Don’t count out Craig Coughlin, says a veteran source within the folds of the Statehouse inner sanctum, who sees in the hammered-together StayNJ deal the fundament of the sitting speaker’s political acumen and public interest priority.
After Coughlin initially proposed a plan to assist senior citizens assailed by crippling costs, the Middlesex Democrat came together with a skeptical Governor Phil Murphy and Senate President Nick Scutari to work up a modified version.
“A tentative framework was reached at the weekend on the controversial “StayNJ” senior property-tax cut plan, with Gov. Phil Murphy and Democratic legislative leaders still ironing out the details. According to a Murphy administration official, residents age 65 and older would get a 50% credit on property-tax bills, capped at $6,500; that’s down from an initial proposal of $10,000.
“The original plan had no income threshold but the latest iteration would apply to seniors making under $500,000 a year and it would include money for senior renters who were excluded from the original “StayNJ” plan. The tentative framework would also immediately boost the existing ‘Anchor’ tax relief program by $250 for seniors.”
Murphy didn’t like Coughlin’s proposal at the outset, publicly opposing it to the point of threatening a shutdown.
But Coughlin persevered, and the apparent compromise represents a win by a lowkey, reasonable Trenton player, the source argued.
“What is missing here so far is the emergence of Coughlin,” said the insider, noting how the disappearance of Steve Sweeney from the halls of the Statehouse after his 2021 election loss represented an opportunity for the speaker to carve out his own leadership path and policy priorities.
“This has placed Coughlin all over the state in terms of the opportunity,” said the source. “This sets up Coughlin in a much bigger way, certainly to be considered for a fourth term as speaker in November but in addition, it sets him up as a gubernatorial candidate.”
Coughlin kept his cool through the crisis, refusing to blow his stack when the governor said he would shut down the state. The speaker quietly held to a program that by the time it gets done could put $200 a week back in the pockets of the average senior family.
“The governor’s response of shutting the state down sent a horrendous message, and Coughlin counterbalanced that,” said the source.
Coughlin’s savvy certainly scripted the likelihood of a fourth term on the speaker’s chair.
The source said Scutari and Coughlin are friends, and that if Scutari takes another stab at the senate presidency, that will remove the play for Middlesex to go after the position.
That leaves Coughlin with two possibilities: Speaker (again) or Governor.
“The governor, God bless him, his power will erode, and the presence of an experienced leader becomes more and more necessary,” said the source. “And we see that here with Coughlin, based on StayNJ – someone who should be there for a fourth term. Middlesex will support that, and given his reasonableness – a highly elusive quality in politics and government – he shows himself to be a leader who can function at the level of governor. He is not only a reasonable individual, but a reasonable individual who knows the levers of government. With all respect to Murphy, the sitting governor didn’t know government when he got in there, and right now, longer term, Coughlin, I think, is going in the direction of governor.”