Sunday, July 1, 2018

Class warfare at heart of drama over NJ tax increases

Charles Stile reports for

The state just narrowly avoided a government shutdown, as New Jersey's top two Democrats played out a tax fight cloaked in class warfare.

Gov. Phil Murphy, who spent most of his career mingling among, and making money with, Wall Street titans, took a soak-the-rich approach to fellow millionaires. It's time for them to pony up and pay "their fair share," Murphy argued.

"New Jersey's millionaires are making out just fine,'' Murphy said Friday after all-day talks with the legislative leadership collapsed. "They were protected by Governor Christie and they are receiving a significant tax break from President Trump. This is crunch time."

On the other side stood Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the burly ironworker and union official. Sweeney emerged as the millionaires' chief protector, even though Sweeney voted five times to boost the millionaires tax during the tenure of his "frenemy," Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

Sweeney argued that President Donald Trump's tax overhaul changed the landscape. Corporations saw a steep tax cut under Trump and now should pick up the slack. Murphy, Sweeney said, is shielding corporations over people.

"He (Murphy) is more concerned about protecting corporations that had billion-dollar windfalls from Donald Trump,'' Sweeney bristled on Friday. "That’s what he wants to do. But he would rather raise taxes on the people of the state of New Jersey. Enough."

The budget fight was really a parochial, New Jersey power struggle between Sweeney, a statehouse veteran and conservative Democrat, and Murphy, a self-styled progressive who is holding his first elected office. The budget squabble was Murphy's baptism by fire.

But the tax fight also took place during a tumultuous time in the Democratic Party, when the Trump presidency has roiled the liberal, grassroots base with anger and activism. It is an anger that propelled a 28-year-old activist to topple one of the most powerful House Democrats in last week's New York congressional primary.

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