On Friday morning, Governor Phil Murphy called in with Steve Adubato on 970 AM “The Answer” to talk shop. In a short, rapid-fire-but to-the-point session, Adubato asked some topical questions constituents have been looking for some guidance on.
The program opened up discussing the governor and state first lady’s running. “We do one 5k a month and run several times a week and love it,” Murphy said. From there, it was business.
Adubato asked if marijuana was likely to be legalized in six months to a year, and the governor said he believed so. “Yes, at worst I think it’ll be on a referendum question in November of next year but I hope like heck we can get something done in the so-called lame duck session.” The governor said “the status quo… is completely unacceptable” stating that 600 people would be arrested this week, mostly people of color. “I’m optimistic,” he said on legalization, which failed to gather sufficient support in the legislature, “but hope I sure as heck hope it is sooner than later.”
On the federal level, Murphy was asked if he agrees with the essence of the Green New Deal, an environmental package described by conservatives as radical and which subsequently did not gain significant traction in either of the two major parties. Murphy said he was not scrutinizing the details of the would-be federal program but that he endorsed the “general direction” with the caveat “we have to do it responsibly”. Murphy then touted state level goals and achievements. “We have a 100% clean energy goal for 2050, we’re doing an enormous amount of off-shore wind, solar, community solar, we signed up with the Paris Accord, we rejoined the regional green house gas initiatives, we’ve banned offshore oil and gas drilling, I think all of those are consistent with a smart, green economy and I hope that people will look at that and say New Jersey is leading the way.”
On tax policy, Adubato asked the governor if he wanted to revisit a statement he delivered at Rowan University, when he said “if you’re a one issue voter and tax is your issue, either a family or business, and if that’s the only basis upon which you’re going to make a decision, we in New Jersey are probably not your state” the governor stuck to his guns.
“It’s not that complicated and the folks who are making hay are the ones who were sitting on their hands when the state was being wrecked in the last administration,” the governor replied with a chuckle. “Here’s the fact: we’re not Mississippi, we’re not Alabama, people come to New Jersey for what we have, which is the #1 rated public education system in the US, the only state in the history of the US to provide universal access to arts education, a location second to none, the highest concentration of scientists and the engineers in the entire world.” Murphy then addressed taxation, the chief complaint of New Jersey residents. “Did I inherit a property tax mess along with other messes? You betcha. Last year was the lowest increase on average in the state in the history of New Jersey: it was still an increase, I want that to go down. But I also want folks to get a rich basket of stuff back: education, quality of life, health care, we have the #1 rated hospital system in America, Save the Children ranks NJ the number 1 state in the US to raise a kid.”
In short, then, Murphy believes that New Jersey residency is a good value for the price, and one gets what one pays for. “I want people to not pay through their eyeballs for all that, I want people to pay a fair price for that. But if you don’t care about a long list of things other states don’t care about, it’s cheaper there.”
Adubato segued next into the millionaire’s tax, a contentious piece of legislation the governor has been trying to get through the legislature. When asked if the millionaire’s tax would lead to high earners leaving the state, Murphy was not alarmed. “I not only have nothing against millionaires,” he said, “I want more of them. All I’m asking for is that they pay a little bit more to allow us to make the historic reinvestment in the middle class. I’m not here to make us vs. them class warfare, none of that, I’m asking for help—if the middle class is stronger, everyone is stronger, including the wealthiest among us. There’s literally zero evidence in any research ever done, that income tax on high earners dictates where folks live.”
When pressed again if he was not concerned about millionaires leaving the state, the governor refocused on those whom he believes are emigrating. “Here’s why folks leave: they left because of the estate tax which has been phased out. Folks who are retired and own a home, with kids who have already been educated and are looking at their property tax bill and paying 53% of that for public education—that’s where our focus has to be on keeping folks in New Jersey and 99.9% of them are not millionaires. This is homestead rebate, senior freeze, veterans programs, lots of property tax relief. I’ve said this from the get-go: if we can get a millionaires tax done in New Jersey, I’ll plow a huge amount of those proceeds directly into middle class property tax relief.”
Adubato continued with the discussion of taxation and mentioned the State and Local Tax deductions, saying “Trump believes we should limit SALT–everything over $10k paid in tax, you can’t write off anymore.” He asked, “What’s that done and what are the chances of turning it around?”
“I vehemently oppose and disagree with this policy,” Murphy declared. “It was an awful part of the December 2017 tax law that was passed.” The governor said that it primarily hurt blue states, and described it as a “thinly veiled political move”. Despite the gutting of SALT, the governor said the real estate market in New Jersey remained strong. To overturn the dissolution of SALT deductions, Murphy said that a new president was needed along with a Congress that was “on our side” again describing it as “awful public policy”.
On the overall tone of civil discourse, Murphy looked to President Trump as the source of so much degradation in the timbre of political discussion. “Here’s the problem I have. Our president has given a permission slip through his words and to some extent his actions.” Murphy further charged that Trump “has created an environment in which bad behavior is unfortunately on the rise,” citing anti-Semitism, the rise of right-wing activity, and even “vanilla day-in-and-day-out us vs. them stuff” with respect to religion, color of skin, and gender.
The interview closed out with a salutation to radio host Joe Piscopo, whom Governor Murphy said is “a good guy”, adding that “the film and TV business in New Jersey is booming. And that’s because of the tax credit, our talent, location, and it’s never been stronger. That’s something we can look forward to in the years to come.”
Steve Adubato spoke with Insider NJ afterwards, offering his thoughts on the discussion and the governor himself. “I appreciate the Governor taking the time to talk with me on the radio on AM 970 and I look forward to him joining us on public broadcasting for an in-depth half hour interview on the issues. As always, the governor was pleasant, upbeat, did not shy away from his statement about taxes—he did not say he was misquoted, or taken out of context. He believes what he believes. He is not spouting any position that he thinks he should take in order to be popular, or to pander.”
Adubato mentioned he had interviewed Senate President Steve Sweeney several times as well and mentioned that he “has a very different view on tax policy” than Governor Murphy. “Both of them come at this with genuinely different ideological and political views on taxes. That’s what makes covering New Jersey government and politics so fascinating. Both are Democrats but different kinds of Democrats. Governor Murphy made it clear what kind of Democrat he is. He truly believes that ‘tax fairness’ means that those who have more should pay more. He believes that raising taxes on millionaires will not cause us to lose them to other states to avoid those taxes. Steve Sweeney totally disagrees.”
With regards to the emigration of the wealthiest, Adubato said that, as an analyst, he was “concerned” that the top earners might be leaving to other states. “Am I sure that beyond the anecdotal evidence that I’ve seen that is a massive trend? No. I’m worried about it and I think the governor is worried about it, too, he just doesn’t believe it. Steve Sweeney is convinced of it. Their belief about who leaves and who stays based on tax policy is at the core of their tax philosophy.”
Regarding marijuana, where the governor said he was optimistic, Adubato said, in his opinion, that “It is a very long shot to ever get through the legislature.” Public opinion on marijuana was also harder to determine at the given moment because during an election year, outside forces would be moving huge sums of money to sway the views of voters, whereas in general the atmosphere is quiet now. “To say where public opinion is today and where it would be after that massive amount of advertising is short-sighted. I don’t know where public opinion will be after a campaign where we are bombarded with 30 second spots for and against marijuana.”
Governor Murphy, according to Adubato, “is not a natural ‘New Jersey politician’ and that’s because he’s not a natural New Jersey politician—the reality is, he’s genuine, he doesn’t try to hide who he is. I believe he roots for the Red Sox and doesn’t hide it,” a bold stand indeed within the boundaries of the Garden State, “so to me a big part of being successful in politics is being genuine, even if people don’t necessarily agree with your politics. He is always cordial, respectful, genuine, in my view he has to learn to become even more effective as the chief executive of this state with a very powerful state legislature led by two very powerful leaders, in particular Steve Sweeney.”
It was then that Adubato offered his warnings, saying that “until the two of them, regardless of their differences, personalities, regardless of how they see the world, if they do not begin to find a way to compromise more, to collaborate more, the state is going to, in my view, miss opportunities, too many issues that are not dealt with as they should be. This isn’t about who is right or wrong, this is about what the state needs. The state needs Phil Murphy and Steve Sweeney, even if they’re never going to love each other or be best friends, to be way more collaborative. Trenton is not functioning as well as it could.”
Adubato referenced the sixteenth president, and said that Abraham Lincoln was a great leader because he brought some of his rivals and enemies into his cabinet and took them closer into the circles of power. While Adubato specifically said that Murphy and Sweeney were not necessarily ‘enemies’, it was necessary to “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. That kind of philosophy formed the basis of much of Lincoln’s success, if the governor was looking for a historical example to emulate. “There is a leadership trait in being able to work with people who don’t particularly get along with or agree with. I look forward to delving into this subject with Governor Murphy on our series ‘State of Affairs’ on Public Broadcasting.”
Listen to the interview below: