Taxpayers have legitimate reason to worry about Murphy
TRENTON — It is a time of great uncertainty in the state capital, and taxpayers have legitimate reason to be worried.
Concern is warranted over the critical affordability issues all are facing under the crushing weight of being the most highly-taxed state in the nation. Gov. Phil Murphy has hinted he may insist on raising taxes — again — but he has failed to present a plan. Murphy has not offered any specifics. With about a month to go before he has to present his budget to the legislature, I am hearing that he and his team don’t have any specifics. For many, that is unsettling.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, was blunt when asked about what he's heard about Murphy's budget.
"Very little," Sweeney said. "I don't think he's taking this seriously."
Not a single insider, staffer, lobbyist, legislator, or observer could give me any details about the Murphy budget plan, other than the broad-based and progressive visions he shared in his State of the State address. That agenda is expensive.
Sweeney has already rejected the idea of raising taxes. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, has not been as adamant as Sweeney, but has also said New Jersey residents can't afford another tax hike.
Adding to the uncertainty is how little the governor and his staff engage with lawmakers and the public. Weeks or months go by without Murphy sitting down with Sweeney and Coughlin. Their staff members rarely speak, and in some cases don't even know each other's names. Murphy has mostly held "look-at-me" press events designed to show his support for union labor and to prove he is doing something about the horrible service on NJ Transit. If he is planning a series of painful tax hikes, he isn't making a public case for it, other than to preach "tax fairness."
Murphy is already wounded by the ongoing Katie Brennan scandal, and had few allies in the legislature to begin with. Hope of him building a coalition of legislators willing to advance his agenda and tax hikes is slim. Sweeney will likely use this opportunity to advance his own agenda, which includes budget cuts and deep reforms to what taxpayers contribute to state worker pension and health benefits. If he gets what he wants, Sweeney left the door open to raising some revenues but, he said, "we have to fix the structural problems first."
After months of study, Sweeney presented his own plan for doing that. I'm told Murphy hasn't even read it, but rejected it anyway.
For most State House observers, this whole mess is further evidence of the disconnect between Murphy and the actual job of governing.
Eric Scott is Vice President, Senior Political Director and Director of Special Projects for New Jersey 101.5. He anchors "New Jersey's First News" and weekday morning newscasts from 5 to 10 a.m., in addition to hosting a bimonthly Town Hall series.
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