For New Jersey, “Democracy Dies in Darkness”

“Restoring the sales tax to 7% and raising taxes on top-earners are fair, prudent, and necessary measures to ensure the future prosperity of New Jersey’s economy. Without new revenue, New Jersey will be left with an unbalanced budget and deep cuts to essential services and public investments.” – NJPP President Gordon Macinnes

With critical final decisions about the budget only four weeks away, Governor Murphy has been actively promoting his initiatives and answering questions from the public. The day after his budget address he took his spending plan on the road as seen to the left. Both Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have said they are not inclined to raise taxes on millionaires. Coughlin says almost nothing about his position on these key issues, and Sweeney, who has changed his stance on one important matter, only on occasion will make a pronouncement of disagreement with the governor.

Absent is a vigorous debate. The result: at the last moment decisions will be reached in secret by the three leaders seen above. The new motto on Washington Post’s front page, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” says it all.

NJPP President Macinnes has made his position clear. So has Republican Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick who says Murphy’s fiscal plans are “scary and extreme.”  The most recent poll from Quinnipiac has found seven in 10 New Jersey voters were in favor of raising taxes on those with income over $1 million. On the issue of rolling back the recent reduction in the sales tax another poll indicated 53% were in support and 34% opposed. 

One consequence of working in the dark can be seen in New York State which operates much the same way. In the past few years there former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was sentenced to prison for extorting about $330,000, and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced to 12 years for pocketing about $4 million. Even earlier Joe Bruno the former Senate majority leader who, along with Silver, was once one of the so-called ‘three men in a room,” was sentenced to two years for mail and wire fraud. Although four N J State Assemblymen have been convicted in the past eight years, the top leadership has been spared. Still it’s no way to run a government.  

In New Jersey we are used to blindly accepting this “three men in the room.” However, we should not do so. With media resources for sound reporting on the decrease, and TV news about our state of little concern to the NYC stations, too much darkness prevails. Yes, the Legislature holds public hearings on the budget and fervent people testify, including public interest representatives, agrieved individuals, and lobbyists, but the events gain little coverage and the general public does not get sufficiently aroused or informed. As a result frequently it is the lobbyists and large donors who win the day.

As  Democrats are in control of  the governorship, Senate, and Assembly, it’s hard to believe they would allow a State shut-down because they would bare the full blame. However, it happened in the first year of Democratic Gov. Corzine’s term with a Democratic legislature, and it remains a possibility this year if there is  no agreement by June 30. 

Governor Murphy, following his 14 point win in the elections and starting his tenure with a better job approval rating than his two predecessors is smart to stick with his progressive agenda. In his first year in office Governor Christie made his harshest cuts, and many governors going as far back as Woodrow Wilson found success by getting off to a strong start. Sweeney and Coughlin also have an opportunity to engage in a robust debate rather than holding back with the expectation to wield their power in the backroom. During the Christie governorship, for example, Sweeney toured the state to promote his property relief tax plan. 

Many of us are consumed with worthwhile efforts to take back Republican-held congressional seats, and we are daily subjected to Trump’s tweets and misdeeds, however, it’s not just our legislative leaders who need to engage. We all must be speaking out more on Murphy’s tax plans and his many progressive initiatives, whether it’s legalization of marijuana, $15.00 minimum wage, a demand for fair, full school funding (image left) or another matter.  With this first-year budget being so consequential, all of us must engage in the sunlight, not hide in the shadows.

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