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Gov. Phil Murphy at a budget press conference on June 28, 2018. (Photo by Nikita Biryukov)

Murphy nonplussed by increasingly public nature of budget fight

‘I said I would veto it, but I didn’t say when’

By Nikita Biryukov, June 28 2018 3:10 pm

Gov. Murphy first learned about legislative leaders’ proposal to tax short-term rental homes during Senate President Steve Sweeney’s press conference on Wednesday.

Murphy himself did not inform legislative leaders of his displeasure with the measure before telling reporters he was not inclined to back it Thursday morning, nor had he told them before he held a press conference later in the day.

“We haven’t met yet. We’ve had some bilateral conversations as we do every single day, folks. I haven’t had a forum in which to say that, because we were going to have a meeting yesterday right after the senate president’s press conference,” Murphy said. “So, we said, ‘listen, no emotion here, we just heard a bunch of stuff, we need to understand the math associated with that,’ so we’ve not met since then.”

The exchange is something of a departure from a practice both sides in the budget fight have preached as recently as last week – that they would not negotiate in public. But, increasingly, lawmakers are telling reporters about their proposals before informing one another.

While lawmakers still largely keep quiet about what happens inside their meetings, the public negotiations are a departure from tradition in the state, one that The Record columnist Charles Stile once called Trenton’s “annual rite of secrecy.”

Murphy didn’t seem bothered by the shift.

“We’ve got very good conversations going on in private, and I’m not a big in the public eye – I just happened to be – we had this event here today, and people have asked me the question on where we stand on that and I feel like I owe it to you,” Murphy said.

The shift comes as the July 1 budget deadline nears. Though it appears as though Murphy and legislative leaders are nearing a budget deal, it’s not clear whether they’ll be able to finalize one before the deadline.

As the deadline has approached, Murphy has continued to maintain that all options – including a government shutdown and a veto, line-item or otherwise, of the budget legislators passed last week.

Murphy promised to veto that budget repeatedly last week, always cagey on when such a veto might come, and though he maintained on Thursday, as he has for close to two weeks now, that all options remained on the table, it seems increasingly unlikely that Murphy will follow through on his threat, except as a last resort.

“I said I would veto it, but I didn’t say when,” Murphy said. “So, that’s still an option on the table.”

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