INSIDERNJ ANALYSIS: Murphy’s Inaugural Speech

Insider NJ's Max Pizarro discusses how the ongoing political drama between Gov. Phil Murphy and South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross III is like an ongoing, simultaneous screening of the movies Goodfellas and On the Waterfront.

Inaugural addresses can set the stage for “great things” to come. They also are used to espouse the philosophy of the incoming administration.

New Governor Phil Murphy tried to do precisely that today, casting himself as someone who will have “the backs” of all nine million New Jerseyans and who will seek to do “big things.” 

Quickly resorting to cliches, Murphy said he wanted to “write a new chapter” in state government that concentrates on “leadership” and “big ideas.”

He added, “We do not succeed, unless we all succeed together.”

Not too original rhetoric aside, you can break down the substance of Murphy’s remarks into three broad categories:

In no particular order, they are quickly sign Democratic-inspired legislation that now former Governor Chris Christie rejected, work for a “stronger and fairer New Jersey,” and resist the Trump administration.

Given the fact the Trenton War Memorial was filled mostly with Democrats, who now control all of state government, this was a very popular message, But any objective person must be mindful of the details. 

Murphy said his priorities will be fully explored in next month’s budget address, but on some issues, he doesn’t want to wait. He urged Democratic lawmakers to quickly send him a bill to restore state funding for Planned Parenthood and women’s health initiatives, legislation that Christie consistently vetoed. But Murphy wasn’t done there. 

He said he also wants to quickly signs bills to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and guarantee equal pay for women for equal work. This would not be a heavy lift. for lawmakers.

 As for President Trump,  Murphy seemed ready for a fight, saying the state would resist “an all-out assault on New Jersey” from Washington. The verbiage did seem a bit odd. Those who normally complain about the powers of Washington tend to be conservative Republicans enamored of states’ rights, not liberal Democrats. But as can often happen in politics, when things change in Washington, sentiments change in statehouses.

Murphy vowed to oppose any oil drilling off the Jersey coast and to fight administration efforts to deport so-called “Dreamers,” and cut health care for children. Plans to extend a federal health insurance program for children and to maintain protection for Dreamers – individuals brought to this country illegally as children – are caught in Washington’s political gridlock. 

Like signing liberal-leaning legislation, this is not going to be hard, The new governor certainly has a platform to blast Trump all he wants.

The third prong of the address was the most important. And it’s also going to be the most challenging. 

The new governor called it making New Jersey “stronger and fairer.” 

This is the agenda that is going to make or break his administration. 

Topping Murphy’s list was one line about funding public schools and bringing about property tax relief. 

That was it. One line about the biggest issue in the state.  

One does not expect great details in an inaugural address. but you have to hope Murphy has at least some idea of what he wants to do. 

More state money for local schools could theoretically reduce property taxes, but from where is that money going to come. Additionally, there is no guarantee a local district receiving more state aid is going to use it to reduce taxes. It could always be used to expand programs or to hire more staff.

Next on Murphy’s wish list was free community college education. That’s a very worthy goal, but how can it be achieved?

The governor’s hope is to raise more money through increased taxes on the wealthy and legalizing marijuana. But even if the governor gets lawmakers – not all of whom are as liberal as he is – to agree, you have to wonder if the numbers add up. 

Murphy was raised in Massachusetts and was a small child when John F. Kennedy occupied the White House. So Kennedy references coming from the governor are no surprise. He quoted both Sen. Robert Kennedy and JFK in today’s address.

In paraphrasing President Kennedy, Murphy said he has an ambitious wish list, not because it is “easy,” but because it is “hard.” Kennedy made the reference about doing hard things when talking about putting a man on the moon. 

Murphy surely might have been reaching a bit for a JFK reference.

Then again, it took the nation less than 10 years to actually put a man on the moon.

School funding and property tax reform has bedeviled state lawmakers for decades. So at the very least, few would quibble with Murphy’s desire to accomplish things that are “hard.”

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