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Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, left, with Senate President Steve Sweeney. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Top Democrats won’t rule out supporting millionaire’s tax

Sweeney won’t rule out infighting either

By Nikita Biryukov, August 25 2020 12:03 pm

Top Democrats in the legislature aren’t ruling out support for Gov. Phil Murphy’s millionaires tax.

“I think we’re going to have to have a conversation about everything,” Senate President Steve Sweeney told the New Jersey Globe. “I said I was open to a millionaire’s tax a year ago if they were to add money to the pension, so there’s nothing off the table right now until we have the discussion to take it off the table.”

In his revised budget address Tuesday morning, Murphy again called for an increase to the tax rate for individuals making more than $1 million. He wants that marginal rate raised from 8.97% to 10.75%, the same rate currently levied on persons who make more than $5 million annually.

The administration says the tax hike would bring in $390 million over the next nine months, a sizeable sum amid a pandemic that has seen the state’s revenue projections drop by roughly $5.6 billion.

“The unparalleled loss of revenue and the compelling need of New Jerseyans is undeniable and will cause us to make difficult decisions. Assembly Democrats will work with the Senate and the Governor’s office to craft a budget that makes those hard choices,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said in a statement. “We will keep an open mind as we understand every option and proposal must be thoroughly reviewed and vetted. All options are on the table.”

Both Democratic legislative leaders were heartened by parts of Murphy’s revised budget, with Sweeney (D-West Deptford) citing increases to preschool funding and stable levels of school aid.

Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) praised the governor’s proposal to fully fund the Homestead Benefit and Senior Freeze property tax relief programs, which will see payments missed in May made in full.

“I look forward to the leadership of the Assembly Budget Committee led by Chairwoman Eliana Pintor Marin in standing for our shared values and working in earnest to produce a budget that is fair and responsible and protects hard-working New Jerseyans and our most vulnerable citizens,” he said.

Still, it’s not all rosy reactions.

“It’s the beginning of the conversation now,” Sweeney said. “I wish we didn’t postpone the budget, and I’ve said that publicly many times because we now have a very condensed budget cycle, and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The three top Democrats have warred over the millionaires tax in previous years. In 2018, the fighting stopped after Sweeney and Coughlin agreed to a tax on individuals making more than $5 million, and that agreement only came as the threat of a state shutdown became dire.

Sweeney isn’t predicting such conflict this year, but he also isn’t ruling it out.

“Couldn’t tell you,” Sweeney said when asked if he expected more infighting this year. “And I’m not ducking. I just couldn’t tell you.”

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