Negotiations hit an impasse as Legislature passes its budget

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

As we head into the weekend, the budget has hit a serious impasse.

There are two budgets actually, the governor’s and the Legislature’s. The difference between them is in how they raise taxes. Murphy would hike the income tax on million dollar earners and restore the sales tax back up to 7 percent. The Legislature would increase the corporate business tax instead, temporarily.

Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin met twice Thursday but could not resolve the difference.

Thursday night, the leaders went ahead and voted on their version of the budget. The Senate approved it narrowly, 21 to 17. A few hours later, over in the Assembly, the same budget bill was approved 46 to 28.

Two Republicans voted for the Democratic budget in the Senate — Kip Bateman and Kristin Corrado. Four Democrats voted against their party leaders — Nia Gill, Ron Rice, Nick Sacco and Jeff Van Drew. Democrat Brian Stack abstained.

Gov. Murphy has promised to veto the Legislature’s budget. After Thursday night’s, vote we got some Senate reaction.

“Our goals in this budget really mirror the governor’s goals, and now we have to talk about the difference in opinion on how we raise those revenues,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.

“The governor has every right to veto the bill. The three principals had two discussions today. They’re going to continue to talk, we hope, tomorrow, through the weekend. Still got nine days to go here to pass a budget, and I am confident as much as all the press here wants to see it shut down, I’m confident that we’re not going to get to a shutdown,” said Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo.

“The majority party, Democratic party, just passed a budget that had a huge tax increase in it. In either budget, whether it be the governor’s budget or the budget that was just passed, there are no real structural cost reforms, and quite frankly that’s what we need,” said Sen. Steve Oroho.

The vote Thursday night followed Gov. Murphy’s angry 5 p.m. press conference. That’s where he said he would not sign such a bill and accused the legislative leaders of shoddy work. A little before 9 p.m., the two leaders emerged from their houses to support their budget and fire back at the governor for letting the talks break down.

“The governor is in fact responsible in many ways for the breakdown. He’s taken a very dogmatic approach to resolving this. He’s been disagreeable instead of disagreeing. And I think we had the opportunity today to make real progress today and we failed,” said Assembly Speaker Coughlin.

“This is my ninth budget. I have never seen an administration with a lack of focus and a lack of honesty the way they have handled this,” said Senate President Sweeney. “We are funding the things he asked for. The only thing that isn’t being fully funded is county colleges. And by the way, we’re raising over a billion dollars in taxes, which I really don’t want to raise. But I would certainly rather tax corporations that got a windfall from Donald Trump than I would the people of this state.”

So possible next steps are a veto by the governor or a conditional veto. He could sign the budget and line-item veto certain parts of it, or he could resume talking to Sweeney and Coughlin.