The 35-0 vote in favor of Gov. Phil Murphy’s nomination of former state lawmaker Elizabeth Maher Muoio topped off a busy week for the new treasurer, who’s also been making the rounds before lawmakers to explain Murphy’s $37.4 billion budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year.
Muoio, who had been cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee late last month, said in a statement issued after yesterday’s vote that she’s honored to have won the approval of both Murphy and lawmakers to hold the state’s top fiscal office.
“I look forward to continuing the stewardship of our state’s finances in an honest and forthright manner,” she said.
With more than 3,000 employees, Treasury is one of the state’s most important departments, overseeing an annual state budget of nearly $35 billion, and the day-to-day operation of the $77.85 billion public-employee pension system. Treasury also administers state property-tax relief programs and handles all major borrowing issues, among other responsibilities.
Lots on the to-do list
Murphy, a Democrat, announced his selection of Muoio for state treasurer in mid-December, and she’d been serving in an acting capacity since he was sworn into office in mid-January. Her first few weeks in the position have been a whirlwind of activity, including her decision to ease a last-minute change that former Gov. Chris Christie had made to the way the state projects long-term investment returns gained by the pension system. Citing a need for a more realistic assumed rate of return for pension-system investments, Christie lowered the rate from 7.65 percent to 7 percent in one step. But Muoio announced the state will gradually get to the lower rate over several years, starting with a drop to 7.5 percent.
Muoio has also been heavily involved in the rollout of Murphy’s fiscal year 2019 budget, which calls for several tax increases and an overall $2.7 billion increase in spending compared to the budget that Christie enacted in July. Earlier this week she attended lengthy hearings convened by the respective budget committees in both the Assembly and Senate to go over the finer detail of Murphy’s spending plan.
An attorney and resident of Pennington, Muoio joined the state Assembly in 2015, after Democrats in Mercer County picked her to fill a seat vacated by Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman on her election to Congress in November 2014. Muoio had previously served as a councilwoman in Pennington, and a county freeholder in Mercer County, before taking a position as the county’s director of economic development and sustainability.
Her approval by the Senate yesterday marks just the second time ever that the upper house — which is empowered under the New Jersey Constitution to review and have final say on gubernatorial nominees — has approved a woman to serve in the position of state treasurer. The last woman to win Senate confirmation as treasurer was Feather O’Connor Houston, who served during the administration of former Republican Gov. Tom Kean.
Muoio is the first woman to be nominated under a Democratic administration to win Senate confirmation as treasurer. “I’m honored that the Governor has placed his faith in me and that the legislative branch has concurred,” she said.