Sweeney says N.J. will raise taxes on millionaires in January

Senate President Steve Sweeney (right) addressed supporters on Saturday in Woodbury. GENEVA HEFFERNAN / Staff Photographer

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Wednesday that the Democratic-controlled Legislature would move immediately to raise taxes on millionaires once Gov.-elect Phil Murphy takes office in January.

Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who was reelected with a resounding 18-point victory Tuesday in the most expensive legislative race in state history, said the new revenue would be used to boost funding for schools.

Under the plan, income exceeding $1 million would be taxed at a rate of 10.75 percent, up from 8.97 percent. Democrats have passed such legislation five times since 2010, but Gov. Christie vetoed the tax increase each time.

Murphy, a Democrat, vowed during his campaign to raise taxes on millionaires to help pay for his agenda.

Sweeney said he would work with Murphy and legislative leaders to hammer out the details. New Jersey’s nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services has estimated  the tax increase would raise $650 million.

In an interview, Sweeney criticized the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, for spending millions of dollars on negative ads in an effort to defeat him.

“The people read through it,” Sweeney said. “They smelled it.”

Sweeney, who has represented the Third Legislative District since 2002, won by the biggest margin of his career, with 59 percent of the vote against Republican Fran Grenier’s 41 percent.

“I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done here in South Jersey since I’ve been in the Legislature,” he said. “We’ve had some great accomplishments, and people know that.”

The teachers’ union said Tuesday night that Grenier’s “insurgent campaign electrified New Jersey politics and energized NJEA members.”

Sweeney publicly chastised Murphy in September, telling Tom Moran of the Newark Star-Ledger: “The leader of the party’s job is to elect as many Democrats as possible, not sit back and watch them be attacked.”

Asked Wednesday about his relationship with Murphy, Sweeney said he didn’t hold a grudge. “I wish he could have helped me more, but he told me he tried, and I take him at his word,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney worked with Christie to overhaul the state’s pension system for public workers and reform tenure law for teachers, which earned him the NJEA’s wrath. But Sweeney and Christie also sparred over Supreme Court appointees and a host of other issues.

Christie, who by law couldn’t seek a third consecutive term, is to leave office Jan. 16.

“There was times when it was great working with him, and there was times when I wanted to kill him,” Sweeney said. “It was a challenge. And it was a challenge for him, too.”

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