What to take away from Murphy’s first State of the State

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

During his State of the State address, Gov. Phil Murphy highlighted two pieces of unfinished business. One is hiking the minimum wage. Murphy said he and Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin had made great progress in the past few days.

“I appreciate the progress we have made, and I know that working together we will get this done,” Murphy said.

Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato says he thinks that will happen.

“They need to fine tune a couple of things, but I think that that’s right on point. And I think a $15 minimum wage is, at the end of the day, over a series of progressive increases, is a good thing,” he said.

The other unfinished business is legalizing marijuana. Stellato says that is a heavier lift.

“There’s going to be a lot more discussion and a lot more controversy on the legalization of marijuana than there is on a $15 minimum wage,” Stellato said.

The speech was satisfying to the advocates for progressive causes who rallied at the State House Monday. The governor embraced a number of their objectives, including: driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants, the right to vote for ex-inmates on parole or probation, a push on wind energy and an effort to narrow the wealth gap.

Dena Mottola Jaborska of New Jersey Citizen Action was one of those on the State House steps Monday.

“I couldn’t remember a governor talking about more accomplishments in his first year that help out low- and moderate-income people. So we were really pleased to see so much make it over the finish line in terms of things that will really help people who are less fortunate, who made less in our state, hich is really, as the governor talked about, a vast number of people in the state,” Jaborska said.

“There is no question that he is going to be one of the more progressive governors in the United States,” said Stellato.

Murphy and Sweeney have been feuding for much of the year. Tuesday, Murphy acknowledged Sweeney and Coughlin by name three times.

NJTV News asked John Weingart of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers whether there was enough in the speech to appease Sweeney.

“It seems like he needs to have a better relationship with the legislative leaders than he’s had. And I don’t know if it was effective, I didn’t see anything in it that was going to be effective in that direction,” he said.

“Oh, I think he definitely did. I think, just simply by acknowledging the Senate president and accepting the fact that when they work together good things happen,” Stellato said.

Some thought the speech didn’t contain enough about the state’s fiscal situation.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily the function of this speech. There’s certainly some past governors have used it for that purpose, but that’s what the budget message is for that’s coming up in six weeks or so, and he’ll have to address those issues then,” Weingart said.

We put that question to John Reitmeyer, budget writer for NJ Spotlight.

“It depends on who you talk to right now because I think there are a lot of people in the Legislature, the Senate president has said we’re in a fiscal crisis pointing to the obligations that we owe to public employee pensions, retiree health care, and the idea that the costs are only going to go up again in the next fiscal year,” Reitmeyer said.

The speech may also have been light on new initiatives.

“I don’t think there was a lot new in the speech, you know, to be honest with you, in terms of positions the governor took. And I think that’s because I do think it was super packed with a lot of initiatives,” said Jaborska.

The speech covered a lot of territory. Whether it moved the needle on Murphy’s relationship with Sweeney, we’ll have to wait and see.