NJ Politics Digest: Assembly Speaker Vows No New Tax Hikes

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. Assembly Majority Office

It probably isn’t too wise to make a political promise almost a year out, particularly when that promise is not to raise taxes in cash-strapped New Jersey while a progressive governor tries to advance his agenda.

But that’s what Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin has done, saying in a statement he was “insistent” New Jersey’s next budget won’t include tax hikes, according to NJ.com. The speaker also seemed to be positioning himself in favor of Senate President Steve Sweeney’s plan to remake state spending, which includes proposals to trim health benefits and change pensions for New Jersey’s public workers’ unions.

“As always the Assembly will take a thorough and thoughtful approach to analyzing the report, but I am insistent that next year’s budget not include new tax hikes, which makes it clear that we have to rein in spending,” Coughlin said in the statement, according to the NJ.com report.

That sets up what could be a new battle royal between the state’s two top Democratic legislators and its new Democratic governor. It also gives Gov. Phil Murphy, widely seen as the loser in a budget battle this year with Sweeney and Coughlin, time to plan his strategy.

Murphy, who is closely aligned with the public workers’ unions, has shown little interest in cutting union benefits or spending in the state. His budget represented an increase of more than $2 billion from last year and included more than $1 billion in new taxes.

In a statement on Sweeney’s plan, a Murphy spokeswoman said the “governor’s guiding principle is always whether a proposal strengthens New Jersey’s middle class and working families.” Murphy, who campaigned on a promise to help the state’s middle class, increasingly uses the term to refer to public union workers. Murphy, who unsuccessfully attempted to raise the state sales tax as part of his budget plan, contends New Jersey residents won’t mind paying more in taxes if they feel they are getting good value for their money.

Sweeney, however, has warned that the state, which has one of the highest tax burdens in the nation, has reached a breaking point with taxes and fundamental changes are needed to avoid a looming financial disaster.

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NJ Politics Digest: Assembly Speaker Vows No New Tax Hikes