Republican Jack Ciattarelli bashed Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed state budget today, but his own proposal of a millionaires tax when he served in the legislature could be an issue in the GOP gubernatorial primary next year.
In 2017, Ciattarelli proposed a tax on high-income New Jerseyans that was actually to the left of Murphy. His plan raised tax rates on residents earning more than $500,000 annually, finishing off with a 10% added tax on income over $1 million.
Ciattarelli explains that he proposed his millionaires tax as part of a tax reform plan that included seven other tax cuts. At an all or nothing plan and that he wouldn’t advance it if his other tax cuts weren’t approved as part of the same package.
“It was an overall net tax decrease for everyone,” he told the New Jersey Globe in a telephone interview.
The Somerset County Republican says he opposes the millionaires tax proposed by Murphy today in his annual budget message to a joint session of the New Jersey Legislature.
“I don’t see how the millionaires tax improves New Jersey’s economy,” Ciattarelli said.
But Ciattarelli’s current opposition to higher taxes on millionaires follows his support of one just three years ago. That could haunt him as he seeks the support of Republican primary voters.
“Elections are won by way of contrast,” said State Sen. Michael Testa, Jr. (R-Vineland). “You don’t beat vanilla with French vanilla. You beat it with chocolate.”
Testa said he likes Ciattarelli as a person, and praised his school funding ideas, but suggested his past support for higher taxes – even with strings attached – could be a deal breaker.
“If we are going to beat Governor Murphy, we need a candidate who’s not French vanilla,” Testa said. “We need a candidate who is chocolate.”
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), who is strongly considering a bid for the Republican nomination for governor, declined to discuss Ciattarelli’s millionaires tax proposal.
Bramnick prefers to take Murphy his target.
“There’s absolutely no need for more or higher taxes,” the minority leader told the Globe. “This guy continues to raise taxes across the board.”
Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said that Ciattarelli’s past support for the millionaires tax “is going to come back to haunt him.”
“By the time Election Day 2021 rolls around, it will be rolling off all our tongues,” Rasmussen said. “Unless he disavows it, he’ll have no choice then than to use it to show that he’s not knee-jerk averse to responsibly paying for government. But that’s not where a large portion of his party is at the moment, so it does leave him ripe for criticism from the right on taxes.”
Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt, who is also a potential gubernatorial candidate, slammed Murphy for proposing tax hikes.
“Governor Murphy’s 2020 budget is built around yet another income tax,” Steinhardt said. “”New Jersey government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”
Ciattarelli, the only announced candidate to take on Murphy next year, was hugely critical of the governor’s budget proposal.
“New taxes won’t fix New Jersey. New taxes and short-term stop gaps won’t help the middle class get ahead or lift the working poor,” Ciattarelli said. “If taxes are your issue, New jersey under Governor Murphy will never be your state.”
He also came out strongly against Murphy’s plan to more than double the tax on cigarette sales.
“Sky-rocketing taxes on cigarettes exploits and punishes the most marginalized members of the community, including those on the lowest rungs of our economic ladder,” said Ciattarelli, whose top campaign advisors are also tobacco industry lobbyists.