This year’s budget battle starts early, as Sweeney blasts Murphy

By Tom Bergeron
New Brunswick | May 10, 2019 at 6:00 am

Let New Jersey’s tax incentive programs run out with a replacement?

State Senate President Steve Sweeney thinks that would be a horrible idea. But he’s not afraid to call Gov. Phil Murphy’s bluff on the issue.

“He’s the governor — and, if he wants to see the economy really slow under his watch, that’s up to him,” Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said.

Sweeney was speaking after making remarks at a forum sponsored by Garden State Initiative on Thursday night in New Brunswick.

Most of his thoughts were the same as they’ve been for months — he pledged to not support the millionaire’s tax and to fight to make state employees pay a greater share of their health care benefits.

A new wrinkle, however, came with the incentive programs, currently under attack.

Sweeney, looking for comprehensive reform on so many issues, put incentive reform in Murphy’s lap.

“We put a committee together to look at what kind of incentive program we could put in place,” he said. “But, if he wants to be the state with no incentive programs with what’s going on and businesses start moving out of here, he can explain it. He’s the governor.”

Sweeney repeated his calls to lower the cost of government in the state.

He does not want to do so, however, with total giveaways to big business. In fact, he brought up how he not only supported raising the Corporate Business Tax, he wanted to do so more than the state did last budget season.

“Last year, we raised the CBT,” he said. “(Murphy is) the one that fought us on raising the CBT and actually had us reduce the amount of CBT. He fought me over taxing the C-corps, who were the real benefactors of the Trump tax cut.

“You know, companies went from 35% (taxes) down to 21%. They were the people that got more money for doing nothing. So, why am I going after people that are making so much money and I’m taking it away from them rather than focus on the corporations?”

Sweeney said he knows he was right for one simple reason: He didn’t hear a lot of objections.

“You didn’t hear a whole lot of hollering, because how do you holler when you’ve got so much more money for doing nothing?” he said. “That Corporate Business Tax is going to come in almost double what we projected. And if we hadn’t done the Corporate Business Tax and we had just done the millionaire’s tax, we would have a deficit right now.”

Sweeney’s disagreements with Murphy did not stop there.

Sweeney said he plans to counter the state’s EDA Task Force hearings with some of his own.

“We’re going to form a committee on Monday to examine the (Economic Development Authority) tax incentives and allow everyone to come to speak, unlike what Gov. Murphy’s panel is doing,” he said. “Right now, if you want to defend yourself, you only can submit in writing — you’re not given the opportunity to submit publicly like they’re doing.

“I’m a believer — like when we do budget hearings and we do hearings in Trenton — both sides get to present in front of you. So, we’re going to allow everyone.”

Sweeney said he’s open to modifications.

“We’re going to figure out what’s wrong with the EDA, what’s right with the EDA and how do we fix the EDA,” he said. “I agree these payments are too rich, but it’s because our state isn’t such a bad place with tax policy.

“People don’t want to come here unless you’re putting big tax incentives in front of them.”

If you thought you would have to wait until the end of June to see the real budget battles begin, think again.

The fight is on now. Sweeney said he’s not backing down.

He said he has no choice.

“This state is in serious financial trouble,” he said. “And if we don’t start fixing things now, it’s going to be too late.”