Gyms have been an ongoing headache for Phil Murphy since the pandemic began easing a few months ago.
Jack Ciattarelli, a Republican running for governor next year, may be a future headache for Murphy.
The governor tried to take care of both of them today; he said gyms can reopen on a limited basis next Tuesday and he said a suggestion by Ciattarelli about skipping pension payments was “incredibly dumb.”
Talk about a meshing of state business and politics.
Let’s start with the gyms.
As the infamous COVID-19 “curve” began flattening, the state began a gradual, but steady, reopening. First came state parks and eventually, in no particular order, came retail shops, outdoor dining, barber shops, libraries and higher limits on outdoor gatherings.
But gyms remain closed – until today’s announcement.
The governor likes to say he makes pandemic decisions in line with medical data, not politics. Nonetheless, the governor was getting some pressure regarding gyms and health clubs.
A number of gym owners spoke a few weeks ago via Zoom to a Legislative committee and got a very sympathetic hearing. They stressed the benefits of staying fit – especially in a pandemic- and the safeguards they were prepared to implement.
And then there is the group Murphy calls “knuckleheads.”
A number of gyms, most notably one in Bellmawr, simply opened in defiance of state regulations, setting up a still-continuing legal battle with the state. The governor today dismissed these renegade owners as publicity seekers and praised the majority of gyms for staying closed. He said they are an asset to their industry and to the state.
Looking ahead to Tuesday’s reopening, the governor said, “I am relieved we’ve been able to get there” and he said gym owners are probably “over the moon” with glee.
Hyperbole aside, a trip to the gym next week is going to be a bit different than it used to be.
Capacity will be limited to 25 percent. Masks must be worn. All equipment will need to be sanitized. If you work up a good sweat, you better bring your own towel as showers will remain closed.
With gyms reopening, can indoor dining be far behind?
Probably not. The governor was asked about a “rumor” that he planned to allow indoor dining by Sept. 14 or 15.
Not true, Murphy said, But he optimistically added, “I hope it’s before that.”
Can true normalcy be far behind?
As for Ciattarelli, the 2021 election is still more than a year away, but the intriguing statements seem to have begun already.
In a recent interview, Ciattarelli said he would cut the revised budget Murphy just proposed by eliminating a planned $4.9 billion payment into the state pension system.
For one thing, the state pension is not in good shape by any financial measure.
Additionally, the proposed payment is on the high side when compared to what we’ve seen in the past.
The governor was asked if he was willing to compromise on the $4.9 billion figure, to which he said no.
And then commenting further on Ciattarelli, Murphy said his suggestion makes no sense on any level.
Good to see next year’s campaign already underway.