Three decades after the infamous 1988 heavyweight championship boxing match between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks in Atlantic City, there was once again a high-stakes showdown in the Garden State, this time taking place in Trenton.
Democratic legislators landed an uppercut of their own when they passed a state budget that did not include the tax hikes on millionaires, guns, or opioids that Gov. Phil Murphy had so desperately been seeking. Murphy threw in the towel Sunday when he signed the $38.7 billion budget into law, using his line-item veto to trim a few items.
It’s no secret Murphy sought to impose massive tax hikes to keep fueling cost drivers like tuition-free community college and a $15 minimum wage. He centered his gubernatorial campaign on his “Millionaire’s Tax”, which, had it been implemented, would have driven even more people out of New Jersey in droves.
In a unique turn of events, his proposed fee and tax hikes were surprisingly met with strong resistance from his own party.
Senate President Steven Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, both Democrats, were the leading forces behind the budget that was ultimately signed into law. Both rejected Murphy’s calls for higher taxes on New Jersey residents, arguing the state is already overtaxed.
This marks the second year in a row in which Murphy has held the state government hostage over his tax hikes. Last year, he fought for the same millionaire’s tax, and struck a last-minute deal with legislative leaders to apply a top marginal tax rate of 10.75 percent to income over $5 million, not the $1 million he was seeking.
There is a lot of depth to the political maneuvering that led to this happening, by no means are Sweeney and Coughlin reliable defenders of taxpayers. Their budget significantly increased spending, and Sweeney earlier in session was supportive of tax hikes on corporations. However, avoiding massive tax increases and turning to focus on pension reform is as good an outcome as Jersey taxpayers could have hoped for in the moment.
The new budget will make a $3.8 billion payment to the underfunded state pension system. It also makes a $400 million deposit into the state’s rainy day fund, which has been empty since 2008.
Sweeney and Coughlin delivered the decisive blow to Murphy and his tax hikes this go around. But there will be more battles to come. With the Democrats in full control, taxpayers have their futures on the line, but are ultimately spectators hoping for the best.