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Gov. Phil Murphy at a June 25 budget press conference. (Photo by Nikita Biryukov)

Murphy not keeping a headcount on veto override

Governor still hasn’t vetoed legislature’s budget

By Nikita Biryukov, June 25 2018 4:09 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday maintained that he isn’t keeping a headcount of votes he and his team are whipping against a possible veto override vote that could come if Murphy vetoes outright the budget the legislature passed on Thursday.

“You do ask the same question,” Murphy said. “I’m not keeping tabs on numbers right now.”

Murphy has yet to issue a promised veto of the budget pushed by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. He reiterated on Monday that he was keeping all options open, both in timing and in the type of veto he might employ.

But, it’s an unlikely prospect that Murphy has no grasp on how many votes he and his team have brought to their side.

“If the governor himself doesn’t have the number of how many votes he has to sustain a veto in something as important as the budget, I am sure that his staff does,” said Ben Dworkin, a professor of political science at Rowan University.

But if that is the case, there’s a simple explanation. If negotiations don’t advance before the budget deadline – now only five days away – Murphy could employ a line item veto to avoid the possibility of an override.

He hinted at that prospect during his Monday press conference.

“If need be, and their lack of presenting sustainable revenues, that’s unfortunately the option that we’d be left with,” Murphy said of the removing $855 million in spending from the legislature’s budget, adding later: “It’s not something I’m looking forward to. We’re all going to suffer from it, but we’re not going to do the same-old, same-old anymore.”

It might not come down to that. Murphy has a meeting scheduled with a number of the legislature’s top Democrats this afternoon, between 10 and 12 of them.

The headcount in the room might allow for cooler heads to provide and prevent a government shutdown that would be embarrassing for both the freshman governor and the Democratic leaders that control both chambers of the legislature.

But, it’s not quite that simple. The newest turn in the budget fight has led to the two sides imputing the others’ revenue figures.

Coughlin spent much of his morning press conference with Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald and Assembly Budget Committee Chair Eliana Pintor Marin defending the revenue projections in their version of the budget, leaning on the credibility of the Office of Legislative Services.

“We worked with the business community,” Greenwald said. “We didn’t pull a number from the corporate business tax out of our hat and say ‘this is what it’s going to generate.’”

But OLS hasn’t put their weight behind many of the provisions in the Coughlin-backed budget, and even the corporate business tax figure of $805 million legislative leaders are sticking to is only tenuously supported by the office’s estimates, which predict the tax hike will net the state up to $800 million.

At the very least, a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week has given lawmakers a small break. After some disagreement immediately following the decision, Murphy’s team has raised their estimates of how much the ruling could net the state.

Now, they believe it could earn New Jersey $200 million a year, but that figure shrinks for this budget, as the system to collect those revenues would not be active up and running until October, Murphy said.

Whether or not it’ll be enough of a break to get a budget passed before July remains to be seen.

“That’s just speculation,” Coughlin said when asked if the budget impasse was likely to cause a government shutdown.

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