Budget Addresses are typically filled with talking points. They include problems which limit what the incumbent can do. They tend to highlight the most popular proposals, not mention unpleasant cuts, ignore needs not included in the budget, and hide “smoke and mirror” items. On Tuesday in his first major address Governor Murphy should ignore this stereotype and boldly grab our attention. To achieve his objectives he needs to gain public support, establish a good working relationship with the legislature, and develop advocacy for our concerns regionally and in Washington D.C. There is much that has to be done to right our ship of state. He must not only talk about his measures to increase revenue and how he wants to spend the money, but also about broader issues. This speech is his first opportunity. The above image reflects early perceptions of Murphy.
In his Inaugural Address on January 16, 2018 (left) Governor Murphy laid out, as new governors generally do, a broad vision without budget specifics that come later. However, he also said,
- “We will have a budget that is balanced fiscally and morally.” His mention of morality adds a new focus which is already apparent in several Executive Orders.
- “We will be bold, but we will be responsible and realistic.” – important in a budget.
- “We will charge forward … with a recognition that, while we can’t change everything overnight, we also can’t create a stronger tomorrow unless we start making smart investments today.” Such investments even if small initially represent him stepping boldly forward to promote his ideals.
- “Instead of writing yet more pages about age-old problems that never go away, let’s write about the solutions. To do so will require leadership.”
His emphasis on “morality,” “responsible and realistic” and “making smart investments today” is excellent. Equally important is being “bold” and showing “leadership.” His budget address will provide highlights of his revenue and spending plans with the details in his forthcoming Budget Book. However, to achieve his objectives he needs support. He must seize the moment.
NJ PUBLIC SUPPORT
A few weeks after his inauguration a Fairleigh Dickinson poll showed that he starts his term with 35% approval rating, a lower mark than his two predecessors had when they first took office. More importantly the poll indicates that 40% don’t know enough to register a response. He will have to change that to achieve his objectives. As can be seen in the preview image above, in the poll many of the most frequently offered words ranged from neutral and descriptive to a willingness to give him a chance. In his speech he must start displaying leadership, and then carry his messages directly to the public in local venues similar, but different, from Christie’s Town Halls.
NJ LEGISLATURE SUPPORT
With public support he strengthens his opportunity to work with the legislature. Charles Stile writes in the Record, “Murphy’s ascendancy has only cast into sharp relief the deep, tribal and regional differences that have defined New Jersey’s Democrats for decades. It’s one of those Statehouse squabbles that could produce real life consequences. Despite Democratic control of both houses of the Legislature and governor’s office — Murphy is facing intra-party defiance, especially from Senate President Stephen Sweeney.” He will need to gain Sweeney’s and the legislature’s support to implement his agenda.
The Budget Address focuses on money, and many of of his initiatives require legislative support including his revenue plans for new taxes and his expense proposals for pensions, school funding, free college education, marijuana and more. For these items he needs both public and legislative support. In other cases he may or may not need legislative support or even dollars to achieve his objectives, but he will benefit from public approval. Included in this category are the $15.00 minimum wage, mandating earned sick leave, supporting women’s rights, ensuring LGBTQ equality, tearing down barriers to voting, protecting immigrant rights, getting tougher on gun rights, bridging the gap between police and the communities they serve, a strong commitment to people with disabilities, and much more.
NATIONAL AND REGIONAL SUPPORT
With an ominous White House and a Republican congress, many New Jersey programs that rely on federal funds are under threat. “Entitlements” in general are at high risk of being cut in 2018 or shortly afterwards. They include our ACA healthcare market, Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP, Social Security, low income home energy assistance, community block grants, and more. Gaining support in Washington through advocacy from our governor and federal lawmakers is essential. More of the money we send to Washington should come back to us.
Of critical importance is the NJ/NY Gateway Trans-Hudson Rail Tunnel project (seen left) – one of the United States’ top transportation priorities for years. In March Trump ordered congress to eliminate its funding. Governor Murphy and NY Governor Cuomo with NJ and NY federal legislators must hone their advocacy skills. Murphy recently said, “We need to have a very big group advocating with one clear voice and I believe, if we can, cooler heads will prevail and we’ll get the right result.”
He has already showed leadership, in collaboration with the legislature, by re-joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). He recently joined his counterparts from three nearby states to announce an effort to leapfrog the federal government and push for increased gun control on a local level. In an Executive Order last month he displayed solidarity with the Governor of Puerto Rico and offered to help those Puerto Ricans seeking refuge in New Jersey. In this era when important issues extend beyond our state his leadership in regional and federal matters is essential.
Finally, the State Budget of hundreds of pages can seem intimidating, but it need not be so. At the Treasury’s website you can you use the “Search” (or “Find”) capability to hone in on any area of interest to you. But whether the financial details of a specific program are of concern to you or not, let’s hope Murphy’s speech resonates with the boldness and leadership necessary for these challenging times.
You can also read Governor Murphy’s Budget Part I: His Transition Advisory Committee smart recommendations here, Part II: NJPP recommendations (particularly for needed revenue) in line with the public here, and Part III: The spending plan here.
Photo Credits: Murphy’s inauguration speech: Rich Loomis (NYT) and Gateway Tunnel: Todd Heisler (NYT).