Bar Buzz: Trenton Tries to Steady itself for Possible Government Shutdown

TRENTON – The veteran insider leaned his forearms on the back of the wobbly bar stool in Settimo’s and gave a look of mild despair.

“I don’t know,” he said, nodding to the bar back for a drink as he gargled the question.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he added.

He was talking about what everyone was talking about: a possible state government shutdown.

Would Governor Phil Murphy and Legislative Leaders mash a budget compromise prior to Sunday?

This was a group of political junkies and no one seemed to have an answer.

“I do think Sweeney blundered for the first time,” one source said, referring to the Senate President, who this week put forward a compromise package that included reliance on a seasonal beach rental tax to help make up for a nearly $1 billion budget gap. Murphy dismissed the suggestion, standing by his own millionaire’s tax as the key way to fund his $34.7 billion budget, and arguing that Sweeney’s plan would simply saddle the middle class with another tax.

“For the first time today I saw Murphy seize hold of the bully pulpit off of a Sweeney stumble and turn the debate into taxing millionaire’s versus taxing the middle glass,” the source offered glumly.

Catching the tinge of melancholy, InsiderNJ asked the source if he backs Murphy or Sweeney.

“Sweeney,” he groaned. “But I think for the first time Steve seemed to be unable to control the personal nature of this rivalry.”

A third source smiled knowingly when nudged on the political behaviors of Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19).

Although Coughlin wrote a letter to caucus members signaling his support for the $880 million revenue generators unfurled by Sweeney on Thursday, he opted out of an appearance at the Senate President’s side to help sell the alternative, even as some of his members – Assemblyman Ralph Caputo and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly – folded into support for the Governor’s millionaire’s tax.

“Craig is not an emotional sort, and I think he must be sensing that there is too much emotion in Steve’s battle,” the source said.

Monmouth University Pollster Patrick Murray was in the room. So was independent Senate candidate Murray Sabrin. A triumvirate from Princeton Public Affairs – Dale Florio, Al Gaburo and Bill Pascrell III – milled in the room. Trenton Councilman-elect Jerell Blakeley worked the bar.

The faces gradually turned florid and formless.

A face materialized.

“Whatever happens won’t be good for small business,” said a voice.

The conversation turned to Hudson County and the war settled up there earlier this month when Amy DeGise defeated state Senator Brian P. Stack to take the chairmanship of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO). Many have puzzled over why Stack would try to start a fight with County Executive Tom DeGise when he already had the support of the state Senator Nick Sacco (D-32) and appeared to be walking into the post.

“Brian doesn’t like to walk into anything,” said the insider. “He’s wired to fight.”

Because he doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone?

The insider winked.

“Yes,” he said.

The talk turned back to the possible shutdown and the seeming millennial trend of NJ government shutdowns.

Then-Governor Chris Christie presided over one just last year.

In 2006, then-Governor Jon Corzine struggled with one.

What about before 2006?


Better government?

Fewer intractable budget problems?

“No,” an insider said at the bar, angling an empty and waggling it to catch the attention of the bar back. “They just moved the hands on the clocks back then to make sure the trains ran on time.”


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