40th District Senator Pursues Muoio on Marijuana Legalization Question

Monday’s confirmation hearing for state treasurer-designee Elizabeth Maher Muoio quickly prompted a discussion on the governor’s now controversial plan to legalize recreational marijuana.

Noting that the administration projects $60 million in tax revenue from legalizing pot as of next January, state Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-40th, wondered what would happen if legalization didn’t materialize.

Additionally, Corrado asked why making marijuana legal is such a priority for Gov. Phil Murphy. She specifically wanted to know why marijuana legalization was so prominently mentioned in the budget committee’s transition report.

Muoio responded that the governor’s support for legal pot is well known.

“It should not be surprising to anyone who lives in the state or who reads the papers,” she said.

It’s true that Murphy campaigned on legalizing pot. But it’s also true that opposition to the idea is coming – surprisingly perhaps – from some Democrats as well as Republicans.

State Sen. Nia Gill, D-34th Dist., also asked what the administration would do if the Legislature does not make pot legal.

“Is there a plan B?” she asked.

“We’ll have to find savings elsewhere in the budget,” Muoio said.

Moving to other issues, state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-39th, grilled Muoio on more general budget priorities and her overall philosophy.

He asked her if lowering taxes helps the economy.

This question was trickier than it first appeared. Reducing taxes is longstanding Republican thinking and Cardinale clearly wanted to put Muoio on the spot. After all, it’s difficult to say “no” to a simple question about cutting taxes.

Muoio was up to the task. She did not answer the question literally, but she said that cutting taxes is not good if it leads to underfunding the school system or state transportation services.

Cardinale also brought up an issue left over from last year’s campaign and transition period – the failure of Murphy to endorse a now-expired arbitration cap limiting the increase in police and fire contracts to an average of 2 percent.

With the cap gone, Cardinale said he feared that arbitrators may again award cops and firefighters raises in excess of 5 percent, thereby burdening municipalities.

Muoio was less impressive with this question, saying that it’s hard to know what’s going to happen. She pointed to a study of the arbitration system now being conducted.

That study, however, has been ongoing for months.

An unsatisfied Cardinale said he knows what’s going to happen and it’s going to be bad news for taxpayers.

The hearing broke at 1 p.m, but Muoio’s confirmation is assured.

She will be only the state’s second woman treasurer, prompting Muoio to express disbelief that there weren’t more qualified women who could have taken the post in the state’s more than 200-year history.

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