Negotiators Head Back to Trenton for Another Round of Budget Talks

Political enemies NJ Governor Phil Murphy and NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney will come together to highlight pre-K budget investment at Oakview Elementary School in West Deptford. They will also tour pre-K classrooms and speak to the press.

TRENTON – It looked over, or close to over. Short of one of the two sides going off the rails and seriously insulting the other – someone unable to resist bringing an elbow back in negotiations – they would reach compromise and get the budget done on time.

Governor Phil Murphy did a morning press conference where he made his case for his budget numbers to protect NJ Transit, while – on the other side of the state in South Jersey – Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) toured a disabilities facility, apparently getting in front of where he thought Murphy might make punishing in-district budgeting cuts, making an example of the senate prez lest others tangle with him in the future.

But that was all requisite lower primate political chest thumping ahead of scheduled backroom talks.

“It’s in no one’s interest to have a shutdown,” a Democratic senator told InsiderNJ as the players prepared for their latest round of discussions.

An outride package override by Murphy looking increasingly unlikely. Even though he insisted on everything still being on the table, the uptick in Trenton talks diminished the potential for more ferocious war footing at this point. Certainly Sweeney’s allies late continued to press for a nixed millionaire’s tax, the new-revenues crux of Murphy’s proposed budget, and several senate sources opined that the CBT had an 11th hour upper-hand over the millionaire’s tax.

Burzichelli
Burzichelli

On the merits, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-3) agreed. 

Hoping compromise does not contain a squashed version of millionaire’s tax and corporate business tax, Burzichelli has from the beginning of this statewide collision made the case for the corporate business tax (CBT) hike as a better revenue generator than a millionaire’s tax.

“I’m a minor player here,” he insisted, noting the supremacy in the negotiating process of Sweeney and Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19). But the CBT targets a more reliable tax base, he agued.

Murphy from the start resisted the CBT in part because of the two-year sunset provision in Sweeney’s revenue bill.

“We could revisit that,” said Burzichelli, who also, as the players prepared to reconvene, doubled down on his resistance to the Governor’s free community college proposal, arguing that legacy projects of that sort don’t cut it right now.

“No one asked for it,” said the veteran Assemblyman from South Jersey and veteran member of the Assembly Budget Committee.

If Burzichelli remains dug in against any version of Murphy’s preferred tax revenue generator, others talk up a deal that would exact a four – not two – year corporate business surcharge and hike the millionaire’s tax.

The black SUVS with government plates barreled across the swamp lands of both sides of the state on their way in to the 225 West State Street budget negotiations with the Governor.

If Burzichelli and Sweeney win, and the CBT hike blots out the millionaire’s tax, what would a face-saving Murphy salvage from such an arrangement?

“His free community college plan did not fail because Dems on legislature didn’t like the idea of supporting community colleges, but for the mere fact that his proposal was half baked and the students it would support benefit from all programs,” a Statehouse source told InsiderNJ. “But here is what he gets: more money for school finding, he said he wants full funding; increase EITC, additionally aid for Pre-K.”

Moreover, Murphy brandishes a line-item pen.

In the words of one cautioning Statehouse wag amid the early high-fives of Sweeney and Coughlin backers,  “It’s impossible ultimately for a governor to lose a budget battle.”

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