Democrats And Republicans Warn Trump Tax Plan Will 'Destroy' N.J.
ATLANTIC CITY -- New Jersey's top Democratic and Republican state lawmakers agreed on at least one thing Wednesday: They're all opposed to the federal tax reform plans being touted by President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans in Washington, D.C.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney also said if that bill becomes law, that might complicate a plan by incoming governor Phil Murphy, a fellow Democrat, to raise taxes on wealthy residents to help pump money into the state.
Speaking at the 102nd annual New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference, Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said the tax overhaul being considered in Congress would "devastate and destroy" the Garden State.
"They're going to devalue our properties and put an enormous tax burden on the people of this state," Sweeney said during a panel discussion with his fellow legislative leaders about their plans for 2018.
The issue: Trump and the GOP say their plans will reduce taxes on businesses and individuals across the nation. But they would partially pay for the cuts by either eliminating or curtailing the federal deduction for state and local taxes. Critics say that would hammer New Jersey taxpayers, who pay the highest property taxes in the U.S.
A new study shows taxpayers in the state -- who already send $31 billion more to the federal government than they receive in services -- would see their federal income taxes rise by another $137 million under the measure up for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.
The debate comes after New Jersey Democrats scored big victories in last Tuesday's elections. Murphy won the race to succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democrats expanded their control of the state Legislature by three seats.
One of Murphy's goals is to ramp up spending by $1.3 billion for education, transportation, and public-worker pensions. A key plank of that plan is to institute a so-called "millionaire's tax" on wealthy residents.
Sweeney said last week the Senate's top priority in the new year is passing the tax. But he expressed caution Wednesday.
"I'm actually very concerned for the people of this state if this Trump tax happens, and I think we're going to have to re-evaluate everything once that happens," Sweeney said.
"Because if you're going to add thousands of dollars to people's budgets," he added, "then we're going to have to sit down with Phil Murphy and say, 'How do we go forward and how do we make it work?'"
Sweeney stressed he isn't "backing away" from the millionaire's tax but that what's happening in Congress "has to be taken into consideration."
"I've said it's the top priority," he added. "But I'm actually getting very, very nervous now with what's happening in Washington."
"If that happens, they should not let Trump go to his golf course," Sweeney told reporters after the panel about the president, who owns three private golf clubs in the Garden State. "They should keep him out of New Jersey."
Spokespeople for Murphy did not immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday.
The U.S. Senate and House -- both controlled by Republicans -- are considering dueling tax bills. Senate Republicans would axe the entire sales and local tax deduction, while House Republicans would cap the deductions at $10,000. Either way, that would hurt high-tax states like New Jersey, New York, California, and Virginia.
The House bill is expected to pass Thursday. The Senate bill's future is uncertain. Both houses of Congress would need to pass identical versions of the measure before Trump can sign it.
A number of Trump surrogates have visited New Jersey in recent days to push the tax overhaul, including daughter Ivanka Trump, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, a Garden State native. They say the cuts are needed to simplify the country's tax code and boost the economy.
Christie, a longtime Trump friend, also supports the overhaul.
But 10 of New Jersey's 12 members of Congress are against it -- including three of five Republicans.
On Wednesday, New Jersey's top Republican state-level lawmakers -- Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, both R-Union -- both said the deductions should not be killed.
"I hope that our representatives stand up in Washington," Bramnick said during the panel. "This is something we have to fight against."
"What you want is fairness, and fairness should be across the country," he added. "No state should be punished."
Kean, however, said he expects the GOP's final bill will include the deductions.
Both Sweeney and incoming Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, warned that Republicans in New Jersey -- where Trump is already deeply unpopular -- could suffer even more election losses in the future if the measure is enacted.
"I wouldn't want to be a Republican running the next few years if they pass this," Sweeney said.
Said Coughlin: "It's a test for the Republican Party. If you want to be in charge, you've got to be in charge of everybody."
Neither Murphy nor legislative leaders have introduced details of a millionaire's tax. But the most recent version of such a bill would increase the marginal tax rate on New Jersey residents with income over $1 million from 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent.