While I’m writing this, Governor Murphy is on the line for a telephone town hall to discuss the budget. This is a watershed moment for him. What happens in the next couple of day will affect our state government’s future for at least the next four years..
In the last eight years Trenton was ruled by a troika of Governor Chris Christie, Senator Steve Sweeney and George Norcross. As you will recall that did not work out so well. Norcross is a political boss with his own business interests and Sweeney is his South Jersey crony. Sweeney also can’t get over the fact that Gov. Murphy backed public unions over him in last year’s election. Sweeney seems bent on revenge. He has an ally on many matters in Speaker Craig Coughlin.
Governor Murphy proposed a reasonable a budget – one that was sustainable through taxing and provided an opportunity to invest monies in important new investments. That was his Plan A. The Legislature countered with another budget – Plan B – which differed primarily over taxing issues. There were numerous variations on different plans that were discussed back and forth with no resolution. On Tuesday Murphy proposed Plan C – a compromise that offered some of what both he and Sweeney wanted. Sweeney responded, not by burying the hatchet, but by countering with Plan D, new revenue proposals, including a tax on summer shore rentals, with no time to vet the accuracy of the income they would generate.
The New Jersey governor is generally considered the most powerful of US governors. One power is the ability to veto or conditionally veto the Legislature’s budget bill. If a reasonable solution is not arrived by Thursday night Murphy should veto it. Better a State government shutdown than going back to to the bad old days with Sweeney and Norcross in charge. And better to veto the bill sooner rather than later in order to provide time to create a new bill and lessen the length of the shutdown. The Legislature could create another delay in an effort to override the veto but is unlikely to gain the necessary two-thirds vote needed in each chamber.
It is understandable that Sweeney would want to be the alpha male in Trenton as he was so powerful in the past. It is however, Murphy who has a new agenda – one which is not business as usual. If Murphy succumbs to Sweeney (and Norcross and Coughlin) he weakens his authority and imperils his ability to lead the state in the coming years.
He won a 13-point election victory and his polling continues to increase. He has a strong basis to implement his agenda. The time is now for him to take his shot. Failure to do so will only disillusion the many who supported him, make future successes less likely and return us to a cabal which only listens to itself.