Phil Murphy’s Reluctance to Play Politics is Preventing Him from Getting Things Done

Insider NJ's Fred Snowflack discusses Gov. Phil Murphy's reluctance to apply pressure to Democrats in the NJ Legislature in order to get the programs and legislation he wants supported and how it is hurting Murphy's administration.

Just 12 months ago – almost to the day – Phil Murphy journeyed to an elementary school in Trenton to talk about his battle with fellow Democrats over the 2018-19 budget. He talked about how his budget would aid children.

A similar battle is now ensuing over the 2019-20 budget and the governor is following the same pattern. But this time the focus is not children, but those battling addiction.

On Tuesday in Ewing, Murphy talked about how his budget would help the state fight addiction through a tax on opioid manufacturers that the governor said would raise about $21 million. The Legislature passed a $38.7 billion budget last week, but removed the tax.

So for the second year in a row, the last week of the fiscal year is punctuated by a budget fight between the Democratic governor and the Democratic Legislature.

Murphy reiterated his demand for a millionaire’s tax, or what he calls “tax fairness.”

Still, Tuesday’s focus was on opioid addiction. The governor, who appeared with the state commissioners of health and human services, said asking pharmaceutical companies to contribute to fighting addiction is hardly too much to ask. It was pointed out similar legislation in other states has been rejected by the courts, but the governor said New Jersey’s proposed program omits the parts the courts found objectionable.

As is his custom, Murphy began his event by pointing out – and applauding – people in the room, including local freeholders and mayors.

Watching this spectacle, you had to wonder, what is the governor really up to this week?

For instance, he gave no hint at how he might cajole lawmakers into giving him the opioid tax and the other measures he wants, other than to say, all options are on the table.

At one point, Murphy said he doesn’t make decisions with “politics” in mind. He thinks that’s a positive, but it really isn’t.

Politics, after all, is how you get things done. You wonder what Murphy did in the run-up to last Thursday’s budget votes in the Assembly and Senate. How many lawmakers did he talk to? How many did he threaten? Yes, threaten.

He can remove pet projects in specific districts to punish lawmakers. He can also refuse to appoint individuals to any number of boards that some troublesome senators may want. This would have an impact. Local lawmakers enjoy bringing home “the bacon” and having the power to make sure a political buddy gets a seat on some state board.

A few months ago, Chris Christie ridiculed Murphy when speaking to a group of sportsmen in Sussex County. The former governor said that if he had an all-Republican Legislature for just one week, he’d turn the state upside down. He was probably right, knowing how strongly Christie controlled GOP lawmakers.

Murphy, of course, has had a Democratic Legislature for a bit more than a week. He’s had one since he arrived in Trenton and likely will continue to have one as long as he is there.

That doesn’t say much for his ability to get things done.

Which brings us back to Tuesday’s press event.  As I watched a smiling Murphy point to people in the crowd and introduce them, I had to wonder if he’d be better off spending his time reading the proverbial “riot act’ to Democratic lawmakers reluctant to support him.

The governor likes to ask, “Whose side are you on?”

His point is that he is on the side of average folk and that his opponents are not. Fair point.

But hasn’t the time come for the governor to put some political fear into the fellow Democrats who are not on his side?

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