Three weeks since he was elected governor, and still seven weeks until he takes office, some of Phil Murphy’s major promises from the campaign are already running into a rough patch.

Neither the millionaires’ tax nor the prospect of legalizing marijuana are off the table. But Murphy’s fellow Democrats who will lead the Legislature next session are already flashing go-slow signals at a few cornerstones of the incoming governor’s agenda.

“The excitement of the campaign is fading into the reality of New Jersey,” said Seton Hall University political scientist Matthew Hale.

Murphy wants to raise taxes on income over $1 million, to put as much as $600 million a year in additional money into school aid.  But Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said that may be put on hold if Congress ends the ability for taxpayers to deduct their state taxes from what they owe Washington – the fear being that the double whammy would chase away the wealthy.

Murphy also wants to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, but the incoming Assembly speaker, Craig Coughlin, says he’s not yet on board. The details matter, Coughlin said.

Rider University political scientist Ben Dworkin says politics gets trickier once you start getting to the details.

“As the late Mario Cuomo once said,” noted Rider University political scientist Ben Dworkin, “we campaign in poetry, but we govern in prose.”

For instance, Dworkin said the $15 minimum wage Murphy supports is a campaign crowd-pleaser – but then things get complicated when it needs 41 votes to pass in the Assembly and 21 votes to pass in the Senate.

“It’ll have to be ramped up,” Dworkin said. “There will probably end up being exceptions for 16- and 17-year-olds who are working. There’s going to probably have to be some kind of accommodation for migrant farm workers.”

Hale said Sweeney and Coughlin want to make sure Murphy knows that while they’re all on the same team, they need to talk to each other before saying what’s going to happen.

And Hale said New Jerseyans want realistic, deliberate decision-making and that Democratic lawmakers would be wise to resist overdoing it on pleasing all of their constituencies – even those eager for their priorities to find new life after repeated vetoes over eight years by Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

“All of the Democrats have an interest and a responsibility in deciding what the priorities are,” Hale said.

“If it just becomes sort of a smorgasbord of shopping out of Trenton, I don’t think that in the long run the Democrats are going to come out too well,” he said. “The Democrats have to decide, ‘These are things that we can do within our fiscal constraints. These are the things that we think are important. And we’re going to target those.’ And that means saying no to some of these groups that Christie did as well.”

Dworkin said clashes among Democrats are to be expected and that they happen with any unified government. In 2006, there was a state government shutdown for a week when a budget deal was not reached under Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine and a Democrat-run Legislature.

Currently in Washington, Republicans control the Congress and presidency – but there have not yet been major legislative accomplishments. Neither Hale nor Dworkin expect a similar sputtering for Democrats at the Statehouse in Trenton.

“It’s less likely in New Jersey because the potential policy daylight between, say, Sweeney and Murphy really isn’t all that great,” Hale said. “At the federal level, you kind of have the Trump wing of the party that wants to destroy all government and the traditional Republican wing of the party that wants to try and minimize it.”

“There’s absolutely a risk if they don’t get things accomplished,” Dworkin said. “But I think they all recognize that, which is why things will get done. It’s just not going to be smooth. It’s not going to be an easy path.”


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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