Big and bold ideas take time to come to fruition. As John F. Kennedy stated in 1961 after outlining his ambitious agenda in his inauguration speech: “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days… nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
With that in mind, Gov. Phil Murphy’s first year in office was a success. Mandatory paid sick leave is now law across the state, and thousands of New Jersey students have started attending free community college (just to name a few accomplishments). As we enter 2019, many more items on Murphy’s agenda, including cannabis legalization and a minimum wage increase, are moving forward.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s Accomplishments
Murphy fulfilled his campaign pledge to guarantee equal pay for women. After signing an executive order banning state agencies and offices from asking a job applicant for their past wage history or investigating the prior salaries of their applicants, he went on to sign the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act. The act amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to require employers to provide equal pay and benefits to employees performing substantially similar work.
After tense budget negotiations, Murphy was able to secure funding for several other top priorities, including education, preschool expansion, transportation and county college tuition aid. While he didn’t get the millionaire’s tax he initially proposed, a tax increase of 10.75 percent on those with incomes of $5 million (rather than $1 million) is projected to bring in $280 million in revenue.
Murphy also strengthened New Jersey’s gun laws, which was another campaign promise. The six bills he signed into law this summer restrict the size of ammunition magazines and ban the manufacture, purchase and sale of 3D printed “ghost guns,” among other initiatives. The legislative package also included a new “red flag” law system intended to remove guns from the hands of dangerous individuals.
As also promised, the Murphy administration has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, both in and out of the courtroom. New Jersey is participating in several lawsuits against the administration’s policies on everything from immigration to the environment. With respect to environmental issues, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal joined the attorneys general of several states in formally opposing the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore drilling. New Jersey is also pursuing a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) suspension of the Clean Water Rule.
Grewal has been pursuing a quiet, but aggressive agenda on behalf of the Murphy administration. Among his most noteworthy matters is the multi-state lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that seeks to reverse the agency’s repeal of net neutrality. His numerous other achievements as AG warrant their own column.
While the state’s recreational cannabis legislation is not yet law, New Jersey medical marijuana program has grown significantly under Murphy. Since he took office, New Jersey has added more than 20,000 medical marijuana patients, bringing the total to almost 40,000. In addition, six new medical marijuana dispensaries are in the pipeline, which will effectively double the size of the program.
In summarizing his first year in office, Murphy did not shy away from challenges his administration faced in 2018, including disagreements with leaders of his own party. “Are we going to have disagreements? You bet,” Murphy said. “Are we going to be bashful about them? We will not be.”
Priorities for 2019
As 2019 begins, Murphy remains committed to pushing his agenda forward. Legalizing recreational cannabis may not have become a reality in 2018, but it appears imminent. In December, New Jersey’s cannabis legislation cleared a major hurdle when the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and Assembly Appropriations Committee approved the latest version of Senate Bill 2703. Assuming the governor and legislative leaders can work out the final details, it should come to a full vote in the coming weeks. Raising the minimum wage to $15/hour is also scheduled to be debated soon.