Republican and Democratic senators weigh in on Murphy’s State of the State address

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

After the speech, Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron caught up with two senators for more reaction to the governor’s address.

Aron: We’re here with two senators from Monmouth County, Democrat Vin Gopal and Republican Declan O’Scanlon. Senator, what did you think of the State of the State address?

Gopal: You know, I thought we saw some positive things. I agree with the governor on the corporate taxes, as far as tying it to profits is not always helpful. We need to actually have a formula and tie it to employees. And the governor, when it came to gun violence, women’s health care funding, he accomplished a lot that he set out, but I’d still like to see a little bit more. And I think the governor mentioned that when it comes to NJ Transit, one thing I didn’t hear, which I’d like to hear, is we need to look toward regionalization and cutting costs, too, and I think they go hand-in-hand. But overall, I think the governor had the first year of the positive train control was very important. And so, we’re making progress, but as the governor said in his speech, we got to go a lot faster.

Aron: Sen. O’Scanlon.

O’Scanlon: The most stunning thing about this speech was the thing that was not mentioned, and that is cost-cutting and reforms that will help us get New Jersey on a firm financial footing. Without those things, we will be able to do none of the things that cost money that the governor outlined in his speech. There was no talk about the Path To Progress, which Sen. Sweeney is spearheading and which Sen. Gopal has been part of. Pension health benefit reforms have to happen. It’s a difficult discussion that has to happen or New Jersey will become insolvent and the people that the governor claims to care about, that we all care about, will go down with the ship. He did mention, I think, the Martin Luther King quote, about we all came on separate ships, but we’re all on the same boat. We certainly are — New Jersey’s boat is sinking. And it’s a shame that the governor didn’t use this speech to come out and say, We’re all going to bail together, plug the holes and fix New Jersey’s economic situation. You’re not going to grow your way out of this. That’s misleading.

Aron: Presumably, he has a budget speech in which he can turn to some of those things. What do you think of the vision he has of an innovation state? How realistic is that, given some of the realities that Sen. O’Scanlon refers to?

Gopal: Look, one of the reasons we know Amazon didn’t come was because of our affordability in our state. We have to look toward affordability. Monmouth County, where we are, has the 11th highest property taxes in the country of any county. And we have opportunities — we have a beautiful coastline, our proximity to New York and Philadelphia — we can bring innovation into the state. We got to make the state more affordable.

Aron: The governor, toward the end of the speech, raised the two unfinished matters from 2018: marijuana legalization and minimum wage. Do you think those things are actually going to happen in the next month or two?

O’Scanlon: I don’t know, actually. Look, the minimum wage I have some serious problems because I believe that if you do it wrong, any increase of the minimum wage, you can hurt the very people you’re claiming you’re going to help with the elimination of jobs, more efficiencies that will eliminate those entry-level jobs that are so important to people getting onto the path to the middle class and higher socioeconomic levels. As far as marijuana goes, look, I’ve been vocal about some of the things that would have to happen in order to secure my vote.

Aron: Give me one thing that has to happen, quickly.

O’Scanlon: You have to fund DRE’s — I’ll give you a couple of them. Fund DRE’s, fund 911 system —

Aron: What are DRE’s?

O’Scanlon: Drug recognition experts, so we can enforce people on the roadways — it’s been raised by my sheriff in my county. Also, 911 money that the state has skimmed off for years so our emergency communication systems can work. And we also should be clear with people about where the money generator is going to go. Part of that should be for affordability, for property tax relief — I put on the table fully-funding energy tax receipts, but I’m open.

Aron: Last question: should the governor have alluded to the division within the Democratic Party and between the executive branch and the legislative branch? He didn’t acknowledge that.

Gopal: Look, I don’t think so. One of the big criticisms we saw in the last eight years, we saw a governor of a party and legislators doing what he wanted and they would change their votes based on that. We have a healthy dialogue in the Democratic caucus. When we agree with the governor, we support him; when we disagree, we try to work with him and try to get consensus.

Aron: Sen. Vin Gopal, Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, thank you both very much.