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I’m Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. Our guest today is Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, vice chair of the Democratic Governors Association who will assume the chairmanship in 2020. New Jersey became the latest state to raise incrementally it’s hourly minimum wage to $15 after the Governor signed into law a measure phasing into action that higher rate over five years. “For far too long, too many of our fellow citizens have been struggling to survive on wages that have not kept up with the cost of living,” Governor Murphy said. He’s touting and upbeat, optimistic, always pro growth, progressive agenda, advocating fair taxation, criminal justice reform, and clean energy, environmental stewardship. Governor, a pleasure to see you.
MURPHY: Great to be here, Alexander.
HEFFNER: How are you messaging and enacting that forward-looking progressive pro-growth agenda? What’s top of mind for you right now?
MURPHY: First of all, it’s great to be here.
HEFFNER: Great to have you.
MURPHY: It is far more than words; although we have captured it in some of those words you’ve just uttered pro growth, progressive. I’ll take that. I also believe and say often you can’t make economic progress without social progress. And likewise, you can’t make social progress without economic progress. We also talk a lot about a stronger and fairer state that works for everybody. So if you step back, I’ve been in office now a year and a few months. We inherited a state that was neither strong nor fair. So New Jersey was one of the few American states that didn’t participate in the recovery from the great recession of a decade ago. And if that weren’t enough, it was a state, which is an extraordinary, given how progressive and its reputation is, it’s a state that has allowed huge inequities to develop over time. So the haves have-nots, the US, them particularly along racial and gender lines was stark in our state almost unlike any other. So I’m not a believer, you know, Mario Cuomo had this great line, “You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose.” I think he had it right. Our prose is it to use that analogy is one sentence, one paragraph at a time. There’s no single magic wand. There’s a series of steps, incrementally, that get you growing again and get you fair again. And we’re on that journey.
HEFFNER: You came out of the gate not messing around.
MURPHY: Yeah. We don’t mess around.
HEFFNER: Right. I mean, authentically progressive in your commitments and wanting to deliver that economic justice for your state. Has the obstacle been in what you haven’t achieved that you still want to achieve that the party, the Democratic Party is not situated enough to advance genuine progressive solutions?
MURPHY: I’d say yes and no. For the, we’ve gotten a lot done, I’ve signed over 200 bills and some of them are landmark, best in the nation. You mentioned minimum wage, which I’m incredibly proud of. Equal pay for equal work, earned sick leave, paid family individual retirement accounts for folks who work in firms that don’t get that otherwise provided. So a big agenda around workforce productivity and confidence, security. There are a couple of big ones we haven’t quite gotten yet and I haven’t given up. So one is that we want to legalize adult use marijuana, overwhelmingly because of the social justice reasons. We have the widest, I mentioned the inequities. We have the widest white nonwhite gap of persons incarcerated in America and the overwhelmingly biggest contributor to that is low-end drug offense. I want to get, we got partially a millionaire’s tax last year.
I’d like to get a real millionaires tax, not ‘cause I’m out to soak people that’s not needed at all. I’m not a class warrior guy. I’m not a divide us versus them. The fact of the matter is New Jersey’s a quintessential middle class state. The last administration of my state had ignored it. Some would say ravaged it. We’re making an historic all, all time investment in the middle of class. I can’t justify making the middle class continue to take it on the chin and pay for that investment. So tax equity is part of that. But there isn’t a long, I have to say, there’s not a lot beyond that, that we haven’t been able to work together. So we are the big-tent Democrats as we are everywhere. No more so than a new new in New Jersey. We’ve got lots of different elements of our party.
But at the end of the day, I’m confident that we can accomplish all that we’ve set out to.
HEFFNER: How has the national political climate, specifically this administration, and its budgets to date, how has that affected your job?
MURPHY: They’ve hurt us. They’ve hurt us badly, and it’s not just New Jersey. In some cases they’ve hurt all American states. In other cases, they’ve hurt states that look like us. So you start off at say, okay, what is New Jersey? Fourth smallest state geographically, 11th largest population, meaning we’re the densest state in America by far by many measures the most diverse state in America, one of the most extraordinary shorelines anywhere in our country or the world. I could go on, I’ll stop there for a moment. So you look at what the Trump Administration has done. People ask me all the time, what’s your biggest surprise as governor? It’s the amount of time I’ve had to deal, far and away the biggest surprise, the energy and time we’ve had to put in pushing back on a lot of stuff that’s come at us. I use my three verbs, mitigate, compensate, litigate. And so it’s hurt. So whether that’s tax policy, you know, we’re a good value for money state. We’ve never been a low cost state to live in. Folks say listen, I’m prepared to pay a premium as long as it’s fair, in New Jersey because I get a rich basket of stuff back. So limiting the state local tax deduction hurts us, all the ICE raids in the most diverse you know, splitting up families like they do for no other reason other than their status. That hurts us deeply given our diversity, you know, wanting to drill for oil and gas off the Jersey shore. No way, no how, all sorts of other environmental steps that are contrary to our interests.
So it’s a big deal. We’ve had a battle that consistently and we continue to.
HEFFNER: It strikes me, Governor, that there would be no more important message as we anticipate the 2020 election then for the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party to stake out every decrepit, you know, bridge, tunnel, school building and say that you said you were going to rebuild America. That was a fraud.
MURPHY: They may talk a good game on infrastructure. We’re the party that actually does it and that we’re doing that right now in New Jersey, but we can’t do it all alone. We need, we need the federal government to be with us. And so far on the biggest project which and your viewers are all well aware of is the Gateway project, which is a new tunnel under the Hudson River. And for folks who may not know what the law, the two tunnels that are under the river right now are fine, but they were built in 1910.
And so that’s, this is, as I said, this is Roosevelt era, Theodore Roosevelt. We desperately need that those new tunnels, 20 percent of the nation’s economy relies on the northeast rail lines. So the rationale is overwhelmingly compelling and I’m frustrated as heck, but I’m still optimistic we’ll get there. We use our congressional delegation actively. We worked very well together as well as with Governor Cuomo and his administration and delegation. But your point is the right one, I mean, the infrastructure investment opportunity to create jobs, not just to fix the bridges and build the tunnels, but to create thousands of good paying union jobs, that the rationale is overwhelming. In fact, it’s the one element of Trump’s campaign for president and his promises that made one in transition that I was on record as saying; it’s the one area where I think we can find common ground.
And so far at least it’s a lot of talk. The talk is in the right direction, but there’s nothing, there’s no action, there’s nothing that backs it up. So we’re chipping away at this, getting that tunnel built, getting the pieces of that tunnel is priority number one in our relationship with the federal government. I’m an eternal optimist, a frustrated optimist. But I believe we get there and I loved your point. We are the party of infrastructure and we could prove that.
HEFFNER: As governor, are you capable of deploying a WPA style project in the absence of federal authority?
MURPHY: To a certain extent, we have a transportation trust fund, which is funded by gasoline tax. We just recently announced $161 million dollars of local municipal infrastructure aid and that’s real jobs and that’s real investment. That’s a lot of road repairs and a lot of local projects that had been wanting for years. In our state budget, we put in 400 and something million dollars into NJ Transit.
Now that’s an, that’s an important, that’s not just a passing interest, it’s of existential importance to us when you’re the densest state in the nation moving people around rails, buses, roads, tunnels, bridges is not optional. It’s, it’s, it’s a, as I say, existential,
HEFFNER: Well if anyone’s concerned about the Green New Deal, then just look at Sandy and the havoc
MURPHY: Hundred percent
HEFFNER: caused by Sandy. Looking at the congressional efforts, the Select Committee on Climate, from your perspective, how can you make the argument for the Green New Deal or whatever you want to call it? How can you make it better?
MURPHY: So we have, again my nose is pressed overwhelmingly against the Jersey glass. So I observe the national discussions. I certainly learn from them, good or bad. As you mentioned in the introduction, I’m the chair elect of the Democratic Governors Association, so that, that all matters.
But as it relates to the policies we put in place, I’m all in, deep into the New Jersey reality. So we’ve got our own clean energy agenda, 100 percent commitment by mid century. In fact right after this taping, I’m going to make remarks at the large annual offshore wind energy gathering. We have unusually strong potential in offshore wind. New Jersey’s situated almost ideally in the sense also not just on our shore, but the shelf under the water and the way it levels off for enough miles to allow us to put these windmills reasonably and economically in place. We’ve got an objective of a minimum of 3,500 megawatts. We’ve got a big solar and community solar agenda. Environmental Justice is a big piece of this. So let’s not leave behind a place like Newark that has four times the asthma, child asthma rate of our state or our country because of all the traffic and truck traffic at our ports.
So we’re, we’re tackling it from all over. And, and by the way, again, it’s, I inherited an ugly reality. You know, you got to you can’t do New Jersey can’t do all this on its own. So the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative collection of states is important to us. Signing that Paris Climate Accord adherence that I signed instantly is great that New Jersey does it, but we need everybody to do it. Hopefully one day soon the federal government.
HEFFNER: The minimum wage can be a stopgap measure over time incrementally. We hope that it’s an enduring measure of economic safety, security and justice. But the tax reform that what is honestly now tax season has come upon tax fraud, not tax reform. Has been clear as day that they pulled a fast one.
MURPHY: You bet.
HEFFNER: Does it require that there’s a Democratic president in 2021 in order for you and your fellow governors at the DGA to say we, we need systemic and systematic reform.
MURPHY: Yeah. It’s hard to answer that question otherwise other than yes. Because this administration has proven, and by the way, the Republican controlled houses of Congress have proven that they have little to no interest in the middle class, period. And they say, the rhetoric is great. This would be a windfall and whatnot. Folks first of all, didn’t see the benefit in their paycheck. They’re now doing their, its tax season. They’re now doing their taxes and their refunds are either down or they’re paying whereas last year there were getting a refund. The overwhelming percentage of the benefits, as you know, and you’ve talked about, go to the one, the wealthiest 1 percent in our country. And again, I’m not a class warrior, but come on man, the middle, this is a middle class country, New Jersey’s the quintessential middle class state. That’s the way we used to be and by the way, from both sides of the aisle historically, you had a lot of good evidence that we believed in that. And our policies reflected that. This current administration does not believe in the middle class in this country. They talk a good game, but their actions belie their, their words. They do not believe in our middle class. And therefore I cannot see a scenario, not only where this administration will come around in the absence of a Democratic president. But it adds to the imperative that we keep winning state houses cause governors have never mattered more that we, that we hold our leadership in the House and that we win the Senate back because if we’re going to undo that awful tax law from December in 2017, we’re going to need not just a new president, a Democrat certainly, but also leadership in both of those chambers and advocates in the state houses around the country.
HEFFNER: How do you get there? I know you’ve endorsed Senator Booker.
MURPHY: I have big, big fan of Senator Booker’s. We’ve known Cory a long time since he was a newer councilman. I think he’s got an extraordinary package of life story and experiences. His personal life story is extraordinary, but a councilman, a mayor, a senator, somebody who has found a way, by the way, to work across both sides of the aisle. The one piece of the darn tax law that’s so bad, opportunity zones was brought to you by Senators Booker and Scott. That’s a great thing for New Jersey. He spearheaded Criminal Justice Reform at the national level. Again, worked on both sides of the aisle. I’m a huge fan and a huge believer, but I would also say I think we’ve got a great field filled with a lot of talent and a lot of potential. We will win the White House. We must win the White House.
HEFFNER: You also are close with Mayor Pete and Vice President Biden.
MURPHY: Very much, both of whom came in. Mayor Pete came in and spent a day campaigning with me. Vice President Biden threw himself all in a couple of times.
HEFFNER: So how do they, how do they stack up?
MURPHY: I think they’re both great leaders.
HEFFNER: It occurs to me, Governor, that in order to get to 270 electoral votes, you need, it’s a simple equation: personality plus geography equals destiny in American politics, as long as the Electoral College is determining the outcome.
MURPHY: The answer has to be yes to the geography; again, not to beat a beat a dead horse is geography I care about other 21 counties in New Jersey. So that’s where… But yeah, the answer has got to be yes, but I think you’ve got to stand for the right things. I think you’ve got to have a compelling story. I think you’ve got to convince folks that you’ve got an experience set that is rele…You know, you always look at what’s the, what is needed and what do I bring to it and how closely does that match up? And you’ve mentioned three guys and there are other men and women running for president who I would put in the same category, who have all of that. You know, they say in baseball, five tool athletes, you’re talking about we’ve got a stable of five tool potential presidents. I think that’s a great thing. I’m not, I’m not of the that, oh my gosh, there’s too many people running. Frankly, president Trump proved that he could slay 16 or 15 other Republicans. I think the broader the debate, the broader the diverse sets of views, the better it is for our party.
HEFFNER: And you see Indiana and Texas as potentially competitive in 2020.
MURPHY: Well Indiana was won by President Obama or Senator Obama in ‘08 he lost it in 2012. I’m not sure. Indiana. I’m not; again, I’m not following that closely. Texas is one. I’m the former national finance chair for the Democratic National Committee and I did it alongside of our chair and a guy I believe was one of our greatest chairs, Howard Dean. And I did it because Howard believed in the 50 state strategy to put us back as a party, back in business in places which have typically either been ignored or complete away-games for our party. Indiana and Texas are good examples of that. A lot of work was done by the DNC, you know, five, six, seven and eight, in addition to an extraordinary candidate that allowed us to win that state. I don’t think, you know, we’re not quite there yet in Texas, but the demographics, the investment by Chairman Perez and the party continues, the state party. It’s coming our way. I’m not; I’m not smart enough to know whether it’s competitive in 2020. I hope it is. If it is, it’s a game changer. It’s one of the top three states in terms of electoral votes that changes the whole game and the whole map.
HEFFNER: Governor, you’re, you’re one of the most insightful people when it comes to governing and considering the economic reality today because of your own story. Because of your own experience. It seems as though the Republican Party, which in effect was hijacked by those moneyed interests, the 0.0001 percent and dictated federal tax code based on that. Now we’re recognizing that some of those donors, some of those lobbyists, some of those in the wealthy cohort are recognizing we’re going to tilt off this planet. That’s not to excuse or sympathize with the many years of a decaying tax code that was inequitable. But how do you talk to people about the shift in the Democratic Party, whether it’s Senator Booker or Mayor Pete or Congressman O’Rourke, and the fact that we need to shift left as a function of the economic inequality. What was the safety net is now totally, utterly destroyed. You need more than a net.
MURPHY: The first thing I’d say is I’m a proud Democrat. I always have been. So I grew up working poor, youngest of four, great tight knit family, but we were, you know, we were living paycheck to paycheck, a lot of loans to go to college, and graduate school. I ended up working in business and ended up getting lucky and doing okay for myself. While I’m a proud Democrat, I’ve never been – I’m for this. And I’m against you just because you’re a Republican. And my, my roots are in two states. One is Massachusetts where I was born and two is New Jersey where we’ve raised our four children. Both states, historically, by the way, have had a history of, a track record rather of electing moderate fair-minded Republican governors in two of the most progressive states in America. Look at a Bill Weld or a Mitt Romney or now Charlie Baker, my high school classmate in Massachusetts.
Tom Kaine, one of my mentors in New Jersey, Christie, Todd Whitman to some extent as well. I think Christie campaigned as though he was going to be that governor and, and he decidedly wasn’t. And that’s an important outlier. I say that because on both sides of the aisle, I mentioned this earlier, there was sort of a, an acknowledgement we, we may have a different prescriptions, but an acknowledgement that the middle class in those who were in poverty or those who are working poor and aspired to keep going up the rungs in life as a lifelong objective to get into the middle of class, that we may have had different prescriptions, but we all kind of understood that was the American dream. That was the American story. And I think you’ve used the word, the Republican Party, particularly nationally has been hijacked. It’s been hijacked by folks who may say the right things, but their actions belie those words.
They don’t care about the middle class. They don’t care about investing in public education. And don’t care about the environment. They really don’t care about your health care. Look at all it’s been done about in and around the Affordable Aare Act in New Jersey has led the American class by the way, in pushing back on that. I’m of the opinion that healthcare ought to be, you know, who says it’s a privilege? Well, why, is K through 12 education a right? And healthcare not a right, I don’t want to get tied up in the, how do you get there? But let’s just establish it ought to be a right. I was the US ambassador in Germany. Germany has universal healthcare. It was brought to Germany by that crazy left wing liberal Bismarck. Come on. This is not left-right stuff. This is basic bread and butter, that do you, I’d also add that I think Germany at least, and I believe Europe generally has as many per-capita billionaires as the United States have, and I’m a big believer in unlimited upsides. I think that’s the, that’s an essential part of the American dream. But the Europeans are a lot more comfortable saying, you know what, we have to round some of the hard edges of capitalism. The price you pay for unlimited upside should not be unlimited downside. So the notion of safety nets that you talked about is a much more natural notion in Europe than it is in the United States. And that’s not right. We should be better at that. In New Jersey, a lot of the steps we’ve taken is to, we don’t want to limit the upside. It’s the American dream. Go for it, risk everything you’ve got, but, but folks in our state and our country deserve to know that they’ve got some cushions, some net under them and where we’ve gotten awful at that as a country, particularly under this president, that’s what we’re trying to create in our neck of the woods in New Jersey.
HEFFNER: Is the problem fixable if we do have an unlimited upside?
MURPHY: Yeah, I believe it is. I believe it is. But unlimited upside shouldn’t mean that your reflex, every lever you pull us to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthiest, so let’s get folks to pay their fair share.
HEFFNER: What about what has not been paid? The unfairness of what was never paid in terms of the systemically unfair tax code that has just been exacerbated and exacerbated. How do you retroactively deal with the problem?
MURPHY: Listen, we’ve got, let’s look at it through the lens of wealth disparities. I don’t know what it looks like in the country, but the wealth disparities across racial lines in New Jersey are jaw dropping.
I’ll give you a couple of statistics. The average net worth for white family in New Jersey is $271,000 dollars. The average net worth for a Latino family is $7,100 dollars, and for an African American family, $5,900 dollars: 271 thousand, 71 hundred, 59 hundred. When I first read that, I thought they had dropped a zero. And even then it would have been a four or five multiple.
HEFFNER: I thought you did too.
MURPHY: Right? It’s extraordinary, but we haven’t and it is exactly what it is. It’s 40 x. That’s been building up. And to your point, how do you clip back at that and meaningfully close those gaps that have been building up for not just decades, but for centuries, go back to the dawn of slavery in our country. And it’s,
HEFFNER: Are there any smart, quick fixes?
MURPHY: You know, I, this is and I used to be on the national board of the NAACP an organization that I’ve always, that I’ve been very close to in my adult life and an idea that I liked then and Senator Booker we mentioned is champion of this are Baby Bonds.
Which, I like that idea. I’d like to have thought that New Jersey could have taken the settlements from the bank misbehavior in the 2008 great recession and have funneled those somehow intelligently toward the underserved communities where the wealth gap is the largest or the widest, rather, under the theory that home ownership is a big factor in that, that that’s the biggest x factor between 270 thousand dollars and 59 hundred dollars. Unfortunately, when I got there, all the money had been spent in other programs and frankly in other places, New Jersey, another area where we barely participated in it. So smart things like home ownership, affordable housing, more generally. I like the Baby Bond idea. I’m a big pub, national service guy, maybe in exchange for loan forgiveness, bold programs like that for young people, particularly those who have gotten either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree and have incurred a lot of debt.
Probably a series of steps. I don’t know that there’s one magic wand that shrinks those gaps overnight.
HEFFNER: In the seconds we have left, have you taken a public position on the wealth tax? I know you’re probably in favor of the marginal tax returning to what it was…
MURPHY: I haven’t taken a public position on the wealth tax. I have.
MURPHY: I have believed that we need to raise the tax on the wealthiest in our state and that’s when I’m
HEFFNER: And nationally,
MURPHY: Certainly nationally, but I’m obviously getting, my nose is pressed against the Jersey glass, so a real millionaires tax is a central element of how we’re going to fund education, healthcare, transportation for our middle class, working poor and those in poverty.
HEFFNER: Governor, thank you for your time today.
MURPHY: Great being here, man. Thanks for having me
HEFFNER: And thanks to you too in the audience. I hope you join us again next time for a thoughtful excursion into the world of ideas. Until then, keep an open mind. Please visit The Open Mind website at Thirteen.org/OpenMind to view this program online or to access over 1,500 other interviews and do check us out on Twitter and Facebook @OpenMindTV for updates