by Ricky Diaz,
TRENTION-There’s much to like about Phil Murphy’s campaign for governor. The Democratic candidate’s progressive principles will certainly turn off some voters, and New Jerseyans still have more than two months to decide if Murphy is their preferred choice in November. But in the Age of Trump, when prioritizing the interests of the wealthy has moved so definitively to center stage, voices like Murphy’s are needed. Even his Republican challenger, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, is a breath of fresh air compared to our commander-in-chief, as well as Guadagno’s boss, Gov. Chris Christie, whose own leadership style has echoed Trump’s in so many ways.
Guadagno’s great challenge, of course, is to separate herself in voters’ eyes from the wildly unpopular governor. But that doesn’t mean she should abandon all that Christie has done, including the successes, and she is spot on with her criticisms of Murphy for dodging questions on the future of New Jersey’s arbitration cap.
The 2 percent cap on annual raises was designed primarily to rein in bloated police officer salaries and benefits across the state, a significant driver in New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes. Our cops do important and often dangerous work, and deserve to be fairly compensated — but they’re already the highest paid officers in the country. The cap — which also applies to firefighters, although many New Jersey communities rely on volunteer units — was needed to counteract an arbitration process heavily weighted toward unions, resulting in often outrageously high and unaffordable awards with annual increases of five percent and higher.
That cap, however, is set to expire at the end of the year. It needs to continue, but Murphy won’t take a stand, instead hedging that he wants to await a task force report on the effectiveness of the cap by the end of the year. But such reports have been issued annually, showing the cap has effectively corralled runaway salaries.
Keeping a lid on police and fire raises is also a key component allowing communities to function reasonably under the municipal 2 percent cap. Eliminate the arbitration cap and the overall cap can become far more problematic. While much can be said about net tax increases and the impact of Christie’s rebate cuts, the cap has slowed annual property tax hikes across the state. That’s one of Christie’s better achievements, and it shouldn’t vanish with a new governor.
Murphy is taking the coward’s way out, ducking for cover behind the task force to avoid saying what he’s likely thinking, that he plans to reward those unions for their support by dumping the cap. But pragmatic politics can’t be allowed to override basic honesty on an issue of this significance. New Jerseyans deserve to know where Murphy stands before November, and they have every reason to expect our would-be governor to have the courage explain his position. His supporters should be embarrassed by anything less.