Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron spoke with Senate President Steve Sweeney as budget negotiations continue between the Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy.
Aron: The governor stands by his threat to veto the budget that’s going to pass here this afternoon. What’s your reaction to that?
Sweeney: Listen, obviously I’m disappointed because the administration hasn’t given us any ability to negotiate up to this point. Even in his own press conference, he admitted not one concession, one dialogue about trying to do a budget where we can all agree, so that’s unfortunate. It’s not how it works around here, you know that, Michael. The Legislature has a say in the budget. We want to work with him. We’ve done a great job, I think, working with him for the last five months. I think we did a great job on school funding with him. This is the one area where they won’t negotiate and it doesn’t work that way.
Aron: He says that hiking the corporate business tax for two years is not a sustainable revenue source and he just can’t responsibly get behind that.
Sweeney: But that means come back and talk to me about what is responsible. I didn’t agree with a millionaire’s tax and the sales tax. I came up with the CBT, which I honestly do believe for a whole lot of reasons. A millionaire’s tax goes into a property tax silo where there is money. CBT goes into the general treasury. The CBT, we did a lot of changes to the CBT over the last eight years, so we really had reduced that. Corporations like Goldman Sachs wound out with a $2.9 billion windfall from the federal government for doing nothing. So what I’m looking at is if you don’t like my proposal, then come back with something else. That’s a negotiation. We started with him last week, we said look, there’s areas that we actually do agree. Why don’t we start working on those and then work toward trying to finding the solution? And so far it’s been, ‘I gave you a budget in March. I liked my budget, it was a good budget, I don’t know why you can’t pass my budget.’ And the point is, the Legislature is an independent body. The Assembly and the Senate get to participate. We’re equal partners and we’re expressing that right now. I would love to work out something with the governor, just like we’ve done on a whole lot of stuff for the last five months. He has refused any compromise at all. And again, I didn’t come to him with anti-millionaire’s tax without bringing something to the table. So if you don’t like the corporate business tax, then give me something else. My point, Michael, is people that are millionaires, when they move and they own their businesses they normally like to live near their businesses, so the same argument he’s making I can make too. But the only difference is these C corporation, these 2,400, 2,500 corporations, are the only ones that got the major benefit in this state of that Trump tax cut. And a lot of the money comes from corporations that aren’t even based in New Jersey because it’s based on sales, so the Walmarts of the world, they’re the ones that are going to be paying a piece of this, too. We can always compromise. We need to. I would like to, but the Legislature is not going to accept my way or the highway. We’re not subservient.
Aron: So where’s this going?
Sweeney: We’re passing a budget. That’s where it’s going, you see what we’re doing now, we’re passing a budget. Anytime the governor wants to try and get together, we’ll get together with him. We’d be happy to do that. We offered Friday, Saturday and Sunday last week moving into Monday. But the one thing we said we weren’t going to do, we weren’t going to wait until June 30 to start negotiating, so since they don’t want to negotiate, since he himself has said he stands by his budget, no changes, well, for us that leaves us no option.
Aron: He said today you had one of those meetings on Friday for an hour. You adjourned and said we’ll come back at noon. And before he even got to come back at noon, Bloomberg was quoting you as saying we’re at an impasse.
Sweeney: That’s not true, and the worst part is, since we’re going to discuss what we did do, we asked him, and maybe you guys should ask him, how much does this cost next year in new funding? And how much the following year in new funding? And the following year? Because the governor said we’re doing quarterly installments for four years.
Aron: On which tax?
Sweeney: On everything. On funding programs that we’re expanding. We know free county colleges is $200 million. We know there’s another $700, $800 million in school funding that has to come forward. So we asked the governor, besides the fact that costs go up every year about 5 percent, we asked all those questions. We were told they were working on a document to be told they can’t get the document. So Michael, I don’t know why, honestly, you guys in the press haven’t started looking at not just this year’s budget, but how many millions of dollars has to be raised in the following three years to cover the escalation of the natural cost of government. The 3 percent ratable growth that we get in the state of New Jersey averages $1 billion. Nine hundred million of it goes to pensions and health care and leaves nothing for other programs that we talked about. And finally, the governor’s budget, you know we’re adding things into this budget. The program that we care about. When you talk about spending, I do want to spend on people that work with the disabled.
Aron: He said he’ll support most of that.
Sweeney: Then why didn’t he tell us that? Listen, I’m glad he told you. Why won’t he tell us what he’s supporting? This doesn’t work this way.