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WEST LONG BRANCH – In the same stone mansion where the late Albert Finney played Daddy Warbucks, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) took his own crack at the role, hoisting that little orphan Annie otherwise known as Monmouth County onto a sturdy knee in an effort to lend avuncular succor and support in the era of Governor Phil Murphy; and – like Daddy – polish his own image in the process.
“How can we move forward and try to fix what’s wrong here,” Sweeney queried the packed Monmouth University basement room in Wilson Hall. “Has anyone heard as soon as my kid gets out of high school, I’m leaving?”
Hands shot up.
“It’s happening more and more,” said the senate prez.
Billionaire David Tepper for one.
Gone, from a state where property taxes average $8,700 annually.
This is Murphy’s home county, in sum a dumbed-down, McMansion version of Warbucks world, where the Democratic governor’s talk of a millionaire’s tax amounts to the equivalent of whoopee cushions on the chairs of state Senator Vin Gopal (D-11), Assemblywoman Joanne Downey (D-11), and Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-11), all swing district Dems.
“Fiscally responsible,” explained Freeholder Director Tom Arnone, referring to the Republican-controlled county under the watchful eye of Monmouth County GOP Chairman Shaun Golden. “It’s imprortant to me that we keep a good quality of life here. We’re doing our best. We need your help.”
Like a lonely shark fin in search of a political narrative, state Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) could be seen in the vicinity, watching the ongoing spectacle of Sweeney and Murphy bloodying the water amid the Jersey ruins of his own Trump-deteriorated party. “I’m the token Republican up here,” he noted. But left no doubt about which Dems he prefers. “Taxpayers have paid their fair share as well,” O’Scanlon said.
Public sector jeers rained.
“We’re all taxpayers,” clamored a crowd of public sector workers.
“I get it,” said the Republican senator.
Sweeney, for his part, projected continued fire blanket largesse to Gopal and company, enjoying a seaside turn as the grand maestro of safe haven of caucus congeniality, and the embodiment of a period full stop alternative reality to Murphy’s millionaire’s tax.
Try as they might to protect stately seriousness, an ineradicable statewide political competitiveness between senate president and governor (and Building Trades and Public Sector Workers) intensified the overflow scene. “I hope you brought your boxing gloves,” said an absolutely game-faced Bill Mullen, president of the New Jersey Building Trades, as he walked into the room with labor types over both shoulders flowing into the room.
They had company.
A CWA guy in a Grinch costume and his partner in an Ebenezer Scrooge outfit gently taunted Sweeney’s Building Trades allies. When Sweeney took a bow at the outset, Scrooge and Grinch waved signs of protest.
“Look, if we dont make changes, we’re going to have a $4 billion defict by 2023,” Sweeney said. “All of our revenue growth goes to pension and healthcare. We can’t provide more funding [for other programs].”
Jeers – from the Sweeney Building Trades corner of the room – rained.
“That gets you $447 million,” Sweeney said. “What are you taxing after that?”
Sweeney doubled back on his early political history.
He tried to fix the pension system in 2005, he said.
“I got shouted down,” said the senate prez.
The room fell silent.
“Nothing in this life is free,” Sweeney said. “In 2001, there was a nine percent increase in their [public sector] pension retroactively, with no money. We created a system that was not sustainable. Everyone can point fingers at each other, but the problem’s not going away. How do we fix the pension system without hurting anyone?
Grinch and Scrooge lined up at the microphone.
But not before an apparent Republican denounced “patronage.”
“Respect the speaker,” Sweeney demanded amid public worker shouts.
“Respect my wage!” someone roared. “Get off the stage! You’re a bum!”
Then Scrooge found the mic.
“Because all you ruffians out there with your inflated pensions. We have to have a path to profits,” he railed.
“Sit down!” someone shouted.
“Senator Sweeney, do not tax the rich. Give us more yachts!” said Grinch.
“Do people actually want to ask questions?” Sweeney – unmoved – asked.
The costumed character did an end-zone dance.
“Very impressive,” Sweeney deadpanned.
“Everyone’s well is dry at this point,” he added.
“You have a $4 million house, it doesn’t sound dry to me!” a public sector worker-friendly voice yelled.
A lifeline appeared.
“Senator Sweeney is right,” said O’Scanlon. “Fully phased-in, we have about a $4 billion hole. That amounts to a 30-40% income tax hike for every single person. That would crush our economy. Forget about balancing the budget on the backs of public sector workers.
“The governor has abdicated his responsibility on this and that’s a shame,” the Republican added.
Sweeney waded into the fray again.
“I represent union ironworkers, that’s what I do for a living,” he tried.
“You’re a traitor to workers,” an angry voice flared.
“That’s why I supported minimum wage,” Sweeney shot back. “The majority of New Jerseyans ae crying for this state to get fixed. It’s fine to have the costumes and all that.”
- Bill Mullen
- David Tepper
- Declan O'Scanlon
- Donald Trump
- Eric Houghtaling
- Joann Downey
- Monmouth County
- Monmouth County Democrats
- Monmouth County GOP
- NJ Building Trades
- Phil Murphy
- Shaun Golden
- Steve Sweeney
- Tom Arnone
- Vin Gopal
- West Long Branch
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