‘Facts matter.’ Top Democrat says Murphy vetoes too much legislation. Murphy disagrees.

Updated May 31, 2019

New Jersey’s top two elected state officials now have a new issue they’re arguing about: how many times Gov. Phil Murphy has vetoed legislation so far.

On Thursday, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney criticized Murphy, a fellow Democrat, for issuing nearly as many vetoes as Republican predecessor Chris Christie, even though Democrats control the state Legislature. Sweeney called Murphy’s actions “way beyond normal."

But Murphy on Friday disputed those remarks, saying “facts matter.”

“I don’t want to let facts get in the way, but I actually looked up the facts,” the governor said after an unrelated event in Paterson.

Murphy noted that he has signed 94 more bills than Christie at this point in their tenures and vetoed two fewer bills.

Sweeney said he’s particularly bothered that Murphy often utilizes conditional vetoes — when a governor sends a bill back to the Legislature to make changes. The Senate president said he’s asked Murphy’s staff to suggest amendments early in the process to avoid that.

All but nine of Murphy’s 62 vetoes have been conditional.

“This is not working the way the governor’s doing this," Sweeney said. "I’ve never seen anything like this.”

This is the latest disagreement between Murphy and Sweeney, whose often strained relationship has soured even more in recent weeks.Sweeney has begun to criticize the governor more openly in the wake of an investigation Murphy has convened into the state’s tax break program. Some of the companies targeted have ties to South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, a close Sweeney ally.

The dispute over vetoes comes as Sweeney and other Democratic lawmakers are considering overriding Murphy’s conditional veto of a so-called “dark money” bill, which would force more political action groups in New Jersey to disclose their donors. Murphy said the measure needs work.

On Friday, the governor said he had “nothing new to add to that.”

Murphy also noted how Friday’s event was to push a package of new health-care bills and that many Democratic lawmakers joined him for the occasion.

“For all the noise, we’re getting a lot done together,” the governor said.

The ratcheted-up tension between Murphy and Sweeney also comes as the governor and lawmakers must come to an agreement on a new taxpayer-funded state budget by July 1.

Murphy has hinted he may not sign a budget if lawmakers don’t agree to his proposal to raise income taxes on New Jersey’s millionaires to help fund education, transportation, and more.

But Sweeney and state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, are staunchly opposed to the millionaires tax. They say the state is overtaxed as it is and that more government spending cuts are needed instead.

Sweeney said Thursday the Legislature will have a budget passed by July 1, but it’s not certain Murphy would sign it.

If Murphy and lawmakers can’t reached an agreement, the governor could shut down the state government.

“Hopefully, all three branches will agree on it,” Sweeney said. “If it’s about a millionaires tax and he’s going to shut the government down to raise taxes, that’s on him."

Murphy on Friday continued to call for a millionaires tax, arguing that polls show voters support it and that Democratic lawmakers passed one five times in previous years, only to see it vetoed each time by Christie.

“I remain optimistic,” Murphy said. “I’m very proud of the budget we have put forward. It continues a historic investment in the middle class. It calls for tax fairness.”

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