GOP leader: Ditch tax hike & we’ll meet halfway on minimum wage
TRENTON — Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. has an offer for Gov.-elect Phil Murphy: Drop the ideas for tax increases, raise the minimum wage by a smaller amount than promised, and cut income taxes for taxpayers earning up to $110,000 — and Republicans will vote for it.
"Let’s work together to build a legislative package that raises the minimum wage to a level that is modern and fair and also reduces the income tax for the struggling middle class," Kean said in a news conference shortly after being endorsed by colleagues for another two years in his leadership post.
Unfortunately for Kean, it’s an offer the incoming governor can surely refuse. Kean is not exactly negotiating from a position of strength, as Democrats will add one Senate seat and two Assembly seats come January, giving them control of nearly 66 percent of the entire Legislature — 25 of 40 seats in the Senate and 54 of 80 seats in the Assembly.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, shrugged off the suggestion, in part because Kean didn’t broach it with him first.
"If the minority leader has a suggestion for me, he should come and sit with me instead of pulling political stunts like this one," Sweeney said.
"We’re going ahead with the minimum wage regardless. We’ve already made that decision," he said. "The only reason why we didn’t go ahead with minimum wage last time was because Gov. Christie vetoed it. Gov. Murphy will sign it."
Kean said Republicans "have no intention of being the party of no" once Democrats fully take charge in Trenton, but he said they will oppose proposals they think would make the state more unaffordable.
He indicated Republicans would be willing to bargain over raising the minimum wage — but that it shouldn’t get to $15 an hour and should include smaller minimum wages for training programs and seasonal jobs.
"Whatever the extent of the minimum wage issue is, it should certainly be less than $15 because that would drive many businesses and employees out of work," Kean said.
Kean said "the issue of affordability is the greatest challenge everyone sent to the Statehouse" must resolve. Raising income taxes on the wealthy, or some corporate taxes, will make the state less economically competitive, he said.
"I think it’s absolutely the wrong message to send that you want to increase taxes from Day One on anybody," Kean said.
Sweeney said the estimated $600 million a year that could be derived from raising taxes on incomes over $1 million would ease property tax pain for middle-class homes by boosting school aid. But he said Democratic rule of Trenton won’t be an era of broad-based tax hikes.
"Listen, I’m not going to run crazy with tax increases," Sweeney said.
"We’re not looking to raise taxes. I can tell you that right now. I mean, there’s a couple targeted taxes we talked about, and we talked about them for years. But we’re not looking to raise taxes on the middle class," he said.
Sweeney indicated the other taxes that would be raised are the ones Murphy identified as a gubernatorial candidate, which also included changes to business taxes to affect hedge fund managers and multistate corporations, as well as legalizing and taxing marijuana for recreational use by adults.
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