Governor and Senate president lay out budget positions in writing

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Gov. Phil Murphy sent a letter to every state legislator in response to the budget presented by the Legislature Monday that laid out some markers. He complains about what he calls “indefensible and needless cuts.”

First among those is his free-tuition community college program. The Legislature’s budget cuts it by $28.5 million — roughly in half. The governor complains the Legislature is also rejecting three small tax and fee increases he proposed. A firearm permit now costs $5. Murphy would raise it to $100.

A tax on opioid manufacturers and distributors that would bring in $21.5 million for anti-opioid programs. A tax on large corporations that don’t provide health insurance but rely instead on publicly funded Medicaid to cover their workers would bring in $30 million.

The Murphy letter complains that lawmakers have added $387 million in new spending on so-called legislative priorities without specifying a revenue source. They’re relying on phantom revenues, Murphy says.

At the same time he says they are shortchanging the rainy day fund by $317 million.

Murphy writes, “If this budget contains the revenue for your added spending, I will work with you. But if not, I will be forced to take corrective action.”

“Corrective action” means line-item vetoes of their pet projects, like $3 million for the Turtle Back Zoo, $1 million for Big Brothers Big Sisters and $500,000 for the Newark Museum.

The bulk of the letter is a plea to impose a millionaire’s tax, a fight Murphy seems to have lost already. Senior administration officials said at a budget briefing Thursday morning, that fight — for tax fairness as they call it — does not end on June 30.

Wednesday afternoon, Senate President Steve Sweeney responded in a letter of his own that ending by saying, “If you live up to your letter, we will have a budget in place well before the deadline and the Legislature will have time to evaluate any of your line-item vetoes, in case we need to override them.”

They have 10 days to work it out.