Murphy holds first town hall in Paramus

Gov. Phil Murphy took his sales pitch on the road for his first town hall meeting as governor at the Paramus High School gym where, for a little over an hour, a couple hundred residents heard him promote his $37.4 billion budget. Murphy focused more on the gimmies than the gotchas, the spending side of the equation, not the $1.6 billion in new taxes he’s proposed to help pay for it.

“We’re starting finally on the path over the next several years to fully fund the school funding formula,” Murphy said to applause.

Applause also greeted plans to triple funding for NJ Transit. Murphy took several questions. On the PARCC test, he’s against it. On paying into New Jersey’s public pension system, he’s for it.

“We believe with all of our hearts that the state needs to own up to its side of the obligation, so we announced yesterday an all-time high investment in public pensions of $3.2 billion,” said Murphy.

“It’s a friendly crowd, and they asked friendly questions and they got friendly answers. The answers sound nice and we’re all in favor of progress. There wasn’t a whole lot of substance to a lot of the answers, but OK,” said Harry Seneca of Fair Lawn.

“I think his biggest difficulty is going to be getting legislation passed, getting it through the state legislators. That’s what’s going to be hard,” said Lauren Cocoran of Paramus. “Even the Democrats aren’t always on his side or agree with what he stands for and what he believes in, so I still think it’s going to be hard.”

“I wouldn’t overplay this as some kind of armed warfare between the Legislature and the Governor’s Office,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.

Weinberg acknowledged Murphy’s proposed millionaire’s tax will be a tough sell with Democrats, particularly Senate President Steve Sweeney, who’s proposed his own alternative revenue raiser, a corporate tax surcharge. Who’ll blink first?

“I agree that we’re not going to get to common ground if we’re not sitting across a table. They can both blink at the same time as far as I’m concerned. We’ll figure out a way for both of them to ‘save face,’ whatever is necessary,” said Weinberg.

Weinberg said hard feelings still linger from the campaign. Moreover, lawmakers want to trim spending, find pension savings, hold the line on big sick day payouts and rework school funding formulas. She said budget hearings will help forge a compromise, and though negotiations just might overrun deadlines, they won’t devolve into last year’s budget drama.

“Might it go a little over June 30? I suppose it could. But the fact is we’re not going to see this governor sitting on a beach when all the beaches have been closed. And hopefully we’re not going to see anything that even resembles those issues of the past,” said Weinberg.

Budget hearings start in about a week. The deadline is June 30. That gives Democrats about three months to come up with a compromise.