BUDGET IMPASSE: When in Doubt…

When in doubt, make it about the children. 

That may not have been the sole intent, but that was one obvious take away from Governor Phil Murphy’s press event Thursday afternoon at the Gregory Elementary School in Trenton.

Lamont Repollet, the state education commissioner, began the event by saying how great it is to have a governor who supports public education. An array of local dignitaries and the press were assembled in the school lobby. You know there would have been children there as well, but, alas, it’s late June and that means school is closed.

It also means it’s time for a state budget to be finalized, which was what the press conference was about – once again.

Murphy noted that the budget passed last week by the Legislature includes an increase of more than $11 million in school aid for Trenton. The governor said he would dearly love to sign that budget.

But he just can’t.

As he has over the past week or so, Murphy said he needs to raise the sales tax back to seven percent and increase income taxes on millionaires to provide sustainable funding in the budget. And also to increase state school aid across the board.

“This is not a radical idea,” he said of his plans to up the top rate for those earning more than a million dollars a year from 8.97 to 10.75 percent. Additionally, the governor said without elaboration that he would be amenable to flexibility on the “edges” of the proposed new rates. One presumes this means he would accept an increase to something less than 10.75 percent.

Which brings us to Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who opposes hiking taxes on millionaires.

Murphy, whose position has been backed by liberal groups across the state, has been publicly polite when it comes to the Senate President.

But by this point, you have to figure Murphy’s patience may be running out.

After all, Sweeney previously has backed raising taxes on millionaires during the Christie years. It didn’t happen because Christie opposed the idea.

For the record, Sweeney has been quoted anecdotally as saying that people he sees in the gym tell him not to raise taxes.

You wonder where Sweeney’s gym is? It’s hard to believe that all those people Sweeney sees early in the morning pumping iron and running laps are millionaires. 

The Senate President also has been quoted as saying he doesn’t want to increase taxes on “people.”

Well, it’s hard to increase taxes on non-humans.

Sweeney’s idea to raise the corporate business tax undoubtedly would impact people – and their jobs – if it stops businesses from relocating to, or expanding in, New Jersey. A plan to increase taxes on summer rentals also seems likely to impact the middle class.

Murphy was asked if egos were getting in the way.

Not with me was his answer. One doesn’t know about the Legislature. Or for that matter Sweeney, who judging from how he is acting, probably wishes he ran for governor himself.

However, what we are seeing now is that some lawmakers may be coming around to the governor’s point of view.

Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-35, now says he will back a millionaire’s tax. State Sen. Shirley Turner, and Assembly members Reed Gusciora and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, all D-15, attended Murphy’s press conference.

Any movement to Murphy’s position would be understandable. Raising taxes on the rich is a longstanding Democratic idea. And as we said, liberal groups across the state – the core of the Democratic Party constituency – support the governor’s position. It even surfaced in the middle of the press conference that Al Gore has tweeted his support for a millionaire’s tax.

Murphy said he didn’t know about the tweet, but that Gore was a good friend.

It’s now June 28 and the governor, who vowed to veto the budget passed by the Legislature, still hasn’t done so.

What’s he waiting for?

You have to figure he’s waiting for enough lawmakers to grasp how awful a government shutdown would be and to come over to his side.

There’s still more than 48 hours for that to happen.

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