Murphy takes questions on Brennan, budget while pushing pre-K funding

Governor defends front office’s handling of claim by former campaign official that she had been assaulted by another staffer

Gov. Phil Murphy responded to the Select Oversight Committee report that slammed how his front office handled Katie Brennan’s allegations of sexual assault. It concluded the system didn’t fail her, individual people did, and it called their actions “sloppy” and “disturbing.” Brennan called them “complicit” and asked Murphy to hold them to account, but the governor persistently defended his staff.

“I believe with all of my heart that the folks involved in this acted in the way they thought was the most responsible, adhering to their ethical and legal obligations, at every step of the way and I have no doubt about that. That’s a strongly held opinion. Should we ‘do something about it’? My God, we’ve done gobs about this,” Murphy said.

The governor said his office is still digesting the committee’s report, but that his administration has already adopted reforms driven by Brennan’s case. He spoke while visiting a North Brunswick preschool where he introduced Cary Booker, the new assistant commissioner in New Jersey’s new Division of Early Childhood Education.

“My goal is to make sure we don’t let kids slip through the cracks as they transition between early childhood education and kindergarten,” Booker said.

Booker, who is Sen. Cory Booker’s older brother, is currently a senior policy analyst in the Governor’s Office. He starts his new job July 1.

PreK plans tied to fate of millionaires tax

“These little kids probably don’t know that their lives are being changed. They don’t understand it yet, they’re 3 or 4 years old,” Murphy said. “The payoff is overwhelming. The life-changing reality of this — relatively, in the overall scheme of things — modest investment is changing lives almost unlike any other dollar we can invest.”

Murphy said a $1 investment in early childhood education yields $7 in societal benefits later on. He’s banking on a millionaires tax increase to help fund his proposed $806.5 million budget to expand free preschool classes in New Jersey. But he’s apparently losing support among some Assembly lawmakers, like Gary Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic) who said that he would support a budget without Murphy’s enhanced millionaires tax.

“I think I’ve been pretty clear. I said it again, I think, twice today. That I believe with all my heart — and it’s not begrudging people success — we need to find a consistent source of revenue that allows us to make the investments we need to make,” Murphy said. “I can’t justify making historic investments in the middle class and then making the middle class pay for it.”

Budget negotiations over a millionaires tax are growing more heated. The governor says without it he won’t be able to boost funding for programs like preschool.