Phil Murphy’s a master of timing – bad timing: | Mulshine
Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy outraged many members of his own party when he conditionally vetoed a bill that would have required the recipients of so-called “dark money” to reveal their sources.
That was bad enough. But then this week a new think tank named theSunlight Policy Center began operations. Its first act was to haul $2.5 million of formerly dark money into the sunlight.
The policy center’s Mike Lilley spent some time looking through the minutes of the governor’s most prominent political ally – the New Jersey Education Association – and found out that the NJEA paid $2.5 million to support a group called New Direction New Jersey.
That group just happens to support Murphy’s pet cause – a hike in the so-called “millionaires’ tax” – and it runs ads showing Murphy’s smiling face as he advocates that tax hike. They also support other aspects of his agenda.
That was bad timing. But it got worse.
For some reason known only to himself, the governor has begun a jihad against his fellow Democrat, South Jersey political boss George Norcross. Murphy set up a task force to probe economic development grants that went to various Norcross allies in Camden and two firms he controls.
Such task forces meet all the time and put out reports that no one reads. But the head of this task force recently went so far as to suggest there could be a “criminal referral” coming out of the group’s work.
They now say they will no longer pursue such referrals. But the original statement outraged many members of Murphy’s Democratic Party.
One was Ray Lesniak, a former state senator from Elizabeth who wrote the original legislation creating the Economic Development Authority.
Lesniak sent out a press release yesterday stating that he supports the idea of examining the programs, “but instead of the announced intent, the Task Force has been used as a vehicle to publicly cast criminal intent upon George Norcross’s long established and productive mission to transform Camden City from the poorest, most crime ridden municipality in the nation, into an attractive location for business development.”
When I called Lesniak, who is a lawyer, he said the gubernatorial task force overstepped its bounds
“The fact that the governor’s task force is bringing law enforcement into a political battle to score political points – that’s scary,” he said. “George Norcross is a fighter. He’s being attacked and he’ll fight back.”
He’ll be accompanied in that battle by a key ally, Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat from Gloucester County.
The governor has until the end of next month to enact a budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Sweeney told me the governor’s actions are not conducive to successful budget negotiations.
“The timing of this is so awkward,” Sweeney said. “If this was well thought out, he would have waited for the budget to get done. Then when the Legislature goes out of session you do the hearings.”
Instead Murphy seems to be using both the ads funded by the NJEA as well as the Norcross investigation to get another increase in the millionaires’ tax.
“He’s obsessed with it,” said Sweeney.
But again this is a question of timing. Sweeney said he originally supported that increase as well. But then the Trump tax reform limited the deductibility of SALT (state and local taxes) against federal taxes to $10,000 a year.
Sweeney said that a recent report by Moody’s Investor Services said New Jersey is the second most vulnerable state in the event of an economic meltdown. That’s why he’s seeking spending reforms, Sweeney said.
“I’m setting us up for the long term,” he said. “The answer from the administration is we need to raise more taxes.”
Sweeney suggested Murphy might be better off abandoning the hardball tactics and simply negotiating with his fellow Democrats.
“The biggest problem is that he worked at Goldman Sachs and I didn’t,” he said. “I’m a legislator; I’m not an employee. We’re more than willing to work with the governor, but we’re not going to be told what to do.”
It was for that reason, said Lesniak, that he titled his press release, “Murphy Crossing the Rubicon v. Norcross.”
The reference is of course to Julius Caesar, who famously led his legions south across that river in Italy to take on his political enemies.
Caesar won the initial battle. But eventually he ended up getting a knife in the back during a visit to the Senate.
Murphy’s move southward could have the same end, said Lesniak.
“It was a mixed metaphor,” said Lesniak. “I also said he’d meet his Waterloo.”
Either way, the die is cast.
And it looks it’s going to come up snake eyes for the governor.