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A man from Bergen County asked why there are so many towns in New Jersey and why they all seem to have their own police chief.
Then there was “Richard” from South Orange who wondered about the money raised by legalizing pot.
The telephone is really no match for real, live interaction with people, but on Wednesday night, it had to do. Here was Gov. Phil Murphy the day after his budget address talking to residents in a “telephone town hall.”
The governor came on the line a few minutes after 6 p.m. and in preliminary remarks said he hopes to do a genuine town hall meeting soon. He then spent about 10 minutes reviewing what he said on Tuesday.
The first question didn’t come until 6:15 p.m. and it came from “Sharon,” a teacher from Montgomery, who was concerned about reductions in health costs. She said it seemed as if teachers always get the short end of the stick.
The governor stressed that his budget savings would not reduce health care and that the pending changes were endorsed by public unions.
As is the norm with these things, this was not a forum for impassioned debate. The governor received no critical questions and three in-house polls seemed tailored to gauge support for the governor’s budget.
For example, one poll question was, which part of the budget excites you the most? Seriously.
Still, it would be cynical to dismiss the poll results out of hand.
One of the polls revealed much support for one of the governor’s leading proposals, expanding the millionaires’ tax. That’s not surprising. People generally support a tax they won’t have to pay and
most people do not make a million dollars a year.
Whether this public sentiment, which has surfaced before, has any effect on Democratic leaders in the Legislature, who are skeptical about Murphy’s plan, remains to be seen.
Another poll result showed that property taxes are a big issue in New Jersey. Gee, really?
Which brings us back to the fellow from Bergen County, which has 70 municipalities. Yes, the county covers a large area, but still – 70 towns?
Murphy mentioned that he has appointed two “czars,” a Republican and a Democrat, to recommend ways to share services and perhaps merge towns.
“Where there are willing partners, we think there are enormous opportunities,” the governor said.
The crux of the matter is exactly that – finding willing partners, which is a difficult chore in a state that seems to like home rule.
The governor admitted as much when he talked about “community pride.”
Ultimately, someone – and it may be the public itself – will have to decide what’s more important, community pride or reducing property taxes.
As for the marijuana question, the governor said he put $60 million in proposed pot revenue into the budget that begins July 1. As of now, of course, pot is not yet legal.
And Murphy’s remarks to the caller suggested legalizing marijuana is not a done deal.
He admitted that it’s the type of thing that is difficult for people (presumably the Legislature) to come around to.
You have got to wonder at this point – more than a year after Murphy took office – if the best way forward is to simply put the question of legalizing marijuana on the ballot. If polls are right, it will pass.