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Expecting Murphy to Move Fast on Range of Economic Policies

Christie vetoed Democratic bills on $15 minimum wage, millionaires tax but Gov.-elect shares legislators’ top priorities

Phil Murphy
Gov. elect Phil Murphy

Throughout his winning campaign for governor, Democrat Phil Murphy repeatedly preached a message of strengthening the state economy and making it more equitable. Now that voters have elected Murphy, and also widened Democratic majorities in the Legislature, he will soon have a chance to reshape economic policies — and the changes could come quickly.

That’s because there have been a number of bills that passed the state Legislature, only to be vetoed by outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie. But Murphy and legislative leaders could quickly find common ground on a range of shared economic priorities after he takes office in mid-January.

Among the top priorities laid out by the former Goldman Sachs executive during the campaign against Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno was a call for a $15 minimum wage, which is something Democratic legislative leaders have tried to enact in recent years, only to face pushback from business-lobbying groups and ultimately a veto from Christie.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) also announced early yesterday morning that lawmakers are anxious to send Murphy a bill that will answer the gov.-elect’s call for more economic fairness through the institution of a higher income-tax rate on earnings over $1 million. A millionaire’s tax is also something Democrats have tried on numerous occasions to get by Christie, with no success.

Several other Democratic-sponsored bills that stalled during Christie’s tenure are now primed for a revival since they line up well with Murphy’s economic platform. They include expanding earned sick-leave provisions and toughening enforcement of gender-pay equity laws.

He’ll ‘want to get things done’

“The reality is that there’s going to be a lot of things that we really do agree on,” Sweeney said during an interview yesterday. “I look forward to working with him,” Sweeney said of Murphy. “He’s going to want to get things done.”

While New Jersey’s economy has enjoyed steady growth since Christie took office in early 2010, as the state was still feeling the effects of the Great Recession, New Jersey’s current unemployment rate is higher than the national-jobless average. State revenues have grown since the recession ended, but federal data indicate New Jersey is still making up ground in many other areas, including personal-income growth. Expansion of the state’s gross-domestic product has also been lagging the national rate.

Murphy, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, seized on those economic issues throughout his successful primary run earlier this year, even as other candidates talked more about issues like government ethics and healthcare. And while the Republican Guadagno tried to focus on property-tax relief and took a hard line on immigration issues, Murphy continued to stress the need for economic reform all the way through his general-election victory speech on Tuesday night in Asbury Park.

“Our first task must be to live up to our creed of creating a stronger and fairer economy that works for all nine million who call our state home,” Murphy told a crowd of cheering supporters who gathered for his victory party.

He also re-emphasized the economic message yesterday morning during a CNN interview, telling anchor Alisyn Camerota that his “mission number one” as governor will be to address the state economy.

‘Long-overdue millionaires tax’

Murphy, meanwhile, was greeted in the morning by a social-media post from Sweeney that promised “the first bill we pass with our new governor will be a long-overdue millionaires tax.” That lines up well with Murphy’s own call for more tax fairness, including a proposed new top-end marginal income-tax rate on earnings over $1 million of 10.75 percent.

Sweeney, during the interview yesterday, said the millionaire’s tax bill will be introduced on the same day that the Senate is due to reorganize in mid-January, this time with one more Democratic representative, pushing the margin over Republicans from 24-16 to 25-15.

“The very first day, that’s when we’re dropping it,” Sweeney said of the millionaire’s tax bill.

Sweeney and other Democrats worked last year to advance a bill that called for New Jersey’s minimum wage, which is currently $8.44, to increase in phases over several years, up to $15. The logic behind the increased wage is that it will help lift more residents out of poverty, and generate economic growth by providing more income to those in lower-wage brackets, who tend to put their higher earnings right back into the economy through increased spending on housing, necessities, and consumer items. But the effort to hike the minimum wage faced opposition from the business community, who argued it could force layoffs, particularly for small businesses, and the bill was ultimately rejected by Christie.

With Murphy now coming into the State House after campaigning on the $15 minimum-wage issue, it seems likely that New Jersey will eventually become the latest place to enact a $15 hourly rate.

Gender-pay gap

State lawmakers in recent months have also moved bills seeking to address the gender-pay gap and earned family leave, only to see those efforts also blocked by Christie.

After Murphy’s election on Tuesday, the hopes of advocacy groups who’ve lobbied for a $15 minimum wage and the other economic reforms were running sky high since the incoming governor’s platform prominently featured the positions that Democratic leaders have also favored.

“With Democrats retaining control of the Legislature and Phil Murphy in the State House, the progressive measures squashed under Christie can now move forward,” said the New Jersey Working Families Alliance in a statement yesterday.

For their part, while members of the state’s business community have previously opposed many of the economic positions that Murphy ran on this year, they held back any criticism in the wake of his election. Instead, business leaders issued statements yesterday that congratulated the governor-elect, and they also asked for “a seat at the table” in the upcoming policy discussions since they will no longer have a strong ally in Christie.

“Our great state of New Jersey is at a pivotal point and its future depends on our ability to grow our economy and make our state more affordable and competitive,” said Michele Siekerka, president and chief executive of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. “Our next Governor must seize upon the opportunity and responsibility to provide a prosperous path forward,” she said.

“The time for action is now,” said Tom Bracken, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. “Our residents and businesses need proactive vision and leadership so we can all afford to live, work and flourish in New Jersey.”

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