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TRENTON – It looked and sounded like a campaign rally. The room was overflowing with supporters, cabinet members and even the First Lady.
And Gov. Phil Murphy was hitting all the rhetorical high notes.
“We’re not relenting,” he said, moments after getting a loud ovation.
And he repeated what has become one of his standard lines – “Whose side are you on?”
At one point Sunday he even boasted that he was showing the country how New Jersey was “moving forward.”
All this was not about the 2021 campaign; it was about the 2019-20 budget that Murphy just signed.
The governor acknowledged that the budget was without some of what he wanted, namely higher taxes on millionaires and opioid manufacturers.
It was also without revenue from legalizing pot, but Murphy didn’t even mention that.
Senate President Sweeney watched from the rear of the room.
“It’s Sunday afternoon, where would I rather be?” he quipped.
A short while later, Sweeney chatted with reporters and either by design, or just happenstance, threw a pretty nasty insult at the governor.
He compared him to Donald Trump, saying that Murphy “declares victory after he doesn’t get his way.”
Gee, does that cross the line? No Democrat wants to be compared to Trump. Yet, in truth, Murphy did not get his way. The budget he signed was basically the budget sent his way by the Legislature.
Sure, the governor made a big deal about holding about $235 million in reserve and using the line-item veto to chop out another $48.5 million. Still, this is about $283.5 million combined out of a $38.7
billion budget. That’s not much at all.
Unprompted, Sweeney answered the governor’s repeated query.
He said he was on the side of the 9 million residents of New Jersey.The point was clear. Sweeney was suggesting that Murphy may be on the side of the public unions and other left wing groups, but that he,
Sweeney, is looking after all the people.
Then the Senate president said something that sums up the entire battle between the governor and lawmakers.
New Jersey, Sweeney said, is a “moderate” state, not a “progressive” one. That can be debated. It also can be debated what precisely the terms mean.
But generally speaking, Murphy wants change and to move the state in what he would call a new and exciting direction.
To that end, the governor – sounding now like a man who had just lost an election – vowed that the fight goes on against the “stubborn forces” of stagnation.
Speaking of fights, the governor did remove $5 million from the budget that would have benefitted Cooper Medical Center in Camden. This was perceived to be a slap at George Norcross.
Sweeney said he was disappointed that the governor omitted funds designed to improve health care for the poor.
Murphy said – somewhat unconvincingly- that politics had nothing to do with the move. He was also asked if he thought the move would hurt his relationship with Norcross, the south Jersey political boss.
“We don’t spend a lot of time hanging out,” the governor said.