AP Interview: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy spoke with The Associated Press on Monday.
Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s campaign hasn’t responded to a request from the AP to reschedule an interview, after two previous interviews were canceled.
Here are highlights from the interview:
The Associated Press: What is one specific thing did you do while you were at Goldman Sachs or in your private life that shows voters that you can achieve what you say you want to achieve on the infrastructure and innovation economies that you talk about?
Phil Murphy: I guess I could point to a couple of things. It’s a good question and particularly looking at the example our president is setting for us every day if people have some amount of skepticism that, a, can someone come in from the outside and perform? ...(That’s) one of the reasons (Murphy’s running mate) Sheila Oliver is running with me because she’s had 30-plus years of experience in government, both at the community, county and statewide level, including as (New Jersey Assembly) speaker. Someone said this, not I, and I think it’s a reasonable analogy it’s a little bit of a Joe Biden pick to have someone complementing you. But I think back to me, I’ve run a lot of things in my life... I’ve been on senior levels in a lot of organizations. More often than not, I’ve been somebody who folks have brought in as a trouble shooter, or as a turnaround person.
AP: What’s one thing that you turned around?
PM: I spent a couple of different chapters in my business career overseas in Germany and then in Hong Kong in each case in businesses that were underperforming that needed leadership to get them back up to their potential. I ended my career back in New York running a global business with a similar dimension. I went to the Democratic National Committee. I read the (recent Republican National Committee) numbers fundraising and the DNC fundraising numbers and they were very reminiscent of when I went to DNC to stand alongside Howard Dean and raise the money to fund his 50-state strategy. People were in many cases hesitant, skeptical that he could achieve his aspirations. So I’d give you more but those were several examples where I’d say I’m proud to say I got in, rolled up my sleeves, figured out what we needed to do and got us back on our feet.
AP: When you were in Germany or Hong Kong (working for Goldman Sachs) was there an investment you directed be made or a management decision you took that illustrates what you’re saying?
PM: I think it’s a combination of things. There was no one moment. I was viewed to be a good manager and a good leader and good client person, so there was a big dose of that. I was viewed to be — I think I have been viewed to be — somebody who prioritizes well, so we can do everything in New Jersey, or the DNC or in a business environment. You gotta make sure you get certain things, the 80/20 rule. I think I’ve been historically good at that. On the people dimension, I think people would say over the years I’ve been not just a good manager and a leader but a good recruiter of talent. One perhaps example of that that’s perhaps a bit more relevant is when you become a U.S. ambassador particularly in a big mission, at least they used to. I’m not sure what the current state is of the State Department, (it’s) not what it used to be I know that. They used to give you the ability to bring your team in or your person or persons in with you, which I rejected. I said you know what it’s one of the biggest missions in the world. There’s talent. It turns out there was a lot of talent. But I want to work with the team that’s on the field and assemble my little operation from that group.
AP: Is there one law you want to see enacted to achieve economic results you’re talking about? Is there one regulatory change, something specific?
PM: I wish there was but there isn’t to be honest with ya. It’s a state that’s been horribly undermanaged. There’s a report that came out that I think in July that McKinsey wrote, called Re-seeding the Garden State and it makes the case that we were dealt a heck of a hand as a state. We’ve dramatically underplayed that hand and the good news is if we get the right leadership and get our act together we can reclaim the space that we had originally. That study cites a wholesale rethinking of tax incentives for big companies. It cites the need to re-ignite the start-up culture. It cites a deficit in education, particularly for middle-skills workers and it cites an enormous underinvestment in infrastructure. So you can assume that there’s a big economic tree of initiatives that will be in that space that we talk lot about stronger and fairer. The fairer steps honestly come probably faster because you can put in place relatively quickly, whether it’s minimum wage or earned sick leave or equal pay to pick three, you can get that done quickly we think. We hope. Some of the other investments, you know building a tunnel under the Hudson River, that’s a 10-year fuse, but you gotta get started. I think the other area that you should assume, so it’s a cluster of economic steps and it’s a cluster of either to grow or to make fair and I think separately it’s a cluster of steps that are getting back to standing for the right things again, so that would include things like funding Planned Parenthood, signing sensible gun safety laws, taking the steps on climate, whether it’s rejoining RGGI, whatever it might be. So it’s one or probably two flavors, economic or getting back to standing for the right things.
AP: How should voters grade you on those things? What metrics should voters look at to say Phil Murphy is keeping his promises or he’s not?
PM: I think in the first wave, I think they should look at whether or not we’ve put laws on the books, we’ve changed programs, what are we doing with the inputs? We’ve talked about a lot of inputs and hoped-for, desired outputs. I think it’s gonna be hard for folks to see the real impact in three months of what it would be like to have minimum wage in a different place or earned sick leave or equal pay. So in other words, measuring us my outputs it’s gonna be too early to do that early on. I think voters should look to whether we’ve established the inputs we think are needed to get the desired outputs over time.
AP: What do you mean by fully funding the pension and school funding formula?
PM: So we have an above-the-line, sort of two or three things we think we have to do to restore stability and trust in the state. And above the line are as fast as possible fully funding the school funding formula and as fast as possible fully funding pensions and I guess the other is to continue to meet our health care obligations, which is more of a steady state reality. I would lead you on the pension side to a time frame that is fast as possible but not realistically in one year. So I think it’s as least as fast as the current trajectory, which is 50 percent going to 60 percent and I hope faster. I’ll come back to the basis on which I think it could be faster and then on school funding, I’d like that to be as fast as possible as in immediately. They’re each in a similar price tag, if you continue to either follow the current formula toward fully funding the pension obligations, again I hope we can do better than that, and fully funding the school funding formula is in a similar league if you assume you can get some of the hold-harmless aide to go along with any increase.
We’ve got a plan that’s pretty explicit as to where you get that money. It’s millionaires’ paying their fair share, it’s closing corporate loopholes, hedge fund loopholes, out of network, the big corporate loophole is combined reporting, which is allowing companies to leave profits in lower-tax states and we’re not George Washington on any of this. A lot of this stuff is being done in other states. Closing out of network health loophole, I mentioned hedge funds particularly carried interest loophole, which is egregious — it should be done at the national level — but we’ll do it at the local level if need be. We’ll legalize marijuana. That will take a couple of years for the economic reality to set in. It’s not the reason why we’re doing it but it does have an economic impact. And the other piece is we gotta grow the economy again. We have grown at a fraction of the rate that other American states have grown at or other peer states have grown at, and so growing the economy. Even in our judgment, with hardly heroic modest expectations an if you do all of that you can not only do what we just talked about but you can then start to get sooner than later and this is the part, back to pensions, the extent to which we grow will give us the latitude to be more heroic on our timetable. So if you said it’s gonna take three years. Could you do it in two? Well it will depend on growth.
We talk about free community college, which is of all these things the bargain at $200 million at most our folks now think. You get to that again, you get to that if you’re growing. You get to that realistically probably over two years. University pre-k we’ve talked a lot about. That’s much bigger in terms of dollars. My guess is we can get there in one or two years realistically, so that’s again the growth piece is gonna be a contributor as much to timing as it is to the ambition in terms of how big the agenda is.
AP: What are your specific plans to improve New Jersey Transit? ...What can be done while waiting for the Gateway project to make it more reliable? Is it gonna be an overhaul of the hierarchy? So what would you do?
PM: Commuter rail I think is at or near the top of the list of what are you thinking. This isn’t Democrats or Republicans. This is the hand you’re dealt: fourth smallest state geographically in the country, densest state in the country, you sit in the north beside the largest market in the world, not just in this country, and in the south one of the largest markets in a America. Again this is not Democrats or Republicans, so you’re dealt that hand you’d think if you screwed everything else up commuter rail is the one thing you’re gonna get right. They’ve proven beyond my ability to understand by the way, they’ve proven to do the exact opposite. So they canceled the ARC tunnel, the lowest point that they cut on the state funding for NJ Transit it went down 90 percent. I think they claim it’s better than that now but it’s still way down. Fares are up 36 percent. I’m not taking shots at anybody but there’s a widely held consensus that the management team is not deep in the experience that you need to have in order to run a commuter rail line.
By the way it wasn’t that long ago we were viewed to be — it’s the third largest commuter rail line in the country — we were viewed to be among if not the best. ...It’s just one thing after another. I’ve said this in my own belief of what I’m doing but I’d certainly say it in NJ Transit. We’re gonna be ground zero for America’s biggest turnaround stories. And no area will make that point better and more passionately than transit. So it begins without questions with leadership. This is a little bit back to the growth question. In the parlance of my old job. This is a cheap stock. It’s been beaten down. There’s an enormous opportunity to come in, in a number of areas, including governor and just turn the page. It’s without question it’s talent.
We’ve gotta get the tunnel built. ...(The) Obama administration had committed to half of the investment. It’s now by any account it’s gone up since he left. It’s somewhere depending on what estimate you pick half is somewhere between $12 and $15 billion. We desperately need to get that locked down. Trump called a meeting of both governors and both delegations and apparently everybody said it was a good discussion. But right now it remains discussion and not dollars.
AP: But until the tunnel what can be done to improve reliability?
PM: You can’t cut the state support by 90 percent. So money is part of this. So it’s leadership. It’s money. It’s being all-in on commuter-friendly, where’s-my-train app, where’s-my-bus app and making sure those are rockin’. It’s an audit of the organization that we’ve been calling for that has to be done. It’s a better configuration of the Penn Station management reality. I would think, I don’t wanna speak for (the Long Island Rail Road), but I would think they would probably have a similar view I would guess. Over the summer we were talking every single day about how Amtrak needed to keep their feet to the fire to make sure their repairs and maintenance were getting done on time and as fast as possible. We’re now gonna have another one coming up in February. We think we don’t know this because it’s not transparent. We think there’s a lot of opportunity to think about how you develop the assets of NJ Transit differently that could lead to a significant freeing-up of capital.
AP: How will you negotiate with Washington to get the money needed for the Hudson River tunnel project?
PM: I’m encouraged by the bipartisan nature of this. So for instance people have said very constructive things about Elaine Chao who’s the secretary of transportation. There’s clear support on both sides of the aisle not just in New Jersey but in New York but I mean more broadly. Many people will say this is a national security matter. It’s a Northeast Corridor matter, not just a New Jersey-New York matter. So you’re gonna have to— the one area where I’ve been consistent on the constructive side with the Trump administration was he talked a good game on infrastructure when he campaigned and between when he got elected and inaugurated. And I’ve said through all that I’m not a Trump guy and I don’t agree with him on almost anything but on that scenario I would hope that we could work together. You gotta use the federal delegations wisely and aggressively.
AP: Will you live in Drumthwacket?
PM: I have been asked that recently and honestly I went to my wife and said how do you feel about this and she had the same answer I do, ask me on Nov. 8. We’ve gotta get through the next 15 days.
AP: How about use of the state police helicopter. Gov. Christie has used it for instance to go to New York to appear on TV. What will you commit to on how you would use it? Would you use it to go to an appearance in NYC for instance?
PM: It doesn’t feel right to be me honestly. Again I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked this question but I’ve seen the same thing you’ve seen. I have been asked how would I deal with out-of-state travel and it would depend I think if I were going to New York City to argue for the money to build the Gateway tunnel with a New York delegation that would be one thing as opposed to something political or certainly personal. I think we had a good track record. I lived under a probably more onerous regime frankly as a U.S. ambassador in Germany in terms of what you could pay for and what you are not allowed to pay for and what the government could do and I think we had a great track record. We’re folks my wife and I are both folks that don’t operate near the line, even if it’s on the right side of the line we don’t wanna operate near the line because some day wake up the line moved. So I don’t have a crisp answer for you we’re gonna have policies that both seem right and in substance are right.
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