NJ Politics Digest: Murphy Wields Line-Item Veto Threat in Fight for Budget Tax Hikes

Phil Murphy (left) and Steve Sweeney

Gov. Phil Murphy (left) and Senate President Steve Sweeney. Christian Hetrick for Observer

Gov. Phil Murphy is trying to use the perks of occupying one of the most powerful governorships in the United States to force lawmakers to go along with his calls to hike taxes in next year’s state budget.

But his chief opponent, a fellow Democrat, is basically responding, “Bring it on.”

Murphy on Wednesday sent a letter to legislators decrying the budget plan Democratic leaders are advancing, which preserves many of the party’s priorities while not raising taxes. Murphy discounted the fiscal projections in his fellow Democrats’ budget, while touting his plan to raise taxes on millionaires, gun owners and others as “real, reliable and sustainable.”

Murphy, who never mentioned in the letter Senate President Steve Sweeney’s plan to rein in state spending by reforming public worker pensions and benefits, said that unless legislators heed his call to raise taxes, he would be “forced to take corrective action,” which likely means line-item vetoes of programs his opponents care most about.

Sweeney’s response was to send a letter to Murphy, saying that if the governor acted on his threat, “we will have a budget in place well before the deadline and the Legislature will have time to evaluate any of your line-item vetoes, in case we need to override them.”

Murphy would come into a fight over any line-item veto already politically wounded. This week he signed a bill forcing “dark money” groups to disclose the names of donors that was essentially the same as one he had previously vetoed, after it became clear Sweeney had the votes to override him. It’s unclear if Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin could corral the same coalition of Democrats and Republicans to stand up to a Murphy line-item veto of budget items, but Murphy has so far displayed little ability to line up legislative supporters for his agenda. While he continues to push for the millionaires’ tax, no one in the legislature has yet publically agreed to sponsor such a measure.

Quote of the Day: “People want their property taxes reduced. What’s he doing about that? Where’s the governor’s plan to fix the finances of this state? Oh, that’s right, he doesn’t have one,” — Senate President Steve Sweeney, on Gov. Phil Murphy’s claim that he was elected to change things in Trenton.

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NJ Politics Digest: Murphy Wields Line-Item Veto Threat in Fight for Budget Tax Hikes