Murphy Pledges a Progressive Course for New Jersey
Posted January 16, 2018 5:22 p.m. EST
TRENTON, N.J. — Philip Dunton Murphy, whose brand of pragmatic progressive politics propelled him from Democratic donor and former American ambassador to the 56th governor of New Jersey, was sworn into office on Tuesday, claiming a mandate to provide sweeping change and promising to focus heavily on the stagnant economy.
“We can once again be the state that leads the nation in progressive policies and puts common sense and our residents first in line,” Murphy said during his 34-minute inaugural address inside a theater here.
An unabashed liberal, Murphy’s rise to one of the most powerful governor seats in the country comes against the backdrop of the polarizing Trump administration. And Murphy pledged that his stewardship of New Jersey will be a check on what he portrays as conservative overreach and abusive policies stemming from the White House.
Indeed, Murphy, one of the most liberal candidates to win in an increasingly Democratic state, represents a significant shift for New Jersey as he succeeds Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican and a supporter of President Donald Trump. Christie’s tumultuous eight-year tenure was marked by funding cuts in education, public pensions and transportation.
“Despite the challenges we face, I remain an optimist,” Murphy said as he laid out an ambitious agenda. Here’s a look at how his plans stack up against those challenges.
PROMISE: “We will resist every move from President Trump and a misguided congressional leadership that would worsen income inequality; or divide families or deny access to college for our Dreamers; or defund essential infrastructure; or gut health care for our children, seniors and the working poor; or provide a tax windfall to giant corporations and billionaires at the expense of our working- and middle-class families.”
REALITY: Many White House policies will hurt New Jersey. The new federal tax plan will raise taxes for many residents who previously were able to deduct all of their property taxes. Commuters were dismayed when the Trump administration indicated that it would not — at least for now — provide financing for a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. To counter Washington, Murphy has shown a willingness to be creative with the state tax code, though finding sufficient money for the rail tunnel without help from the federal government will likely be impossible. The new governor can also take steps to protect unauthorized immigrants, such as providing state identification cards and driver’s licenses and making them eligible for college financial aid. But immigration policy is ultimately set by the federal government.
On the Economy
PROMISE: “A stronger and fairer New Jersey is rooted in an economy that creates better jobs and provides higher wages that creates places where industries can grow and communities can rise, where innovative companies are born and where millennials want to live and where seniors want to retire.” He added: “for small businesses, and women, veteran and minority-owned businesses to thrive instead of delivering massive tax breaks to a handful of select and connected big corporations that don’t need them in the first place.”
REALITY: Murphy inherits a stalled economy — the unemployment rate is higher than the national average. The state has struggled to retain younger workers and the new tax plan could make things worse. The state’s staggering pension debt has led to 11 credit downgrades in the past eight years. Still, a report by McKinsey last year found that New Jersey had the potential to grow its economy by more than $150 billion and create more than 250,000 jobs over the next decade if it shifted from its practice of providing tax credits to retain old businesses to providing incentives for startups. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive, has embraced the idea of new incentives and on Tuesday talked about “technology incubators.”
PROMISE: “A stronger and fairer New Jersey funds its public schools and delivers on the promise of property tax relief. It makes a four-year college more affordable and provides free access to community college. And it creates new training programs to prepare our residents for jobs in an innovation-driven economy.”
REALITY: New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation, driven largely by the way it pays for public schools. The state also has some of the country’s highest paid teachers. Murphy said the state would fulfill its financing obligation to fully fund public schools as a way to lower property taxes, but it remains unclear how he would generate the additional revenue. Murphy’s financial blueprint should become clearer when he delivers his first budget address on Feb. 27. On Marijuana
PROMISE: “A stronger and fairer New Jersey embraces comprehensive criminal justice reform comprehensively, and that includes a process to legalize marijuana.”
REALITY: Murphy’s push to legalize marijuana — which he frames as a way to achieve criminal justice reform while generating hundreds of millions of dollars for the state — will likely test his ability to marshal the Democratic-controlled state Legislature. While there are two bills that could lead to legalization, there are strong voices of opposition that will need to be reckoned with.
On First Steps
PROMISE: “I ask you to send me the bills, among others, to reaffirm our support for women’s health and Planned Parenthood; to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour; to promote equal pay for women; to give every worker the peace of mind of earned sick leave; to tear down barriers to voting; and, to strengthen our gun laws.
REALITY: Murphy quickly took action on some of these promises hours after his speech, signing an executive order aimed at promoting pay equity for women by prohibiting state agencies from asking the pay history of prospective employees. Some of his other promises will require legislative approval and though some bills, such as providing funding to Planned Parenthood, are pending, other issues, like increasing the minimum wage, will require intense negotiations.
Murphy made no direct mention of two of the state’s most pressing issues: its large public pension liability and its decrepit transportation system, especially the chronic complaints about the reliability of New Jersey Transit’s commuter trains.