In Washington, Murphy works to find common ground

Gov. Phil Murphy took time to meet with New Jersey’s congressional delegation ahead of his keynote address. Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron is standing by in Washington.

Aron: Mary Alice, this event is designed to honor the congressional delegation, so it was fitting that Gov. Murphy went to Capitol Hill this afternoon to meet with them.

Murphy: One of the things we talked about in our campaign was we felt, and we feel strongly, that the deeper the relationship and the cooperation and communication between the Executive branch in Trenton and our outstanding federal delegation on both sides of the aisle, the better New Jersey will do as a result. Whether it’s in the hard science of dollars, federal money, or just the general ability to pursue the projects that we all care deeply about. I’m sure we have our differences, but there’s a remarkable common ground with this group before you. And we talked about things just now like infrastructure, the Gateway Project in particular, offshore drilling, the opioid crisis, DACA, gun safety, there’s a whole range of things. Again, on each one of these we may not see everything exactly the same way, but there’s an extraordinary amount of common ground.

Aron: Gov. Murphy has been highly critical of President Trump on many fronts, and yet he needs the president to fund the Gateway Tunnel. We asked if the one undercuts the other.

Murphy: I happened to have spent a fair amount of time in Washington this week, so I’ve got recent experience from the national Governor’s Association, not just comparing notes with other governors, but also talking to the president himself and dealing through several meetings with his team. I would say things break into three categories. One, where there’s a lot of common ground, and I think the opioid crisis would probably be in that category. We don’t agree on everything, but there’s more common ground than not. At the other end, I’ll speak for myself, I’m know I’m not necessarily speaking for everybody, but teachers carrying guns would not be an example of something where there’s common ground and we’re not going to shy away from saying that. And then in the middle category, where I hope we can find common ground, is infrastructure, and Gateway in particular. They’re not where we want them to be. We believe, having said that, that there’s opportunity to try to close that gap and I don’t think our relative positions on other matters are going to impact that one way or the other. I really believe that.

Aron: Joining us now are Brigid Harrison of Montclair State University and Ben Dworkin of Rowan University. We’re six weeks into the Murphy administration. What’s your impression so far?

Harrison: I think that the jury is still out. I think a lot of people, many New Jerseyans, are waiting to see how this governor will fulfill the many, many promises that he made to New Jerseyans. And frankly, Michael, increasingly I think that we’re sensing a bit of skepticism on the ground. How is he going to pay for all of the promises that he made?

Aron: What’s your impression so far?

Dworkin: My impression is that it’s still very early. I agree the jury is still out, but what we’re going to see is really going to come forward in the budget address that he has to give in a week or so. When he gives that, he has to make a lot of tough decisions. I think what we’ll see is that he’ll talk about re-configuring New Jersey’s priorities and he wants to really draw a distinction between his tenure and the Christie tenure.

Aron: He ran on hiking the income tax on incomes over $1 million. There is some question about whether he’s going to back off from that or not. What do you think?

Harrison: I think that he may have one opinion and the Senate president, Steve Sweeney, may have another. Right after the election, when it was announced that New Jerseyans would be losing some of their property tax deductions if they’re paying more than $10,000, Sen. Sweeney came out and said, you know what, we need to rethink this millionaire’s tax hike. It may propel many affluent New Jerseyans out of the state. So actually, Gov. Murphy may not be controlling the agenda on that issue at this point.

Aron: Do you think he’ll propose it in his budget address?

Dworkin: I absolutely think he’s going to propose it, and he needs to. The fact is New Jersey faces a $900 million hole right now as they head into the upcoming fiscal year. They’ve got to fill that hole and then find new money to do whatever new spending they want to do. In order to fill that hole you need the $600 million that comes from the income tax hike, which he has been promising and has told everybody for months that he wants to do. So I fully expect it will be a part of the budget address.

Aron: Is there a new tone in New Jersey politics?

Dworkin: Anytime you have somebody who’s not Chris Christie, it’s going to be a new tone.

Harrison: Absolutely. I think a much more civil, more statesman like.