Murphy in 2019: Marijuana, Minimum Wage… and More Taxes?
NEWARK — Gov. Phil Murphy says his agenda for 2019 starts with the things that didn’t get done in 2018 : Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and legalizing marijuana for adults. And he isn’t ruling out that by March it could include a second year of proposed tax increases.
Murphy is still four weeks shy of a full year in office, but he looked back and touted his first-year accomplishments in a speech at a Newark church Wednesday.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, have both said they oppose more tax hikes. Murphy said a decision will be made closer to the March 5 budget speech and that it doesn’t make sense to take ideas off the table this soon.
“So it’s too early to tell,” Murphy said. “But it’s not too early to talk about principles, things that we care about, and tax fairness is still on that list.”
Last year, lawmakers rejected Murphy’s call to increase the sales tax and applied the millionaires’ income tax hike on fewer people than Murphy wanted.
“And so I think we have to ask ourselves, is the middle class getting the shake that they deserve? Are the folks who are working poor or in poverty, are they getting the pathway into the middle class that they deserve? Is everyone paying their fair share?” Murphy said.
As a candidate, Murphy pledged to legalize marijuana in his first hundred days in office. His budget called for legal, regulated recreational marijuana sales to start Jan. 1. Instead he and lawmakers can’t reach agreement on details such as the tax rate.
Some of the first-year accomplishments Murphy touted in his speech, such as increasing school aid by $352 million and making a record $3.2 billion pension contribution, will require additional funding next year to meet requirements in state law.
“We’ve made the first series of investments, some of which I alluded to, in what is a long journey,” Murphy said. “And we have to have the means to pay for them, and we’ll be guided by tax fairness.”
In Murphy’s 24-minute address at St. James AME Church, the congregation’s loudest applause to a policy proposal was for the tuition-free community college program that starts in January. It also gave a partial standing ovation when Murphy spoke of a $15 minimum wage.
Murphy said a lot of people thought his administration couldn’t succeed but that they were wrong.
“I’m so proud of what our team has been able to accomplish in these first 11 months. We’re not spiking any footballs. We have a long way to go. But we’ve gotten a lot more done than I ever thought we would,” he said.
Murphy’s office included 97 bullet points on a list of first-year accomplishments it distributed. Among those singled out by the governor were equal-pay and paid sick leave laws, additional gun restrictions and NJ Transit funding and reforms.
“We’re proving that a strong, pro-growth, progressive agenda can and in fact does work. Pro-growth and progressive are not at odds with each other. They are consistent and harmonious,” Murphy said.
Less harmonious has been Murphy’s relationship with his fellow Democrats that lead the Legislature, particularly Sweeney.
Murphy said he has a professional relationship with the legislative leaders, even when they don’t see eye to eye on an issue.
“Are we going to have disagreements? You betcha. Are we going to be bashful about them? We will not be,” Murphy said.
Murphy said their level of cooperation depends on the topic. He said they’re making progress on the minimum wage and sounded out their differences on legalizing marijuana at a meeting a week ago. But they clashed on redistricting, a reform that lawmakers have dropped for now.
“I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, and I’m proud of that. But we should be able to continue to find common ground, and I expect we will in 2019,” he said.
One way to measure the productiveness of his first year in office, Murphy said, is by the number of laws he has signed – 161 so far, with another 45 on his desk after Monday’s voting sessions.
“We’re on the verge of breaking a multi-decade if not all-time record for first-year governor bill signings,” Murphy said. “So the fact of the matter is we have found common ground consistently, and that’s evidence of that.”
Murphy plans to sign another bill into law Thursday at the Summit train station, overhauling the governance, oversight and accountability at NJ Transit.
In addition to the bill signings, Murphy has issued five absolute vetoes and 38 conditional vetoes. Twenty-four of the conditionally vetoed bills are now law after the Legislature agreed to go along with the governor’s changes.
The governor downplayed the impact of Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying Monday that New York will move to legalize marijuana in 2019.
“I wish him well, God bless him, and what New York does, it has no bearing on what we’re going to do in New Jersey,” Murphy said. “Our job is to do it right.”