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Gov. Phil Murphy, left, with Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Sweeney not ready to back Murphy for re-election

Tensions remain with shutdown ruled out

By Nikita Biryukov, June 27 2019 5:30 pm

Senate President Steve Sweeney isn’t ready to back Gov. Phil Murphy for a second term.

“Well listen, if we can get along better and we can operate better, then we’ll have that conversation when it’s time,” Sweeney said. “To ask me to do an endorsement of a governor that for the last two years, or 18 months, has done nothing but absolutely fight tooth and nail — I’m not going to be a phony and come out and say ‘I can’t wait to endorse.’”

Sweeney and Murphy have feuded since the latter took office last year.

Their most recent spat over the budget focused on the millionaire’s tax and a handful of other policy proposals sought by Murphy that legislative leaders opposed and dropped from the budget they sent to the governor’s desk last week.

Since then, Murphy has spent hours railing against the exclusion of his policies in varying levels of hostility. He started tame and largely remained that way until Wednesday, when he said legislators — not just legislative leadership — was siding with millionaires, opioid manufacturers and the gun lobby over the state’s taxpayers.

Later that day, Sweeney attacked Murphy for what he called his budget “tantrums.”

The governor and legislative leaders didn’t meet with over the course of that saga.

“We gave him 10 days. There was room to negotiate certain things, there really was. He chose not to sit down and negotiate. He chose to do press conferences and got very far out of line, in my opinion,” Sweeney told reporters Thursday. “’Whose side are we on?’ We’re on the side of all 9 million taxpayers, and by the way, 9 million people didn’t vote in the last election.”

The millionaire’s tax was a core tenet of Murphy’s 2016

But, on Thursday, Murphy ruled out a shutdown. He’s expected to issue a line-item veto on Sunday, though it’s not yet clear how broadly or deeply that veto will cut, even to Sweeney.

“I’m not going to assume anything for one reason: Why would I assume something?” Sweeney said. “He might leave a lot of things in.”

Murphy has steadfastly declined to say what he’ll do with the legislative budget, though he has repeatedly praised lawmakers for including many — he sometimes said “most” — of the policies that he asked be included the budget.

Sweeney has declined to rule out or rule in a veto override, though he told asked the governor to issue his veto quickly last week so legislators would have time to decide whether or not they needed to override his veto.

According to Politico New Jersey, Murphy is making a budget announcement Sunday afternoon, though it’s unclear when he will actually take action on the budget. At the very least, Murphy said Thursday that he’ll do whatever he plans to do before July 1.

The senate president said he doesn’t expect this latest tiff to further mar the tenuous relationship between the governor and leaders in the statehouse, nor does he think there was a loser in this year’s budget negotiations.

“No, he didn’t blink. I think everyone won,” Sweeney said, referring to Murphy, who won’t get a millionaire’s tax for the second consecutive year. “We’re used to this, so we just move forward. We’ve proven we can get things done and work together.”

Democratic infighting hasn’t sunk everything party leaders have aimed to accomplish this year. For instance, a bill that would create disclosure requirements for certain dark money groups was the locus of a feud between the two camps, but it eventually go signed.

Though, Murphy only signed that bill under threat of what would have been the first veto override New Jersey has seen in more than 20 years.

He vetoed an identical copy of the bill he ended up signing, and Sweeney has since backed away from a deal to push through a cleanup bill Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin say was reached by the three lawmakers.

They were still meeting at that point.

“Let’s put it this way,” Sweeney said. “We have two years to fix things.”

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