Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, is skipping a meeting with Gov. Phil Murphy to legalize marijuana over his frustration with the governor’s intense scrutiny of a multi-billion dollar tax break program which Sweeney championed, according to several sources who requested anonymity.
Murphy and Sweeney were initially planning to meet at roughly noon on Thursday, along with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, on how to pass the marijuana-legalization bill by the end of May. A move that comes amidst mounting tensions between Sweeney and Murphy over rewriting the state’s tax incentives and approving Murphy’s proposed millionaire’s tax.
But Sweeney denied any kind of bad blood with the governor, especially given that Murphy has zeroed in on how the tax break program may have unethically benefited friends and family of his close ally: insurance executive and South Jersey power broker George Norcross.
“Yeah, whatever you want to say, whatever they want to say,” Sweeney told reporters in the statehouse.
Sweeney had been attending a “meeting with some people, that was very important and I couldn’t leave,” he told reporters.
The legalization bill had enough votes in the Assembly to pass the 41-vote threshold but was short of the 21 votes needed in the Senate.
If the vote does not pass out of the Legislature by the end of May, Sweeney said he would not likely post the bill for a vote until the lame duck session following Murphy’s midterm elections in November.
Even more, lawmakers and Murphy have been hoping to avoid putting the measure before voters in the form of a ballot question, arguing that any changes, corrections or improvements would need to also be done via ballot question rather than legislation.
Sweeney and Murphy have continually clashed over the Grow New Jersey tax breaks—Murphy wants to let Grow NJ expire when it lapses in July, and Sweeney wants to keep the program in place albeit tweaked.
A task force Murphy convened in January unearthed allegations last week that the Grow NJ incentives yielded enormous, unethical and potentially illegal benefits to insurance and South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, and his friends, family, allies and business partners.
Given the alliance between Norcross and Sweeney, the tax force incentive has been viewed by Trenton insiders as a proxy war between the Sweeney Norcross camp and the Murphy camp.
This has been denied by both Murphy and Sweeney.