Gov. Murphy's first 100 Days delivers . . . normalcy | Editorial

Posted Apr 22, 2018

New Jerseyans pretty much agree that tens of thousands of women who cannot afford mammograms and cancer screenings should have access to them.

By a considerable majority, we think that medical marijuana should be available for people in ceaseless pain from migraines or lupus and other musculoskeletal nightmares.

We want to live in a state where workers are not only given the dignity to earn their own bread, but also not forced to choose between keeping their jobs and nursing an illness or a sick child.

Our residents really want to get to work on a transit system that doesn't feel like it was rejected by Mumbai.

We generally want to live in a place where elected leaders protect the sick from unexpected $5,000 body slams from out-of-network medical specialists.

New Jerseyans agree that we shouldn't allow the pizza delivery boy to carry a gun just because he is afraid of your dyspeptic Rottweiler.

We also want to live in a state where the top law enforcement official is incensed by wrongful convictions, and takes measures to hold prosecutors as accountable as the falsely accused.

It is far too early to judge Phil Murphy as a governor. His greatest challenges lie ahead - starting with the intractable fiscal crisis he has yet to address - and his political skill is a work in progress.

But Chris Christie's legacy is starting to dissolve in the fog of time, and in the first 100 days of the new administration, it feels as though his successor is beginning to restore the state of normalcy that New Jerseyans want to live in.

Murphy has signed bills - some anodyne, some significant. He has issued executive orders, proposed initiatives, reinstated programs, restored funding, joined lawsuits, and essentially has begun to unravel the Christie agenda, which 82 percent of the electorate wanted scrubbed from the state's pantheon.

"For me," Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg says, "having a Senate President who posts the bills and moves a progressive agenda forward, along with a governor who signs them and celebrates their passage into law, is pretty terrific."

It won't always be as smooth as our state's progressive conscience wants it - given our grim fiscal realities and the juvenile pie fight between Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney - but here's what Weinberg is talking about in three specific areas:

  • Health.

Christie eliminated $7.5 million in state grants to support family planning and women's health clinics, forcing six of them to close - a contrived act of malice that he assumed would please pro-life crowds in New Hampshire. As promised, Murphy has restored that funding.

Soon Murphy will sign a bill that will make New Jersey the first state to protect its insurance marketplace by restoring the individual mandate eliminated by Congress. He has also protected our residents in state-regulated plans from those out-of-network thunderbolts. He has given more than a million private-sector workers earned sick leave. And overnight, he turned a shell of a medical marijuana program into a national model.

  •  Safety, general welfare.

Three out of four New Jerseyans want stronger gun laws, but Christie, eager to prove his NRA cred, unilaterally made it easier to obtain gun permits. Murphy will soon re-raise that bar and sign five more bills, including a ban of armor-piercing bullets and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

The lives for 900,000 commuters are likely to grow more tolerable, given the $100 million boost Murphy gave to NJ Transit's operating budget, and now he just needs a push from the Legislature to establish a long-term funding mechanism.

If those commuters work in Jersey, they'll have employers adhere to the most stringent equal pay law in the country, which Christie had repeatedly vetoed.

And, inspired by two NJ Advance Media investigations, Murphy took a step toward eliminating predatory teachers from the education system by signing what is known as the Pass The Trash bill; and he has vowed to support reforms for our horrendous state medical examiner system.

  • Environment.

To satisfy the climate change deniers in 2011, Christie opted out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon-trading program. It has cost the state at least $300 million. Two weeks into his job, Murphy rejoined RGGI through executive order.

He also signed a bill that bans offshore drilling (which Christie would likely do), restarted off-shore wind through executive order (which Christie stalled), and joined a 16-state alliance that upholds the Paris Climate Accord abandoned by President Trump.

Indeed, the heavy lifting - pension reform, education funding, property taxes - is yet to come, despite Christie's earnest effort to contain government costs while improving urban education.

And given the disparate priorities, the budget fights, and the personality conflicts endemic to Jersey politics, it is likely to be a bumpy ride.

The major players acknowledge this: "It's not easy at the start when hopes are big and resources are limited," says Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex.

"But it's always better to try. Trenton can be a chainsaw to smart ideas. I believe the governor will keep fighting for what he thinks is right."

We can't agree on everything. But most of us believe in a state government that is marked by fairness, a government that isn't afraid to use words like "compassion," one with the wisdom to prevent ego from subverting our political imagination.

The last eight years felt like the Dark Ages. The last three months have felt like a blast of fresh air. It would be a colossal blunder to let this window close.

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