Gov. Phil Murphy won’t deliver his proposed state budget to the Legislature for another six months but he’s already made it clear that for the third consecutive year, he’ll ask for an increase in the tax on incomes above $1 million.

And, for the third consecutive year, the Legislature won’t accede.

Murphy’s pounded the drum for the millionaire’s tax since his 2017 campaign, arguing that wealthy New Jerseyans are escaping paying their fair share and increasing their taxes enjoys upwards of 70% public support.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, both warned the governor that the tax increase was dead on arrival and neither lobbying or waving favorable public opinion polls around would change the outcome.

The 2018 confrontation and this year’s budget cycle drove the state to the brink of a shutdown, an embarrassing turn of events for a rookie governor who rode a landslide victory into office and enjoyed handsome partisan majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

The most he came away with was a tax increase on earnings in excess of $5 million, a rate which applied to fewer than 3,000 taxpayers. His victory was spelled with a lower case “v” and in quotation marks.

While early, the outlook for the fiscal 2020-21 budget is equally dim.

In several public appearances, Murphy has touted his administration’s accomplishments near the halfway point of his first term and has included a pitch for the millionaire’s tax.

As he has frequently done, though, he undercut his message with a remarkably tone deaf comment: “If you’re a one-issue voter and tax rate is your issue, either a family or a business, if that’s the only basis upon which you’re going to make a decision, we’re probably not your state.”

In a state whose average property tax has closed in on $9,000 and in hundreds of communities falls between $10,000 and $20,000, the remark ranged from cold indifference to an “if-you-don’t-like-it-here- move” dismissal of those struggling to keep up with property tax increases and others forced to relocate because they could no longer afford to remain.

While it may have been an attempt to focus on other advantages the state offers (outstanding public schools, skilled workforce, access to major markets, etc.), it fell horribly flat, prompting Sweeney to accuse the governor of “waving the white flag” on taxes.

Murphy, inadvertently or clumsily, handed Sweeney a gift with his “we’re probably not your state” remark, and the Senate president will likely use it frequently in any debate over a proposed budget and the millionaire’s tax in particular.

Sweeney, whose recent activity resembles the feeling out process which precedes a statewide political campaign, isn’t likely to waver on a millionaire’s tax proposal, understanding that he, not Murphy, possesses the greater leverage.

He’ll undoubtedly reiterate his Path to Progress report, which is based on the view that the state already collects sufficient tax revenue and there exists a compelling need to dramatically alter how it is spent.

Fiscal stability can only be achieved, according to Sweeney, by acknowledging that, left unresolved, the state is on an unsustainable course that will lead inevitably to jeopardizing such vital programs as the public pension and benefits system and aid to public education.

Sweeney understands as well that if Murphy’s insistence on greater taxation on millionaires produces yet a third consecutive shutdown threat, the bulk of the blame will fall on the governor.

The public perception (driven by Sweeney) will be that Murphy is more than willing to deny essential state services to taxpayers out of personal pique over a failure to raise taxes.

The last two budget standoffs should have convinced Murphy that, in this state, the governor is the face of government, that it is the chief executive — the only statewide-elected state official — who receives praise when things go right and abuse when they don’t.

(Recall the photos of former Gov. Chris Christie, surrounded by family and friends, sunning himself on the beach in the midst of a July 4 holiday shutdown of all other state parks and public beaches.)

While it appears Murphy is committed to the millionaire’s tax, he would be better served to moderate his stance rather than dig in his heels. Continuing to insist upon the tax increase, rather than seek some compromise and common ground, will produce a re-run of the last two budget cycles.

What’s that old canard about ignoring the past and being condemned to repeat it?

Carl Golden, of Burlington Township, is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.

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