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Democratic State Committee Executive Director Liz Gilbert yesterday evening organized a telephone town hall with Governor Phil Murphy to address questions from the public as well as take polls on select issues concerning the state. Murphy called in from Monmouth County and touted two particular themes throughout the hour-long conversation: the middle class and the millionaire’s tax. He asked during the beginning and closed with a question, “Who’s side are you on?”
Regarding the state budget, Murphy said the legislature had dispatched their constitutional duties and the matter was now in his hands. While he was glad of funding in their budget for a number of key programs, he lamented cuts to community college opportunity grants. He spoke about tax fairness, and the need to approve a millionaire’s tax.
“We are asking those folks that did really well to pay a bit more to help fund the investment we are making in the middle class. I can’t justify making the investment in the middle class and ask the middle class to take it on the chin,” Murphy said.
The governor was critical of the legislature for not embracing a corporate responsibility fee, which would levy a $150 fee on companies with more than 50 employees and did not offer health benefits. He also took issue with the lack of a fee levied on opioid manufacturers to help pay for rehabilitation programs and that the price of gun licensing was left the same.
During the course of the town hall, it was asked which budgetary items cut were “most troubling” – 1] funding community college was the number two concern, 2] eliminating deposit into state rainy day fund, 3] increasing gun permits fees, or 4] canceling the program to make big corps pay fee for health coverage – the number one selection of the four.
“If you have fifty plus employees with no insurance, we charge them $150 a head to help defray Medicaid costs, I think that’s more than fair,” Murphy said. “Who’s side are you on? Are you on the side of the middle class? Are you in poverty struggling to break free? Are you on the side of those folks? I am. I am on the side of the taxpayers. The question of whose side are you on is the pregnant question before the state of New Jersey right now.”
The governor took calls from citizens who asked about economic development, New Jersey Transit, and what might be done about a potential recession in the future. Murphy again revisited the millionaire’s tax, saying that its passage along with fees from opioid manufacturers would provide a steady revenue stream in the fact of uncertainty. He took issue with the previous administration, saying that not enacting a millionaire’s tax had deprived the state of potentially $3-$4 billion.
On New Jersey Transit, Murphy said, “In so many respects we live and die by public education and transportation.” He called last year’s investment “enormous” but “we’re not out of the woods, this is a long slog.” He also called upon the federal government to act, saying New Jersey desperately needs the Trump administration to fund their share of Gateway Tunnel Project. “We’re making a lot of progress. We’re gonna fix NJ Transit if it kills me.”
Gilbert conducted another poll. She asked which investment is most important. Overwhelmingly of the options provided, property tax relief was far ahead of the rest.
The governor took a question on the status of marijuana legalization. “We tried to do it legislatively, we came close, it frustrates the heck out of me. Senate leadership has said they think the best way forward is to go the rout of a referendum next year. I view that as a last resort, better than nothing. There’s some sense the status quo is acceptable, it is completely unacceptable.” Murphy said he would continue fighting for the cause of social justice, but touted advancements in medical marijuana as a success. On the matter of property tax relief, Murphy circled back to the millionaire’s tax. “Our budget has a lot of property tax relief in it. Last year was the lowest increase in property tax but still an increase. A lot of work to do. If we pass the millionaire’s tax I will commit $215M additional property tax relief which is 2% relief, down – direct into the middle class.” Millionaires would pay for it, the middle class would benefit from it. Murphy blamed the last administration for under-funding schools, saying that communities raise taxes to fund them.
The telephone town hall started at 6 p.m. There were approximately 6,400 callers listening by 6:39. The last poll taken asked how the state should fund initiatives to fund the middle class, asking whether to raise sales tax, scale back state pension benefits, or “ask millionaires to pay their fair share” which was the overwhelming choice.
Murphy took a question about minority-owned businesses and the praised the state’s first ever Chief Diversity Officer, who is leading a disparity study on small businesses owned by minorities, women, and veterans. On gun control, he expressed his support of strong gun control legislation and wants to pass laws on ammunition sales where such sales would require a photo ID and be recorded with the state police. On women’s reproductive rights, Murphy blasted laws passed in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio and stated that New Jersey would make an affirmative statement in support of women’s right to choose and health in general. He also blasted Christie for cutting funding to Planned Parenthood.
The last question taken was on education funding, and Murphy said, “We will never go the way of the Oklahomans of the world” and would never view solving budget challenges on the backs of educators benefits. “If we believe we are all in this together in the middle class, this notion that we see them as a different group is insane,” he said, further remarking that education was directly correlated to the strength of the economy and society.