Even at Turnpike exchange opening, Murphy dogged by shutdown questions

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

Four years ago, when interchange 14A in Bayonne was a gnarly tangle of pockmarked Turnpike lanes, Phil Murphy was still ambassador to Germany. Monday, he was here as governor, the beneficiary of the kind of work, begun by others, that has served as the fodder for the first quarter of the first year of the Murphy administration.

“A decade ago 14A was synonymous with grief,” he said. “High accident rates, congestion, both on the Turnpike extension and on the local feeder roads, diminished air quality as cars and trucks piled up and sat idling, delays, headaches.”

While he’s able to cut the ribbon — figuratively in this case — on big ticket items, with promises of more to come, the governor’s ability to provide for the more-to-come relies on his ability to secure a budget deal with an increasingly obstinate Legislature. Guess what the press wanted to talk about?

“You have talked in the past about the possibility, though very slim, of a shutdown of government,” asked one reporter.

“Number one, I’m very optimistic we’re going to work something out. Number two, we speak either, literally, directly in groups, or individually or our teams all the time,” replied Murphy.” And thirdly, we still feel very comfortable with what we presented.”

But wait, wondered another reporter, the senate president, Steve Sweeney, and the assembly speaker, Craig Coughlin, say they won’t support reversing the sales tax cut, which the governor needs to help pay for his aggressive agenda.

“Are you going to help them find a way to pay for it, or is that on them,” asked the reporter.

“We need the investment. Let’s just secondly figure out how we raise it. They’re constructive. Nothing is off the table,” Murphy said. “We feel confident we’ll find the solution. I think it’s telling, though, when most of your conversations are in the investment side. There’s an acknowledgment that we need the investment. Let’s figure out those revenues.”

The governor tried several times to bring the focus back to the spanking new asphalt. “You could literally eat off the floor here,” he laughed about the new roadway.

But with the senate president’s comments this weekend, “If we can’t fix school funding, we are going to have a problem,” the governor has little time to spend on ceremony. The budget deadline is June 30, just a little over a month away.

The governor says he has no plans for the July 4 weekend, and said he hoped to not be in Trenton for the holiday.