Governor Phil Murphy’s magic number is 14 – that’s how many Assembly Democrats he needs to stop Speaker Craig Coughlin from passing his own budget next week if the two sides can’t reach an agreement before that. Democrats have a 54-26 majority in the lower house, and Coughlin needs 41 to pass a budget.
Coughlin said yesterday that while he’s hopeful that Murphy and the Legislature continue to negotiate “a mutually acceptable outcome,” he expects that the Assembly will pass a budget next week
“that protects taxpayers and our priorities for New Jersey’s working middle-class families.”
The governor has to thread the needle carefully as he deals with dual budget tracks: a state budget that many legislators might find palatable, and revenue raisers that some Democrats facing potentially tough races in 2019 might find impossible to get behind..
Murphy’s path to 15 is tough, although it becomes in impossible task if Assembly Republicans decide to make up for any votes the governor peels away from the speaker.
Coughlin starts with a solid block of 35 – and more likely, a likely block of 37, since Dan Benson (D-Hamilton) and Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton), have increasingly become allied with the Middlesex legislative delegation.
Murphy probably starts with just 4: Reed Gusciora, who is leaving the Legislature in two weeks to become the mayor of Trenton and will need the governor’s support as he seeks state aid; Angelica Jimenez (D-West New York) and Pedro Mejia (D-Secaucus); and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood).
The governor’s team is targeting 6 Democrats as gettable: independent-minded Ralph Caputo (D-Nutley) and his running mate, Cleopatra Tucker (D-Newark); Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton), who could be swung over by her predecessor, State Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio; Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City), who has an on-again, off-again relationship with State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, an ally of Senate President Steve Sweeney, shifts on an almost hour to hour basis; Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), the former Assembly Budget chairman who lost his post after backing Vincent Prieto against Coughlin; and Thomas Giblin (D-Montclair), a labor leader whose lifetime as a Democratic insider accords him the privilege of doing whatever he wants without fear of retaliation.
If Murphy were to get all 6– none of them are automatic, by any means — he still needs four more from this list of seven wildcards:
— Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Bayonne), who serves at the behest of Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis – remember Murphy’s last-minute appearance in Bayonne on the Friday before Davis won re-election. But is also fearful that a defection would cause Coughlin to back off a 1% payroll tax for Jersey City.
– Jamal Holley (D-Roselle), who has a strained relationship with Coughlin, but is also part of Sweeney-allied State Sen. Nicholas Scutari’s coalition in Union County.
– Lisa Swain (D-Fair Lawn) and Christopher Tully (D-Bergenfield), both newly-seated and on the ballot in November in the supposedly competitive 38th district. Swain and Tully need are favorites to win, but neither wants to begin their legislative careers on the outs with the Speaker and both would like to get a few accomplishments under their belts before they face the voters. Coughlin won’t want to lose the seats, but he won’t make life easy if the two newcomers decide not to play ball.
– John McKeon (D-West Orange) and Mila Jasey (D-South Orange) are in an alliance with former Gov. Richard Codey, the state senator with the closest relationship to the governor. The question here is whether McKeon and Jasey are deliverable by Codey; they were not last year, when the backed Coughlin over Prieto. Two weeks after Codey lost his bid to control the Roseland Democratic party, and a week after a Codey-ally lost was defeated for West Orange Democratic Municipal Chairman, where McKeon and Jasey wind up on the budget could be a test of Codey’s in-district strength.
– Shavonda Sumter (D-Paterson) is one of Murphy’s top targets, and she may be the legislator with the greatest risk if she backs the governor. A defection would almost certainly cost Sumter her post as Democratic Majority Conference Leader.
The bottom line is that if Murphy can pull back enough Democrats to keep Coughlin under 41, there is a bench of Republicans that might be anxious to swing their own deal. That gives the speaker an extra cache of votes, if he needs them.