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Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney. (Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Sweeney attacks Murphy over budget ‘tantrums’

Tensions flare days out from budget deadline

By Nikita Biryukov, June 26 2019 5:18 pm

Senate President Steve Sweeney is dialing up tensions with Gov. Phil Murphy.

In a release sent out Wednesday headed “Sweeney responds to Murphy’s tantrums,” the senate president blasted the governor for a series of unspecified, purportedly false statements he said Murphy made.

“The Governor is repeating himself with a series of misguided and misinformed tantrums in an attempt to distract attention from his legislative and policy failures. His statements have been inconsistent on the facts, but they have become consistently wrong,” Sweeney said. “He is starting to resemble Donald Trump in bombast, inconsistency and unreliability. I cannot, in good conscience, allow him to go unchallenged.”

Murphy has held three press conferences in as many days this week pushing his budget agenda.

The latest of those press conferences focused on lower funding levels for the governor’s tuition-free community college program. Murphy wanted just under $60 million. The legislature gave him $30 million.

The senate president didn’t call out any of the statements Murphy made at those press conferences specifically.

“I want to be clear in stating that when it comes to recognizing which side I am on, I am on the side of the taxpayers of New Jersey and our hard-working middleclass families who want public officials to actually take their side, not just repeat empty rhetoric,” Sweeney said. “We understand the people we represent, including working people who rely on public transit, families in need of special education and home care, students at four-year colleges and young mothers in need of maternal care, among the diverse needs of people throughout the state.”

Over the past week, Murphy has repeatedly responded to reporters’ questions by asking who’s side Democratic lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly were on.

He went further on Wednesday, saying that Trenton Democrats were siding with millionaires, opioid manufacturers and the firearms industry over the state’s residents.

The foremost disagreement between the two camps is on the millionaire’s tax. Murphy wants one, but legislative leaders have resisted. The budget they sent to his desk last week dropped that tax as well as others, including fees on opioid manufacturers and an increase in gun licensing fees.

“The reality is, Phil Murphy has no real agenda, no realistic plans to fix what is wrong in New Jersey, and no idea how to address the property tax crisis, the state’s most demanding problem,” Sweeney said. “And, when it comes to choosing sides, Governor Murphy is more beholden to selfish, special-interests groups such as the leadership of the NJEA and CWA than to everyday working people.”

Sweeney has long sought to save the state money by cutting public worker pensions and health benefits.

Those groups are largely aligned behind Murphy and have held numerous events this budget season pushing his agenda. Another such event is scheduled to take place on the statehouse steps tomorrow morning.

The conflict between the governor and senate president is, at this point, longstanding.

Earlier this month, lawmakers came close to overriding Murphy’s conditional veto of a dark money bill aimed at groups like the Murphy-aligned New Direction New Jersey.

The two sides eventually reached a deal that involved the governor signing a bill identical to the one he vetoed with the promise of a cleanup bill down the line. Sweeney has since said no cleanup bill is coming, despite statements to the contrary by Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

That episode left Sweeney emboldened on veto overrides. He has since threatened to override an expected budget line-item veto from Murphy on more than one occasion.

“Those of us in the Legislature and the working people throughout the state will continue to work together to confront the real challenges and to move New Jersey forward — with or without the Governor’s participation,” Sweeney said.

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