When New Jersey residents had their first opportunity to question Gov. Phil Murphy on live television, they wasted no time airing complaints about the state’s high taxes. They also challenged the new governor on immigration, an issue on which he’s staked out a far more welcoming approach than has President Donald Trump.
Murphy, a Democrat, was sworn into office about a month ago, and his first several weeks as governor have been dominated by a series of executive-order signings and other events that have reinforced major campaign promises.
But last night, Murphy fielded questions directly from Garden State residents during an appearance on News 12 New Jersey, a cable television station, for what was billed as the “Ask Gov. Murphy” show. Murphy’s predecessor, Republican Chris Christie, participated in a similar event each month on NJ 101.5 FM radio.
The first several questions that Murphy faced were about taxes, including why taxes are so high in New Jersey even for the state’s many apartment dwellers.
‘…frustrating as heck’
“It’s frustrating as heck to folks,” Murphy told a woman from Weehawken before promising to get to work on providing “real relief.”
Callers also wanted to hear the new governor’s take on immigration issues, including why he wants New Jersey to have more welcoming immigration policies in the face of President Donald Trump’s hardline positions.
“I can’t say it strongly enough, that I view my job as the governor of all nine million residents in this state,” Murphy said. “We’re committed to a strong economy, a strong society, a welcoming state for all.”
Among other issues, Murphy fielded questions about New Jersey Transit and his proposal to legalize marijuana during the hourlong show, which was hosted by Eric Landskroner, who also serves as the host of News 12 New Jersey’s weekend “Power & Politics” program. But several key issues were also left unaddressed last night, including how Murphy plans to deal with the tough stance Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney is now taking on hiking the millionaire’s tax, which was one of Murphy’s core campaign promises.
Murphy never held public office before running for governor last year, but he beat Republican Kim Guadagno, Christie’s longtime lieutenant governor, by a comfortable margin in November. A former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. ambassador to Germany, Murphy ran on a platform that emphasized making New Jersey’s economy more vibrant and restoring more fairness to state fiscal policies. He also specifically promised to boost spending on public education and the public-employee pension system, saying revenue from a higher income-tax rate on millionaires would help foot the bill.
In addition to fielding a question about the taxes paid by New Jersey’s apartment dwellers, Murphy was also pressed last night by a woman named Lisa to explain why seniors must pay school taxes when they don’t have any children in school. While Murphy was short on specifics in his response, he promised Lisa to “keep the faith” when it comes to his promise to boost property-tax relief for senior citizens. He also suggested increasing aid for public education would ease pressure on property taxes.
“The rug has been pulled out from under seniors, so it’s our job to get back and give them real relief,” Murphy said. “For example, we used to do a much better job of cushioning the property tax burden for seniors, recognizing that when your income goes down when you retire, your property tax is blind to that.”
“We used to be much better at cushioning that blow and providing real relief, and we gotta get back to that,” he said.
‘Bear with us’
Murphy told a caller who was worried about the public-employee pension system that he was committed to getting the state up to full funding of the employer obligation, which actuaries have calculated to be about $5 billion for the current fiscal year. The state budget Murphy inherited from Christie is covering only roughly half that amount.
“Bear with us, this won’t be overnight, but we will get there, and we are committed to doing that,” the governor said.
But he was once again short on specifics when Landskroner asked him to explain how his administration will be able to accomplish goals like increasing pension funding and boosting property-tax relief within the framework of a balanced budget. The task will be more difficult with Sweeney (D-Gloucester) now providing an obstacle to his millionaire’s tax proposal, though Landskroner didn’t raise that specific concern last night.
“We gotta get back to prioritizing, saying, ‘OK, what is the government in this state here for?’ In my opinion, it is here for those who have nowhere else to turn and to put wind in the sails again of the middle class, and those who were born with the dream, like I was in my family, to get into the middle class,” Murphy said.
Differs with Trump on Dreamers
As the topic turned to immigration policy, Murphy said his administration has been forced to respond to Trump’s hardline positions and is ready to embrace the so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as young children by their undocumented parents. Though they won protection under an executive order signed by former President Barack Obama, Trump has discarded that order and they now face a threat of deportation. Murphy’s administration has joined a multistate lawsuit seeking to block Trump’s action.
“We’re going to fight, first of all, we’re going to fight it legally,” he said. “Secondly, we’re going to make sure that Dreamers have all of the rights that they deserve in our state.”
“I’ll give you one (example), that’s not just access to in-state tuition at our universities, but access to in-state financial aid,” Murphy said.
The governor was also challenged by a man named Rocco from a senior community in Galloway who took issue with Murphy’s approach to so-called sanctuary cities that embrace immigrant communities, regardless of the immigration status of their residents. Murphy suggested the issue, which was also raised by Guadagno during the campaign last year, boils down to the basic notion of safety.
“I think the word ‘sanctuary’ has taken on a life of its own,” Murphy responded. “There’s another phrase that’s become more in use and I think, Rocco, this better describes it, and that is a ‘welcoming community.’”
“If you have a community where folks have a confidence that they can step out of the shadows, regardless of their status, and engage with neighbors, community activists, law enforcement, importantly, you have almost by definition a safer community,” Murphy said.