Several of the state’s largest unions and activist groups came out in support of Gov. Phil Murphy’s millionaire’s tax proposal at a rally in front of the New Jersey Statehouse, all the while harshly criticizing a series of proposed cuts to public worker pensions and health care backed by the Legislature’s top lawmakers.
The thousands of protesters came from such groups as the New Jersey Education Association; the Communications Workers of America; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; New Jersey Working Families and New Jersey Citizen Action.
They cheered and clapped when different speakers brought up Murphy and the millionaire’s tax, and booed during any mention of Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, and his proposed legislation aimed at reining in public worker pension and health care costs.
Many of the unions present on Thursday would be among those that would be most affected by the proposed changes.
The crowd and speakers painted the millionaire’s tax as a proposal that would level the playing field among New Jersey residents and allow investments into a variety of the state’s needs, an often-touted talking point from Murphy.
“You must choose, are you on the side of a handful of millionaires, or are you on the side of the hundreds of thousands of workers in the state of New Jersey?” asked Ray Greaves of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
Murphy’s tax proposal would increase the tax rate from 8.99 to 10.75 percent for every dollar earned above $1 million. But it has been called a non-starter by Murphy’s fellow Democrats in the state Legislature, including Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District.
The governor suggested he might not sign a budget if it does not include the millionaire’s tax. If lawmakers and Murphy do not agree on a budget by June 30 he would have to order a government shutdown.
“We have a governor who respects unions and respects collective bargaining, a governor who knows that the bargaining table is where you discuss pensions and health benefits,” said Dennis Walls from the CWA New Jersey chapter. “We have a senate president… who has no respect at all for the unions and who thinks he can attack unions by passing some legislation.”
Sweeney has argued the legislative proposals can reduce the state’s public worker pension and health care obligations – numbering in the tens of billions of dollars – and lower property taxes.
Those include a hybrid public worker retirement plan that merges a defined pension plan and a 401k-style plan, moving public workers from the equivalent of platinum coverage under the Affordable Care Act to a gold level of coverage and pushing shared services for smaller municipalities and school districts.
Murphy said he is opposed to merging the pension and 401k-style plans and instead wants to put the state on the path to funding its pension obligation in full. The governor has also argued that public worker health care costs can be reduced by collective bargaining and renegotiation of health care plans.