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Senate President Steve Sweeney. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Did Sweeney cave on millionaire’s tax?

By David Wildstein, March 07 2018 6:06 am

One question being asked by political insiders tonight: did Senate President Steve Sweeney cave on his opposition to the millionaire’s tax Governor Phil Murphy wants?

Sweeney had indicated his opposition to a tax increase for New Jersey’s millionaires, saying it was a last resort after President Trump and the Republican Congress limited state and local property tax deductions.  Before the election, Sweeney was a millionaire’s tax supporter.

The Senate President advanced his own plan on Tuesday– a 3% hike in the corporation tax for businesses earning more than a million dollars a year.  To some insiders, that’s a millionaire’s tax – just dressed in a solid blue suit instead of one with pinstripes.

It’s possible that Murphy and Sweeney are closer to being on the same page than they think. Reports of tension between the two has dominated talk among the political elite, but so far Sweeney hasn’t actually opposed Murphy on anything.

Last month, Building Trades boss Bill Mullen slammed Murphy for the appointment of Tim Sullivan as CEO of the Economic Development Authority, saying Sullivan had opposed prevailing wage laws in Connecticut.  Murphy didn’t have the votes on the EDA board to get Sullivan confirmed and Sweeney could have easily stopped it if he wanted to.  He didn’t.

Sweeney has not brought most of Murphy’s cabinet picks to the floor of the Senate for an up-or-down confirmation vote.  Sources say this is not a concern of the governor, who might have learned a thing or two from his predecessor: with his picks in place and already running their departments, the only difference between confirmed or not is the word “acting” in front of their titles.  Aside from their place in history, the lack of a confirmation vote doesn’t affect the Murphy administration at all. No nominations have been rejected – although Sweeney has the power to do that, if he wants to.

During the previous eight years, Sweeney has demonstrated an ability to stick to his guns despite a working relationship with Republican Gov. Chris Christie.  When the governor refused to re-nominate New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John Wallace in 2010, Sweeney pledged to keep the seat empty until Christie appointed another Democrat to fill the seat.  The Senate rejected two of Christie’s Supreme Court nominations.  The next two never received a confirmation hearing and they were later withdrawn.

Eventually it was Christie who caved to Sweeney: he replaced nominee Robert Hanna with Lee Solomon, a former Assemblyman from Camden County who satisfied Sweeney’s requirement that South Jersey have a Supreme Court seat.  Then in 2016, with the Wallace seat empty for six years, Christie finally nominated a Democrat, Walter Timpone, to the top court.

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