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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As Election Day draws near, Americans are understandably laser focused on the outcome of the presidential election. But as the 24/7 news cycle fixates on the national election landscape, we tend to miss the impact of state leaders, even though they have far more significance in our day-to-day lives.

Never has the tangible influence of governors’ decisions been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Americans who live in states with strong gubernatorial leadership have begun to recover, with sensible policies resulting in higher rates of employment and a return to some semblance of normalcy.


Unfortunately, my home state of New Jersey, where I have served as an assemblywoman for almost three years, is lacking the gubernatorial leadership we need right now. Gov. Phil Murphy’s deficiencies have been clear for years: his refusal to tackle pension reform or high borrowing costs have put New Jersey on a road to mounting debt. But his failures at every point of the pandemic have propelled New Jersey from financially shaky ground into a full-blown economic crisis.

A new report released today, the 2020 Governor’s Report, from the American Legislative Exchange Council and Reagan administration economist Arthur B. Laffer, sums up New Jersey’s economic outlook succinctly: “If New Jersey’s economy was a ship, it would be the Titanic, and Governor Phil Murphy would be Captain Edward Smith.”

According to the report, Mr. Murphy earned himself one star out of five, and New Jersey overall ranks perilously near the bottom, sitting in the 48th spot. Contributing to this rock-bottom ranking are the governor’s abysmal tax policies that have furthered New Jersey’s reputation as an anti-business state, as well as his mismanagement of federal funds in the CARES Act, where he is ranked dead last.

I have not been opposed to Mr. Murphy’s actions from the outset. As a first responder, I was initially supportive of his decision to institute a statewide lockdown. Back in March, before we knew what to expect in terms of hospital capacity or viable treatments for COVID-19, the lockdown was warranted to manage the virus’ spread.

But it is now October, and times have changed. We need to deploy a new strategy, one that embodies the American spirit of innovation and adaptability. According to Rasmussen, 57% of Americans believe we need to adapt to the virus, not reimpose a blunt lockdown policy. In light of the virus’ existence, the best policy is one that recognizes its dangers but considers the steep costs to overly stringent measures.

Mr. Murphy’s refusal to cautiously but proactively lead has cost New Jerseyans enough. His anti-growth economic policies before COVID-19, combined with his continuation of the shutdowns, has put us on the fast track to further economic decline, and our state is suffering for it. Unemployment in July dropped just two points from the outset of the pandemic to July, from 16% to 14%. 

Other states, like Texas, South Dakota and Utah, saw their unemployment cut in half over the same period. By prioritizing safe, intentional reopening — marked with mask-wearing, social distancing and outdoor gatherings — governors like New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu and Indiana’s Eric Holcomb will have an easier hill to climb in their economic recovery. The tax and spending policies they pursued before the pandemic, as well as their handling of this year’s crisis, make them far better suited than Mr. Murphy to mitigate unemployment and help return society to normal.

It’s not too late for Mr. Murphy. He will not be on the ballot for reelection until November 2021, which gives him time to take the helm and reverse court. As the ability to manage the pandemic increases and vaccine prospects advance, Mr. Murphy has one more shot to start undoing the damage he’s done to New Jersey. Once more New Jerseyans are back at work, he must turn to tackling the underwater state finances that laid the foundation for the severity of the crisis in the Garden State. Then, and only then, would he have earned another term as governor. If his lacking leadership thus far is any indication for the future, I am not hopeful for a turnaround.

• Serena DiMaso is a member of the New Jersey General Assembly and represents District 13. She currently serves as chairwoman of the Bayshore Hospital Foundation and as an active member of the Holmdel First Aid Squad.


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