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Gov. Phil Murphy after the first gubernatorial debate on September 28. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe).

Murphy doubles down on pledge against new taxes

Governor won’t say if any situation would cause him to reverse course

By Joey Fox, September 29 2021 3:40 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy pledged at last night’s gubernatorial debate not to raise or add any taxes if he’s re-elected – but he’s not saying how such a pledge might fit into his ambitious second-term agenda.

“I pledge to not raise taxes,” Murphy said in response to moderator Sade Baderinwa’s question on the potential for new taxes. “We’re done, 100%.”

At his twice-a-week Covid briefing today, Murphy went even further, saying that he would work to lower taxes – though his primary tool for doing so, removing the SALT deduction cap, is out of his hands.

“What I didn’t say last night is, I hope taxes go down,” he said. “Not only do I pledge no new taxes, I want them to go down. One big example is getting the darn cap on the SALT deduction lifted, which we will continue to fight until we get it lifted.”

According to Murphy, such a promise shows “confidence that we have really bright days in front of us.”

But in repeated follow-up questions, Murphy refused to clarify what such a pledge might mean for the rest of his agenda, much of which depends on significant public funding to get off the ground. For example, last night’s debate also featured a promise from Murphy to invest in long-term climate change solutions – something which, naturally, requires the state to spend money.

The pledge also drew derision from some Republican lawmakers, who pointed to Murphy’s history of tax increases during his first term.

“I don’t know how he can say that with a straight face,” said State Sen. Michael Testa (R-Vineland). “Murphy’s middle name is ‘Tax Increase.’ He’s poised to implement no less than five unnecessary and preventable tax hikes on New Jersey residents over the next few years totaling approximately $2 billion annually.”

“The more we grow the economy, the more we can keep the state right-sized,” Murphy insisted today. “Run the place lean and responsibly, and grow the economy – that’s the formula for our ability to have more latitude to deliver more tax relief to the middle class.”

Yet a second Murphy term, if one exists, will undoubtedly be presented with unexpected challenges and priorities, much as the governor’s first term has been. Murphy’s anti-tax pledge leaves him little wiggle room should such a situation arise – without breaking a campaign promise, that is.

This story was updated at 10:16 a.m. on September 30 with a response from State Sen. Michael Testa.

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