measure to impose a 5-cent fee on both plastic and paper shopping bags. While the fee is ostensibly meant to reduce plastic pollution, it would also seem to discourage use of paper bags. And 4-cents of the fee will go to state coffers. The money is supposed to be used to fund lead abatement programs, but the legislature has already inserted language into the bill allowing them to use the money to plug holes in the regular budget.

Murphy seems intent on linking the Democrats to Christie, the two-term GOP governor who left office with record-low approval ratings following the Bridgegate scandal and a failed presidential bid. But Murphy, who was ambassador to Germany during much of Christie’s first term, also seems to forget that residents gave the former governor the high approval ratings during that time, when he teamed with Sweeney and other Democrats in the legislature to enact measures aimed at addressing the state’s crushing tax burden.

Murphy, a millionaire who campaigned for his first elected office on a pledge to aid the state’s middle class, contends residents won’t mind paying more in taxes if they feel they are getting good value for their money. Critics claim Murphy is more interested in establishing his progressive credentials for a future presidential run than actually addressing problems affecting most state residents, a charge the governor has repeatedly denied.

Quote of the Day: “It’s just unthinkable that they would do that, because the New Jersey pension system is the worst-funded pension system in America. How can legislators having to deal with this tremendous problem be giving themselves more at the same time?” — Steven Malanga, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute on a measure that would make it easier for some state politicians to boost their public pensions.

Paper or plastic? NJ lawmakers pushing a 5-cent fee on both, angering environmentalists
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Lawmakers Look to Divert Funds Before State Has Money in Hand
The Legislature is poised today to impose a 5-cent fee on single-use carry-out bags, but the money may not end up in a lead abatement program as originally intended.
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Murphy waving GOP senators off budget
Phil Murphy’s making calls.
The governor has been reaching out to Republican senators to try to stop any GOP votes that might otherwise go to Senate President Steve Sweeney’s budget.
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Supreme Court ruling on online sales tax could mean windfall for New Jersey
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Phil Murphy wants to make it a lot more expensive to buy a gun in N.J.
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Unintended political consequences
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NJ Politics Digest: Legislature’s Budget Advances During Busy Day in Trenton