TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Democrats have a wish list of changes they want to enact after GOP Gov. Chris Christie leaves office in January and Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy takes the reins.
But unlike during Christie’s two-terms, Murphy and the Democrats won’t have a Republican foil to confound their efforts — or cast political blame if the party cannot achieve what it promised voters.
It’s a sizable list that includes Murphy’s campaign promises to fund pensions, increase school aid, rebuild infrastructure, legalize marijuana, fund Planned Parenthood and finance it in part with a millionaire’s tax.
It’s the early days of Murphy’s transition since his 13-point victory over Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in Tuesdsay’s election, and he has not yet sketched out the order of his priorities when he takes office from the term-limited Christie on Jan. 16. He met Thursday with Christie and announced that his lieutenant governor will be overseeing the department charged with managing state aid to towns and cities. But otherwise he hasn’t detailed the plans for his first days in office.
“The agenda we submitted to the people of New Jersey was resoundingly approved, and we are getting to work building a stronger, fairer economy,” he said after meeting with Christie.
His win came along with a tide of Democratic victories, including in Virginia where Democrat Ralph Northam will be the state’s next governor. New Jersey Democrats also picked up two Assembly seats and a state Senate seat. The victories are buoying Democrats, who find themselves out of power in Congress and the White House since Republican Donald Trump’s win in 2016, and generating hope that the party can make gains in 2018’s midterms.
One of Murphy’s partners will be Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney who says he, Murphy and the Assembly speaker — who has not yet been selected — still have to plot a “vision for his first 100 days.”
Sweeney said he plans to make the millionaires’ tax an early priority, but he also cast New Jersey Democrats’ new-found power in terms of Trump and the GOP-led Congress.
“Unlike in Washington where they have all three branches and can’t get anything done, we want to show that you can be of the same party and accomplish things,” Sweeney said.
There’s precedent, though, to question whether the Democrat-led government will be trouble-free.
In 2006, during Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine’s first year in office, state government shut down after he and the Democrat-led Legislature failed to reach a deal on the state sales tax.
Democratic state Sen. Joe Vitale didn’t predict similar trouble, but said some areas will be easier to reach agreement on than others. He says there’s likely agreement on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and on expanding women’s health coverage. But coming up with the billions required to fully fund the pension and education could be hard.
“I think matching up the resources with the demand, managing those expectations (will be hard),” he said. “If we fund something we have to now or at least believe we know where the funding is coming from.”
Indeed Murphy has laid out about $1.3 billion in new revenues that would be raised through the millionaires’ tax and closing corporate tax loopholes. He also is banking on $300 million in revenue from marijuana legalization. But the pension and school costs could approach $4 billion if fully funded immediately, and he hasn’t said where that cash would come from.
With no super-majority requirements for legislation to move Republicans are mostly on the sidelines, though Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. is already proposing compromises. He suggested raising the minimum wage in exchange for cutting taxes on join filers making $110,000 or less.
“We have no intention of being the party of no,” Kean said.
Murphy’s supporters say they’re watching closely to hold him accountable.
Sarah Best, 22, of Bedminster, said she voted for Murphy because of his support for raising funding for Planned Parenthood. She said there’s “some wiggle room,” but that Democrats should not expect blind support.
“It’s one thing to work really hard and promise a lot of things on a campaign,” she said. “But it’s also on the people who worked so hard to get him elected to hold him accountable.”
Contact Catalini at https://www.twitter.com/mikecatalini