ATLANTIC CITY – Phil Murphy likes to say he is a “proud progressive” and a “cold blooded capitalist.”
That may strike some as a contradiction, but the governor says it a lot – and he did again Tuesday afternoon when he spoke at the annual summit of the state’s Chamber of Commerce at Harrah’s casino.
This is, of course, a business group and the governor got cheers before he even arrived. That’s when it was mentioned that he supports allowing the state’s corporate business tax surcharge to expire.
The crowd loved it.
When he got to the podium, Murphy did not disappoint.
He said letting the surcharge expire was all about doing what the state said it would do when the surcharge took effect. You have to keep your promise, he said.
Fair enough, but Murphy has taken some heat from the left wing of his own party about what critics see as a give away to businesses.
At the same time, the governor seemed to challenge business by saying he expects them to use the added revenue for constructive purposes.
He mentioned three ways in particular – capital improvements, hiring more workers and coping with inflation.
As for inflation and what it can cause, Murphy had that in mind when he defended not using – at least now – the state’s rather staggering $10 billion surplus.
He described the surplus as a backstop to prevent bad things from occurring.
To dip extensively into the surplus now would mean that “it wouldn’t be available to mitigate even a short recession.”
Always eager to make comparisons to the past, Murphy said previous administrations spent money for short term gain and that he is not going to do that.
The governor also trumpeted his plan to overhaul state liquor laws.
As most know, it’s not easy to get a license to sell booze in New Jersey. Licenses are capped by a town’s population and when one comes available, the cost can be enormous.
Murphy wants to do away with that and make licenses easier to get.
As he said today, “Good food alone is not going to keep a restaurant afloat.”
The governor frames this debate as a way to make the state more equitable to new restaurant owners, especially minorities.
Pushback, not surprisingly, is coming from those who now own liquor licenses. Murphy hopes to bridge that divide by giving such owners tax credits.
This is not going to be an easy fight. But by any objective account, Murphy is on the right side. Monopolies are never good. And as of now, state law limits competition by restricting how many liquor licenses a municipality can award.
The governor also reiterated common themes about working to lower property taxes – the Anchor rebate program kicks in this May – and supporting reproductive freedom. He also talked about how the state’s public schools are always rated the best in the country.
But in general, the governor, true to the cold blooded capitalist he says he is, told the hundreds of business leaders assembled before him, “know that we are committed to being your partner.”
He also joked about not speaking too long. After all, happy hour began right after the governor’s address.