As the second most powerful elected official in the state, Sweeney has been seen as one of the only officials with the clout to take on Murphy himself.
The longtime union ironworker wields the votes in Trenton. And Murphy’s inability to quickly enact many of his key policy proposals – such as a millionaire’s tax and marijuana legalization – has largely been attributed to resistance from Sweeney.
Even the legislation Murphy signed in February to increase the statewide minimum wage from $8.85 to $15 an hour for most workers by 2024 took more than a year to get to the governor’s desk because of gridlock in Trenton. During budget talks last year, the state government seemed headed for a shutdown because of disagreements between Murphy and Sweeney.
The two leaders have vowed to not let budget talks get ugly this year, and both expressed a desire to avoid a shutdown. Sweeney credited Murphy with having learned a lot since last year and said the governor’s budget is a “good start.”
But Sweeney remains opposed to a millionaire’s tax and instead is calling on the administration to find more savings. And he has expressed skepticism about the governor’s proposals for remaking the state’s economic incentive programs.
Coughlin, the sometimes mild-mannered Assembly Speaker, has earned a reputation as the great mediator between the rival camps of Sweeney and Murphy. The deal to increase the minimum wage was widely seen as Coughlin’s handiwork.
Coughlin, D-19th District, has become one of the first Central Jersey-based power players in recent memory, and he shares the district with fellow Democrat Sen. Joe Vitale, chair of the powerful Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
The budget process may not get ugly this year, but Sweeney’s agenda differs enough from Murphy’s to make the negotiations contentious. Coughlin’s mediation could be more commonly sought by lawmakers and officials throughout the statehouse.