That was quick.
New Jersey’s top state lawmaker told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday morning he remains staunchly against Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposal to raise taxes on millionaires in the Garden State, even though Murphy is now offering to put an additional $250 million in property tax relief to residents next year if lawmakers agree to the hike.
“It’s a gimmick,” state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said in a phone interview about Murphy’s new offer. “’Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.’ Taxpayers are smarter than that. It’s time to fix things and stop the gimmicks.”
The rejection comes 24 hours after Murphy, also a Democrat, announced at a town hall in Ewing on Monday night that an unexpected surge in tax collections would allow the state to offer more money for “direct middle-class property tax relief” if the state Legislatures signs off on the millionaires tax.
Democrats who lead the Legislature have so far been opposed to Murphy’s plan to raise taxes on millionaires, which would help pay for more funding for transit, education, and government-worker pensions. They say the state is already over-taxed.
But Murphy said Monday his new offer hopefully “sweetens the pot.”
The state’s other top lawmaker, state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, was more tempered in his response Tuesday morning, saying he’s not ready to reach an agreement with Murphy.
“While we are pleased to hear of better than expected early revenue returns, we will wait for the Treasurer’s revenue report next week,” Coughlin spokesman Kevin McArdle said in a statement to NJ Advance Media. “The budget committee is still working through the budget process. Making any deal would be premature.”
Murphy and the Legislature have less than two months to cut a deal on the governor’s second state budget proposal. Lawmakers must pass a budget and Murphy must sign it into law by July 1, according to the state constitution. Otherwise, Murphy could shut down state government.
Sweeney, who often squabbles with Murphy, said he’s worried what would happen if revenue collections do not pan out.
“What happens when we have a downturn and $250 million disappears?” the Senate president asked.
Sweeney instead suggested Murphy consider his own “Path to Progress” plan, which would make cuts to public-worker pensions and health care benefits, institute new toll lanes, and consolidate school districts, among other ideas.
“There’s a way to reduce property taxes dramatically,” Sweeney said of his plan. “The governor is choosing not to look at that.”
“I’ve been clear where I’m at,” he continued. “I’m not raising taxes. We need to get serious about fixing New Jersey.”
Murphy, Sweeney, and Coughlin are set to meet Thursday to discuss a number of issues, including the budget and the long-delayed plan to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey.
New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation, with the average bill hitting $8,767 last year.
Murphy’s current budget proposal includes $283 million for the Homestead property tax credit program and $202 million for Senior Freeze.
His office said the governor would put another $250 million into those popular programs if the Legislature backs the millionaires tax.
Murphy’s administration estimates that taxing gross income over $1 million at 10.75 percent will generate $447 million for state coffers.
NJ Advance Media staff writer Samantha Marcus contributed to this report.
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