Why Murphy’s ‘campaigning’ on state’s budget battle may be paying off

It wasn’t a campaign rally.

Gov. Phil Murphy, in fact, said he wasn’t looking for applause.

Of course, he said that right after a line that could only bring a roar from the members of the two dozen or so traditional supporters of the Democrats — that is, numerous environmental and conservation groups, as well as a mix of unions — which surrounded him during his news conference Monday afternoon in Trenton.

“I didn’t come here to get re-elected,” he said. “I used to say, ‘I don’t care about the next election, I care about the next generation.'”

For those who complain the governor is still campaigning and not governing, the 30-minute news conference played right into their narrative.

This one, however, felt different.

As the governor and the Legislature prepare for the final days of this year’s budget battle, the governor’s campaigning may be working.

He’s getting applause.

His opponents — Trenton veterans and (supposedly) party colleagues, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), the ones who have been schooling him on the ways of politics since he took office — have only been getting groans.

It’s not hard to see why.

Who is in favor of giving New Jersey companies the highest corporate business tax in the country?

Not business groups.

And neither Republicans nor Democrats — even those who shamelessly use the steal-from-the-rich-to-feed-the-poor brand of politics — can get behind this plan.

And Murphy’s claim that the Legislature’s plans don’t add up to reality is an easy sell, too.

You know, for anyone who has lived in the state in the past decade or so.

Murphy may be negotiating in background (and let’s hope he’s being honest when he said his team meets with legislators far more than the legislators say they do), but he’s winning out front.

He reiterated his campaign themes of universal pre-K, free community college, rebuilding New Jersey Transit and infrastructure, all while fully funding schools (regardless of whether you think the formula is fair) and the pensions (which he’s not, even in his budget).

He even suggested his legislative opponents share his vision.

“We’re committed to those investments,” he said. “These are the ones that we believe undo the mess, make that historic investment in the middle class, reignite the dreams like I (had) growing up, who looked up and aspired to be in the middle class.

“We feel passionately that these are the right investments, and for the most part, there are a couple of investments, there’s broad agreement up and down the street on that.”

He even got to take the high road.

“I didn’t come here to continue the games,” he said. “I’m not suggesting that there’s ill will. I’m just suggesting that this notion of can’t we just put a Band-Aid on it and worry about it next year.

“That’s not why I’m here. That’s why so many of these folks stood up to support why I’m here. I believe in all my heart that, out on the street, a lot of folks are in same place that I am. ”

How all this gets settled remains to be seen.

But, on the 25th of June, this much is clear.

Gov. Murphy has the upper hand.

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