TRENTON, N.J. — A millionaires’ tax, legal marijuana and a higher minimum wage could all be in store in the new year as Democrats prepare to take over government in New Jersey.
Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy will succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Jan. 16. That will give Democrats control of the governor’s office and the Legislature, a change that will lead to a different direction in state government.
Murphy has promised to hike taxes on those making over $1 million to finance pensions and schools. Murphy has also promised a $15 minimum wage, which Christie has vetoed.
A closer look at what’s in store for Murphy and the Democrat-led Legislature in 2018.
MURPHY’S FIRST BUDGET
Murphy will inherit the second half of Christie fiscal 2018 budget, which expires on June 30, and will have little time before he has to introduce his own spending blueprint. The budget, which is about $35 billion this year, will give voters an early opportunity to gauge whether Murphy is keeping his campaign promises.
Murphy promised to fully fund pensions and school aid, though he has also suggested he would consider phasing in those payments. Fully funding the pension would require roughly doubling this year’s $2.5 billion payment. School aid is estimated at roughly $1 billion beyond what Christie has spent annually.
Christie has poured cash into the pension though state payments remain below the level actuaries recommend. He has also declined to fund schools according to legislation enacted in 2008.
Murphy has promised raising income taxes on millionaires and closing corporate tax loopholes as a way to pay for the increased funding, though it’s not clear the tax increases will cover the new spending.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, has also questioned whether the millionaires’ tax hike should go forward in light of the recent federal tax overhaul.
Murphy also promised legalizing recreational marijuana, and Democratic state Sen. Nicholas Scutari has introduced a bill that he says could serve as the groundwork for legalization once Murphy is sworn in.
The bill would permit those 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solids, 72 ounces in liquid form and 7 grams of concentrate. It would prohibit home cultivation.
The legislation would establish a Division of Marijuana Enforcement to regulate the industry. The legislation also would establish a sales tax on marijuana that would go from 7 percent to 25 percent over five years to encourage early participation.
Democratic state Sen. Ronald Rice, who represents the state’s biggest city, Newark, is urging caution on proceeding with legalization. He says he wants to hold hearings across the state and is worried about children’s access to edible marijuana and impaired driving.
BILLS CHRISTIE VETOED
Christie vetoed dozens of Democratic bills over his two terms, prompting Sweeney to say he thinks a lot of those would be reintroduced and likely signed into law under Murphy.
Among the higher profile bills Christie vetoed were the so-called Democracy Act, a rewrite of the state’s voter registration laws, and a hike in the minimum wage.
The package of bills, modeled on Oregon’s laws, includes authorization for online registration, early voting and preregistration for 17-year-olds. Residents getting a driver’s license or state ID would have to opt out of registering to vote, rather having to take an additional step to register at the same time.
Christie vetoed the measure saying it could increase voter fraud.
Another provision would change the rules for filling unexpected legislative vacancies, which supporters say would have kept the state from spending $24 million on a special election Christie called in October 2013 after the death of Democratic U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Democrats and Murphy have also promised to increase the minimum wage to $15. Christie vetoed a bill that would have phased the increase in over five years. New Jersey’s current minimum wage goes up to $8.60 on Monday from $8.44.