Donald Trump

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy Sticks to Tax-Hike Pledge at Lobbying Event

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday redoubled his campaign promise to raise income taxes on millionaires but said such a change does not have to be permanent.

Murphy, a Democrat, delivered his roughly 20-minute speech at the state Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner, a cocktail-filled networking event where lobbyists have almost unfettered access to officials.

It was Murphy's first speech as governor at the event, and he echoed many of the campaign themes he has been touting since succeeding Republican Chris Christie earlier this year.

"Only through tax fairness can we once again be a state that delivers more and invests in the things that matter to all families and business," he said.

His comments, though, had a twist. If the economy begins to grow, then the state "should recalibrate" and sunset the higher taxes, Murphy said.

Still, Murphy's recommitment to the millionaires tax hike carries weight since Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney has called it a "last resort" because of the federal tax overhaul.

Murphy left out any mention of legalizing marijuana, a hot topic on the lobbyists' train ride to the capital.

Murphy pushed for legalization during the campaign, and Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate drafted a bill and held hearings, but now that Murphy has succeeded Christie, a vocal opponent of legalization, legislators are hesitating.

"I've said from the outset that we're going to try to do a thorough job for the people of New Jersey," Democratic Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said. Coughlin has scheduled a hearing on marijuana legalization for Monday.

Timothy McDonough, the independent mayor of Hope, New Jersey, who attended the event, said he was contacted this week by six developers eager to locate in New Jersey if legalization goes forward. But McDonough said it looks as if the issue is on hold for now.

"I think Murphy thought this was going to be a slam dunk," he said. "It's not going to be a slam dunk."

Other Democrats aboard the train seemed skeptical. Democratic Assemblywoman Annette Quijano said she was still reviewing the issue and had not made up her mind. Democratic state Sen. Bob Gordon said he was opposed, but open to considering legalization.

Republicans appeared less likely to embrace it. Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr., seated next to his father, former GOP Gov. Tom Kean Sr., said he was opposed.

Scott Rudder, a supporter of legalization who was in Washington for the event, said he was optimistic legalization would move forward.

"They're going to listen to all sides of the issue," he said.

Murphy has said he favors legalization based on criminal and racial justice philosophies, but also that the estimated $300 million in state revenue would help finance his other promises, like increased pension payments and greater school aid.

Murphy's first budget is due in just under two weeks.

The train party is typically an opportunity for entrepreneurs and lobbyists to deepen relationships with lawmakers, but it also gives the state's leaders — particularly the governor — a chance to frame an agenda.

Christie, for example, last year touted his accomplishments and warned the then-candidates running to succeed him not to over-promise.

This year, Democrats are energized over the prospects of picking up seats in Congress.

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat, said New Jersey Republicans will have a hard time distancing themselves from President Donald Trump, who is unpopular in the state.

"We certainly as a party more closely represent the values of a majority of the residents of the state," Weinberg said

Kean Jr., who is not on the ballot this year, said he is focused on policies to make New Jersey more affordable. But how will the president affect Republicans on the ballot?

"We'll see," he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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