In the throes of a dependably churlish Trump tweet storm late last year, a Leonard Lance partisan pointed to a smiling picture of Phil Murphy and said, “At least we’ll have Phil,” trusting in the Democratic Governor-elect’s promise to make good on a progressive agenda that includes a millionaire’s tax, marijuana legalization, and a $15 minimum wage.
Yesterday, following Murphy’s presentation of a $37.4 billion budget that includes a 4% spending increase and $1.5 billion in new revenue-seeking initiatives, a resident of Lance’s 7th Congressional District who last year felt first hand Trump turbulence in his home town of Westfield, stepped to the microphone sporting a devilish grin. It was Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21), who likened Murphy to the second coming of Jim Florio. Florio, of course, raised taxes on New Jerseyans and subsequently incurred a horrendous swamping that turned him out of office and ushered in a Republican era of rule.
Bramnick – that dedicated apologist of Governor Chris Christie who sounded stronger anti-Trump tones in his War Memorial Reorganization Speech than his Democratic Party rivals as he attempts to “Rally the Reasonable_ – wore the expression of one whose hand had long been twisting for a lifeline.
With Murphy he felt he had it at last, and apparently it felt good.
But even as Republicans arm themselves with an Anti-Murphy tax message under what Republican U.S. Senate frontrunner Bob Hugin – a big pharma executive – promises will be a $40 million campaign against U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Democrats hold onto what they see as the even more compelling gift otherwise known as the President Donald J. Trump tax plan.
In the name of protecting his base in other parts of the country and sticking it to reliably enemy territory, the plan scraps state and local property tax deductions, amounting to a double whammy for already infamously encumbered New Jersey taxpayers. Saddled with a battleground district, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5) usually has a look on his face not dissimilar from that worn by Bramnick. Gottheimer knows Trump’s tax plan is deeply injurious to 5th District residents, just as it similarly impales 7th District residents, which is why Lance partnered with Gottheimer on a mutually beneficial bi-partisan alternative.
Trying to stand astride their politically tempestuous districts, Gottheimer and Lance will presumably thread the same needle for the duration of the federal cycle: chastising both Trump and Murphy for those excesses in the respective tax plans hardly tailored for their 7th and the 5th, even as their opponents will hound them where it hurts most. In Lance’s case, whichever Democratic emerges from the wreck will make the case that he wasn’t strong enough in his opposition to Trump’s tax plan; just as the Republican who survives Steve Lonegan v. John McCann will bludgeon Gottheimer with Murphy’s tax plan, even if he opposes much of it. Having Gottheimer in power is like giving the liberal masticating Governor an extra set of teeth, or so will run the argument.
And so will the contests this year amount to a tale of two tax plans, hardly the stuff of Dickensian drama, but enough to pin down a two-party system in 2018.