By Josephine Emanuelli
Cathy (Zbyszynski) Brennan (‘86) was recently named Deputy Treasurer for New Jersey’s new Governor Phil Murphy. This is the first time that a woman has been named to both the Treasurer and Deputy Treasurer positions. Elizabeth Maher Muoio was appointed Treasurer, making her the second female Treasurer in the history of the state of New Jersey. Governor Murphy has put together a very diverse cabinet for his term as governor and having two women lead the Treasury is just one example. When discussing diversity in the state government, Brennan made sure to note that there are women spread throughout the ranks of the state government. In her previous agency, the Office of Legislative Services; the non-partisan professional office of the New Jersey State Legislature; there are as many women working as analysts and in leadership positions as there are men. Murphy has also nominated many people of color.
During her time at Drew, Brennan was an Economics major, finishing three credits shy of a writing minor. During her summers in college, she worked on Wall Street, but after graduation was uncertain of what she wanted to do. She began by putting her strong writing background to work, spending five years working in the publishing industry for Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons. After that, Brennan attended graduate school to earn her Master’s in Economics; when she graduated she began her career in the public sector, which is where she has been ever since. She spent the first 24 years of her time in state government working for the nonpartisan research office of the Legislature. She started as an assistant analyst, a basic entry job where she analyzed the governor’s budget proposal and drafted legislation. Over time, she worked her way up and served as committee aide to the Senate Budget and Appropriations committee for ten years. In 2006, when Governor Corzine called the Legislature into special session with the goal of reforming property taxes, she also staffed one of the four special session committees.
Brennan equated the structure of the non-partisan office of the Legislature to the structure of academia; over time you move your way up through the ranks, acquiring institutional and subject area knowledge. Throughout her career, Brennan was able to gain extensive experience on budget-related matters, which helped lead to her most recent job offer. She is now responsible for assisting the governor to develop the state budget.
When describing her typical day in her new role, Brennan described it as hectic. The Department of Treasury has about 5,500 employees, and she is responsible for the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Revenue and Economic Analysis and the Divisions of Revenue and Taxation. In addition, she is involved with spending, revenue and tax priorities. Despite having days packed with meetings and long hours, budget season is far from over for the state budget office. The fiscal year does not begin until July 1, which is when the budget must be completed by and the new budget goes into place. On March 13, Governor Murphy delivered a message about his plans and priorities for the budget, which indicate his plans and priorities for his term as well. Now that the budget address has been made, the Treasurer and all Commissioners involved in the budget have to testify. Once those hearings are complete, the Legislature will negotiate a final document with the Executive branch, and the budget bill will be passed in June. At that point, the Governor can either sign the bill into law, formalizing the budget, or use line-item veto power.
Brennan credits Drew with providing her with an excellent liberal arts education. For her, two of the most essential skills that she has gained and that all college students should seek to develop are critical thinking and being able to write and communicate well. She cites two professors in particular who helped provide her with strong mentorship throughout her time at Drew, through Economics professors Fred Curtis and Don Cole. Cole served as her advisor, and when she spent a semester abroad in Brussels, Cole was one of the professors on the trip. Brennan truly loved her time at Drew, describing it as the best four years of her life until she had children.
Brennan also has her own advice to offer students at Drew, as she has a college-aged son herself and empathizes strongly with the struggles that students face. First of all, she advises her son and current Drew students to major in what they are most interested in; do not study something because someone else says that you have to. She also urges students not to worry about what career they will have but instead study what they are passionate about. Regardless of what one chooses to study, Brennan emphasizes that critical thinking and writing are important across all disciplines. She also noted that the world is changing very quickly, and ten years from now some people may be working in a field that does not yet exist- she believes that having versatile skills and being able to think critically and write logically will carry over into whatever career path one chooses to take. Finally, she urges students not to narrow their path too quickly, as now is the time to explore and take advantage of everything that Drew has to offer.