‘Pro-growth progressive’: A concept worth trying

At the moment, Gov. Phil Murphy is known primarily for his progressive social policies (or, at least, proposals). Funding for Planned Parenthood, support for LGBTQ rights, a liberal approach to immigration, tighter gun regulations, a focus on clean energy and a cleaner environment.

But in an exclusive interview with the ROI-NJ editorial board — and, no doubt, to the relief of the state’s business community — Murphy made it clear that he considers himself a “pro-growth progressive.”

“In other words, for all that you’re seeing that expresses that we need to capture the progressive soul of the state, I also want folks to know that I am laser-focused and committed unendingly to growing this economy,” he said.

Not only that: Murphy said he intends to have a hands-on role in matters of economic development, calling himself “the head of … sales” for New Jersey. “So, if you’re looking for the head of the sales department, call me,” he said.

That’s the kind of direct approach New Jersey desperately needs right now. The state’s unemployment rate is nearly a full percentage point higher than the national rate; key transportation infrastructure is crumbling; and venture capital for startups in the state has withered.

Murphy acknowledged that the Economic Development Authority’s large-scale tax-incentive program, which he questioned during the campaign, does have a role in growing the economy. But, he promised a renewed focus on attracting and retaining small and medium businesses as well as large businesses, funding infrastructure and higher education, particularly “STEM-heavy R&D,” finding the money for universal pre-K and tuition-free community college, and using EDA tax policy to promote incubators for startups.

It’s a decidedly different focus from former Gov. Chris Christie’s approach. And Murphy acknowledges that these changes will take time and more than one budget cycle to accomplish. But the new governor’s approach to economic development is a pointed reminder of how valuable elections can be. Not that Christie’s policies were all wrong (they weren’t). Or that all of Murphy’s policies will be successful (they won’t). The value is that a new governor brings a fresh set of eyes to the problem and fresh policies that just might make a difference.

(READ MORE from ROI-NJ’s interview with Gov. Phil Murphy.)

Particularly interesting is Murphy’s notion that those social policies he favors can play a key economic role too. New Jersey will never be a cheap place to live, work or run a business, he said. But it can be a place where residents and businesses can find good value for the money — that is, a quality of life that includes good schools, a clean environment, “women’s health care, safe cities and communities … common sense gun laws, etc.”

“I’m increasingly of the opinion,” Murphy said, “that companies and families will … want to locate in states that have an environment that is conducive to the way they want to bring their kids up, and their kids’ kids.”

That’s a novel approach. And it just might work. Certainly, it is worth a try.