Phil Murphy cracked a smile upon arriving at his late afternoon press conference, but make no mistake, this was not a happy time.
The governor was clearly frustrated, not by Republicans, not by any decree from the Trump Administration, not by outside events, but by his own fellow Democrats.
“It does cause you to scratch your head,” he said of the failure of Democrats in the Legislature to support his budget.
Of course, that can be the problem – a belief by Murphy, a political neophyte, that this governing-stuff was going to be a snap.
“We telegraphed what we about,” Murphy said, pointing out that he said during his campaign that he would raise taxes on millionaires.
“And we won by two touchdowns,” he noted.
So in his mind, there’s no reason for lawmakers – fellow Democrats no less – to balk at what he wants to do.
But that is what’s happening.
It’s hard to say if the problem has to do with personalities, policy or a combination of both.
One thing that seems clear is that Senate President Sweeney, Murphy’s main antagonist, is unhappy he didn’t run for governor himself. That may explain some of his muscle flexing.
On the policy end, you get the impression Murphy is a genuine idealist and that’s a good thing.
He readily admits that New Jersey is a high cost state, noting that, “You pay a premium to live in New Jersey.”
But he quickly added that the payoff is excellence in education, health care and the like.
This notion – that taxes must be high to produce a good life style – is not the type of thing politicians normally say, or even believe.
Does Sweeney believe it? It may be hard to tell.
Murphy said negotiations among himself and lawmakers are staying professional. He joked that there have been no food fights.
That’s good, but the talks aren’t going anywhere. The governor dismissed reports of a compromise plan to phase in Murphy’s proposed sales tax hike over two years and to raise the threshold for the millionaire’s tax to $5 million.
The lack of progress had Murphy associating Democrats in the Legislature with Chris Christie and Donald Trump.
He mentioned Christie three times, suggesting that lawmakers are trying to carry on Christie’s legacy.
Then he brought up the president.
“This is not Donald Trump’s Washington, we don’t work with alt-facts.”
The point here is the governor’s contention that the numbers in Sweeney’s budget don’t add up.
Fair point. But you have to wonder how wise it is for Murphy to compare fellow Dems to Christie and Trump.
The press conference ended the way it began. There was no report of any progress.
The governor dismissed a question about whether the budget wrangling is making Democrats look bad.
But that point can’t be ignored. People expect politicians from the same party to work together – eventually.
If there was a ray of sunshine here – other than Thursday being the longest day of the year – it was that the actual budget deadline is not until June 30.
“It’s not over yet,” Murphy said.
He meant the budget process, although some may have thought he was talking about the fight with Sweeney.