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Communications Workers of America New Jersey director Hetty Rosenstein. (Photo by Nikita Biryukov)

Unions, activists rally for millionaire’s tax on statehouse steps

Labor threatens to vote out legislators who don’t back tax on high earners

By Nikita Biryukov, June 13 2019 5:06 pm

Roughly 2,000 union members and activists arrayed in front of the Statehouse Annex Thursday to lobby the legislature to push through a millionaire’s tax sought by Gov. Phil Murphy.

Interspersed in between the calls for a tax on high earners and jabs at Senate President Steve Sweeney and former Gov. Chris Christie were threats to vote legislators out of office unless they backed Murphy’s proposal.

“I’m going to ask you to do me a favor today: To take all of this energy and all of this passion, and when you leave here today, you tell your legislator and you let them know, four months from now you won’t be voting for them unless they stand with you,” said Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey AFL-CIO.

Legislative leaders oppose any tax increases in this year’s budget.

Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have repeatedly said they would not allow any tax hikes, including one on Households making more than $1 million a year to be signed into law.

The crowd at a rally for a millionaire’s tax sought by Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo by Nikita Biryukov)

The senate president has said he has no intention of posting the millionaire’s tax for a vote.

“This time, it’s not a governor who we are fighting. Christie is gone. Hopefully he’s on a beach or maybe even a desert by himself. No, this time we have a governor who respects unions and respects collective bargaining … We have a senate president, Sweeney, who has no respect for unions and who thinks he can attack unions by passing some legislation,” said Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA district 1. “He’s trying to disguise it with a fancy slogan of Path to Progress, but make no mistake about it. His path is an attack on unions and it’s an attack on you.”

The rally featured shots at South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, a close ally and political patron of Sweeney’s, over tax incentive programs meted out by the Economic Development Authority.

During a committee hearing on a bill to extend the tax incentive programs at the center of the feud between Murphy and South Jersey Democrats, activists stacked cardboard boxes purportedly filled with copies of emails between the law offices of Parker McKay, a firm headed by Phil Norcross, and the EDA.

Next to the boxes were bills emblazoned with George Norcross’s face.

“Are you on the side of bus drivers, teachers, healthcare workers, municipal workers, students and families who are struggling to make ends meet? You must choose. You must choose,”  Amalgamated Transit Union state chairman Ray Greaves said, pausing as the crowd began chanting “you must choose.”

NJEA President Marie Blistan, CWA NJ Director Hetty Rosenstein and leaders from progressive activist groups, including New Jersey Working Families and New Jersey Citizen Action, among others, also attended the event.

Despite Thursday’s rally and a spate of other conflicts between Murphy and legislative leaders, including those over the EDA’s tax incentives and a dark money disclosure bill that almost caused the state’s first veto override in more than two decades, this year’s budget negotiations have largely proven more civil than they were last year.

The front office and legislative leaders are holding near-daily meetings at the staff level, there have been no dueling press conferences as yet and Murphy has not issued any budget veto threats this year.

It’s possible that changes in the next 17 days, but for now, a shutdown appears unlikely, despite all the animus.

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