When Elizabeth Maher Muoio was sworn into the New Jersey General Assembly in 2015, she received her committee assignments for the coming term. As a freshman representative in the Assembly, the lower house of the state legislature, she was was placed on two committees—Regulated Professions and Women and Children—out of the available 27.
“You know, there’s only one woman on the Budget Committee,” she said to the speaker of the Assembly.
When her next term began, Muoio was assigned to the Budget Committee, laying the stepping stones for her current role as New Jersey State Treasurer. Today, she oversees 14 divisions, handles a $38 billion budget, and works alongside an all-female leadership team.
Inside the Treasury office in Trenton are reminders of the political figures that have worked for the department throughout history. Documents and photographs of prominent bureaucrats are framed and hung on the walls. Among these, Muoio’s photo stands out. She is one of a handful of women who have served in this office.
Muoio, 56, has always been interested in government. “It wouldn’t have shocked me in high school to hear that I would have ended up in elected office,” she said. “I was really involved with student government in high school and college. So when we moved to New Jersey and I would read stuff in the paper about things going on in the community, I decided to get involved in the way I knew.”
A lifelong Democrat, Muoio recognizes the essential role government has in the everyday lives of citizens. “As a government, we need to be there for people, and we need to provide safety nets. There are always going to be people in need,” she said. “We are only as well off as the least fortunate in our towns, states, or counties.”
She attributes her success today to the opportunities that she was given as a child and young adult. Growing up in Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, she played volleyball and basketball alongside her two sisters and attended the local public high school. Her mother taught physics at a nearby private school, and her father worked as a lawyer.
She expressed gratitude for her parents’ support during her childhood.
“We were raised with the idea that we could really do anything that we wanted,” she said. “We were lucky to get a great education, and we were always encouraged not to see any boundaries that were in our way with what we wanted to do in life.”
At 18, she moved halfway across the country to Connecticut to study history at Wesleyan University. After graduation, Muoio found her passion in Washington working for Texas Rep. Jack Brooks.
“There were a lot of young people out in D.C. You didn’t make much money, but you find roommates, you know,” she said, laughing. “It was a great experience.”
Two years into working on Capitol Hill, she decided to pursue law school at Georgetown at night to learn more about what she worked with all day in the Congressman’s office.
“After work, I’d just walk across the Capitol lawn to class. It was an idyllic experience for a young person like me who loved government and loved living and working in D.C.,” she said.
She lived in Washington for 10 years. In 1995, she moved to Pennington Borough with her husband, Joseph Muoio, who currently works as an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department. They have three children, two sons and one daughter.
Muoio fondly recalled her first forays into New Jersey politics. During her early years in Pennington, she would often take part in local government by raising concerns around issues like truck noise at night and the prevalence of gnats in the springtime.
“There were different issues that had sort of piqued my interest since we moved to Pennington,” she said. “On our first night there, we opened the windows. I could hear all these trucks out there, and I started asking why are there were so many trucks using this two-lane road that went around the outskirts of town. I was told that I-95 wasn’t completed because people in the area protested.”
Asking questions and seeking answers as to how she could better her community was Muoio’s motivation in running for a seat on the Pennington Borough Council in 1997. “That’s the way I’ve always done it. I’ve always gone through government channels to solve these problems,” she said. “I’ve always liked the idea of solving problems that way.”
She served on her town’s Borough Council until 2002, when she was selected to serve as one of the seven members on the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders. She worked as a freeholder for a little over seven years until she accepted a position as the county’s Director of Economic Development and Sustainability.
During that time period, she also served as county Democratic chair, and in 2015, she began a three year stint representing the 15th legislative district of the state in the State Assembly.
Muoio has found that the gratification that comes from effective policy-making has remained the same across the various local and state level positions she has served in. “I like to be in a position where, if someone sees a problem, I can actually do something about it or talk to someone who can actually do something about it,” she said. “And that sort of started me on the road to joining the county’s freeholder board.”
She added, “I ran for county freeholder because I realized that Pennington, being a small town surrounded by a bigger community, was affected by a lot of decisions that were being made at a more regional level.”
In 2018, when then Governor-elect Phil Murphy asked Muoio to join his administration as state treasurer, she gave up her legislative spot.
“There weren’t many things I would have given up being in the Assembly for,” she said. “I really enjoyed representing the people of the 15 district, but I realized that I could be the most effective serving as treasurer.”
Muoio is one of a growing number of women involved in local New Jersey politics — when she became county Democratic chair, she was one of four female committee chairs across all 21 counties in the state. She is a strong advocate for women in politics and believes that the state needs more women heading local committees, especially given New Jersey’s high female voter turnout.
“Having women in leadership positions sets an example for other women who want to step up and run,” she said. “I think that women have always worked really hard in party structures. Back in the day, we used to have envelope stuffing events in county headquarters and since then, women have always been stepping up to help.
“Now they’re putting their names on the ballot, which is really exciting,” she added.