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Senate President Steve Sweeney at a budget hearing on June 19, 2018

Compromise still on Sweeney’s mind

Senate president doesn’t want to talk about a veto override, at least not yet

By Nikita Biryukov, June 19 2018 5:46 pm

State Senate President Steve Sweeney seemed heartened on Tuesday after he was told that Gov. Phil Murphy indicated he was open to compromise at a press conference earlier in the day.

“We want a compromise, and honestly, that’s good news, because he has not offered that to us, you know?” Sweeney said, adding that he would not negotiate in public. “We’ve asked him, and we’ve been asking him.”

But the governor’s statements on Tuesday hinged largely upon legislative leaders capitulating and supporting of a rollback of the sales tax reduction passed in Gov. Chris Christie’s last year in office.

Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have so far resisted Murphy on that tax and a hike to the state’s millionaires tax, opting to instead push an increase to the states corporation business tax that would have a tiered effect on businesses with more than $1 million and $25 million in revenue.

That seems to be as far as negotiations have gotten, as Murphy stuck to his guns after legislative leaders brought the CBT measure to him.

“I didn’t like your millionaires tax, so I came with a CB tax. You don’t like the CB tax, then you give me something else to look at. That’s compromise,” Sweeney said. “We’re always willing to compromise. That’s what we’ve been asking for all along, because yesterday, as you know, in his press conference, he said he didn’t give us anything to compromise on, so that’s good. I’m glad to hear he’s willing to do it”

So, both sides are willing to compromise, but neither side wants to be the one to give some slack first, and that will likely be a problem.

The Senate and Assembly Budget Committees rammed through a number of tax measures on Tuesday in the run-up to their budget, which at time of writing, has yet to go before either committee.

Those measures and the budget that will follow likely won’t have much trouble clearing the legislature, but Murphy has promised to veto them once they reach his desk, though he’s been somewhat coy on how and when, exactly, he would veto the measures.

Perhaps more worrying – at least for the governor – is the prospect of a veto override. Democrats don’t have enough votes to force their issue on their own, so they’d need to run to the Republicans, whose participation so far has been limited to sitting on the sidelines.

Sweeney didn’t want to broach that issue when he was asked about the possibility of a veto override in a statehouse hallway or later when the question came up in a press scrum.

“I’m not going anywhere near that right now because I think,” Sweeney said. “The governor has just, for the first time – he didn’t tell us, but he told you guys – that he’s willing to compromise. I’m thrilled to hear that. Then, we should get in a room and start compromising.”

“I don’t want to do any of that,” Sweeney said when pressed in the earlier exchange. “What I want to be able to do is work with the governor to get a budget done, period.”

But he might have to start thinking about an override soon. Legislative leaders aim to get their budget through a full vote before both chambers on Thursday. The governor can veto it as soon as it hits his desk.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick indicated yesterday that he’d be willing to work with legislators on the budget, but the CBT hike is a deal breaker for him.

If Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean the one to say that, it might not pose that big an issue for Sweeney and Coughlin. Sweeney might be able to leverage enough Republican votes in the Senate on his own to avoid making a deal with Republican leadership. It might be a bit of a tougher sell for Coughlin.

Still, the three Democratic leaders are continuing to say publicly that they’d prefer the budget fight gets solved by compromise. If that’s to be the case, something’s got to give.

“We don’t want to have this fight that we’re having, there’s no sense to have dueling press conferences,” Sweeney said. “The governor, if he’s willing to compromise, we’re willing to listen, but at his own press conference yesterday, he couldn’t say where he offered one thing.”

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