Think Tank Develops Strategy to Help NJ’s Middle Class

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

This was rollout number two for Philip Murphy’s fledgling gubernatorial candidacy.

The wealthy Democrat from Monmouth County launched his think tank in November to develop a comprehensive strategy that would bolster the middle class in New Jersey.

“I and we were gratified to hear President Obama last evening express many elements of what we see as essential ingredients of that comprehensive strategy,” Murphy said.

His first rollout in November laid out the plight of the middle class.

Today was about solutions. There were seven proposals.

Provide a state tax credit for child care expenses.

Create a state community banking fund to spur lending to small businesses.

Restore the state earned income tax credit to 25 percent of the federal amount from the current 20 percent.

Raise the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13 an hour to $5.69.

Institute statewide earned sick leave.

Provide the long-term unemployed with counseling and job placement services.

And boost retirement funds by requiring the private sector to set aside 3 percent of payroll.

“None of these represent the totality of what New Jersey’s middle class requires. It really is just a start,” said New Start New Jersey President Tim Cataldo.

“As emphasized repeatedly New Start New Jersey has not cornered the market on good ideas. So we must look and we do look far and wide to find programs with records of success,” said Murphy.

Murphy asked a panel of experts to react.

“There’s no single thing one can do to improve the plight for the middle class, but you have to start somewhere. It’s like how do you eat an elephant? Well, you do it one bite at a time and you have a good first bite in place, at best,” said Rutgers University Bloustein School Professor Henry Coleman.

Labor leader Milly Silva said unions need strengthening.

“When the middle class has been at its height in terms of strength, we’ve also seen a strong labor movement,” Silva said.

“The great poet Paul Valery said, the problem with our present times is that our future isn’t what it used to be. Without a sense of a hopeful future, it’s really hard for people to progress,” said CBRE Executive Vice President Gualberto “Gil” Medina.

Familiar liberals filled the room.

“I thought it was sensible. I though it was, you can’t do everything in one day and they didn’t try. I think the proposals touch a broad swath of New Jerseyans who need attention,” said President of New Jersey Policy Perspective Gordon MacInnes.

When asked the status of his thinking about a gubernatorial run two years from now, Murphy said, “I’d say it’s just where it’s been. We’re very, very seriously looking at it Today New Start New Jersey is very much non-partisan. That is very much obviously political. But we’re very seriously pounding away on both tracks.”

What’s clear is that Murphy is a serious man willing to put his money where his politics are. It’s all designed for a gubernatorial candidacy in 2017, but in the meantime it’s offering up ideas. As one Murphy advisor put it, we’re so used to theater, this was actually people talking about issues.