Donald Scarinci wrote in observer.com on June 25 “Governor Phil Murphy has modeled his administration using President Kennedy’s playbook.” In his Inaugural Address Kennedy said, “So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
Murphy pursued that path to its long and protracted end even through Saturday afternoon just hours before a shutdown was set to occur. But even at that last moment he was polite in saying, “I would ask the Legislature to consider following my compromise measures.” Sweeney, the iron worker, sometimes comes through as more of a tough street brawler.
After multiple iterations of the budget (like Plan A through through Plan G) Murphy could have done what many presidents (Trump) and governors (Christie) would do. That is to make clear what key items he expected in the budget and not in the budget, and to firmly state he would otherwise veto it. Instead, he continued reiterating, “All things are on the table.”
Perhaps Murphy pursued it too long and should have vetoed it earlier, insisting on a better deal, after all he is the new Governor with a mandate and elections do matter. However an intra-party shutdown would have been no good for either the Governor or the Legislature as they are Democrats and should be able to solve their differences.
The two main players were Murphy and Sweeney. Their differences were really not about policy, particularly toward the end, but about power. As an 8-year powerful Senate President, Sweeney had seen his chances of running for governor decimated early on by Murphy, and later he saw Murphy supporting unions in opposition to Sweeney’s race for the Senate. Wanting to be the alpha male in Trenton, Sweeney appeared determined to force Murphy to back down. Other differences were philosophical with Murphy more progressive than Sweeney, regional with Murphy’s support more in the North and Sweeney’s in the South, and political with Murphy not beholden to a particular boss and Sweeney under the influence of George Norcross.
Perhaps, nearing the strike of midnight they realized that indeed what unites them was greater than what divides them. So in the In the end it was a give-and-take arrangement with Murphy getting his millionaire’s tax but starting not at $1 million as he wanted but at $5 million and Sweeney getting his corporation tax under an arrangement he had not originally proposed. While Sweeney still remains a strong, if diminished force, Murphy came out of it somewhat battered and hardened, but he still is on track to begin implementing his progressive agenda, just not as fully as he wanted. Hopefully the nastiness will recede as both the Governor and Legislature will face difficult times in the coming years as they grapple with increasingly tough budgetary problems.
( Gov. Murphy in preview photo and Senate President Sweeney (above) speak to reporters at a Trenton press conference after state leaders struck an eleventh-hour budget deal to avert a state government shutdown. (S.P. Sullivan | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)