I liked the old Murphy’s Law: “If something can go wrong, it will”. It doesn’t make things any easier, but you get to shrug, blow out that big sigh of exasperation and find a way. The Phil Murphy Law: “If something can be taxed, it will” has me stymied. The old law was controlled by some grand old supernatural wizard. The new one by the ambitions of one unwavering mavin.
I get it. He’s a stalwart “progressive”, a well-presented term to make us believe his policies are “progress”. And maybe some are, but it’s his incessant demand for more taxes, more gimmicks, more schemes that are driving my agita level. He’s so content to gorge at the trough of the struggling working man (and woman). At least with Christie, we got to take a ride as his persona transitioned from warrior to bully to benign neglect, and finally contempt. His parting shot – that ludicrous settlement with Exxon. No, wait! It was the gasoline tax. Or maybe the $300 million bonanza to fix up the statehouse that he pulled out of a hat. Or was it his $85,000 portrait that we’ll all cherish? Whatever. We got to watch his transformation. Murphy? He’s starting out at level 10. Where’s he gonna’ go from here? I’m not saying his intentions are not worthwhile, but no one seems to have any clue where the money’s going to come from for free college, pension payments, fixing NJ Transit, raises for the poor underpaid judges, and improved infrastructure.
His tax on legal marijuana is based on legal marijuana. That may not happen. His millionaire tax, brilliantly debunked by Rosemary Bucci in the May 23 Asbury Park Press, probably won’t fly anyway. Raise the sales tax; not a big deal until you buy a car or smart TV. Tax Uber, tax Airbnb, tax on-line sales. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax. And when he finishes with all his progressive taxes because “it’s the right thing to do”, and the state revenue falls way short of his progressive projections, who foots the bill? The middle class that he so glibly promised to rebuild.
Foreclosures are at record highs; moving companies are bleeding black as lifelong residents pull up roots and take off to friendlier, “less progressive” states. For all the Murphy’s in Trenton, this is just collateral damage. The single Mom working at Target during the day and waiting tables somewhere at night to hang onto her house: She’s simply a number. The guy sitting in four hours of traffic every day commuting to work: how’s that gas tax working out for him? That old couple, living on their savings, eating rotisserie chicken and pasta every night while they watch their property tax skyrocket; you think they come up during cocktails at those $1000 a plate fundraisers?
The humiliation, the embarrassment, the face-to-face with failure from an eviction, a foreclosure, a bankruptcy; these things leave a scar. It doesn’t pop up in any demographic spreadsheet and there’s no lobby for the working stiff. The commissions and roundtables of talking heads get to ignore these little tragedies while they chase their legacies.
Maintaining roads and bridges and electrical grids are absolutely essential. But why does it cost so much more in New Jersey than in almost every other state? Any chance that instead of demanding a billion dollars more, we could save a billion dollars less (billion seems to be the new thousand)? Maybe a committee or two could take the time to talk to the foreman of any road crew. He just might have some ideas that didn’t come up in Engineering 101.
School funding? The answer to this riddle for decades has been to throw one pile of dough after another at it until the well runs dry. And it works! It works for superintendents, for administrators, for consultants, lawyers, and even contractors. And, of course, it works for that third-grade guidance counselor that we can’t do without. Want to cut school costs? Let’s roll the dice: eliminate the mandatory transportation for private and parochial schools. Parents want to send their kids to private school – Great! Now get them there! Include it in the tuition, drive them, walk them, car pool, call Uber, get a shuttle, buy a bike, rent a room nearby. Do whatever it takes to “meet your desires”. But don’t ask that guy working overtime at ShopRite to chip in.
I have a couple friends who sent their kids to private school. One drove his son back and forth from Freehold to CBA for four years. Rain, ice, sick as a dog, he drove him. Never asked the state for a dime. The other sent his daughter to Blair, a prep school up north. When things were lean, he scavenged through the house and glove box for coffee change. He refinanced; took jobs he didn’t want, never went out. He also never asked anyone to pay a little more in taxes so he could follow his dream. Towns would save millions if they weren’t saddled with this law.
The public pension fund crisis. It took years to excavate this hole, it will take years to fill it in. Meanwhile, instead of raising money that should be going to cleaning up the Passaic River, what happened to 401K’s or IRA’s or other letters that prep you for those post-productive years? A quick-fix, it ain’t, but you have to start cutting the fat somewhere.
I’m not a real smart guy. I know I don’t have solutions. But I do have suggestions and so do a lot of other folks that don’t get to tee-hee it up in the Statehouse hallways. Maybe they can be used to start conversations about “living within our means”. Now there’s a cliché’ you never hear from the man with the political grin .
This post originally published in the Asbury Park Press, on May 30, 2018