RUTHERFORD – The place has a Norman Rockwell feel to it, a complement to Governor Phil Murphy’s smiling, sunny, what-me-in-a-budget-rundown? disposition this morning, as if its spires, platforms and colorful downtown transit hub-business-residential interlocking local ivy-covered friendly shape spacing perfectly propped his overall vision.
“I have a special relationship with this train station,” said the Governor, by turns sprinkling in references to his brilliant pink tie, sun-sensitive Irish skin and surrounded by allies. “I came on the Monday before Election Day for several cycles. It’s great to be back here.”
He stepped out of Trenton, he noted to make his case here this morning amid the clanging of transit action and the occasional ears-blistering passing train that caused everyone to fall silent.
Against the backdrop of budget negotiations, the press conference played out as a repeat of Murphy’s transportation oriented presser from a week ago, with Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, Amalgamated Transit Union boss Ray Greaves and Kevin Corbett of NJ Transit all busting oratorical moves in their support for the Democratic Legislature-assailed Murphy.
Paterson Mayor-elect Andre Sayegh stood in for Trenton Mayor-elect Reed Gusciora.
Greaves went off.
Mostly, though, it was Murphy.
“There’s no clearer case and example of Christie-style budgeting – yo-yo budgeting,” the Governor said of the $36.5 billion document the Legislature sent to his desk, hearkening to the disrespect paid to NJ Transit during the years of Governor Chris Christie, his Republican predecessor who cut transit aid by 90%. The Legislature’s budget provides funding for NJ Transit, and that’s a good thing, the Governor said.
“But there’s a problem,” he said, and it wasn’t just a problem for the ex-Governor, whose detail will disappear on orders from the Murphy Administration, according to NJ.com. “It’s nearly one billion short of where we need to be to have a responsible budget. I don’t want to make a hollow promise to commuters. I can’t do it with budget that puts these investments at risk. The moment it’s signed, that’s what would happen. The budget they sent me is not balanced or sustainable I would have to cut $850 million to get us to that point.”
Significantly, state Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36) didn’t show up.
“I spoke to Paul this morning,” Murphy said. “I’ll let him speak for himself.”
“Nothing should be taken from that,” said Sarlo, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, who authored the corporate business tax-assisted budget alternative to Murphy’s millionaire’s tax-anchored version. “I want to be an honest broker and I don’t want to negotiate in public.”
Murphy reached out to Sarlo to attend the press conference but the senator demurred.
The men, however, do have scheduled budgeting talks later this afternoon. Murphy mentioned it at the podium, again reiterating that “everything is on the table,” in response to a Michael Aron question about whether he intends to outright veto the legislature’s budget or line item veto some things and call it a wrap by the end of the week. Most sources at this point say Murphy and the leg leaders will likely devise some sort of compromise tax fix by curtailing the significant corporate tax hike Sweeney wants while simultaneously raising the income level on the millionaire’s tax.
“This is about three guys: one who wants to be president, one who wants to be governor, and one who wants to be speaker,” groaned an observer in reference to Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) respectively.
“Only Coughlin has the job he craves,” the source deadpanned.
But even if Sarlo wasn’t there with Murphy this morning as Sweeney toured a Gloucester-based outfit called Abilities Solutions, apparently to highlight where his budget priorities lie as a counterweight to Murphy’s chest thumping at the Rutherford Train Depot – the senator’s two running mates put in appearances as part of the Murphy ensemble: Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) and Assemblyman Clinton Calabrese (D-36).
Both men voted for the legislative leadership’s budget, and when InsiderNJ asked Calabrese if his presence at Murphy’s press conference signified a change of heart he said not all. He just backs the Governor on his NJ Transit priorities. But he still backs the Sweeney-Coughlin budget.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to help get NJ Transit funded,” said the Assemblyman from Cliffside Park.
“On this issue we all stand together,” said Schaer.
No Bergen freeholders showed.
Neither did Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco.
Meetings, apparently, and other commitments.
Passaic County Freeholder John Bartlett appeared regionally engaged.
Larry Hamm of the People’s Organization for Progress offered his assessment here:
But as talks seemed to be progressing positively, attendance didn’t ultimately seem to matter.
Whatever Murphy’s nice guy image amid complementary props, the story about him shutting down the former Governor’s detail prior to the usual six-month period sank in with a new recognition by at least one person at the event.
“This is not a nice guy,” the source said. “Not really. You don’t get to head Goldman Sachs Asia Division by being just a guy with a nice smile.”
Christie once chucked the keys of former Governor Dick Codey to make a power point.
Now Murphy seemed similarly willing to go there.
What that would mean in the context of ongoing budgeting negotiations with the end of month deadline creeping was anyone’s guess, but the Governor offered only this on the subject, “That’s not something we talk about. I think you need to direct that to the State Police.”
Here was Sweeney in the meantime in Westville:
- Andre Sayegh
- Bergen County
- Chris Christie
- Clinton Calabrese
- Craig Coughlin
- Diane Gutierrez-Scacetti
- Dick Codey
- Gary Schaer
- John Barrlett
- Kevin Corbett
- Larry Hamm
- NJ Transit
- Paul Sarlo
- People's Organization for Progress
- Phil Murphy
- Ray Greaves
- Steve Sweeney
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