Guns, Immigration, Taxes: Promises Gov. Phil Murphy Kept (and Didn’t)
Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on an aggressive, progressive agenda.
He pledged to reverse Chris Christie-era policies on PARCC and gun control. He took a stand against President Donald Trump on immigration. He said bluntly he'd raise some taxes (including on millionaires), promised to end New Jersey's bear hunt at least temporarily, told families they could count on free community college and excited civil libertarians, the business community and minority rights advocates alike with his promises og legal marijuana.
Then he became governor, and the realities of politics set in. Here's how Murphy fared on many of his signature issues in his first year as governor:
FREE COMMUNITY COLLEGE
The promise: As a candidate, Murphy unveiled a workforce development plan that included free community college within four years. Murphy estimated at a news conference it would cost $400 million once fully phased in, though his campaign later lowered that to $200 million.
The reality: Thousands of New Jersey students will begin attending community colleges tuition-free in January – though not in every county. Murphy has sought $50 million for a first phase of his program, but the state legislature negotiated that down to $25 million. Ultimately, 13 colleges were approved for a first phase, and free tuition to their students was made available for families making up to $45,000 through grants that pick up the costs after other aid is applied.
The promise: Murphy pledged to raise taxes on those with incomes above $1 million -- saying even after he was elected that he didn't see any reason for changes to the federal tax code to slow his plans. “I think millionaires are going to do just fine, unfortunately, in this bill in Washington. So it doesn’t impact my view of what we should do in New Jersey,” Murphy said in November of last year.
The reality: After a bruising political battle with state Senate President Steve Sweeney, Murphy ultimately agreed to a millionaire's tax hike of 10.75 percent -- but starting at $5 million, rather than $1 million. Murphy said the tax hike will generate around $280 million in revenue.
ENDING THE BEAR HUNT
The promise: New Jersey's bear hunt has long proved controversial, with advocates saying it's necessary in a state where the dense human population and a dense bear population frequently come face-to-face, and opponents arguing for what they say are more humane population control methods. Murphy had promised to put a moratorium on the hunt to better study its effectiveness.
The reality: Finding he couldn't legally stop the bear hunt entirely, Murphy signed an executive order in August closing all state lands in northwest New Jersey to bear hunting for the 2018 season. Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club, called Murphy's executive order "the first time we had a governor in eight years that's actually looking at trying to do something about the bear hunt." The state ultimately issued just a fraction of the amount of hunting permits it has in recent seasons.
LEGALIZE RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA
The promise: For proponents of legal recreational marijuana, Murphy's victory in New Jersey's gubernatorial race was reason to celebrate. His predecessor, Chris Christie, had been staunchly opposed to recreational pot (he'd called any tax revenue from it "blood money") but Murphy' considered it a key part of a plan that along with higher taxes on the wealthy would bring in $1.3 billion in revenue a year. With a Democratic legislature led by officials who in principle agreed with legalization, momentum seemed to be on Murphy's side -- some were predicting a bill could be passed within the governor's first 100 days.
The reality: Those 100 days came and went -- and as the year dragged along, so did the debate over exactly how and when to legalize pot. Problems that have held up a bill remain unresolved: Murphy and lawmakers continue to debate whether an oversight commission should be full-time and just how much marijuana should be taxed. Meanwhile, six new locations have been approved to distribute medical marijuana -- doubling the amount available in the state -- and New Jersey has dramatically loosened its regulations on what conditions are eligible for prescriptions.
SANCTUARY STATE FOR IMMIGRANTS
The promise: When Murphy said in the campaign he'd like to see New Jersey become a "sanctuary state," lines were drawn. He'd staked out a position on one of the fiercest issues to divide voters. On his website, Murphy said "immigrants and dreamers represent our best hopes and aspirations. They are a vital part of our state and our future. I will protect them and ensure that their dreams do in fact come true right here, in their home state."
The reality: In late November, Murphy's administration announced sweeping changes to its directives for law enforcement dealing with immigrant populations. The new rules prevent cops from quizzing people about their immigration status unless relevant to an investigation. The rules prevent jails from holding inmates indefinitely on behalf of ICE, which has publicly shamed jails in the state for failing to detain inmates to ICE's satisfaction. That's set off a war of words with ICE, which has said it may need to step up workplace raids and other measures to target immigrants here illegally.
COLLEGE FOR DREAMERS
The promise: Murphy's pledge to fight President Donald Trump's policies on so-called "dreamers" -- immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents at a young age -- was among the priorities to make it into his inaugural speech. That included expanding access to college for the dreamers, whom supporters say are effectively as American as anyone born in the U.S., since many have never known life in another country.
The reality: New Jersey began allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state resident tuition rates in 2014, but they remained ineligible for state Tuition Aid Grants. A bill expanding the state grants passed mostly along party lines earlier this year.
The promise: Murphy said in January he he would work to "soon" end public school PARCC testing, which Christie held onto even after scrapping Common Core standards in 2015. But, Murphy admitted, "The answer to the logistics of how it's done, honestly, I don't know."
The reality: Students who took the test as freshmen and thought they had completed the PARCC requirement are going to be forced to take it again as sophomores and juniors. In a May appearance on New Jersey 101.5's "Ask The Governor," Murphy said he hadn't changed his mind on PARCC, but didn't yet know how to phase it out. Yet Murphy's administration has dramatically scaled back the test's importance in teacher evaluations. And the number of PARCC tests required for graduation from high school in New Jersey has been reduced from six to two.
FULLY FUND SCHOOLS
The promise: Murphy pledged during his campaign to fully fund schools under a formula adopted in 2008 -- something never done since the law went into effect.
The reality: Murphy signed a new $8.43 billion school funding formula into law in July. The measure shifts state aid to more than 300 school districts that have been underfunded for nearly a decade, while decreasing aid to almost 200 districts. He pledged that by fiscal year 2025, “every district will receive the appropriate level of aid under the school funding formula.”
A $15 MINIMUM WAGE
The promise: Murphy in 2017 called a $15 minimum wage "as high on the priority list as anything we've got," but even after election stopped short of promising the legislation would be the first he enacts. He affirmed the pledge alongside Senate President Steve Sweeney, then-incoming Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross at his first public event with legislative leaders.
The reality: Like the marijuana legislation, a $15 minimum wage still seems more of a question of "when" than "if" -- but the "when" is almost certainly "later than any Democratic leaders envisioned." Legislative leaders have pushed a plan that would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024, though for farm, seasonal, young and small-business workers it would take until 2029. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, earlier this month introduced legislation that would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024, though for farm, seasonal, young and small-business workers it would take until 2029. State Senate President Steve Sweeney quickly endorsed the plan. But the legislators and Murphy have yet to agree on key aspects of the bill. In a meeting with the USA Today Network, he called the idea of waiting 11 years to get some workers to $15 "a bone in my throat." Negotiations continue.
STRENGTHENING GUN LAWS
The promise: Throughout the campaign, Murphy pledged to reverse the Christie administration's opposition to stricter gun controls, even though New Jersey has some of the strongest standing regulations in the country.
The reality: In June, the state enacted six new gun laws, including smaller ammunition magazine limits and new "red flag" laws designed to take guns from people deemed dangerous. Murphy has also signed legislation to make it illegal to sell, manufacture or purchase a untraceable “ghost guns," such as those that could be created with 3D printers. And the Murphy administration has started a "name and shame" policy of identifying those states from which guns have been smuggled into New Jersey illegally.
The promise: Murphy criticized Christie's vetoes of legislation designed to guarantee equal pay for women. On his campaign site, he said because "women in NJ continue to earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns for equal work, Phil will prohibit employers from asking job applicants for their salary history."
The reality: Gov. Phil Murphy took his first action as governor three hours after his swearing-in: an executive order seeking to promote equal pay among state workers. Under the order, which took effect Feb. 1, no state agency or office can ask job applicants about their salary history or investigate their past wages until a conditional job offer is made. That is the policy in four states and some cities and seeks to close the gender wage gap. He later signed the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, an amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, which says New Jersey employers must provide equal pay and benefits to employees performing substantially similar work.
-- With previous reporting by Michael Symons, David Matthau, Sergio Bichao and Dan Alexander