Gov. Phil Murphy started the month speaking a little too frankly for a politician about his views on taxes, spending and government.
He told business leaders at an event at Rowan University in Glassboro, “If you’re a one-issue voter and tax rate is your issue, either a family or a business, if that’s the only basis upon which you’re going to make a decision, we’re probably not your state.”
Political foes jumped on the comment, and even some Murphy supporters said it came too close to telling people unhappy with New Jersey’s high taxes that if they don’t like them, maybe they should leave.
Last week, the nonpartisan National Federation of Independent Business responded strongly. Laurie Ehlbeck, NFIB’s New Jersey director, said, “Taxes are one of the top concerns of the nearly 900,000 small businesses in the state, and it’s unbelievable that the governor would imply with his words if that’s so, New Jersey is probably not their state. He is implying they are unwelcome if they don’t want to pay more — that is ludicrous.”
Businesses and residents already are paying more under Murphy. He and legislative leaders agreed to raise the business income tax 28% to the second-highest rate in the nation. They also raised income taxes for those making more than $5 million a year.
He also wanted to increase the sales tax on everyone and the income tax on millionaires but was denied by the Legislature. Even so, the tax increases allowed Murphy to boost state spending for this year by more than $1 billion, without reducing the state’s high debt level or unfunded pension and benefits obligations.
Criticism of Murphy’s view has missed the most serious problem with it.
He created a disparaging and unreal image of people who don’t support his tax-and-spend plans. There are no voters who make decisions on only a single basis. It is human nature to always be moved by multiple influences, only some of them within awareness. By creating a straw man version of people who are concerned about taxes in New Jersey, Murphy dehumanizes them and justifies ignoring their interests. Not serving such people is more likely the implication of “not your state” than they should leave.
Politicians in democracies typically don’t say things that could suggest they’re dismissing and ignoring a significant part of the electorate. To do so requires a confidence of staying in power usually found only in places with tyrannies or one-party rule.
Murphy should consider whether his party’s dominance of state government is encouraging an unrealistic feeling of power that might undermine his persuasiveness and personal political ambitions.