In Softball-Aplenty Virtual Townhall, Murphy Hits Back at GOP’s Core Argument

By Fred Snowflack | March 22, 2021

Insider NJ

Republicans like to say raising taxes drives people out of New Jersey.

Not true, Gov. Phil Murphy said this evening during a virtual town hall.

“There’s no evidence folks are coming or going based on their income tax,” said Murphy, who made increasing taxes on annual income of $1 million or above a part of his 2017 election campaign. It finally happened a few months ago when the tax bracket for that amount of income rose from 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent.

The governor was responding to “Barbara.”  Those questioning Murphy were identified only by first name; no hometowns were given.

One doesn’t know how closely the mysterious Barbara follows politics, but she may be familiar with comments the governor made awhile back that if taxes are your primary issue, New Jersey ain’t for you.

Expect that comment to be a GOP campaign issue.

Murphy seems ready for it.

Expounding a bit tonight, he said many states seek to attract residents by selling “warm weather” or “low taxes.”

New Jersey can’t do that.

But while taxes are high here, the governor also spoke of a “rich basket” of goodies.

He ticked off a public school system rated by some as the best in the nation, a highly-regarded health care system, a great location, an educated population and a diverse culture.

In my basic terms, he said, presumably thinking of the “before times,” that there is always something interesting to do on a Saturday night.

“People are moving here,” he added. saying that most of the state is seeing a robust housing market.

The question about taxes and out-migration came at the end of the hour-long session and was clearly the best of the show.

Murphy’s town halls traditionally have been lackluster events, sort of like a drawn-out press release.

Pre-pandemic, the governor held “live” town halls with very receptive audiences. The questions were not random; they were pre-selected and presumably pre-screened by the governor’s staff.

That pattern continued at Murphy’s virtual town hall this evening, which was moderated by Deborah Cornavaca, a deputy chief of staff in the governor’s office.

Many questions were about the COVID vaccine, which allowed the governor to speak again about the need for the state to obtain more vaccine doses, or as he put it, to correct the “severe imbalance” between supply and demand.

One question was about getting women who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic back in the workplace.

In response, the governor talked about more money in his proposed budget and also in the federal stimulus to help businesses bring back workers and also to expand such services as childcare.

Education-wise, Murphy was asked about cancelling federal standardized tests this year for students.

The governor said the state has submitted an application to waive that requirement  but the waiver was denied. So Murphy said the waiver application has been resubmitted to the feds.

He said his concern is that testing students in a pandemic-impacted school year would not be a “fair assessment.”

Some questions were softballs to say the least.

One woman, Lisa, asked about protecting public pensions. This allowed Murphy to talk about how his proposed budget includes a $4.6 billion pension payment – the largest on record.

“Barbara” saved the day, so to speak, by raising a very good point. And give credit to the host for reading it.

Still, the goal of a town hall – and some of the state’s members of Congress use to hold them frequently – is not to have a verbal “food fight.” But it is – or should be – a forum for tough questions and spirited dialogue.

In the future, how about letting people ask questions themselves?

And ask them to identify themselves by full name and hometown. You have to do that when you address the town council.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-03-23 02:38:27 -0700