It was a good question. One that needed to be asked. But, as far as media inquiries go, it could be considered a softball, one where Gov. Phil Murphy was given plenty of room to hedge.
“Isn’t it fair and reasonable, do you think, to ask public-sector workers to at least not get pay raises for the time being?” he was asked. “We know the economic impact of this pandemic will be significant for years; is it not reasonable, do you think, to ask different departments to cut state government at least slightly, to at least some kind of minimal extent, to possibly avoid tax increases?
“Since we don’t know what the federal assistance is going to be, when we say, ‘shared sacrifice,’ shouldn’t the ‘we’ include everybody?”
It came as a follow to an op-ed by New Jersey Business & Industry Association head Michele Siekerka, entitled: “It’s time for public employees to make some sacrifices.” Siekerka presented the question in a more straightforward manner:
“Given the shared sacrifice of the private sector and taxpayers, it is wholly appropriate to ask the public sector to share the pain, as well, in order to responsibly adjust our budget to address our economic crisis,” she wrote.
Murphy, at his daily COVID-19 briefing, sidestepped the question completely.
“I do think this is a time when we’re all going to have to give of ourselves,” he said. “Without commenting on what she said, I want to reiterate something I haven’t said in a few days: We need the ability to borrow …”
Murphy then went into a minute-long discussion on why the state needs to borrow billions of dollars, suggesting first responders, health care workers and educators would be laid off if the state’s Legislature does not allow him to do so.
He offered nothing on public-sector workers, who are represented by unions that are some of his strongest supporters.
Earlier Wednesday, NJ Advance Media’s Samantha Marcus reported that the largest union of state workers “embarked upon negotiations” with Murphy to avoid mass layoffs.
Other news from the briefing:
Murphy said Wednesday there were 330 additional COVID-19 cases, raising the state total to 167,703. He also announced there were 47 additional fatalities, raising that total to 12,769.
Hospital metrics, as of 10 p.m. Tuesday:
- Hospitalizations: 1,352;
- In intensive/critical care: 358;
- On ventilators: 254;
- Admitted: 64;
- Discharged: 92;
- Rate of transmission: 0.7 (number of cases each new case creates);
- Positivity rate: 3.5% (from June 13).
Murphy did not indicate the state would make Juneteenth a holiday for state workers.
“We’re going to make a big deal out of Juneteenth this Friday,” he said. “I won’t steal thunder from what may come, but I’m going to make at least one significant announcement, and I’m going to make some remarks.”
Murphy said: “Words matter, actions matter — so, stay tuned on that.”
Juneteenth, which celebrates the freeing of all slaves in the U.S., is this Friday.
Testing for the front office
Murphy, when asked whether senior members of his administration were allowed to get COVID-19 testing — as has been alleged — repeated the guidelines he established.
He said the rule, from Day One, has been you only get a test if you have symptoms or were in contact with someone who was positive.
“That continues to be the case,” he said.
State Police State Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan, on charges that he improperly interfered in an investigation, referring to an incident from three years ago:
I couldn’t be more proud to call myself a Jersey trooper, but, unfortunately, as we all well know, sometimes, when you reach a certain point in your career, that baseless accusations are leveled at you. And I knew that signing up.”