Expectations for Murphy and Trump

“Life is largely a matter of expectation.” – Horace (65-27 BC)

Horace’s statement rings true in so many ways –  what we expect in terms of how our legislators should vote, or what we expect of President Trump in an infrastructure plan. Although our new governor can anticipate resistance down the road, so far he is fulfilling our expectations, even with something as simple as bringing hope to displaced Puerto Ricans. Conversely our President is perversely contradicting our expectations with his heartbreaking insistence on passage of a racist immigration plan which instead of gaining 60 votes in the Senate received 60 votes in opposition.

Expectations are high for Murphy – too high – as he has promised more than he can soon deliver. So far this “happy warrior” has signed numerous excellent progressive Executive Orders, but not yet taken on the tough tasks which require more funding than our constrained budget will allow. Under the Statehouse dome there is an undercurrent of leadership opposition to key proposals he seeks to implement. As examples, Senate President Sweeney is opposed to the millionaire’s tax and Assembly Speaker Coughlin is questioning the wisdom of legalizing marijuana. Fixing our pension crisis will be particularly difficult and expensive. According to the most recent poll last year 70 – 27 percent, voters support a “millionaire’s tax.” In another poll (February 2018) about 68 percent of New Jerseyans are in favor of some kind of changes to the state’s marijuana laws, but only 27% support complete weed legalization, while 26 percent favor its decriminalization. Yet another poll indicated 49 – 45 percent that the state has an obligation to fix public employee pensions, even if it means raising taxes.

In the history of NJ governors, Woodrow Wilson, aligned with the progressive forces, upon his inauguration maintained such heavy pressure on the legislature that he won enactment of most of his program in one session. Governor Brendan Byrne, however, upon his election became embroiled in bitter opposition over his controversial school finance and tax reform program which was not enacted until three years later. His re-election to a second term, nonetheless, was viewed as a vindication of his steadfast support of these programs.

Murphy has a fine line he must walk. Gov. Jon Corzine when talking to a group of graduate students said, “Be ambitious but don’t be afraid to collaborate, and take the long view.” Having won his election by 14 points Murphy can say he received a mandate and voters expect action. He should proceed full-steam ahead to enact his reforms while the iron is still hot. He will have to take the long view and temper initially how much he can spend on these programs, but he should not be deterred from seeking their passage in the legislature. The millionaire’s tax, for example, is key to funding new initiatives. He should also push his plan to legalize marijuana which not only would bring new monies to the treasury but would also reduce the violent crime involved in drug sales. If a prolonged effort were to yield no result, he could consider collaborating with the legislature by agreeing on decriminalization now with the expectation of legalization later.

We will have to wait until March 13 for Murphy’s Budget Address to make clearer his initial spending and policy priorities. However, we have already had over a year’s worth of Trump’s priorities which are mean-spirited, racist, and harmful, as he terminates or reduces programs that are widely considered beneficial and provides aid and comfort for the rich but little for anyone else. Trump is meeting the expectations of his 30% or so base, but not the expectations of the broader electorate. While our strong support for Murphy will be critical to ensure his success, our strong resistance to Trump is essential. The most important thing we can do in New Jersey under these circumstances is to make every effort to elect more Democratic representatives. Gaining Democratic control of the House and/or the U.S. Senate would force Trump to hit the pause button.

Determine what your expectations are and go for it.

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