Senators weigh benefits of more spending in Murphy’s budget address

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

While some of the governor’s budget proposals, like boosting tax credits for the working poor earned applause, others like the millionaire’s tax may be tough to swallow, even for members of his own party. Democratic State Sen. Patrick Deignan and Republican State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon shared their views with Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.

Aron: Let’s start with the Democrat, Patrick Deignan. What did you think of the governor’s budget address?

Deignan: Refreshing, positive, uniting, what the state of New Jersey needs.

Aron: He kept talking about investing money, that equates to spending money. You have no problem with that?

Deignan: As Bill Clinton said, it’s called arithmetic. If you’re going to make investments, you’re going to have to pay for them, and in the long-term the investments are going to lead to results and are going to lead to a better state. I am totally on board with the governor’s program.

Aron: And now the Republican, Declan O’Scanlon. What did you think?

O’Scanlon: Look, I’m encouraging this governor, it’s his first budget speech, but he mentioned it’s a break from the past and it is that. It’s a break from the laws of mathematics and fiscal reality. There are a lot of things we’d like to do here, but it’s about how much can taxpayers afford. I counted somewhere between $2 and $2.5 billion, it might even be more than that because I lost count, of new spending. And if you look at the taxes, that are going to be increased, I’m not sure they’ll quite get there, but even the taxes are going to be increased, to say that $600, $700 million in sales tax cuts over the last two years won’t be felt by putting that back in of the average taxpayer of New Jersey, that’s just blatantly wrong. Also, the millionaire’s tax, say what you want, and everybody likes to pick on millionaires and we continue to hit them up for more money, at some point it’s a breaking point and you strangle the goose that’s laying the golden egg, and once that goose is dead it’s not coming back, or moved to another state and it’s not coming back. That should be something we all fear.

Aron: What about that? Did he make a strong argument for hiking the tax on millionaires and how would you rebut Sen. O’Scanlon?

Deignan: First of all, you don’t put two Irish guys together and they agree, that’s just the way it is. I mean I get it, I don’t want to repeat myself, but you have to pay for the programs that are investments in our state. Our state has always been known as the gold standard. The governor talked about education. I use to be chair of the Education Committee. When you go to other states, New Jersey is the model that they base it on. When you talk about women’s health, when you talk about any of the other items…

Aron: If New Jersey’s already the model, then maybe we don’t need to spend another billion dollars in school aid.

Deignan: Well, because of the property tax aspect of it. That’s an example of what we’re talking about. We have the results, but we haven’t been doing the math to properly fund it and sooner or later those results are going to diminish. So what the governor was saying today is, if we want to remain the gold standard in education we have to properly fund it. And it’s not magic, again, we have to find our funding sources.

Aron: Today was the day that we, in the media, said the rubber was going to meet the road. All those promises over the past six months. He sort of delivered on the promises, at least he’s going to phase everything in over three or four years.

O’Scanlon: Look, they’re unrealistic promises that I don’t believe the taxpayers of New Jersey can pay for and could afford. I mean, the bottom line is, he mentioned value. A lot of people believe that a Mercedes Benz is a good value for your money. Most of us can’t afford Mercedes Benzes. For instance, we have platinum level health benefits for public workers, there was no mention of reforming those outrageously high-cost benefits that we definitely can’t afford.

Aron: He said something about health savings within the pension system.

O’Scanlon: He did and I’m waiting to see the specifics, that we did not hear specifics about. Also he mentioned the rate of property tax increases over the last eight years. If you average it out, we had the lowest rate of property tax increase in the last eight years, maybe ever in the history of New Jersey, around 2 percent. And we’re already backtracking on the things that led to the controls of those taxes. So, on every side here it seems this administration is intent right now, and I’m going to give them the benefit of a doubt, I’m playing devil’s advocate, but right now from the rhetoric I’ve heard, and the lack of substance regarding cost controls and cost cuts, it’s as if we’re just going to hit taxpayers over and over and over again. We don’t just have a billion dollar problem this year, we have a $5 billion problem over the next five years, and that’s a problem.