Over vociferous GOP entreaties checked by a reminder by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) for them – amid chafing – to keep their masks in place, the state Senate this morning passed Senate Bill No. 2021, which appropriates $32,711,205,000 in State funds and $13,856,161,239 in federal funds for the State budget for Fiscal Year 2021.
The budget hinges on an accompanying bill that imposes a millionaire’s tax. The gross income tax rate under current law is 8.97 percent for income between $1,000,000 and $5,000,000, and 10.75 percent for income over $5,000,000. This bill applies the 10.75 percent rate to gross income exceeding $1,000,000.
The vote was 25-14.
It was on party lines. Senator Robert Holzapfel (R-10) was absent.
“This is a COVID budget,” explained state Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36), chair of the Senate Budget Committee. “It’s a spending plan to address problems created by the coronavirus crisis. We have hit the tipping point. This is not a normal budget and these are not normal times.”
Senator Steve Oroho (R-24) rose in opposition to the budget, the first among his GOP caucus colleagues to condemn the Democratic Party spending plan.
“We disagree on many issues but we respectfully do it,” said Oroho, who proceeded to lament the legislature’s rejection of the bulk of Sweeney’s Path to Progress.
Several Republican senators praised Sweeney for trying to reduce spending, a battle gobbled up by the COVID-19 crisis, which GOP lawmakers said Governor Phil Murphy used to inflate state spending.
Oroho pointed a finger of blame at Murphy.
It would be a common theme for the GOP this morning.
“We’re now 16% more in spending than when he took office,” said Oroho, who ticked off budget items that puzzled him, including a golf course in Essex County, “in a budget where you thought the sky was falling” when Murphy first presented it to the legislature.
Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) acknowedged that 2020 was truly an insane year.
“We heard this for years, that we were at a tipping point,” O’Scanlon said. “Senate President, you led the way [Path to Progress]… now would have been the time to do it, and force this irresponsible governor to come along.
“This governor has no intention of reforming this state’s fiscal mess,” he added. “Borowing to increase pension payments is arbitrary.”
“I’m ashamed of this budget,” concurred Senator Robert Singer (R-30). “If you vote for this budget, you should be ashamed.”
“Governor Murphy ran on a platform of raising taxes, and, boy, has he delivered,” said Senator Tony Bucco, Jr. (R-25). “You found Christmas tree money… for spots around the state. [$200 million for special projects at a time like this]. It’s just part of a $4.5 billion borrowing scheme.”
“Clearly, there are some regional issues in this budget, but they’ve been in all the budgets I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” sarlo shot back in defense of the budget.
No long term fixes to healthcare costs, Bucco noted.
“This budget’s a trainwreck, and unfortunately the people of New Jersey are the passengers on that train,” said Senator Kip Bateman (R-16). “We have failed the taxpayers of New Jersey.”
Senator Mike Testa (R-1) savaged the budget.
“You can see the orgy of fake pork… [in] its corpulent mouth,” he said.
“People want a job, they don’t want a $500 rebate,” said Senator Sam Thompson (R-12).
Senator Dick Codey (D-27) pushed back against the Republicans, noting the long skid of credit rating downgrades budgets during the eight years of Governor Chris Christie.
“Murphy doesn’t have downgrades, he has upgrades,” Codey said. “It’s an embarrassment.”
He briefly clashed with Sweeney, a cross-the-aisle of Christie during those years, and a backer of the $11.5 billion in tax breaks that went to the business connections of George Norcross, a staunch fellow Christie ally.
“This state has been driven to fiscal ruin,” lamented Oroho.
“No one’s going to be left to pay the bill. You can’t have a welfare state without [other people’s money],” said Senator Gerald Cardinale (R-39). “We’re putting ourselves in a bigger and bigger hole.”
Vote no, he urged.
Republicans did and Democrats didn’t, as the Senate was poised to also pass the accompanying bill to increase the gross income tax rate applicable to taxpayers with gross income exceeding $1,000,000 in taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.