New Year, Nagging Issues

Murphy, Sweeney need to shake hands and come out swinging at the problems facing our state.

Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin, left, and Senate President Steve Sweeney flank Governor Phil Murphy as he unveils his 2019 budget in the Assembly chamber.
Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin, left, and Senate President Steve Sweeney flank Governor Phil Murphy as he unveils his 2019 budget in the Assembly chamber.
AP Photo/Mel Evans

It’s a new year in New Jersey, but many of the same nagging problems and challenges remain.  Here is my wish list for what Governor Phil Murphy and the state Legislature should focus on in 2019. 

• “Can’t we all just get along?” 

It would be awesome if Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney—both Democrats—put aside their personal disputes and learn to work together. It doesn’t matter if they don’t like each other. 

  Move the needle on the public-employee health and pension crisis.

The unfunded liability continues to grow at an alarming rate. Depending upon whom you ask, the pension deficit is between $115 billion and $152 billion. Ouch. Currently, there is a stalemate between public-employee union leaders and political leaders. The unions believe they have given enough in recent negotiations.  But Sweeney and some legislators say more union concessions are needed to make the pension fund more secure.  Murphy, who enjoyed tremendous support from the public-employee unions, doesn’t appear willing to push the unions further. Clearly, the state needs to invest more in  the pension fund to catch up for  past governors (excluding most of Chris Christie’s term) who shirked their responsibilities in this area, but remember that the more state dollars go into the pension fund, the less we have for other services.

  Slow the brain drain. 

New Jersey loses more high school students to out-of-state universities and colleges than any other state. This brain drain is killing us. I’m a Jersey guy who bleeds Jersey, but I’m having trouble getting my own son to enroll here.  New Jersey colleges and universities need to do a better job making the case that staying for college is a smart move.  Further, the state needs to find a way to invest in higher ed, which has been defunded over the last couple of decades. 

  Make the Gateway Tunnel a reality. 

If the Gateway project doesn’t get underway soon, the congestion traveling between New York and New Jersey will continue to devastate not just daily commuters, but local commerce and the regional economy.  The additional tunnel is a must, but to make it happen, the federal government must kick in its share of funding to complement the financial commitments of New York and New Jersey. We’re talking billions. Yet, to date, President Donald Trump (a native New Yorker) hasn’t been anxious to help. It could be because New Jersey and New York vote blue in a big way. Besides, he can bypass the traffic in his presidential helicopter when he commutes from Washington to Trump International in Bedminster. Kidding aside, it’s time for New Jersey and New York leaders from both parties to convince the president that Gateway isn’t just a Jersey thing or a New York thing; it is a national imperative vital to the country’s economy. 

  Attract and keep the business community.

Murphy has announced his innovation-economy initiative, which has real potential to attract n ew businesses—and jobs. The challenge? Unfortunately, our state has earned a reputation for high taxes. The governor, who has advocated raising taxes on the wealthiest New Jerseyans, must make the case to the business community that the state needs more revenue from those who earn the most (a legitimate argument) while at the same time convincing corporate executives that New Jersey is worth betting on. 

With all these confounding issues, it makes you wonder why anyone would want to be governor of New Jersey. One can only hope that Murphy and his fellow leaders in Trenton are up to the challenge. 

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