Arnold GodoyJun 15, 2018, 8:41 pm

Top lawmaker at odds with NJ governor over budget

Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney said he will advance a budget that substitutes Gov. Phil Murphy's proposed income and sales tax increases for a surcharge on businesses while adding millions of dollars more in other spending

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A top New Jersey lawmaker said Friday he will advance a budget that substitutes Gov. Phil Murphy's proposed income and sales tax increases for a surcharge on businesses while adding millions of dollars more in other spending.

Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney said he would unveil his budget to lawmakers on Monday with a committee vote expected Tuesday and a final vote on Thursday.

The measure comes as the Democrat-led Legislature and Democratic governor approach a June 30 deadline to enact a balanced budget. The biggest sticking points are over revenue — and how to raise it as part of Murphy's $37.4 billion proposal. But Sweeney on Friday also pushed for spending increases that Democrats won last year under Republican Chris Christie and that Murphy mostly stripped out of his budget proposal this year.

"We never thought we'd be fighting a Democrat governor over Democrat priorities," Sweeney said.

The governor said in a statement that the previous administration made "irresponsible budget deals" that led to cuts in school funding and transit.

"I refuse to do that. When it came to making the hard choices to fix our problems my predecessor kicked the can down the road — I won't," Murphy said.

Earlier this week Murphy said he and lawmakers were not far apart on spending in his budget proposal, with an agreement on school funding close to being worked out.

The problem all along has been how Murphy wants to pay for increased pension payments, school aid and New Jersey Transit, among other items.

Murphy proposed increasing the income tax to 10.75 percent from 8.97 percent for people making over $1 million. He also wants to boost the sales tax to 7 percent from 6.625 percent, but Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have balked.

Sweeney instead is proposing a 3 percent surcharge on businesses netting more than $1 million. Murphy said this week that proposal could make New Jersey less competitive compared with surrounding states.

The lawmakers also are proposing other sources of revenue, including conducting audits to save money.

Sweeny on Friday stood with fellow Democratic Senators Paul Sarlo and Teresa Ruiz, along with groups who would benefit from adding additional spending to the budget that the lawmakers are seeking.

Among the groups alongside the lawmakers were the Latino Action Network and the Arc of New Jersey, which helps people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Murphy has considerable leverage since New Jersey's governor can line-item veto spending measures. But he cannot add additional spending into the budget that lawmakers send to him.

If he and lawmakers cannot agree on a budget by the deadline, parts of state government including public parks and beaches would close.

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