Sarlo on millionaires tax: “I want to be realistic”

LITTLE FERRY – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan came to Little Ferry on Monday to jointly announce the awarding of $380 million to fund rebuilding projects in Hoboken and the Meadowlands, which were among the New Jersey communities that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy’s record surge in 2012. Minutes later, state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36) spoke out about another idea surging in the minds of some Democrats to deal with a financial hole that could devastate New Jersey in another way: the state’s approximately $1 billion budget hole this fiscal year. 

“I know Democrats want to hear you talk about a millionaires tax. I want to be realistic. I want to be practical,” said Sarlo, the chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, in comments to the press after Christie and Donovan both made remarks. “We could talk about it, we could do it, and [Christie] could veto it. All that does is put everything on hold.”

Sarlo’s remarks came weeks after State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) proposed the revival of the idea of a millionaires tax for the state’s wealthiest residents as a way to close to New Jersey’s burgeoning fiscal gap. Sweeney’s suggestion was amplified following Christie’s announcement last month that to deal with the budget crisis, he wants to reduce a $1.6 billion pension payment the state was scheduled to make before June 30 to $696 million by executive order and slash a $2.25 billion payment that was set for next year to $681 million, a move that the governor will seek approval for from the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Christie did not immediately offer any other alternatives to shore up the state’s fiscal shortfall.

“I’m still committed to a negotiated budget. There will be no government shutdown. But we need to come up with a realistic pension payment for next year,” Sarlo said. “We have not discussed budget negotiations yet, and clearly I believe that in the current fiscal year, there is not much that we can do from a negotiation standpoint. We’re four weeks away [from the fiscal year's end]. We’re going to have to allow that first pension payment not to be made. The real negotiation is going to become how do we reconcile it the next fiscal year. Right now, I’m advocating making the full $2.2 billion payment next year.” 

Despite the still-troubling fiscal scenario looming over New Jersey, Sarlo, who is also the mayor of Wood-Ridge, a Meadowlands-area municipality, felt that Monday’s announcement of the injections of hundreds of millions of federal aid dollars into the region was “a great thing.” 

“I’ve been talking about building a more resilient infrastructure to protect us from local flooding and high tidal surges for 13 years, forget Sandy,” Sarlo, an New Jersey Institute of Technology-trained engineer, said. “There will be no in-depth budget discussions today. As a civil engineer, I’m thrilled that I finally got my berm in the Meadowlands. I love to see get dirt get piled up.” 

"He evolves like any other politician who knows how to flip a foe into a friend when necessary. He’ll do whatever it takes to survive."
—Bergen Record columnist Charles Stile, on Gov. Christie's sudden embrace of the way unemployment data is collected